8 Ways to Reverse the Decline of the American Book Lover

According to The Pew Research Center:

  • Nearly a quarter of American adults have not read a single book in the past year.
  • The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.
  • In 1978, 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year; today just 28 percent hit the 11 mark.
  • The average 18-to-29 year old finishes nine per year, compared to 13 among older American.

But there’s some good news too:

The percentage of young folks reading for pleasure stopped declining. Last year, the NEA found that 52 percent of 18-24 year-olds had read a book outside of work or school, the same as in the pre-Facebook days of 2002. If book culture were in terminal decline, this is the demographic where you’d expect it to be fading fastest. Perhaps the worst of the fall is over.

I struggle to find time to read. Yes, I read plenty during working hours for lectures, sermons, etc, but in terms of reading books of choice in my leisure time, I confess I often go to bed disappointed in my use of the evening hours. It’s so much easier just to tap around on the iPad or read blogs. So here are a few strategies I’ve recently been trying to follow to increase my reading.

Same Time and Place
Set aside 30 minutes a day when and where you can be guaranteed that you will not be interrupted. Try to make it the same place and the same time every day and get agreement from everyone in your household to guard that time for you. And turn off your phone notifications. When you get used to that rare and wonderful feeling of reading for 30 uninterrupted minutes, up it to 45, then an hour. You’ll soon be completing a book every 7-10 days.

Count the Pages
I know, this probably sounds ridiculous, and maybe it’s a man thing (everything’s got to be a competition), but I do find I read more when I count and record the number of pages I read in my 30 minutes. Somehow it stops me reading at half-speed and also improves my concentration. Put an index card in the book and record the pages for each 30 mins.

Read Paragraphs Not Pages
Break each page into paragraphs and count each read paragraph as an achievement. Maybe it’s social media but I find I don’t have the same concentration span that I used to. I can read a page and yet realize I haven’t taken in a thing. But if I focus on paragraphs, I find that I can concentrate much better on the smaller chunks, and my reading speed actually improves as I build momentum as each paragraph is conquered (it’s the man thing again).

Stop Reading
Books are brilliantly marketed today, making it more and more difficult to know what books to buy or not. They all “look” so good. Few read as good as they look. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve stopped reading after a chapter or two. I don’t feel under any obligation to force myself to read badly written, poorly thought out, and pale imitation books just because I bought them. That would be double stupidity – wasting my money AND my time. If you make yourself read a book you are not enjoying, you will slow down, find excuses to fill your 30 minutes with better things, and eventually give up.

Start the Empty Shelf Challenge
I’m still trying to find an empty shelf, but I think Jon Acuff’s Empty Shelf Challenge is a great idea to motivate a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Not very helpful for Kindle readers unless you follow his suggestion of printing out a copies of the front covers and maybe posting them on a wall. Which brings me to…

Read Paper Books
I love technology, but I must confess that despite trying again and again and again to read books on a Kindle, I hardly ever finish books on it. I don’t have the motivation of seeing how far I’m physically through the book, and I am way to easily distracted by the other possible books on my Kindle or other options on my iPad. Kindle books are cheaper, but you lose more than you gain.

Read with Your Kids
This will probably only work for those of us with older children, but this January I agreed with my two teenage sons that I would buy each of them a book a month from Amazon. They don’t have a free choice, as we make the selections together. The main criteria are that the books would help them grow spiritually, vocationally, or help prepare them for life in some way. As they each have to read the other’s choice as well, I hope they and I will have read 24 books in the year, with lots of discussion among us along the way. FYI, the first two books they chose were Sam Walton: Made in America (one wants to go into business), and How to Become a Straight A Student (we can but dream).

Anyone got any other ideas?


The Unequal Distribution of Economic Freedom
At Forbes, Alejandro Chafuen surveys countries that have successfully raised lower incomes and argues that the main causes of income inequality are:

1. Corruption: Defined as those actions by government agents that sell what they do not have a right to sell, such as subsidies, preferential regulations and others, which disproportionally affects the poor.

2. Cronyism: This is similar to corruption but usually “legal.”

3. Regulatory barriers: This is in the form of high capital requirements, mountains of red tape, and exorbitant license fees, especially in the areas where the poor enter the market.

4. Government schools:  In “This Wonderful Tree,” James Tooley, of the E.G. West Centre, documents how in several nations the poor prefer to send their children to humble, but more efficient, private schools. Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, of the Becker Friedman Institute, argues that a big improvement in high school graduation rates would reduce inequality of earnings.

5. Monetary Policy: Ralph Benko, a Forbes.com contributor, recently wrote a column on inequality where he took as a given that major players in the banking sector were being unjustly enriched by the current monetary policy.

