Lit! Sale Online

To celebrate the release of Lit! our friends at Westminster Bookstore in Philadelphia are offering my very special blog readers a very special discount on the book. In fact they’re selling the book for almost 50% off the list price. Very generous!

  • List price: $15.99
  • Regular WTSB price, 40% off: $9.62
  • With an additional 10% discount: $8.66

The generous sale ends in one month (Oct 23).

All you’ll need to do is copy/paste this special offer coupon code into the box when you check out: Lit! – Tony Reinke

And remember that WTSB orders over $49 ship for free in the US (UPS). So what good reason is there for not buying 6 copies?

If interested, go to the Lit! product page here.

Book Updates

I received my copy of Lit! last week in the mail. What an incredible experience for a first time author! This means the official release of Lit! is drawing nigh.

I’m happy to announce that Lit! has made its first appearance in a bookstore, more specifically at LifeWay on the campus of Southern Seminary in Louisville (thank you @mrmedina for the pic):

No, the glowing Albert Mohler book endorsement at the top of the picture is not for Lit!.

Oh well, even without that endorsement it appears the book has nearly sold out already (or their expectations are really low and only stocked two copies).

Other, more randomer notes:

  • It appears that copies of the book shipped directly from Crossway to friends and reviewers have begun appearing in mailboxes across the country. That’s cool. Please read it and say nice things about it.
  • I see that Westminster Books is planning to carry Lit! in their online bookstore. That’s cool, and quite an honor. See it here.
  • I cite Herman Bavinck 11 times in the book. A random factoid my fellow Bavinckians may enjoy, but that never fit into previous blog posts. [Fist bump]
  • Today Amazon sent out an email to folks who pre-ordered the book, moving the delivery date up from early October to September 27/28. Nice. This is the second such audible they have called on the delivery date.
  • Last week I had a chance to introduce my book — and to vent on the Angry Birds video game — on The Paul Edwards radio program (Detroit). Thanks Paul for the opportunity. You can listen to me mumble here.
  • I’m currently typing as fast as my fat fingers can type to keep up with written interviews and that includes a fun dialogue on books and reading to appear on one of Christianity Today’s sites. I’ll let you know when it’s up.
  • I’m also being interviewed by John Starke for the TGC blog, where, among other things, he has asked me to determine whether Jane Austin or P. G. Wodehouse would win in a cage match. Such starky scenarios are to be expected in an interview with John, although the victor in this fight is not easy to determine. Hmm.
  • At some point (soon I suspect) Justin Taylor will be releasing a video interview we recorded in Chicago a few months back — much to my embarrassment. (Watching self on video is a disturbing blast to all the senses.) This, I can only imagine, is payback for me spreading my portrait of JT holding his Dwight Schrute bubblehead. Touché. Now we’ll be even.
  • My 3-part class on reading concludes on Sunday. That’s been fun.

More Lit! updates forthcoming.

Please, if you see the book in a bookstore, send me a picture. And thanks to those of you who already have!

Tony

Should You Read My New Book?

The other day I mentioned that 300,000 new books are published each year in the US. With so many new books to choose from, one blog reader asked why he should read my new book? What original contribution does book 300,001 make? Is Lit! worthy of a reader’s precious time?

Those are all fair questions to ask of my book or any book. And while I cannot answer these questions for you personally, perhaps it will help if I explain why I wrote my book.

For the last several years I have read any author who addresses the topic of book reading. And I wish there were more authors and books to choose from. I’ve read Mortimer Adler of course, and also Harold Bloom, but also a number of modern Christian authors like James Sire, Gene Veith, Alan Jacobs, C.S. Lewis and Leland Ryken. Not to mention a number of patristic and reformed writers throughout the centuries. Each of these writers has much to teach us about reading books and I commend each of them.

But as I read these books from a pastoral and Christian perspective my mind kept returning to two important themes that seem to be neglected or assumed in many of these books: (1) clear and transcendent theological convictions for why reading matters, and (2) practical tips to help struggling readers.

Out of those burdens emerged a book idea.

First, I had a vision for celebrating the inerrancy of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture, but in a way that is careful not to diminish the contributions of all other books. John Broadus once wrote that Chrysostom and Augustine speak not so much as loving pagan writers less, but as loving the Scriptures more. I agree. When we look back to our forefathers we see men who do not diminish the value of books in order to distinguish the value of one Book (Scripture). A very high view of Scripture can coexist with a high view of great literature. This theme became chapter 1.

Next, I had a conviction that faith in the gospel fundamentally alters our literacy. To date I have not read anything that connects how the experience of personal conversion changes how we read books, even — to choose just one example — how we read a contemporary business book. Yet as I studied Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:14–16 I began to discover how the gospel influences our literacy, and I wanted to write about it. This became chapter 2.

Next, I wanted to explore the challenge of prioritizing book reading in an image-driven society. Do we discover truth and meaning more clearly through language or images? The answer is language. This is an important conviction, but one I could not find articulated in a way that satisfied me. I wanted the discussion to honor the value of images and artists, while carefully showing the distinct value of language and books to communicate meaning. This became chapter 3.

