Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. Tony Reinke. 2011. Crossway Books. 208 pages.

Lit! was almost a must-read for me. As a reader, as a book blogger, I felt it important that I read this one. A book about reading books, a book about reading books with a distinctively Christian perspective, it seemed like a must.

Before you get too excited, you should know that you may not be the target audience for this one. For better or worse, Lit! is written primarily for non-readers. Those people who pick up books--fiction or nonfiction--quite reluctantly. Lit! is like a not-so-gentle shove for non-readers. He is passionately trying to persuade non-readers that reading is important. He assumes that his readers will find reading unpleasant, undesirable, unnatural. He assumes that his readers are rebellious, that they will fight the reading process every time they pick up a book. He assumes that reading books regularly is not normal, that reading a book a week is almost unheard of.

The first four chapters focus on the Bible, explaining to readers that the Bible is THE BOOK. It is the eternal book. It is the ONE book that must be the most important to readers.
Scripture is perfect, sufficient, and eternal. All other books, to some degree, are imperfect, deficient, and temporary. That means that when we pick books from the bookstore shelves, we read those imperfect books in light of the perfect Book, the deficient books in light of the sufficient Book, and the temporary books in light of the eternal Book. (26)
Many authors are average (grass). Other authors are incredibly talented, fruitful, and colorful (flowers). But all authors (grass or flowers) are fragile. (27)
If we fail to make this distinction, if we fail to prioritize the eternal Word over temporary books, our reading will never be distinctly Christian. (28)
The first four chapters stress the importance of discernment and having a biblical worldview. If there is one thing he emphasizes it's the importance of KNOWING the Word of God, of being grounded in the faith, in the gospel. The Bible is the ONLY place to gain--or build--a biblical worldview.

Christian book reading is never a solitary experience, but an open invitation to commune with God. By opening a book we can stop talking and we begin listening. We can turn from the distractions of life. We can focus our minds. Sometimes we even lose all sense of time. Although it's difficult to protect, this reading environment can be the atmosphere that sustains the life of interaction with God. (37)
By reading Scripture under the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit, we develop biblical convictions that make us competent to discern truth from lies, goodness from evil, and beauty from ugliness. Before we can be discerning, we must be informed by a direct study of Scripture. (53)
We read more safely when our understanding of Scripture is sharp. (60)

The fifth chapter, "The Giver's Voice" offers readers seven benefits of reading non-Christian books. The sixth chapter, "The God Who Slays Dragons" argues that reading imaginative fiction can be good for us.

The remaining (nine) chapters deal with reading practically.

"Read with Resolve" urges readers to prioritize their reading, to have goals, to have a purpose, to think seriously and deeply about every book that they choose to read.
For every one book that you choose to read, you must ignore ten thousand other books simply because you don't have the time (or money). (94)
"How to Read a Book" offers readers 20 tips and tricks for reading nonfiction books.

One of the tricks is knowing when to quit.
So how far into a book should a reader go before quitting? This is where the one hundred-pages-minus-your-age rule comes in handy. This rule states that readers should start with one hundred pages and subtract their age. If you are twenty years old, you should give a book eighty pages before quitting. If you're fifty years old, give it fifty pages. The more years, the more reading experience, the less time you need before you can close and shelve a book. And it means that, when you are one hundred, you are free to judge a book by its covers. (115)
"Literature Is Life" on the other hand is all about reading fiction. The author does perhaps stress reading classics a little too much. But. that's not a horrible thing. This chapter also goes where MANY blog posts have gone before. It discusses how 'realistic' Christian fiction should be. How far it should go--or not go--in its content.

"Too Busy To Read" discusses six ways to find time to read. This chapter is all about excuses.
We neglect books because our hearts reject the discipline required to read them. (131)
Our reading may not be disciplined, efficient, or fruitful until we read with purpose. Before you begin reading a book, determine why you are reading it. (133)
He does recommend that readers read more than one book at a time. (I always have more than one book going.) He suggests three.

"Driven to Distraction" argues that the Internet is bad for readers, that the more time we spend online the less time we spend reading books the traditional way. The Internet is "ruining" our attention spans and altering our expectations.
In order to feel deeply about spiritual truths we must think deeply. And to think deeply we must read deeply. And to read deeply we must read attentively, not hastily. If we discipline ourselves to read attentively and to think deeply about our reading, we will position our souls to delight. But our souls cannot delight in what our minds merely skim. (144)
"Marginalia" is a chapter about how readers should write in their books. He is very, very, very passionate about this.

"Reading Together" is a chapter about how you should not be reading by yourself. You should be trying to find others to read with. You should be reading with friends or family. How you should be mentoring others to read, showing them how to read, showing them how GREAT it is to read.

"Raising Readers" is directed to parents and pastors. He provides lists for both--but primarily for parents. How reading in the home is an absolute must.

"Happily Ever After" is a good conclusion to the book. He discusses the five marks of a healthy book reader. This chapter is VERY important, I think, for any Christian who LOVES to read.

What I liked about Lit! was that it was thought provoking. It challenges readers to THINK about what they've just read. Each chapter gives you SOMETHING to think about, to react to. For example, I rarely agreed with every little thing. Even if I agreed with his big picture, his main points, there were some sentences that I just wanted to argue with. For example, in chapter nine "Read with Resolve" he quotes another author who is discussing women and theology.
"Many women are intimidated by the thought of studying something that is 'theological' in nature. They are afraid of being bored, looking foolish, becoming unattractive to men, or becoming divisive." (96)
And she confronts women who would rather read only novels as a way to escape personal disappointments, and who read these books to "build fantasy castles filled with knights on white steeds who will come to rescue her from her mundane, stressful, empty, or disappointing life." (97)
I'm not sure if this general description is true or close to true, and I certainly can't speak for every woman. But seriously?! Women DON'T read theology books because they're worried about what MEN will think of them?! Or they're worried that if they read theology books--and actually think deep thoughts--that it will just lead to arguments?! If the generalized statement was that MEN AND WOMEN avoid theology because they find it intimidating or dry or boring, that would be one thing. Or even to just be completely honest and say that many people just don't want to read theology, they're just too lazy to try to read it. To say that MEN AND WOMEN struggle to read the bible, struggle to read Christian nonfiction, to read theology, that I could tolerate. But to single out women... I'm not sure that's exactly fair. And then the quote about how women [mainly] read romance to the exclusion of everything else, well, I felt insulted.

And I'm not sure I liked this one: "Before you begin reading a book, determine why you are reading it." That sounds like that would take all the joy out of it if you have to find a 'real' purpose clearly defined. PLEASURE and SATISFACTION are reason enough alone to pick up any book. And for nonfiction, "to learn" is sufficient.

But for the most part, I found Lit! a beneficial read. I thought he had some good ideas. Especially when it comes to prioritizing what you're reading. Urging readers to read more deliberately, to choose wisely. I thought it gave some practical advice.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Annette said...

I just ordered this book to read/review. I gave the link on my Roundabout for your review.