Meanwhile, at the Acton Institute Blog, Elise Hilton says the the current administration’s preoccupation with income inequality is really about stirring up and exploiting envy. There are some powerful quotes in this piece. For example, this extract from a short story by Kurt Vonnegut.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Marijuana Use During Pregnancy Affects Baby’s Brains
President Obama and some of our politicians are going to have a lot to answer for. Pictures of giggling grannies munching away on pot cookies is what they and the media want you to see. It’s all such a laugh, isn’t it. What they don’t show you are the psychiatric wards full of ex-pot users. And now science is beginning to explain why:

Using marijuana during pregnancy could affect a baby’s brain development by interfering with how brain cells are wired, a new study in mice and human tissue suggests.

Researchers studied marijuana’s effects on mice and brain tissue from human fetuses, and found that the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, interferes with the formation of connections between nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher thinking skills and forming memories.

The effects of prenatal marijuana exposure could even last into adulthood. The drug could have direct effects, or it could sensitize the brain to future drug exposure or neuropsychiatric illnesses.

Men are More Forgetful than Women
No, really.

This feels a bit like self-flagellation (I imagine), but men, at least we have a new excuse (“Science made me do it”):

Men are frequently accused of forgetting birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and even something as simple as taking the trash out. But they have developed this stigma for a reason, a new study suggest – it found that men are more forgetful than women, regardless of their age.

The research team, led by Prof. Jostein Holmen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, published the study findings in the journal BMC Psychology.

  • Overall, the researchers found that memory problems increased with age. But in all age groups, men reported more memory problems than women.
  • Furthermore, the investigators were surprised to find that younger men forget just as much as older men.

Check out

Work that makes a difference
Dull job? This should encourage and inspire you.

Cynicism Doesn’t Reach a Lost World
Ed Stetzer with a neat story about how his cynicism was dissolved by an appearance of sky-writing above Disney.

What if you could only have one word on your tombstone?
R.C. Sproul Jr. with a surprising but good answer.

How to keep your “I do” in the present tense
Got this one via Tim Challies, but in the off-chance you are the one person in the universe that doesn’t read his blog, I wanted to give you the chance to read this beautiful story.

Christians, Don’t Give up on the Homosexuality Debate
Tremendous challenge and encouragement from Jason Helopoulos.

Cathy Rodgers and the Politics of Down Syndrome
“Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s response to the president’s State of the Union address last night drew attention to her family, and specifically to her oldest son Cole, who has Down syndrome. Her speech implied her personal and political support for children with Down syndrome, but as a fellow mother of a child with Down syndrome I’m torn by the inconsistent messages about Down syndrome (and other vulnerabilities) from both parties.”

Scientists Discover the Joy and Peace of Full Confession

“Admitting to part of a lie does not help to relieve guilt, and may even increase anxiety and shame. Coming completely clean is the best approach.”

A line from a John Macarthur sermon? A quote from the Puritans?


Research findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association! You can read a popularized version of the research here. After extensive studies and experiments, researchers found:

  • Confessing to some bad behavior was more common than making a full confession among those who cheated as much as possible in the study.
  • Confessing to only part of one’s transgressions is attractive to a lot of people because they expect the confession to be more believable and guilt-relieving than not confessing.
  • Investigators found that people feel worse when they tell only part of the truth about a wrongdoing compared to people who fully disclose their transgressions.
  • Only telling part of the truth, as opposed to not confessing at all, was more likely to lead to increased feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety, the research found.
  • Cheaters who confessed just part of their wrongdoing were also judged more harshly by others than cheaters who didn’t confess at all.
  • Full confessors were more relieved after their confessions when compared to partial confessors.
  • Participants were more likely to believe the full confession than the partial confession.

Their conclusion: “It’s best to commit to an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to confessing.”

The lead researcher commented: “Paradoxically, people seeking redemption by partially admitting their big lies feel guiltier because they do not take complete responsibility for their behaviors. True guilt relief may require people to fully come clean.”

Sometimes you have to feel sorry for scientists. They’re only a few thousand years behind God who said, “He who covers his sins will not prosper” (Prov. 23:7). But anyway, still fascinating to see some empirical research confirming what Christians have always believed and experienced.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take them another few thousand years to discover the even greater benefits and blessings of confessing all not just to other people, but to God through Jesus Christ, and receiving not just full pardon for their guilt, but also power to forsake the sins they confess.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).

Check out

Women’s Conferences: Why?
Emily Freeman on why you should go to the TGC Women’s Conference in June.

Christians & Movies: Are We Contextualizing or Compromising?
I’m with Trevin here.

Possible Reasons Why Churches Don’t Pursue Being Crosscultural
Thanks to Leon Brown for the link to this challenging piece.

