On Reading Slowly

C.S. Lewis once said that if a book is worth reading it is worth reading slowly. Since coming upon his observation I have tried to follow his advice. Formerly, I tried to rush through books; commentaries, histories, theologies. And although I certainly learned a lot that way (speed-reading does work. One often can take in more than one thinks one can) I have to say that I am a true believer in the “Lewis method.”

Sir Francis Bacon advised, “Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.” He was also the man who observed that, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Those latter works are the ones which Christian readers need to be most concerned with. There are so many time-wasting volumes out there, it behooves us to take responsibility for what we run our eyes over.

When I am asked to recommend books (as I quite often am) I always tell the questioner, “You don’t have time to read bad books. You must read the best books. And if you read them you should read them slowly.” I say that because I have noticed that those who read books like they are throwaway ads tend to have a rather superficial notion of what it was that the author was trying to put across. They may glean some useful thoughts here and there, but nothing of real substance can permeate a brow that has not had time to furrow, even just a little, before the next page is turned. One cannot ‘skim’ any worthwhile author, be he Calvin or Owen or Baxter or Edwards or Warfield or Lewis.

Reading “slowly” doesn’t hold up the consumption process as long as one might think. But the extra time and effort will bring its rewards. One must get in a good book and not just through it. A good book is worth marking up. Not rudely with yellow highlighters, but carefully with a nice pen or even a pencil. I use a self-devised code: T = Theological, Q = worth quoting, ! = an arresting thought, ? = possibly dubious/spurious, etc. This helps me when I am researching something later. Again, I don’t see how one can do this if one is flying through the contents so as to “finish it.”

The verb “to read” is at home with terms like “consider,” “meditate,” “muse,” “ruminate,” “ponder,” and “think.” So slow down. If a book is really worth reading, it is worth reading slowly.


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