Tag Archives: reading

ron

Thirteen Ways to Read More in 2013

I did not make 52 books this year, but I’m OK with that.

For the past three years, Mark and I have read and blogged about a book a week here. It’s been one of the best goals that I’ve set out and accomplished. I loved reading so much and talking about those books with others. This year was slightly different. We adopted our second son Josiah in May. When he came, I knew that there was no way for me to continue reading at that pace, but I still wanted to read and blog what I could. I made it to 38 having two young sons, a busy time traveling in the States, and teaching five advanced English courses with lots and lots of essays to grade. With all that, I’m happy with 38.

With all this going on, I still wanted to carve out time to read not just to meet a self-imposed goal, but because reading is valuable. Books are important, and reading them adds to our quality of living. Many people say, “I’d love to read more, but I can’t because________.” This blank is filled with reasons that are legion. If this is you, let me address a few obstacles to my reading; perhaps this will encourage you to see that they may not be obstacles at all.

1. Stop saying, “I’m a slow reader.” If you think this about yourself, join the club. Just because I’m an English teacher doesn’t mean that I’ve graduated summa cum laude at Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading class. What I lack in speed I compensate for in tenacity. Commit yourself to finish a book, and spend time doing that. Whether it takes a day or a month, stick with it until the last page. With reading, our speed improves with more books. So, the more you read, the more you’ll be able to read.

2. Limit competing activities. This does not mean eschew meeting with friends or spending time with your wife in order to read (“Sorry, honey, but I can go with you. I already have a date with John Grisham” will not go over well in my house, and I doubt it will in yours either). This means trade watching every episode of House in one evening for some reading time. I found that to read more, I watch far fewer movies than I’ve ever watched. With only three leisure hours a day, I must spend them wisely. We still watch movies and an occasional episode of a show, but I don’t want to lose all my reading time to gorge myself of television.

Perhaps television isn’t your intruder, but video games are. Two words suffice here: Stop it. Nothing is a bigger waste of time than hours spent shooting, jumping, fighting, driving, or Guitar-Heroing. If you tell me that you wish you could read more but waiting in line for the midnight sale of the new Call of Duty game, I have no sympathy for you. Actually, I do because that is a textbook definition of pathetic.

3. Check your Internet usage. For me, the greatest time-sucking black hole in my life is Internet browsing. I’ve written on this before in my past reviews of technology, but it is a constant battle to spend my time more productively than blinding sauntering from link to link,  reading meaningless droll articles on politics, celebrity, or culture. I find that even topics at the top of my interest (theology, technology, and literature) can fritter away meaningful time that I could be reading something of permanence. If you are looking to read more books, set parameters for leisure surfing. Set a timer if you must. We all like breaks from serious work to read the headlines or movie reviews, but let them be breaks, and not where we live exclusively.

4. Set a pattern. What time of day do you best read? Early morning? Late night? Lunch break? Pick a time to spend even 20 minutes with your book. I like the quietness of our house in the morning before work. I have 30 minutes with my coffee to read without distractions. This costs me more time sleeping, but I think the payout is worth it. For you, it may be sacrificing spending your lunch break surfing ESPN or talking with colleagues about the latest workplace gossip. Your sacrifice of either is worth it.

5. Change your Bathroom Reading. This will be a quick one: stop playing Angry Birds or reading Facebook on the toilet. Put a short book in your bathroom instead. You’ll add a few more titles to your yearly totals.

6. Find accountability in your reading. One of the best motivators for me to keep reading is my friendly competition with Mark. He and I push each other to make it to 52, constantly ask about the current books, and read and comment and, at times, insult the other’s picks. Find someone in your life to sharpen you in your reading. Join a book club. Commit to read a set amount of books this upcoming year, and search for a friend to join you. Our church has a monthly theological book group that encourages me to read at least one book per month. Look for one at your church, or start one.

7. Write about your reading. When we started www.my52books.com, we wanted to add the review component to help us to think deeper about the books that we were reading. Knowing that a short review awaits me, I interact with the book differently. Spending the 15-30 minutes writing the review solidifies my thinking about the book, and helps me to remember aspects better. You need not start a blog, but they are free and easy. You can add a Facebook post or merely write it in Word for your own keeping.

8. Bring a book everywhere. Waiting in line at the post office allows me two pages, arriving for an appointment 15 minutes early grants ten pages, and sitting while my car is washed opens time for another five pages. I won’t finish a book in errands, but it gets me closer. As I mentioned before, this beats skipping around an app that balances virtual marbles on my iPhone.

9. Consider a Kindle. Most people who have a Kindle enthusiastically declare that they read more because of it. If the convenience of the device helps you to read more, more power to ya. Get one and read away. I resolved that while I enjoy the ability to get a book quickly, the Kindle is not my preferred method to read. I’m too tempted to play with its features or to search the store for another digital book to download. Also, I like to write in my book margins, and the note-taking on e-readers just isn’t where I want it to be. It may be just what you need.

