Tough Sledding: How To Read Difficult Books

As a preacher, church and community leader and comunicator, I do a great deal of reading, studying and research. Much of this is difficult technical and academic literature. This reading gives people the illusion that I’m smarter than the average bear, but that’s not really true.
Truth is, even though I read a lot of demanding material; I’m not a natural reader and I don’t think that my IQ is higher than the average person. I merely went to graduate school, which forced me to read a lot, retain a good bit of what I read, and then deliver the same material, along with my own reflections, in ways that make sense to people. I’ve learned some simple strategies that anyone can employ in order to read difficult texts.
Here They Are:
  1. Read in Short Burst. I rarely read more than 10-15 minutes at a time. I cut out all other disctractions, set the timer on my iPhone, put my head down and plow through. When the time is up, I walk around, check e-mail or something else for 5-minutes, then set the time again. It sounds short, but you’ll be amazed at what you’ll get done in an hour.
  2. Set A Daily Page Count. Getting through tough reading becomes easier if you’ll covenant with yourself to get through a certain number of pages per day. For me, it’s usually 50-75 pages. That’s not many, but you can make it through a tough book in a few days.
  3. YouTube Videos. Some books (read: authors) are really difficult to follow. When you come across an author you don’t understand, stop reading and hop on YouTube! Hopefully you can find video of the author speaking. Doing this will give you a feel for the author’s diction and rhythm and the way they use language. (Confession: I never made it through a N.T. Wright book until I did this. After hearing him perform several sermons, his books flowed much more easily. I began to understand how he communicated.)
  4. Read The Conclusion First. I picked this up from my friend, Kraig Martin, as he was doing his Master’s in Philosophy. Kraig would read the conclusion of each chapter in order to get a sense of what was being argued. He’d then go back and read the argument. I tried it. It helps.
  5. Keep Resources Handy. I’m not picking up theologians like Mark Heim without my online dictionary handy. He uses words I don’t know. Without the resources hand, I’d be debilitated. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and look it up. There’s even a Wikipedia for theology.

These tips have helped me and my reading. Reading, in turn, helps me with everything else in life. Try them for a while. I bet they’ll help you too.

Share with us how you get through tough (but good) books.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

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