John Gardner's Reviews > Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Lit! by Tony Reinke
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May 24, 2012

it was amazing
Read in May, 2012

Originally posted at Honey and Locusts.

When I first saw the title of this book, I thought, "If ever there was a book written just for me, this is it!"

I was wrong.

Tony Reinke's guide to reading is a book with MUCH broader appeal than just bibliophiles like me. The back cover states that this is a book for those who love to read, hate to read, don't have time to read, read only Christian books, aren't good at reading, or can't decide what to read. It seems like that covers just about everyone, and I believe that he has successfully written a book that will engage and instruct readers and non-readers alike.

The book is divided into two parts: "A Theology of Books and Reading" and "Some Practical Advice on Book Reading". In both sections, Reinke writes with a contagious passion for reading that will benefit and encourage experienced readers without intimidating or alienating novices — not an easy task!

While I agree with Reinke's ordering of the book in such a way that the theological foundation precedes the practical application (moving from the universals to the particulars), I think that one of his practical tips will be helpful to include early in the review to provide a context for the rest. In chapter 8, he suggests that one of the first things a reader should do before beginning a book is to examine what Mortimer Adler called the "skeleton" of a book by reading the table of contents to get a general sense of where a book is going. As it was largely the logical progression of thought in this book's table of contents that persuaded me to purchase it, let me share it with you:

1. Paper Pulp and Etched Granite — Laying the Cornerstone of Our Theology of Books
2. Wide-Eyed Into the Son — How Personal Sin and the Gospel Shape Our Literacy
3. Reading Is Believing — Savoring Books in an Eye-Candy Culture
4. Reading from Across the Canyon How a Biblical Worldview Equips Us to Benefit from Books
5. The Giver's Voice — Seven Benefits of Reading Non-Christian Books
6. The God Who Slays Dragons — The Purifying Power of Christian Imagination
7. Read With Resolve — Six Priorities That Decide What Books I Read (and Don't Read)
8. How to Read a Book — 20 Tips and Tricks for Reading Nonfiction Books
9. Literature Is Life — Tapping into the Benefits of Fiction Literature
10. Too Busy to Read — Six Ways to Find (and Protect) the Time You Need to Read Books
11. Driven to Distraction — How Internet Habits Cripple Book Reading
12. Marginalia — The Fine Art of Defacing Books with Pencils, Pens, and Highlighters
13. Reading Together — Building Community One Book at a Time
14. Raising Readers — How Parents and Pastors Can Ignite in Others a Love for Book Reading
15. Happily Ever After — Five Marks of a Healthy Book Reader

I benefited personally in some way from every single chapter in this book, though there were a few highlights that I especially appreciated. First and foremost was Reinke's insistence that book reading not replace Scripture reading in our priorities. This is something that is a constant temptation for me, and of which I cannot be reminded too many times! I am also glad that he never assumes that readers of his book are operating under the same definition of "gospel" that he is. Chapter 2 clearly and concisely lays out a  beautiful presentation of the gospel, so that by it, we may read books "with unveiled faces" (cf., 2 Corinthians 3:14-18).

Chapter 6 was a particularly enjoyable one for me, reminding me that my imagination is a wonderful gift from God! Agreeing with authors like Lewis and Tolkien that Story is one of the primary ways that God reveals himself, Reinke turns to the book of Revelation to demonstrate the inseparable connection between imagination and theology.

In the second part of the book, the chapter on Internet habits was easily the most convicting. I am keenly aware of how easily my free time is eaten up by my laptop and smartphone, but less obvious — and possibly more damaging — are the ways that social media, sports, and other distractions reduce the effectiveness of the time I do spend reading books. This is a chapter I am likely to re-read repeatedly.

I also greatly appreciated Reinke's thoughts on instilling a love of reading in my children, and among others within my sphere of influence. Many of his suggestions — such as reading the Bible and other books to my kids at night, and leading a book reading group with college students from my church — are things I'm already doing, but which I will do far better as a result of reading this book. Other tips are ideas that had never occurred to me but which I can't wait to try! For example, Reinke asks his children to mark their five favorite pages in each book they read, bring them to the dinner table, and explain them in context to the rest of the family. I absolutely love this family tradition! This is something I would really like to implement with my own children when they get a little older.

One question I had asked of Lit! before I started reading it was whether there would be anything substantially improved or different from other great books on thinking and reading such as Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book and Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. While Reinke does quote heavily from both books (and many others on the topic), I'm happy to report that his book really is worthy to sit on the bookshelf next to those. In addition to the emphasis on a Christian worldview (which both Adler and Postman lacked), Lit! builds on the practical wisdom of earlier writers and addresses many contemporary challenges of which they never dreamed.

If you want to learn how to read better, read more frequently, or choose books more wisely, then I heartily recommend this book to you. If you don't want to do any of those things, then I hope you'll at least give this book a shot at convincing you why you should! You won't regret it.

Buy it here.
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