Want to Read More? Make It a Habit. Make It a Joy.

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By Nathaniel Martin

I owe my love of reading to two wonderful women. The first was my mother, who required reading before bed and never let me miss a scholastic book fair. The second was Diane Bach, my fourth grade teacher. As a reward for an accelerated reading achievement she came to my house, took me to dinner and bought me a book of my choosing. My mother helped me to think of reading as a habit. Mrs. Bach helped me think of reading as a joy.

These two ways of thinking about reading, as a joy and a habit, have helped me prioritize reading through the busyness of life and ministry. Those who want to find more time to read often ask for a “life-hack.” They want the secret gnosis of how to be a deep, yet productive reader in between changing diapers, writing sermons and making hospital visits. The problem is that we already know the answer to our questions. Reading only happens when people prioritize reading over good things. Although there may be some practical tips for different seasons of life, if reading is a joy and a habit then reading will simply happen. We make time for what we enjoy.

In his excellent book, The Pleasures of Reading in Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs warns us of the dangers of thinking about reading only as a means to accumulate information and gain understanding. He writes,

It seems to me that it is not so hard to absorb, and early in life, the idea that reading is good for you, so loaded with vitamin-rich, high-fiber information and understanding, that it can’t possibly be pleasurable—that to read for the joy of it is fundamentally inappropriate.[1]

One helpful way to cultivate a joy for reading is simply to read what interests you. Although you will be tempted to read for the approval of others, this is futility. Few things will ruin one’s joy of reading faster than to read so that people can see what we’re reading. So don’t. To quote Jacobs again, “Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame.”[2]

Few people prioritize what they do not enjoy. That’s where joy comes in. The question is: how do we make reading a habit? Again we must remember no secret knowledge or life-hack will make you a habitual reader. The people who habitually read are those who prioritize reading over other good things. Some people may be able to find time for work, family, multiple hobbies and all their favorite entertainment. More likely, though, you will have to make choices. In my opinion, for those who have limited time, the only way to become a habitual reader it to prioritize reading over other good things. You don’t have to be a speed-reader to be a productive reader. In fact, I would encourage you to beware of speed-reading methods.[3] You simply have to read often. In other words, reading needs to be a habit. To assist with making reading a habit you can protect your space, attention and time. 

Habitual reading can be a source of intellectual stimulation and spiritual refreshment for tired people.

Prioritizing the Joy of Reading

Protect your space.

You can read anywhere. I have read for hours in the car, on a plane and sitting at a coffee shop. But if reading is to become a habit then it will be helpful to protect a space where you inhabit. Perhaps there is a rocking chair in front of a window with a great view or a recliner with a lamp and a table at the perfect height to set your cup of coffee. Perhaps it is the swing on your front porch or the table on your back deck. Whatever type of environment you prefer, protect it and make it a place for joyous, habitual reading.

Protect your attention.

Technology has its advantages, but it also has its distractions. Give yourself the opportunity to get lost in a book by turning off the television and putting your devices out of sight. Give your full attention to the joy of reading. The notifications are never an emergency, so protect your attention when you’re in your protected space.

Protect your free time.

The only way busy people will turn reading into a habit is if they prioritize reading during the little free time they have. No one will protect your time to cozy up with a good book. We all have to make choices. Sometimes we have to protect our time from lesser things by prioritizing reading over Netflix, social media and other forms of entertainment. Other times we may prioritize reading over really good things like advancing in physical fitness or becoming proficient in a musical instrument. I’m not saying reading should be the central priority of your life, but I am saying it needs to be a habit. Beyond the pleasure it gives, habitual reading can be a source of intellectual stimulation and spiritual refreshment for tired people — especially tired gospel ministers like me.

Those who wish to read more should not look for quick fixes, life-hacks or guru knowledge. They should learn to think about reading as a joyous habit worth prioritizing.

Happy Reading.

[1] Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) 17.

[2] Ibid., 23

[3] Good arguments for slow reading can be found in Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2018) and Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

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Nathaniel Martin

Nathaniel Martin is the pastor of Hermon Baptist Church in Waxhaw, NC.

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