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Category Archives: Reading More Without Living Less
This is the final post of this series, Reading More Without Living Less.
To close, here are three book recommendations taken from my 2012 reading. These books aren’t about reading per se, but more on personal development and time management, which are helpful in creating more pockets of time for reading. So, if you’re ready to go at it and improve your reading, ready to read that book, but need some recommendations, here are three I’ve profited from this year:
1. The Power of Habit
The Power of Habit is a fascinating book that examines some of the science and statistics behind the habits of individuals, companies, and societies. Along the way, it also gives some helpful insights into using habit as a tool to pushing ahead in life.
(I wrote a review on this earlier this year here.)
2. 168 Hours
168 Hours examines the way we all use the time we have been given. Beyond just time-management, this book drives readers to focus on their core competencies and living a productive life. I found it quite helpful in helping my to better understand my priorities, and how to arrange my time to focus on those areas.
(I wrote a review on this earlier this year here.)
3. The Happiness Project
The Happiness Project is, in a sense, Gretchen Rubin’s memoir of her year of following her New Year’s resolutions, focusing on a single area of improvement each month. I benefited from Gretchen’s month-by-month area of focus, and especially from the many insights and bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout her book. It’s a great book to read in preparation for New Year’s goals, but also inspirational and helpful at any time of the year.
(I wrote a review on this earlier this year here.)
Blogging is an interesting activity for me, and it has certainly evolved since I started keeping a blog five years ago. I write both for my personal preservation and for inspiration. I also write to benefit from the exercise, though often I do so with knowledge that other people are “listening.” This was a bit of a change from my norm (a norm that has also changed and evolved through the years), but helpful for me. Thank you for your feedback!
If you have a good book recommendation to share (or some tips for reading more), feel free to chime in here!
Earlier this month, I wrote a post listing several resources where you can find free audiobooks. Some of those sites also offered free eBooks, but here are some further options for finding free books in eBook and paper book format (beyond library use and borrowing from friends):
1. Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg has thousands (40,000, to be exact) of ebooks available for free download in a variety of formats (Kindle, HTML, mobile phone apps). (You can also read more about the site and it’s founding on a separate site, here.)
PaperBackSwap.com is a great way to trade in used books and read more for free. Essentially it is an online-directed book-trading community.
For every book you mail you get a book credit (some books cost more than just one credit), though you do have to pay shipping. When you do this using media mail it’s around $2.50 per book. You also get 2 free credits once you list 10 books as available.
I have not personally used this resource, but plan to when I go through some of the books I no longer need to keep on hand. I’ve also read that some people use this to order some of their books needed for homeschooling.
Use Swagbucks to earn Amazon giftcards. Swagbucks is a search engine that rewards you with points (at random) while you use their search engine. You can earn points with them every day. Using this method, you can earn enough points to “cash out” for prizes, including a $5 Amazon gift card. It’s not grand, but if you use the Internet a lot and do searches, it’s a great way to also earn while you do so. If you search daily with Swagbucks, it’s fairly easy to earn $5 to $15 per month in gift cards. You can also earn more by referring others with a referral link.
I use this somewhat infrequently, and usually earn a $5 gift card every month to every other month.
Everyday, Amazon has various Kindle books listed for free. You can view them by selecting books as your shopping category, and then select Kindle format as your format. Then, on the right-hand side, you can sort books by price, from lowest to highest. This will show you the thousands of free books available for free on Amazon.
In addition to being a great site for tracking reading, Goodreads lets you read a lot of books for free at Goodreads.com/ebooks. With some of them, you can even download the ebook version. The selection is limited and generally does not feature bestsellers. At the time of writing, there are 2,500 books available for free.
6. iBooks (iOS app)
If you’re an iPhone or iPod Touch user, you can download Apple’s iBooks app for free public domain books. Most of their free books are drawn from the Gutenberg Project, but having the books in a portable format may help some people read more.
(I’ll also add that while I’m thankful for free books galore, I also believe writers should be paid, and that’s why I’m willing to put money toward books/audiobooks. If I expect to get all my books for free, somewhere down the line we’ll treat writers as if we expect them to write for free.)
What about you? What are your favorite resources for finding free books or earning point/rewards toward books?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Over the weekend, I read the short little book, Eat that Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.
Whether you listen to or read this little book, it’s a short read filled with helpful ideas. Although it’s hardly groundbreaking information in the realm of personal productivity (really, not many productivity books are), it’s full of a lot of helpful motivational material.
While reading, I also found many of the principles to be helpful in becoming a better reader, and in reading more without living less. It was a good reminder that good readers learn how to eat frogs and eat elephants.
How to Eat Frogs and Eat Elephants
1. How do you eat a frog? Pick the ugliest one and eat it first.
When author Brian Tracy began to ask people (mostly in business) what they did that made them stand out in a field of average, he began to notice they all had something in common — they consistently and regularly recognized their “frogs” and at them first.