Next, I wanted to show how the biblical worldview equips readers to identify what is true, good, and beautiful in the books we read. I am grateful for the narrative worldview framework emphasis (creation > fall > redemption > restoration). This approach brings clarity to the metanarrative behind all of creation and recreation. But the narrative approach has one weakness in that it tends to minimize the fruit of common grace in the world round us and can lead us to neglect what is true, good, and beautiful. To identify these things we must also develop a Christian worldview in the aggregate form, and so I sought to explain why this is critically important for discerning and cherishing books. This became chapter 4.

Building on that chapter was my conviction that God uses non-Christian books to benefit the life of Christian readers. I’ve been thankful for the many different ways this general theme has been communicated in the past, especially by John Calvin and his view of common grace. As I studied, I discovered seven concrete ways in which non-Christian books benefit Christians – spanning everything from mathematics and scientific discovery all the way up to matters of spiritual edification. I wanted to summarize my findings in one chapter, something brief and cohesive and yet also carefully nuanced. This became chapter 5.

Next, I believe that cultivating the imagination requires disciplined reading of imaginative books. Our imagination is actually one means by which God grows us in holiness, which is obvious in the use of such powerful imagery in the book of Revelation. This conviction about the imagination, and about the value of books to help us develop our imagination, became chapter 6.

I also wanted to express the conviction that fiction literature makes a valuable contribution to the life of the Christian. This is a conviction that took many years to develop in my own life. I’m a non-fiction, theology, and biography guy myself. If it didn’t really happen, then it’s fake, it’s make-believe, it’s un-true. That’s what I believed for many years. But as I have come to learn that fiction offers many benefits to the Christian reader. In chapter 9 I build off of the work of Christian literature scholars, especially Leland Ryken, to help Christians who are less convinced.

Next, I wanted to transition into the practices of effective book reading. I begin with the most important practical consideration that often goes unconsidered: What do we want our book reading to accomplish in our lives? By failing to answer this question we fail to identify reading priorities that will help us make wise book choices. In chapter 7, I explain how I developed my filters and I encourage all book readers to set aside time to develop these personally chosen priorities.

The reminder of the book elaborates on various reading practices. I wanted to write a chapter to help readers find the time in their busy schedules to read books (chapter 10). I wanted to explain how poor online reading habits lead to poor offline reading habits, and how ebook devices actually exacerbate the problem (chapter 11). I wanted to explain why and how I mark in my books and what those markings are intended to do (chapter 12). I wanted to explain how books can be used to build the local church community (chapter 13). I wanted to encourage pastors and parents to train up a new generation of readers (chapter 14). I wanted to explain the value of re-reading books, the joy of reading old books, and the danger of using books as idols (chapter 15).

I wrote this book to help Christians make book reading a priority in their lives. But for us to prioritize any discipline in our lives we must first have firmly rooted biblical convictions. This book is my attempt to explain and defend the most important convictions book readers need. Once those are settled, I want to explain certain practices that have helped me to become an effective and efficient book reader.

This project was quite ambitious. Was it too ambitious? Can one book accomplish all this? Will the scope of the book scare off Christians who don’t really read books to begin with (thus defeating my whole purpose for writing it!)? It is too soon to tell. But for now I can say that I am very grateful for a publisher who supported my attempt, a team of diversely gifted scholars who sharpened my thoughts, dear friends who encouraged me in the task, and an understanding wife who made it all possible.

My book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, releases at the end of September from Crossway and is now available for pre-order here. It’s 200 pages long, and was written for Christians who want to improve as book readers.


Note: And if you’re in the Gaithersburg area, I’ll be teaching from the content of my book in a 3-week course on Sunday mornings at Covenant Life Church titled “How To Read A Book.” It should be fun. Classes will meet on September 11, 18, and 25 at 9:30–10:30 am with classes repeating at 11:00am–noon. I’ll post audio on the blog when it’s available.

Book Filtering

Alan Jacobs makes a very good point about the importance of choosing the right books to read:

One of the most widely quoted sentences of Sir Francis Bacon—it comes from his essay “Of Studies”—concerns the reading of books: “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.” This is usually taken as a wise or sententious general comment about the worthiness of various texts, but Ann Blair shows that Bacon was making a very practical recommendation to people who were overwhelmed by the availability of books and couldn’t imagine how they were going to read them all. Bacon tells such worried folks that they can’t read them all, and so should develop strategies of discernment that enable them to make wise decisions about how to invest their time. I think Bacon would have applauded Clay Shirky’s comment that we suffer not from “information overload” but from “filter failure.” Bacon’s famous sentence is really a strategy for filtering.

Today American publishers are cranking out close to 300,000 new book titles (and new editions) each year. We need a filter. But how do we build such a filter to fit around the contours of our life? That is one of the major questions I sought to address in my forthcoming book Lit!, particularly in chapter 7, “Read with Resolve: Six Priorities That Decide What Books I Read (and Don’t Read).” My point there is simple: book readers must first determine clear reading goals. Once we determine what we want our books to accomplish (even if the goal is mere pleasure), a host of questions about what books you should read will resolve themselves, making the choice about what books to read, and which ones not to read, a more manageable decision.

Reading for Pleasure

Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford University, 2011), 17:

For heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, or (shifting the metaphor slightly) some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some people fix their attention on the “calories burned” readout—some assiduous and taxing exercise that allows you to look back on your conquest of Middlemarch with grim satisfaction. How depressing. This kind of thing is not reading at all.