Summary: Advice for the reluctant reader.
Lit opens with an explanation that its purpose is to convince people that do not like to read, why they should read. So obviously I am not the intended audience. But I did find some to like in this book. (Although I am not sure I can really recommend the book.) The parts I liked most were the casual reading advice sections. I did not agree with a number of the pieces of advice. Tony Reinke is consciously attempting to write a Christian version of the classic Mortimer Adler’s How To Read a Book (wikipedia link). There were many places where I thought, “Why would you encourage people to do that?”. For instance he encouraged people to spend about a hour going over a book before you start reading it, looking through the table of contents, writing up questions that you want answered in the book, reading the last couple pages, looking over reviews before you start. I think some of these ideas are good, but is this the way to encourage people to read? These are maybe things you should be doing before you pick (and buy) a book. But this seems to be squeezing the enjoyment out of reading.
My larger concern is with the structure of the book. Reinke starts with almost a full quarter of the book discussing scripture and how we need to keep scripture as our prime reading material, how scripture is different than other books and a discussion of truth and how we can only understand truth in other books once we understand the truth of scripture. I understand why he has this long discussion in another type of book. It is important to his theology of reading, which is the basis for why the entire book is written. But if the intended audience really are reluctant readers, they are never going to get through that section to the advice sections on how and why they should be reading.
After this section, Reinke has a passionate defense of why we should be reading books other than scripture, why we should read non-Christian authors (although with discernment) and without these words, a defense of the doctrine of General Revelation. I think this is probably the most important section of the book. Reinke is going against the stream in this section, although theologically quite correct.
He summarizes these thoughts in this fairly long quote, initially it is quoting John Calvin:
“Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.” Calvin is saying that if we despise truth in non-Christian books, we ultimately “insult the Giver.” At first those words jarred me, but I’ve come to see Calvin’s point. God is behind all truth, even the truth that is expressed in non-Christian literature. Truth cannot be fabricated, writes Calvin. All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose?
Many of the advice sections are decent. He looks at the number of books and with some rough calculations says that for every book you choose to read, you are rejecting 10,000. So pick your books well and do not waste your time. I think this can be a bit too intimidating for some, but the reality is worth thinking about. Although for most people there are about 9000 of those books that you have no interest in reading.
He also gives permission to stop reading. He suggests the old, 100 minus your age formula (if you are 30, then you should read 70 pages before giving up on a book.) While I think that is a nice formula and it does give permission to quit, there have been three books in the last month, that if I had given up I would have missed the value of the book because the author had hidden all of the good parts at the end. There are probably more books that I should have given up. So we should allow ourselves to stop reading.
There is also some very good advice on how to encourage your children to be readers. My main quibble with the advice for children, is that he suggests that we should go ahead and teach our children to read early, before they start school. Some children just are not ready to read early, and pushing them may do more harm than good. Also there is some evidence that early readers, although they tend to be fast readers as adults, actually have lower overall comprehension than those that learn to read later. This is a debated point, but I think might be reason to think about holding off on teaching children to read early. (And parents really don’t need yet another thing that they should be doing in order to be good parents.)
I think that there is an unfortunate timing issue with Lit. If I had not just finished reading Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (my review), I probably would have enjoyed it more. But Reinke is advocating for precisely the opposite idea from Jacobs’. Jacobs says we should read what we want, not worry so much about doing it precisely right. I think both books have much to commend them; and very different purposes. But if I you are going to read just one, read Jacobs, it is a much more freeing approach to reading. If you already have read Jacobs, go ahead and pick this up, but don’t be surprised if you are frustrated with large portions of it.
This book was provided by the publisher, through Netgalley, for purposes of review.