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?

  • Kim Shay

    Even when our kids didn’t need to be read to, we did it, anyway. When my son was the only being homeschooled, he and I read C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. I read the first two volumes out loud to him, and then he finished the last on his own. Me reading out loud and discussing it with him was good. I feel very much the same about my Kindle. Now, I make sure I have a paper book wherever I go. It is something to do while waiting for appointments, etc.

  • Mom2JADE

    Great idea!!! Keep posting Teen book titles! We have done read alouds on a few chapters with my kids (17-6) recently from Making Brothers and Sisters best friends. Basically the chapter on the six reasons why you don’t get along with your siblings. Great opportunity for us to preach the gospel to our selfish hearts=>

  • Chris

    Appreciate the post.

    Focusing on paragraphs and timing pages is something I will have to try.

    I do not use a Kindle, although it is probably a great tool. There is something about holding paper book and flipping through pages, smelling it, underlying, circling, and making notes in the margin. I realize most of this can be done with a Kindle and finger, but a pencil is so much easier for me(perhaps I’m becoming old fashion).

    This may sound a bit New Age, but listening to nature sounds with meditative music helps me to focus and eliminates back ground noise ( The dogs like it too, puts them right to sleep! I tried listening to some violin music but it moves me emotionally so I cannot focus (

    Reading out load is a big help as well. This is a bit tedious but for deeper study I will read something out load, read it silently, and summarize what I read in a journal.


  • Richard

    Greg Beale says he read NT Wright’s big book on the resurrection one page at a time while brushing his teeth. I started doing that several months ago and have read hundreds of pages I wouldn’t otherwise have. I know a lot more about the resurrection. And I have really clean teeth :-)

  • Gary

    Don’t be too dismissive of Kindle. The problems you mention are only problems of habit and discipline. Once you get used to it, the advantages far outweigh them.

    • Scott_Y

      Agreed. My son gave me a Kindle in January 2013, and my annual reading jumped up by 50%. I’m a guy who loves printed books and resisted for years saying I’d never switch to an ebook reader.

    • Joe Wisnieski

      Yes, physical books have a magic all their own, but I love the convenience of my Kindle; and I’m reading more books because of it.

      I also suspect there is a vast difference between the eReaders and multimedia devices and how much reading actually gets done. I have the Kindle Touch eReader, so I have minimal distractions.

    • Gabriel Rodriguez

      I agree. I have found myself reading faster and far more than reading paper books. I guess it might also be a generational thing. Maybe?

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  • Kristin Wong

    Yes on the book-a-month idea, and please send more ideas! We read scores of book together in years of homeschooling. Our two daughters transitioned beautifully to reading great fiction, theology, and devotional books on their own. Now we’re trying to help our two sons. One is a voracious reader immersed in fantasy/sci-fi and the other struggles to read books at all. Would like to serve them both well.

    BTW, found your blog via the Captivated movie, which we watched as a family last night. Thanks.

  • Marcy Smith

    Really enjoyed this article and all the great comments. I used to love reading fiction, then started feeling guilty about all the books on theology I owned but had t read. Maybe I’ll splurge on some fiction again. It’s worth a try :).

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  • Stephen Dunning

    Can I disagree with counting the pages? I used to set myself the job of reading so many pages a day, and in the end it became labourious. By not counting pages, my reading is more enjoyable, though I obviously can’t say if I read more or less!

    Counting pages made me select books with smaller pages, or easier to read pages. It also meant I didn’t read stuff on my Kindle where it didn’t have page numbers. Now I tackle things that I didn’t before.

    At least for me, counting pages was a hindrance, not a help.

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  • Caleb Suko

    Focusing on paragraphs has always been a great help for me, also having a time and place is a big deal. In addition to these suggestions I also try to make sure I always have a book with me so I can get in 10 or 15 minutes if I’m waiting in line, riding the bus or just have some down time.

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  • Darren

    Love this post and the suggestions here.

    I’ve found the opposite with my kindle. I read about 10 times as much as I did when I was reading paper books.

    I aim for 5% of a book per day and have been able to achieve that for the past 2 and a half years.

    • Jolene

      What about using your library? Use the free resources around you instead of buying a book you may not enjoy. Libraries have plenty of books, audiobooks, and ebooks to borrow. And if they don’t have the book you want they can borrow it for you. You can listen to audiobooks while driving, working on a hobby, cooking, or cleaning. This is multitasking at its best and makes tasks and long trips more enjoyable.

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  • Jo DeVinney Murch

    One of the things I read that shaped my reading is a “talk” from a collection of short pieces by C. S. Lewis, called “On the Reading of Old Books.” There was a suggestion that one read books written in previous centuries, specifically, that for each book one reads, written in the present century, one read at very least one book written in a previous century. Not material written just a generation earlier, but a century or even a couple of millennia earlier than the reader’s birth. We are talking about historical perspective, here, and yes, it does “count” if one reads the Book of Genesis more than once a year!
    I was reading books from previous centuries by the time I was in second grade (which may have been before Lewis made that recommendation) and that probably accounts for the fact that by age 11, I was six years ahead of my contemporaries in “reading comprehension” on achievement tests. This was over half a century ago; the thought of the breathtaking advantages of reading old books for the present school-age child can barely be calculated!

    I prefer paper books, for a couple of reasons, most important of which is the fact that my hands are not in the best condition, and they are easier to hold than an electronic device, and far lighter. (also, print size is often far more readable) On the other hand, I have about 40 books stored on my cell phone, so it’s easy to have something to read when unexpectedly waiting for something somewhere. But a real paper volume is far easier for me to handle, “turn pages” and locate chapters, without poking a tiny little arrow, which seems to dodge my ancient fingers far too easily, so I usually like to use paper books for that, as well. I did take a class at the local library, to learn how to access books on cell phone, but it’s a cumbersome process for me, and why waste time poking difficult “icons”, when you could be reading?

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