10. Have variety in your reading list. Don’t feel that you need to read only American classics or Pulitzer Prize winners this year. Mix it up with serious and silly; long and short; important and frivolous. For each The Scarlet Letter, there was a John Grisham. For each Steve Jobs weighing in at 598 pages, there was Note to Self with a slight 134 pages. Having variety adds to the excitement to finish one book and begin the next. I’m not out to impress anyone with my picks (OK, maybe Mark). Look at both the New York Times bestseller list and search for a list of books for college-bound students. Choose from both, and also from those on the Recent Arrivals section of the library. Don’t read anything that you don’t want to.

11. Alter your nighttime reading. Stop reading your news apps or Facebook before bedtime. Put a quick read on your bedside table to read, even a few pages for sawing logs. Reading your phone in bed is an odd way to begin your sleep, so try knocking out a book over the course of a month.

12. Add some audiobooks into your life. Pick a fiction book on audio at the library, Amazon, or Christianaudio.com. There are many classics on loud lit.org or on iTunes for free. Have one playing instead of sports radio or all music. I certainly love music, but once in awhile, an audiobook is better, especially on those longer drives.

13. Commit to a realistic reading goal right now. This could be a number: 52, 25, or 12. Find something realistic, and tell someone. Or, commit to a few books you’ve always wanted to read but never have, or authors you wished you read in high school. In 2013, I will read through The Brothers Karamazov and Moby Dick as part of my 52. Making this public will help keep me accountable. Commit to something right now, and make it known.

May 2013 be the year that you read more books than you ever have before. Minor changes could yield major accomplishments this year. Good luck, and happy reading in the new year.

ron

Ron’s #30: I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza

I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza is my winner for the most surprisingly good book that I’ve read this year. I had no intention of reading this when I found it on the rack in the on-base thrift store. I remember hearing something about Tony Danza from Taxi and Who’s the Boss? making a reality show about teaching. It sounded pandering and hokey, so I didn’t think more about it until I saw this book. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had is the account of the year he spent in Northeast High School in Philadelphia. I read a few pages, and then a chapter, and then I couldn’t seem to stop.

There are two main points that I learned from reading this book. The first is that Danza is a sincere and humble man who tried so hard to do a good job teaching this class of 10th grade English. There was no sense of doing it only for the cameras, or to show off his acting chops (the kids hardly knew who he really was). This is a man who took the job of teaching seriously, and worked tirelessly to provide an education for his class of teenagers. Some of his co-workers were so unfriendly and, at times, cruel to him, but he is the eternal optimist. That speaks highly of him.

The second point I learned from this book is the more important one. While Tony has a lot to learn about delivering English instruction, he has a deep concern for the instruction of the whole child. He really cares about these students. Whether it is checking in with a student about a difficult time, going to sporting games, or even teaching a kid to box, Danza wants to be a positive influence in the lives of these kids. It’s not that I don’t do this, but sometimes I need those reminders that I don’t teach English, I teach kids. I know this is a tired old saying in the education world, but reading this book helped to remind me of this. Often times, I’m overwrought with essays to grade, lessons to prepare, administration work to complete, meetings to attend, parents to email, and cross-country to coach that I forget that that boy or girl may need a bit of grace today. This book reminded me that it’s good to think about these things to be a more effective teacher.

The book is a quick read and quite engaging even for the non-teaching types. It’s amusing to see how little street cred Tony receives as a teacher. If you aren’t a good teacher, kids don’t care who you are. I especially enjoyed reading how Danza taught Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. He was creative and engaging.

After the book, I bought the Teach television series, and we are watching through the episodes. The co-workers are meaner on-screen, and Tony’s humility and sincerity show even clearer. Tony Danza is a good man, and his work on the book and the series reminded me why I love teaching English to teenagers.

(I wanted to say that the book I bought has Danza’s signature on the front page. I don’t have many signed books, and I never thought Tony Danza’s would ever be one in my collection!)

Here’s a brief interview Tony recorded addressed to teachers.

ron

Ron’s #25: A Mind for God by James Emery White

A Mind for God by James Emery White is a book that I wished I could write. It makes a solid case for the active life of the Christian mind. Christians are often (and sometimes fairly) caricatured as backwoods simpletons who eschew logical thought in exchange for the ease of lazy faith. White describes the need for Christians to crave to develop our minds for the glory of Christ. We ought to seek to deeply understand our faith, our culture, our world. Living passively, whether a Christian or non-believer, is a wasted life.

