When Do You Read?

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A friend of mine recently asked, “When do you read?”

Years ago I read Stephen King’s On Writing. King argued that writers should be readers. He described his practice of carrying a book wherever he went. When he was waiting in a line to get into an event, in the reception area at the doctor’s office, or sitting at a coffee shop waiting for a friend to arrive, he cracked open what he was carrying and covered what ground he could. King observed that there are windows of time each day that could be spent reading. So he did. I have followed his example. I carry books with me, and I read whenever I can.

I also read at the beginning of every day. My rule of life includes reading four chapters from the Bible each day followed by an entry from a devotional work (for the past four years this has been Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest). I usually do this before everyone else in the household is awake. If not then, it is the first thing I do when I arrive in the office. It takes about a year for me to complete a reading of the Bible. After I finish Revelation 22, the next day I turn back to Genesis 1. I read a selection from Psalms with Molly as a daily habit, mostly in the mornings before we both walk out the door. If time allows while I am at home, I also read a chapter from Psalms during my time of devotion.

During the work day I read as my schedule and energy levels will allow. Each day I have administrative responsibilities in addition to meetings and time one-with-one building relationships with students, faculty, and staff colleagues. When I’m at my desk, my job requires a lot of reading. I read assignments and emails, articles and memos. I read on computer monitors and tablets. But I prefer print. And I prefer book length treatments of topics as opposed to articles. When I read professionally and for pleasure, I prefer paper, bound, the more beautiful the book jacket, the better. But a paperback suits me just fine.

I use a modified approach to Cal Newport’s time block planning system, and occasionally I’ll schedule myself for reading. What I’m reading at any given moment will vary. I often have more than one book going at a time. I maintain a stack of three to five books I’m actively reading on my desk at home, and another stack of one to three books on my desk at the office. At the office, what I’m reading is always professionally related. At home, the line is more blurry. I read history, creative nonfiction, novels, and poetry. But I read theology, practical ministry, and biblical studies stuff at home, too. The mix of books is a combination of professional interests, aspirational reading, personal enrichment, curiosity and wanderings, and trend chasing.

I also read in the evenings, at least for a few minutes, as I wind down for the day. This is most often a selection from the books residing on my desk in my study at home.

Most of the gains I make each year toward my reading goal are due to the fact that reading is my primary default leisure activity, and because I find reading pleasurable. I read whenever I have the opportunity. Books have become my constant companion. The result: I read a lot.