No worries, no frogs were harmed in the writing or applying of this book. By “eating frogs” Tracy is referring to the big, difficult tasks that are most important in producing results. He draws the phrase from Mark Twain’s advice, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
When making plans, take action. Do something immediately that will move you toward your goal. If your goal is reading, then read that book!
Maybe the frogs in front of you — when it comes to increasing your reading — are selecting a book, making time to read, or even just opening the next book. That’s your frog; start eating!
Tracy also noticed that those who were consistently “eating frogs,” developed a sort of psychological response to the thrill of accomplishing their goals. The “high” of actually getting tough stuff done and exercising self-discipline compelled them to take on the next difficult task, and the next. Eventually, they became addicted to their success. (While I believe that in some cases this could potentially prove problematic spiritually and emotionally if other life priorities are not taken into consideration, I think there’s a helpful point to consider here. The more you successfully take on a seemingly difficult task, the easier it becomes to do so. Habits are built, and often the dread turns to delight.)
2. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Maybe you’re like me, and you get paralysis of choice: not knowing what to do because you want to do everything. Or in this case, read everything.
Your goal is to read 35 books for the next year? But which ones? And how will you be able to keep up? Well, take the first bite. You might only know of 2 books on your list so far, and wonder how you’ll come up with more ideas. Don’t let that stop you from reading your first two choices. Read that book!
You’re eating an elephant, which might seem impossible. But it’s not impossible when you do it one bite at a time. With each bite, however, don’t forget that you’re eating an elephant. Keep the big picture in front of you. It helps to know what the big goal is, and as you “eat” often your mind will fill in some of the gaps to help you think of what the next step might be. (And if not, ask fellow readers for recommendations — book suggestions, ideas on how to use reading formats, and what they’ve done to get to be big readers.)
I still have hundreds of books on my to-read list that I may never get to. But I am also adding slowly but surely to my have-read list, too. Plod with patience, but go at it.
In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis reflects on some of the things that helped shape his early life:
“I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive. This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon.
The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me. I measure distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed “infinite riches” in what would have been to motorists “a little room.”
The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.”
While this series is about reading more without living less, the truth is that we often need to do less in order to live more. And at times, that may include reading less.
Like those in Lewis’s time, we have the deadly power of rushing about wherever we please. And perhaps, we have even more opportunities for doing so, literally right at — and with — our fingertips.
When it comes to reading, our minds need time to ruminate on the information we’ve taken in. If you’re under a constant barrage of information without taking time and space, it can become difficult to adequately process and use that information and those new ideas.
Because the information we gain from reading is not the value of posessing this information, but the value of using that information, taking breaks and taking time to think becomes important. (In the long run, this will also help us to read more, because we will be less likely to burn out and also more likely to process what we’re reading.) We could, like in Lewis’s illustration, read a hundred books and learn and grow less than someone who diligently absorbs and thinks as he reads just ten.
In this past year, several of the books I’ve read have touched on this as how time is needed for healthy creativity and problem-solving. I think this short video illustrates how our minds thrive when given ample time, rather than pressured by the limitation of time:
This is true in many areas of life. It is interesting to look at the ancient cycles of fasting and feasting, working hard to harvest and then enjoying the harvest, and work and rest, and to see how those were beneficial cycles. As I’ve been learning about exercising, “Your muscles grow when you’re resting, not when you’re working out,” says Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., and a Men’s Health exercise advisor. If you want to build muscle, it’s better to work out every other day, not every day in a row. (Though, technically, the specific routine may vary depending what specifics you’re focusing on; but regardless, you don’t workout or work hard for 31 days in a row without seeing detrimental effects.) While the brain is a bit more complex than muscle, the concept can nonetheless be applied to reading and many other areas of life.
The time off you need and the length of the pauses you take will look different from person to person, and from season to season of life. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all you’re reading, and switching up genres and other options aren’t helping, consider taking a break from reading for a few days or even a couple of weeks. In the long run, it could serve you well.
This post is a continuation from Part 1 of “Addressing Religious-Based Concerns About Reading,” where the first post addressed the question, “Shouldn’t a Christian be reading his Bible more than reading so many books?”
This post addresses the second common question:
2. Is it wise or even permissible for a Christian to read secular books or books that differ in theological matters?
First, it’s probably important to note that you’ll probably never find a book that you agree with 100%.
The point of reading isn’t to find material that we agree with or fully endorse. Reading for such a reason generally defeats some of the main points of reading: to learn, to grow, to understand, and to enjoy. Learning comes by broadening our minds (both in the extent of knowledge we expose ourselves to and in the mediums through which it is carried), and exposing our minds to a variety of perspectives, viewpoints, knowledge, etc. And yes, that may sometimes include things that we don’t agree with.
