I’ve been reading two books that I wish I’d read 20 years ago. In my defense, they didn’t exist 20 years ago. However, although my last 20 years have been the poorer for that absence, I do hope that they will powerfully shape my remaining years here below.
Knowing Tony’s gifts, expertise, and experience in reading, I’d been very much looking forward to his book. But partly due to the kind of undisciplined reading habits that Tony addresses in his book, it’s taken me a few months to get round to it!
C J Mahaney’s foreword stunned me straight away. I couldn’t believe how like my story was to his (minus the drugs, but not a lot else). Like him, I hated reading as a child and teenager; in fact I hated school. All I was interested in was soccer and planning to make my first million (preferably while playing soccer).
I managed to scrape through school without reading one full book – all I remember are a few weird chapters of Orwell’s 1984. I had no interest in College or University, and only applied for dentistry (don’t laugh) because my father was a dentist and the school said that I had to apply for something. Thankfully, I didn’t get the necessary grades, left school one year early and, aged 17, started work with a financial services company en route to my first million (thankfully I failed at that too).
Bookshops were still a foreign world to me, and the only thing I read regularly were the sports and financial pages of The Times. Oh, yes, and anything about Margaret Thatcher!
A new mind
When I was converted to Christ in my early twenties, everything changed (apart from Margaret). The Lord gave me a new heart AND a new mind. I immediately had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Although I’d been brought up in the church, I doubt I’d ever really listened to more than a handful of sermons. My parents had always instructed me in the Bible, but as a new Christian I felt I knew next to nothing.
After having to leave my job for reasons of conscience, in God’s good providence, I started working with a Christian friend in his fledgling small business. With few customers initially and lots of time on our hands, he started introducing me to Banner of Truth books. But, although I was eager to learn, reading books did not come easy. I’d never done it before and I didn’t have anyone to teach me how.
I started lots of books, but finished few. The ones I did get through took me forever, and I could hardly remember the beginning by the time I got to the end. Concentration was also a problem, mainly because I was often trying to read in the wrong places or at the wrong times of day (as I now understand from Tony’s book). Often I set apart a whole Saturday for reading a book, and usually lasted an hour or two at most; whereas, if I’d read Tony’s book, I would have learned how much can be accomplished by reading just one hour every day in three 20-minute blocks (70 books a year according to Tony).
From time to time I did try to preserve the fruits of what I was reading, but with no regular method, such as Tony helpfully explains, most of it fell through my fingers like sand.
I also limited myself to Christian books because I felt that all other books were “worldly.” Later, I gradually allowed myself to read more widely, especially in the areas of biography and leadership – political, military, business, and sports leadership. Again, Tony’s book would have given me the confidence and method to do this more widely, more wisely, more confidently, and more systematically.
When I was called to the ministry and started the long six-year trek through University and Seminary (having not even a Bachelor’s degree to my name), I had so much catch-up to do. I often sat at the Seminary lunch table hearing about the libraries of books everyone else had read and hardly recognized any of them. If Lit! had been written then, I could have smugly said, “Actually Tony Reinke (and John Piper) say it’s better to read a few books well and thoughtfully, rather than chalk them off like fighter pilots.”
Eventually pastoral ministry came along, and although from time to time I did manage to get a reading plan together and stick to it for a while, it was usually a bit ad hoc and almost always too ambitious and unsustainable. One of my problems was that I treated every book alike and felt that I needed to read every word in every book. Tony would have relieved me of such false guilt and helped me to understand the different strategies needed to read different books.
When children arrived, homeschooling certainly provided a much more reading-friendly environment than my public school did. I was stunned at the amount of reading my boys were doing (and they certainly aren’t the
swotty bookworm type). By the age of seven or eight, they had read way more books than I had by the age of 20! I tried to keep them supplied with books, but I wasn’t really strategic or intentional about it. Lit! had me wishing I could re-do this aspect of my parenting. But hopefully it will help lots of other young parents for many years to come.
You’d think given my current calling that I’d now have lots of time and opportunity to carve out personal reading time; but most of my reading is still focussed on the next course, lecture, conference or sermon. I still struggle to prioritize my reading, to balance my reading, and to archive the best bits of my reading. Tony’s given me lots of new ideas and motivation on this front and I’ve already benefitted (and so has Amazon) from implementing some of them.
So, thank you for this book, Tony. I highly, highly, highly recommend it to enthusiastic readers, reluctant readers, wannabe readers, and reading coaches (parents, teachers, pastors, etc). I’ve already got my teenage sons reading it (on their Kindles – sorry Tony!), and I’m planning to write some study questions to make sure they really get it. I’m so anxious to make sure that in 20 years time they don’t look back and say, as I do today, “I wish I’d read Tony Reinke’s book then.”