The first step to engage our minds is simply to read. White makes a passionate plea to read often and read broadly. He tells an interesting story about a family trip to Disney World when, during a calm period between visits to the park, his family sat in the lobby reading books for an hour or so. A passerby commented that she wishes her family would do this ritual. His solution is simply to create the habit of reading. How often do we carve out time to intentionally read? I think of all the distractions and responsibilities that vie for my attention which take away my reading time. I need to heed White’s advice to make reading a priority in my life over television, the Internet, and other trifles. My favorite chapter in this book is titled, “The Library as Armory.” This puts reading and books in their proper perspective in our lives. Too often, we arm ourselves with pop-culture foolishness, and those weapons will never win a war. Reading hard books provides the proper training needed to interact with our culture today.

Another aspect of this book that I appreciated is the chapter titled, “Sacred Thinking.” In it, he describes the art of self-reflection between what we read and other areas of our life. It is incorrect to think that our thinking is compartmentalized. What we watch on television, what we read for pleasure, what we discuss over coffee, and what we hear in the Sunday sermon are not distinct areas of study. Do we allow ourselves time to contemplate how these areas fit together or how they are incongruent? This self-reflection is important in all circles, Christian or non-Christian. It’s an aspect that I want my students to do in a variety of readings in class, and I should do it with what I read as well.

The appendices are worth the price of the book alone. White offers three book lists to begin our quest toward a mind for God. The first list is “Ten to Start,” books that offer a basic overview to reading and to the Christian faith. Adler, Lewis, Packer, etc. The next is called “Twenty-Five Books Toward a Christian Worldview.” The third is “Entering the Great Conversation,” a compendium of great books that offer a broad education in world literature. These three provide readers of all levels to begin their diet of important texts to develop their minds for God.

I recommended many of the books on this list, but A Mind for God is really one of the best for an introduction to the importance of reading, learning, and thinking. If you are like me, you’ll appreciate the reminder to read and think more.

 

ron

Eleven Easy Ways to Read More in 2012

I almost didn’t make it to 52 this year.

We adopted our son Hudson in March, and that threw a wrench (or a rattle) into my reading time. I had a busy summer with a visit to the States, a class, and a missions trip to Cambodia. On top of this, I began teaching a new writing course, and my grading load is more than I’ve ever had in my teaching career. Coaching cross-country and sponsoring Model Congress brought me to the breaking point.

With all this going on, I still wanted to carve out time to read not just to meet a self-imposed goal, but because reading is valuable. Books are important, and reading them adds to our quality of living. Many people say, “I’d love to read more, but I can’t because________.” This blank is filled with reasons that are legion. If this is you, let me address a few obstacles to my reading; perhaps this will encourage you to see that they may not be obstacles at all.

1. Stop saying, “I’m a slow reader.” If you think this about yourself, join the club. Just because I’m an English teacher doesn’t mean that I’ve graduated summa cum laude at Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading class. What I lack in speed I compensate for in tenacity. Commit yourself to finish a book, and spend time doing that. Whether it takes a day or a month, stick with it until the last page. With reading, our speed improves with more books. So, the more you read, the more you’ll be able to read.

2. Limit competing activities. This does not mean eschew meeting with friends or spending time with your wife in order to read (“Sorry, honey, but I can go with you. I already have a date with John Grisham” will not go over well in my house, and I doubt it will in yours either). This means trade watching every episode of House in one evening for some reading time. I found that to read more, I watch far fewer movies than I’ve ever watched. With only three leisure hours a day, I must spend them wisely. We still watch movies and an occasional episode of a show, but I don’t want to lose all my reading time to gorge myself of television.

Perhaps television isn’t your intruder, but video games are. Two words suffice here: Stop it. Nothing is a bigger waste of time than hours spent shooting, jumping, fighting, driving, or Guitar-Heroing. If you tell me that you wish you could read more but waiting in line for the midnight sale of the new Call of Duty game, I have no sympathy for you. Actually, I do because that is a textbook definition of pathetic.

3. Check your Internet usage. For me, the greatest time-sucking black hole in my life is Internet browsing. I’ve written on this before in my past reviews of technology, but it is a constant battle to spend my time more productively than blinding sauntering from link to link,  reading meaningless droll articles on politics, celebrity, or culture. I find that even topics at the top of my interest (theology, technology, and literature) can fritter away meaningful time that I could be reading something of permanence. If you are looking to read more books, set parameters for leisure surfing. Set a timer if you must. We all like breaks from serious work to read the headlines or movie reviews, but let them be breaks, and not where we live exclusively.

4. Set a pattern. What time of day do you best read? Early morning? Late night? Lunch break? Pick a time to spend even 20 minutes with your book. I like the quietness of our house in the morning before work. I have 30 minutes with my coffee to read without distractions. This costs me more time sleeping, but I think the payout is worth it. For you, it may be sacrificing spending your lunch break surfing ESPN or talking with colleagues about the latest workplace gossip. Your sacrifice of either is worth it.

