Reflections on Recovering the Lost art of Reading, Part 1

Is reading an art which needs recovering? I love to read. My life as a pastor is invested in both the people I serve and in books as I prepare to preach the Word and as I deal with the ideas surrounding us. When I’m on vacation, I always take along some books — usually a few more than I end up being able to read. As our children as were growing up I read aloud to them, and sometimes have the opportunity to do that with grandchildren.

Yet the pressure of deadlines can make it difficult to make the time to read. Months ago I received my copy of Recovering the Lost Art of Reading: A Quest for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, by Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes. After opening it with anticipation, I wrote one of the authors:

[I]t is impossible to pull a book out of its shipping envelope without opening it, and opening it inevitably leads to reading. I made it through the Introduction and the first chapter, “Is Reading Lost?” before forcing myself to put it down. It is Friday afternoon. There is still work to be done….

Putting a book down is one thing. Making time to read with the care the book deserves has been more difficult. Although I’ve read snippets and have skimmed, finally, during a week of vacation, I have had the time to do what I have been wanting to do — read with the care that this book deserves. My own struggle to take the time to read has reinforced my conviction that the authors are onto something. Reading has too often become a lost art, and we need to work at recovering it.

This post and the ones that follow are not a traditional book review. I am well into the book but not yet finished with it. I have read enough, however, to begin to reflect on it as I continue. The authors are both accomplished readers and writers. Leland Ryken taught English at Wheaton College for nearly a half century and has authored many books. Glenda Mathes is a professional writer, producing articles, and books, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as blogging. Both clearly love to read! They welcome you into a journey of reading, an invitation which you would do well to accept. They suggest that reading “is an art that can be recovered and enjoyed by anyone, no matter what the individual’s educational level or literary experience.” (p. 12)

“Is reading lost?” is the question the first chapter asks. The authors suggest, “Many people are reading a great deal of material, especially online. But they are not necessarily reading quality material or reading well.” (p. 16) They argue that “Most online reading does not allow time for analytical thought.” (p. 22)

The chapter makes a valid point that reading electronic media tends to change the way we read, and usually not for the better. Yet, I would counter, reading from a screen can be done thoughtfully and with reflection. Ironically, Recovering the Lost Art of Reading is available not only in the beautifully printed pages which I am enjoying, but also in Kindle and Audiobook formats! The concluding sentences of the chapter are compelling:

We are called to quiet our souls and commune with God through an open Bible. If digital media continually fractures our focus, can we meditate on God and his word, receptively and thoughtfully? Artfully reading the Good Book and other good books is a treasure we dare not lose. (p. 25)

Disclosure: Crossway, the publisher, provided me with a copy of the book, but has made no effort to influence what I write about it.