On Disciplined Reading (Pt. 4): Why Should I Read? Other Advantages of Reading

In the first installment of this series, I gave a theological reason that one might want to read: God himself gave humans the unique ability to read and write, and to use our rational and imaginative capacities for his glory is one way that we reflect his image. In this installment, I will enumerate further reasons to read and some of the advantages accrued for a lifelong habit of reading.

First, reading books sharpens the mind. For Christians, reading gives us the chance to interact in the world of ideas, giving theological critique of what you read. It is one way to practice thinking Christianly. If I am reading a work of fiction, I ask a series of questions: Who is the hero, and why does the writer want me to admire him? Who is the adversary in this story, and what does the author think is so bad about him? Does this story provide a note of redemption, and if so, in what is the redemption found? If I am reading a theological text, I critique it in light of the Scriptures and the best of the Great Tradition. If I am reading one of the great philosophers, I question his presuppositions and look into the logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and existential viability of his theories. Reading prepares us to think in a distinctively Christian manner.

Second, reading exercises the mind. It forces us to increase our skills of concentration, memory, and reasoning. It requires that we focus on, remember, and assess arguments, plots, themes, characters, facts, and figures. Reading improves vocabulary. Without reading regularly, I would have never known, inter alia, such susquapedalian words as “pervicacious” or “stultiloquence.” J Further, reading makes us better writers. (Just think how much worse this blogpost would be if I didn’t read regularly.)

Third, reading gives one something about which to converse. If I have read Ghost Wars, I can make a meaningful contribution when conversation turns to Afghanistan. If I have read The World is Flat or The Clash of Civilizations, then I can make conversation with about any number of global issues. If I have read Mere Christianity, I have some idea how to make theological conversation with a skeptic. If I read Wildlife in the Kingdom Come, I will be well-equipped to poke fun at theologians.

Fourth, reading allows one to “travel” to other times and places. Although I might not have the time or money to travel to Iran right now, I can read about it in The Ayatollah Begs to Differ or The Shia Revival. I may never be able to interview Abraham Lincoln or Jonathan Edwards, but I can read their biographies. Although I was never able to converse with one of the famous atheists, I am able to read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian.

Fifth, reading reduces stress. Researchers at the University of Sussex have shown that the best way to relieve mental and physical stress is to read a book. In their study (which Al Mohler pointed out in his blog on 4/3/09), reading caused a 68% reduction in measurable stress, topping other stress reducers, such as listening to music (61%), sipping tea or coffee (54%), and taking a walk (42%).

Finally, reading is an inexpensive and low maintenance form of entertainment. Compared to the cinema, for example, books don’t cost much. Most books cost $10-$30, which is approximately the same as 1-3 movie tickets, and give more pleasure over a longer period of time. Library books do not cost a dime. Imagine the money I can save if I can one day get my baby daughter hooked on reading (and convince her not to marry).

Note: In the concluding installment of this series, I will interact with some of the comments and questions I’ve received, make some book recommendations, and provide some concluding thoughts.

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  1. Spencer   •  

    First, it is bizarre that you tagged this with Dora the Explorer.

    Second, most likely your daughter will love to read and will get married. Unfortunately she will probably read about an extravagent wedding and cost you more because of the huge expenditures in flying in exotic flowers, food from remote islands, etc.

    Third, another primary benefit of reading is that it allows students to pass their seminary classes.

  2. Lee Joyner   •  

    Been there done that. My daughter is 21 and has just decided there is one guy she might be interested in. Before that her line was always, “Who needs boys, just give me a good book.” Wish you well on getting her hooked.

  3. Michael   •  

    Dr. Ashford,

    What do you make of all the hype of blogging about reading lists and how many books people are reading? For the average pastor in a local church, where does one find the time to read through 6-7 categories of reading each month (not even touching the numerous journals that should be read), prepare 2 sermons each week, tend to the sheep, and spend time with his family? Also, should a good rule of thumb be to spend equal amounts of time reading Scripture as reading other books?

    I look forward to your thoughts!

  4. Bruce Ashford   •     Author


    You make a good point, and it is one that i probably should have addressed in the series. Not everybody will should 6-7 books per month. Sometimes one or two is the appropriate number, considering the responsibilities you have. Choose one or two books, and read them slowly and thoughtfully, as you can find time, over the course of the month. As for amount of time in Scripture vs. amount of time in other books, I would say that your rule of thumb is not a bad rule of thumb, although I probably do not spend equal time. Thank you for reading the blog, and for your comments.

  5. Benjamin   •  

    May I get you take on some key ways of reading a book well? I have a few books to work through for class and I would like your opinion of some helpful ways to read them and get something out of it to use long term.

  6. Matt   •  

    Thank you very much for this series. Different people have encouraged me to read novels, but as a NT PhD student, I spend most of my days reading. The last thing I feel like doing in the evening is reading again – even if it is just a novel. What is your suggestion? Would you suggest I add a novel to my reading list? I have a hard time justifying a novel when I could be reading something else, but if it can be beneficial overall, perhaps I should. Thank you.

  7. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Benjamin, tomorrow morning’s installment addresses that question primarily by recommending three books on “how to read”!

    Matt, great point. Each person’s life situation is different, and you may not have time for much in the way of extra reading. When I was in the PhD program, I read fiction sparingly, but when I did it was a good break from the technical work i was doing in philosophy and theology. For example, for a while I read one or two of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories each evening. It took 15 minutes per story. Also, when I found an extra few hours, I read shorter books like G. K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday” and C. S. Lewis’ “Til We Have Faces.”

  8. Pingback: On Reading… « Simply Sparks…

  9. Cal Wallace   •  

    Hey Bruce, do you mean susquipedalian as opposed to susquapedalian?

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