Reading only what you already know and agree with is definitely safe and keeps you within your comfort zone. But there are important reasons to read outside of our comfort zone, to read widely:
1. We can read to learn other worldviews and to gain a better understanding of human experience.
We can accomplish this through both fiction and non-fiction. When we read the books that are selling to the masses, both historical and the current bestsellers, we can go into them understanding that there is something in these books that appeals (or, has appealed) to a great number of people. If it’s a current bestseller, it can give us a better understanding of the current worldview. If it’s a classic that’s been well-read through the centuries, we can better understand what common passions and themes bind humanity beyond mere contemporary and cultural overtones.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes connot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.”
2. We enhance our ability to think better when we read things that we know we disagree with.
For now, let’s just use the example of theological difference. As an example, if you are an avowed Calvinist (and maybe you aren’t quite sure why), you may wish to pick up Roger Olson’s handy little book Against Calvinism. You’ll start thinking about your position — why you hold it, possible objections to it, or maybe even why some of your reasonings are invalid, etc. In the case of this theological debate, there is a companion volume called For Calvinism by Michael Horton in case you find yourself on a different starting point (or just want to refresh and strengthen what you believe you already believe). The clash of perspectives sharpens the edge of one’s intellect.
We shouldn’t just pick up a book in order to tear “the other side’s” argument to shreds, either. We should read graciously and with a spirit of learning. There are things that we can learn from people whose ideologies and lives we may neither agree with nor endorse. Exposing ourselves to ideas that we knowingly disagree with can also help us to strengthen our understanding of our own ideas, or, it may allow us to see where our idea is weak and perhaps there is some truth to the idea that opposes it. It may be slightly unnerving to find ourselves in such a position, but it is a place that is essential for growth, and possibly, change.
3. We can read with the understanding of common grace, and see evidences of God’s common grace displayed in ways we may have otherwise been blinded to or oblivious of.
Although you may not necessarily agree with a certain worldview, theological position, or piece of information, that does not mean there is nothing to learn from a well-written work.
Christians often significantly damage their intellectual credibility by refusing to learn from sources that are not specifically “Christian.” Rather than dismissing a field entirely because it’s not authored or promoted by a Christian (or even a worldview that aligns with a Christian worldview), we need to discern what is genuine information and research that may be ensconced in an opposing worldview, and be willing to extract and interact with that knowledge from a variety of sources.
For example, a Christian who believes that God created the world (regardless of what timing one may believe God used) should be able to look at a work that expounds on the wonders of evolutionary biology and see that the underlying theme is that these same amazing wonders of biology point to incredible intelligent design of a God who created this world.
Knowledge and information is often intermingled with worldview, and it takes discernment not to conflate the two together and throw them both out (or vice versa, wholeheartedly embrace both). (And although this post is heavily influenced by my worldview, I think an atheist or agnostic could come to this post and also leave with something valuable to him. Of course, it’s also possible that he is also influenced by my worldview.)
4. We can read to practice discernment.
God’s truth is ultimate, and it will triumph. If what we call truth cannot withstand exposure to opposing ideologies, then it is a weak faith, and perhaps in some cases a misguided or misplaced faith (i.e., such faith may be situated in religiosity, in standards, or in tradition more than it is in God and His Word). There are also those who fear all forms of doubt, but doubt is sometimes the tool or catalyst God uses to open hearts and minds.
That said, it is important to read with discernment. Of course, everything we read must be tethered to a right understanding of God’s Word. Nonetheless, we can strengthen our minds, grow our faith, and interact with the world better when we understand more by reading broadly. We need to make sure that we don’t think of “discernment” as implying that Christians should never expose themselves to ideas opposed to their own.
We also need to remember that even our “Biblical worldview” may have been influenced by cultural entrapments that we’ve picked up along the way, or have been embedded in our Christian subcultures for so long that it is hard to realize that that aspect of our worldview is not truly Biblical.
What about Philippians 4:8 “Whatever is true, etc…think about such things”? This is a verse often used to attack the reading of pop fiction, psychology, or other works from a secular perspective. This is an important verse. It enjoins the Christian to meditate upon things that are excellent or praiseworthy. This does not deny to Christians the reading of secular literature. We live in a fallen world. We see the marks of sin everywhere we turn. The overriding direction of our minds, however, must remain fixed upon excellent and praiseworthy things. If you become obsessed with reading unwholesome material, it’s probably time to change your habits. If, however, you are training your mind to think upon excellent and trustworthy things in the context of a fallen world, this is where true value lies.
5. We can read to enjoy.
Finally, there is value in reading to enjoy. Beyond relaxation, enjoyable reading can enhance our creativity, productivity, and rejuvenation. Reading must not always be chore that you’ve got to force yourself to slog through. It can be something fun and exciting.
These are only five reasons to read widely. There are numerous more. Not only is it permissible for Christians to read widely, but it is also important to do so.