Working Towards Intergenerational Relations
Jonathan Storment wants another kind of diversity: “Any church worth the name must learn to bury its members. One unhappy side effect of American Christianity’s accommodation to youth culture has been the formation of congregations that have no significant intergenerational membership, no elders who are facing frailty and death, no one to say goodbye to and commend to the perpetual light of Christ. Such churches may be full of youthful vitality, but learning to proclaim the resurrection life in the face of grief and loss is essential to spiritual maturity and true spiritual power.”

Don’t Outsource Your Sermon Prep
Sad that this even has to be written, but it’s well written and argued.

Why I Love An Evening Service
Tim Challies: “Of all the casualties the church has suffered in recent decades, I wonder if many will have longer-lasting consequences than the loss of the evening service. There was a time, not so long ago, when many or even most churches gathered in the morning.”

Six Steps to Better Thoughts, Feelings, And Actions

The wisest man in the world said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.

For example, if I think about all the things I failed to do today, I will get discouraged and possibly even angry. I will then drive home in a bad mood, and those thoughts and feelings will have a knock-on effect on how I interact with my wife and children.

If, on the other hand, I focus on what I actually managed to accomplish, if I look at the boxes I ticked today, and fade out everything else, then I go home cheerful, energized, and ready to play with my kids and chat to my wife.

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.

Dark and Dangerous
Now think of a more serious example. If a person thinks only on the bad things that have happened in his life, or on the bad things that could possibly happen in his life, and that becomes a long-term habit, he is going to end up very depressed, very anxious, and maybe even suicidal.

Although there are and have been many good things in his life, and there are good things ahead, yet looking on the dark side has become such a habit that he finds it really difficult to change what his mind fixes upon. People have told him to change and he’s told himself to change, but he feels stuck and sinking fast.

Skillful Advocate Needed
This man needs someone to come alongside and help him to see and focus on the good things in his past, present, and future, to reason  him to a more realistic and accurate picture of his life. As if in a court of law, he needs a trained and skillful advocate to bring exhibits and evidence before him, and to psersuade him to make revised judgments based upon the facts that are being presented to him.

Hopefully, as the evidence mounts and reason prevails, the mind gradually learns to think along different pathways, the old negative habit weakens and the new positive habit increases in strength until it becomes the new normal. As that happens, his emotional well-being improves, his energy returns, his relationships improve, and he becomes productive at work again.

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel, and what we do.

Traffic Jam Therapy
Let me return now to a simpler and less serious example in order to break this down further in a way that we can all relate to (well, the men at least).

Next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam and you start steaming and screaming, try to understand where these feelings and actions are coming from by asking yourself these questions.

Step 1. What are the facts? The facts are that I am in a two-mile back-up and the radio tells me it will take one hour to clear due to a breakdown in the fast lane several  miles ahead.

Step 2. What am I thinking about these facts? I’m thinking about the idiot who broke down in the fast lane. I’m thinking about all that I could have done with this hour.

Step 3. What am I feeling? I’m angry at the guy who broke down, I’m frustrated about the lost time, and I’m worried about what my friends will think about me for being late.

Step 4. Can I change the facts? No, there is no way out of the traffic jam.

Step 5. Can I change my thoughts about the facts? Yes, I can believe that this is God’s plan for this hour of my life. I can be grateful for time to stop and think and pray in the midst of a busy day. I can practice my breathing relaxation techniques. I can listen to a sermon on the radio. I can pray for my friends.

Step 6. What am I feeling now? Slowly I feel peace, tranquility, calm, and trust in God coursing through my heart and body.

We are what we think
In each of these examples, I’ve asked six questions in two groups of three. The first three – about facts, thoughts, feelings – help us identify our thoughts and recognize how they are impacting our emotions and behavior. The second three – also about facts, thoughts, feelings – help us challenge our thoughts, change them, and so change our feelings and actions. In summary:

  • How did I get into this mood? Facts, thoughts, feelings.
  • How do I get out of this mood? Facts, thoughts, feelings.

The Psalmist follows these steps when he found himself depressed and worried (e.g. Ps. 42, 73, 77).

These six steps are also at the core of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and help explain why it is so effective as part of a package of holistic care for suffering people.

Christians who have compassion for hurting and broken people would become even more effective in helping them if they would learn the basics of how to use this God-given tool. A couple of good books to get you started would be I’m not supposed to feel like this (a simple introduction written by three Christians), or Mind over Mood (not written by Christians but even simpler and very practical).

For more difficult issues and complicated problems, I’d recommend that pastors and counselors try to find out if there are any Christians who practice CBT in their area, or at least someone who will work with you (and not against you) as a Christian pastor and counselor. You will learn a lot from them and over time you will see them as a vital and valued part of your pastoral care team. All under the authority of God’s Word.

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.