Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reading Non-fiction Like a Pro

Many of you are hard at work finalizing your reading list in anticipation of Katrina's Fall Reading Challenge. If you've never done something like this before, I encourage you to give it a try. Although I was skeptical at first, the challenge encouraged me to become more disciplined and intentional in my reading habits. Um - not to mention saving some money by reading what I had on hand!

Perhaps you're scrambling to get the obligatory non-fiction title or two on your list. You know, the one you should read because you're a parent and you just know you need some help! Or the one your relative gave you for Christmas last year. Or the one all your friends at church seem to be reading and talking about! If you find yourself less than enthusiastic about non-fiction, here are a few tips you might find helpful:

  1. Allow the Lord to direct your reading path. In what areas of your life are you struggling? Trust that he can use certain authors to reinforce the principles in his word and bring about his good work in your life.
  2. When choosing books, seek the recommendation of friends and avail yourself of the many reviews posted at sites like and Note authors of magazine articles you enjoy and check out the Internet to see what books they might have written.
  3. Read according to your personality. Are you a how-to person who loves lists and action items? Or are you a more contemplative person who appreciates great literary quotations interspersed in your reading? Can you relate better to books filled with personal stories? As you select books, keep your personality and preferences in mind.
  4. Get in the habit of reading the prologue, dedication and introduction to books. Doing so gives you personal insight into the author's intention for writing that particular book. Getting to know the author a bit always whets my appetite for the rest of the story. In today's Internet world, it's easy to connect to favorite authors online via their personal blogs and websites.
  5. Read slowly and set attainable reading goals. As a college student, I boasted a 2000 wpm reading level in a speed-reading course. That's great when your goal is to complete hundreds of pages of required reading with only three days left before finals. It's not so great when you come to the end of the book and realize you missed most of the author's best ideas. If you're new to non-fiction, perhaps just one chapter a week or just 1-2 books a year would be achievable goals.
  6. Read with a pen and paper at hand. If you own the book, stop and underline parts that speak to you. Fill the margins with notes if you're so inclined. Or jot down important thoughts in a notebook, remembering to note page numbers for future reference.
  7. As the Lord leads, incorporate the thoughts you're reading into your daily quiet time. If the author provides a study guide or questions for reflection, consider taking the time to contemplate at least a few of those questions. Recently I read If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get out of the Boat, by John Ortberg. In Chapter 7, Ortberg points to Psalm 142 as David's great cave-time lament. So for the next few days, I spent time meditating on that Psalm during my quiet time.
  8. Share your reading with others. Perhaps your church would appreciate a short review for the church newsletter. Post a snippet on your blog, along with your insights. Or challenge a friend to read the same book you're reading, and then meet occasionally to share your insights. Something happens when we try to summarize and share what we're learning; it reinforces it in our own minds.
And now, I have a reading list to tend to!