May Book Review - Lit

In his triple-entendre named "Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books," Tony Reinke (Crossway, 2011) outlines a comprehensive and intensive method for extracting more gold from the books we read. Reinke's informal style (who puts an exclamation mark in the title of a book?) belies his time-intensive technique (prepare questions for each chapter before reading, outline each chapter after reading) but serves well to balance the core thesis which is that reading for insight requires disciplined mental effort but yields a better product than what most of us do (not read) and what a select few already do (read with a pencil in hand).

Lit! is a quick read with an argument that does not require any substantive paradigm shift for a Christian already committed to literacy and education - God is the Author of all truth, the Bible is the most concentrated truth in literature, and that other books can serve to enlighten readers on certain aspects of truth even if not completely accurate on all counts. What I found most helpful from Reinke's work was his admonition to consider your purpose in reading your selected book and to have on hand books of various purposes. Classic fiction may make good bus stop or doctor's office reading. Weighty theological tomes are best read during your freshest mental hours (usually dedicated study or devotional times). Solid non-fiction may service best after dinner or before bedtime. And when picking up a non-fiction volume, identify what you wish to learn from it prior to bending its spine back. Pastors, theologians, and writers will find Reinke's specific strategy of chapter outlining and question asking/answering in the margins inspiring if not ambitious.

The single most interesting concept is actually a quote from Socrates who decried the loss of oral tradition in education. He anticipated that teaching students to read and write would soften their recall, dull their intellect, and destroy the strength of rhetoric and argument. Reinke and others have noted that more and more of our information comes via visual rather than literary media - fragments of content, context-less particles of data streaming from innumerable sources somehow stitched together in our psyche to create a picture of truth and the world. Ironically (for Socrates, not so much for Reinke), this made me thankful for the teachers, friends, and parents I've had who imparted to me a love for words.

So if you're done with your last non-fiction book and looking for a moderately motivational, definitely encouraging, relatively relaxed read, spend a couple days with Tony Reinke - he just might ignite a new passion and perspective on 'pencil-in-hand' reading.


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