On Disciplined Reading (Pt. 3): How Should I Read? Tips on Getting the Most from Your Reading

If you would like to become a disciplined reader, you probably need to make a plan. Make a list of books that you would like to read in each of your various categories of interest. If you have difficulty finding the right books to read in each category, spend some time researching. Ask an expert to give you a short list of favorites. Visit your library. Cruise the local Barnes & Noble. Surf the net. In addition, try to answer a few other questions: How many books would you like to read per month? How much time can you devote per day or per week? What time of the day is best for you? I know, I know, you are probably thinking: “Ashford is the biggest dork I have ever met. I cannot imagine how many times he got beat up in school.” But I’d like to give you advance notice: we haven’t even arrived at the nerdiest parts of this post.

Speaking of which, I encourage you to figure out your “reading style.” Take my former Old Testament professor, for example. He underlines with a pencil and a ruler! Wow. Now that’s nerdy. Or Danny Akin. He will have nothing to do with a pencil or a ruler, instead wielding a pterodactyl-sized fluorescent hi-lighter. As for me, it depends on the book. If I am reading a serious book in theology, philosophy, or international affairs, I like to read while sitting at a table, so that I can underline and annotate the book. I use a pencil and ruler. If I am reading fiction or a journal, however, I kick back in an easy chair with a pen or hi-lighter which I use only sparingly.

Third, always carry a book. My wife will tell you: I always carry a book or a journal. You would be amazed at how many minutes you can catch during the day. I laughed out loud when I read Al Mohler’s blogpost of 9/12/07: “My wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights….I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. [Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here.] I remember the books – do you remember the games?” Although you might find an exception from time to time (I am considering leaving my books at home when my wife delivers our first baby in August. Grin.), a good rule of thumb is to always carry a book.

Other tips? If possible, drink and read at the same time. That’s right. There are few things in life better than settling down to a good book or journal with a steaming cup of tea or coffee at hand. Try it. It will change your life. Another tip: turn off the television while you read. It is not that I don’t think The Office is funny (only a man with a petrified diaphragm could fail to laugh aloud at Dwight Schrute), or that it isn’t mildly amusing to watch the overly dramatic Horatio Cane over-act all of his lines in CSI: Miami. It is just that when I am reading, I want to be able to concentrate. A related tip: Start or join a reading group. Find a handful of friends, select a book to read each month, and find a time to get together over coffee and debate and discuss what you have read. A final tip: Read with a pen in hand. By that, I mean that you should read as an active participant. Make notes in the margin, write a critique of the book and post it on your blog, send a letter to the author, or publish a review in a journal.

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  1. Brian   •  

    Oh, take a book when your wife delivers. I can’t promise you that you’ll have a LOT of time to read, but I had one with both of my boys were born and I read some and journaled the events along the way. The journal of both boys’ births is quite special to us.

  2. Leah   •  

    I would agree with Brian–feel free to take a book or two to the hospital! Lauren may want one as well; books are welcome distraction while waiting on labor to progress, or to read during those precious moments while baby Ashford is sleeping in your arms. Great series of posts.

  3. Dean   •  

    As for reading style, when it’s something serious like you mentioned, I’m a 4-Color Bic guy. Here’s how I underline:
    Green: The term or idea being defined
    Blue: The definition
    Red: Something questionable
    Black: Anything else I deem worthy of being underlined

    I know this seems really anal, but being off the charts ADD this method helps me pay attention when I read and absolutely rescued me in college and seminary. Read it this way the first time, then just review the colors for the quizzes and exams!

  4. Jessica   •  

    Take the book when you’re in the hospital. My husband had a lot of chances to read during and after labor. I finished a book after I had gotten the epidural with our 2nd child- in fact, the doctor told me I was ready to deliver and I asked if I could have another 1/2 hour to finish my book! My request was denied but I still finished the book before we left the hospital!

  5. Jason Lewis   •  

    I have recently decided to start speaking just like Horatio Caine around the house all the time. For example: “Kids…(pause for effect while taking sunglasses off and then with an intense sideways glance)…it’s TIME for breakfast.”

  6. Jason Lewis   •  

    Sorry…one more comment, I’m full of them today. You could take a motivational self-help book with you to the hospital and quote banal and/or pithy (I just wanted an excuse to use those two words) sayings to Lauren while she is in labor: For example- “(Insert banal/pithy saying here).”

  7. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Jessica, your comment qualifies as the funniest of the year! You tried to put off labor for 30 minutes so that you could finish your book. I stand in awe.

    Jason, your comments are relegated to the second and third funniest of the year. (Imagine if all of us “Horatio Cane-d” our way through life…)

  8. Jessica   •  

    Well, after having spent over 200 pages of Donald’s Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life realizing what a lazy being I am, I figured that I had no excuse- thus the desire to finish the last 100 pages during labor.
    Besides, the epidurals at Wakemed work wonders (pre-epidural, all I was doing was crying and thinking I was going to die, but don’t share that with your sweet wife!)

  9. Cory Wilson   •  

    It may be fine to bring a book to the hospital for delivery but be careful when you read. For the birth of our second child I was reading “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” by Henry Scougal in the room while Jasmine was having contractions without an epidural. Needless to say having my head stuck in a book while she is screaming in pain did not gain me any brownie points. Oblivious to my ignorance she kindly reminded me in the middle of my reading that my wife was in labor about to delivery our child and if I valued my life I should put the book aside. Over two years later I have yet to read another page out of that book.

    By the way, congrad to you and Lauren. Didn’t know a little one was on the way.

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  11. Jason   •  

    This is a great post! I, however, do not share your enthusiasm for marking in books. I marked in my intro Hebrew grammar for class (almost 8 years ago now!) and still wish I hadn’t! Perhaps I have an unhealthy desire for my books to remain as pristine as possible. I, too, brought books for the births of all four of my children–they are a welcome time-passer in between visits from family and friends, feedings, etc.

  12. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Cory, I will keep your advice in mind. And poor Henry Scougal… He suffers b/c of your mistake…

    Jason, thank you for reading and taking time to comment. I can say that I leave classic hardback texts and antique books free of marking! But other books… not so much.

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  15. Richelle   •  

    Like Jason, I don’t really like marking up my books either. But I have a solution and an exception to this preference. First of all the solution: I keep a stack of 3×5 cards, or several sheets of note paper stapled together as a bookmark. Then I can note questions, interesting quotes, or things to delve into later. If I feel the book is worthy, I might re-copy them into a moleskin and keep it with the book, or make a file in my computer (I love the program Notebook by Circus Ponies), or even just scan them digitally if copying or re-typing seem impossible/scary.

    My exception to the no-writing rule is that when I am reading particularly scholarly, challenging, or “read once in a lifetime” books, I often write in the margin at the top of the right hand page what the two open pages are roughly about. This creates a kind of index, like the guide words in a dictionary, that help me find ideas I want to reference again, or just scan those headings if I want a refresher course on what the book said.

    Thanks for the great reading guide!

  16. Lesley   •  

    LOL @

    “Ashford is the biggest dork I have ever met. I cannot imagine how many times he got beat up in school.” But I’d like to give you advance notice: we haven’t even arrived at the nerdiest parts of this post.

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