5. Change your Bathroom Reading. This will be a quick one: stop playing Angry Birds or reading Facebook on the toilet. Put a short book in your bathroom instead. You’ll add a few more titles to your yearly totals.

6. Find accountability in your reading. One of the best motivators for me to keep reading is my friendly competition with Mark. He and I push each other to make it to 52, constantly ask about the current books, and read and comment and, at times, insult the other’s picks. Find someone in your life to sharpen you in your reading. Join a book club. Commit to read a set amount of books this upcoming year, and search for a friend to join you. Our church has a monthly theological book group that encourages me to read at least one book per month. Look for one at your church, or start one.

7. Write about your reading. When we started www.my52books.com, we wanted to add the review component to help us to think deeper about the books that we were reading. Knowing that a short review awaits me, I interact with the book differently. Spending the 15-30 minutes writing the review solidifies my thinking about the book, and helps me to remember aspects better. You need not start a blog, but they are free and easy. You can add a Facebook post or merely write it in Word for your own keeping.

8. Bring a book everywhere. Waiting in line at the post office allows me two pages, arriving for an appointment 15 minutes early grants ten pages, and sitting while my car is washed opens time for another five pages. I won’t finish a book in errands, but it gets me closer. As I mentioned before, this beats skipping around an app that balances virtual marbles on my iPhone.

9. Consider a Kindle. Most people who have a Kindle enthusiastically declare that they read more because of it. If the convenience of the device helps you to read more, more power to ya. Get one and read away. I resolved that while I enjoy the ability to get a book quickly, the Kindle is not my preferred method to read. I’m too tempted to play with its features or to search the store for another digital book to download. Also, I like to write in my book margins, and the note-taking on e-readers just isn’t where I want it to be. It may be just what you need.

10. Have variety in your reading list. Don’t feel that you need to read only American classics or Pulitzer Prize winners this year. Mix it up with serious and silly; long and short; important and frivolous. For each The Scarlet Letter, there was a John Grisham. For each Steve Jobs weighing in at 598 pages, there was Note to Self with a slight 134 pages. Having variety adds to the excitement to finish one book and begin the next. I’m not out to impress anyone with my picks (OK, maybe Mark). Look at both the New York Times bestseller list and search for a list of books for college-bound students. Choose from both, and also from those on the Recent Arrivals section of the library. Don’t read anything that you don’t want to.

11. Commit to a realistic reading goal right now. This could be a number: 52, 25, or 12. Find something realistic, and tell someone. Or, commit to a few books you’ve always wanted to read but never have, or authors you wished you read in high school. In 2012, I will read through the entire Bible, Crime and Punishment, and Moby Dick as part of my 52. Making this public will help keep me accountable. Commit to something right now, and make it known.

May 2012 be the year that you read more books than you ever have before. Minor changes could yield major accomplishments this year. Good luck, and happy reading in the new year.

ron

Ron’s #38: Lit! by Tony Reinke

“Almost all men are infected with the disease of desiring useless knowledge. It is of great importance that we should be told what is necessary for us to know, and what the Lord desires us to contemplate, above and below, on the right hand and on the left, before and behind.

The love of Christ is held out to us as the subject which ought to occupy our daily and nightly meditations, and in which we ought to be wholly plunged.” –John Calvin, as quoted in Lit! p. 96.

I love books on the power and importance of reading. I saw Lit! reviewed somewhere, and I thought it sounded like something I’d like to read. The subtitle tempered my eagerness to read the book (“A Christian Guide to Reading Books”), but I still bought it, and I was glad that I did.

Tony Reinke focuses on the importance of reading, how to choose books, and how to read books. It is NOT, as the subtitle suggests, a book list of terrible yet “religious” books to read. Rather, he begins with the premise that Christians are to be people of the Word and of words. God reveals Himself through the written word, and we ought to strive to understand what words mean.

I liked his list of the six priorities that decide what books to read:

1. Reading Scripture

2. Reading to know and delight in Christ

3. Reading to kindle spiritual reflection

4. Reading to initiate personal change

5. Reading to pursue vocational excellence

6. Reading to enjoy a good story

He offers ways to increase our reading time, along with a small treaty on how the Internet cripple book reading (chapter 11). Given my heavy reading recently on the problems with my time on the Internet, I especially enjoyed that chapter. He and I seem to be kindred spirits on this issue. Reinke even realizes that his Kindle often interferes with reading time. This is something that I recently noticed in myself, and I have backed off from reading books on screens when a physical book is available.

I highly recommend this book is you want to read more, read better, or read with a larger purpose. I heavily marked my copy of this book because it will be one that I’ll want to review when I forget.

As the ultimate Book in authority and power states, “So, whether you eat or drink [or read], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Tony Reinke’s Lit! helped me to see how this is done.

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