December 06, 2011

Tony Reinke, Lit!

"A wide gap separates a reader who simply consumes books from a reader who diligently seeks wisdom" (178). In this thoughtful and practical book, Tony Reinke argues for the value of reading as a Christian discipline, and helps encourage readers to develop wise reading habits. It is a book in two parts, the first being a "theology of reading," the second being a collection of practical advice for becoming better readers.

The foundation of Lit! is the contention that God's illumination can come to us through books, and that truth and beauty are gifts of God that can be reflected in Christian and non-Christian books alike. But equally as foundational is that God's truth is most fully embodied in Scripture, and all other reading that we do must be filtered through the truth of Scripture. "We must be determined to read the imperfect in light of the perfect, the deficient in light of the sufficient, the temporary in light of the eternal, the groveling in light of the transcendent" (28). This means we must always be on the lookout for an author's worldview and the truths she or he is implicitly or explicitly conveying, even as we also seek out the beauty of God's truth, which can be expressed in unexpected places or ways. This means that, once we've developed a foundational knowledge of Scripture and the worldview it builds, we should be eager but discerning as we seek out the illumination of truth wherever it may be found, even in non-Christian works which may have important insights or perspectives to lend.

The second major section of Lit! is a practical guide to reading, both for those who are not already readers and for those who are. Reinke gives advice on what to read, as well as on how. The advice tends to be very practical, and really emphasizes that reading should be intentional. We should be thoughtful in the books we choose, and deliberate in the way we read. One of the nuggets I helpfully gleaned from him is that we shouldn't hesitate to drop a book part way through, or only read selectively, if that best suits our purpose or if we are finding that it isn't worthwhile. So many of his other suggestions comport well with my own discoveries and habits as I have developed as a reader, such as marking in your books (I highly recommend marking in your books, and Reinke makes a good argument for why, as well as describing how he chooses to do it), reading multiple books at once, and reading reviews, for instance. He also helpfully discusses how the internet is effecting our reading habits and our ability to concentrate, something I worry about with myself and even more for my children, calling us back to the development of sustained concentration.

I loved this book. As a passionate reader, this book resonates with my reading heart. For those of you who already share this passion for reading, this book can help provide both practical advice for honing your skills as well as helpful theological context in which to place your reading. And it is just simply a pleasure to read a book that extols the virtues of something you love. But this book is also for those who don't read, and who don't really want to. He makes good, simple arguments for why and how people who don't have interest, time, or enough perceived ability can and should begin to develop this most important and nourishing habit. There may have been one or two places where I didn't particularly agree with his advice (one specific instance comes when he encourages readers to write questions you want answered in the front cover before reading it, which is fine, but he then asserts that one way to find holes in the authors arguments is by seeing if he answers your questions; while I agree that we should read critically and curiously, and that we should look for holes in the author's arguments or logic, the fact that the author doesn't answer the questions we asked at the outset may reflect more the author's purpose than a failure of argument). In all, I warmly commend this outstanding little book. It is well written, thoughtful, and readily applicable. It will ignite or deepen a love of reading.


spurgeon said...

James, thank you for the very thoughtful review of Lit! Well done. And thanks for posting this on the Amazon product page, that is also very much appreciated. The one point of clarity I would make is that in my book my main burden is to help readers learn how to gauge whether a book is personally useful or not. So when I say that we should go into books with explicit questions we want answered, I'm not saying the book is only good if my questions are answered, I'm saying those books are only personally useful if we find answers to those questions. A book may be good, but not personally beneficial. Does that make sense? But of course I could have been more clear on this in the book and I wasn't. Thanks again for taking the time to read and review Lit! A grateful author, Tony

James K. said...

Thanks so much for your response. As I'm sure my review made clear, I loved your book, and it resonated with me from cover to cover. My one point of slight disagreement was only that, and I appreciate your response. A slight rewording at that point would have removed the problem. Your larger point, though, about focusing on if books are beneficial for you is one of the really helpful takeaways for me: as someone who is concrete sequential, it was helpful to be reminded again that I can skip over parts of a book or drop it completely if it isn't proving worth my time or answering questions I am asking. So thanks again for all of your work on this great book!