Here is a simple piece I put together, to encourage my students to read, read, read:
I thought it might be helpful to spend one class period talking about reading: what is reading, why read, what to read, when to read, etc. Here are some various thoughts on reading.
1. It is often said that the main thing which marks us as we age is the books we read. That is, the biggest factor between who you are today, and who you are in five years is what you have read in that time. This may be a bit exaggerated, but it captures a truth—we are shaped in very significant ways by what we read.
2. Some basic background: Christianity is by its nature a wordish and bookish faith. The second person of the Trinity is the Word. God creates by his Word. God calls us to faith by words. God sustains us in the faith by words. We respond to God in worship by words. You get the picture. Words are simply a part of the Christian DNA.
3. All persons are created in the image of God, and are made to know and understand God (I am bracketing the difficult cases of extreme brain damage, mental problems, etc.). While Christianity is not simply cerebral, it is not less than that. Part and parcel of the Christian faith is coming to understand God, and his ways, and his purposes. To understand God and his ways means—in part—to think. And that requires—almost always—some pretty significant dose of reading. In short, part and parcel of Christian discipleship is leaning, understanding—and this is going to mean reading and thinking. Get at it.
4. On the one hand I suggest reading indiscriminately—as C.S. Lewis described his own childhood of reading. But, as Lewis suggested in “On the Reading of Old Books,” there is wisdom in reading old books on a regular basis. Lewis suggests one old book then one contemporary book. But if that is too tough—try one old book for every three contemporary books. There is no substitute for reading old books. It simply gives you a perspective which is difficult to get otherwise.
5. Speaking of “old books” . . . you might look at the list in Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. There are other such lists. If you try something, and it does not grab you, don’t feel bad about putting it down and picking something else up. But don’t be too easy on yourself—there is a time to push through simply so you can finish a classic you have wanted to read for a long time.
6. I would read different kinds of books: Theology, philosophy, history, novels, short stories, essays, biographies, etc. We will talk more about some of these below.
7. I would read a number of books at once. Perhaps you are the kind of person who needs to finish a book before you start the next one—fine. But allow yourself to read many books at once.
8. Theology: I would regularly be reading either a systematic theology, or a doctrinal treatise, or a classic piece of historical theology (e.g., Augustine’s City of God).
9. Novels: Novels are fun. Read them. Enjoy them. Find an author you like, and enjoy their writings . . . .
10. Have fun. Try not to lose the joy of reading. Have some authors you simply enjoy. Have a few guilty pleasures. In the 80’s to be cool we were supposed to like The Cure. But OMD was a lot more melodic and fun. Don’t worry if the hipsters don’t think an author is relevant, deep, etc. Who cares.
11. The essay: I would encourage you to read essays on some sort of regular basis. These might be from journals (First Things), or you might find an essayist/author who has published essays. These are often a bit more serious, dealing with a challenging moral, ethical issue. These take a bit more work, but that’s okay.
12. Try murder mysteries or science fiction. A lot of your life as a student is reading serious stuff. Try reading “outside” the normal academic stuff. Academics can often be boring, pretentious, pedantic, and arrogant. And often they do not write well. And often there is some wonderful material in these genres: G.K. Chesteron’s “Father Brown” mysteries are wonderful. The science fiction of Phillip K. Dick can be bizarre, but wonderful.
13. Pick up the occasional big picture “critique”/social theory/social criticism type book. Say a book trying to explain the last 500 years of Western thought (Jacques Barzun), or a classic critique of modernity like Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, or something by Eric Voegelin (who thought modernity was guilty of the gnostic heresy).
14. I would suggest subscribing to some journals: First Things, Chronicles, etc. These have great essays, book reviews, etc.
15. I would find some “non-traditional” material to read. Try getting your news from places besides CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc. Try getting your news from a broad array of sources.