Profile of a reader: Laura Denny

  • Marty Sweeney
  • 28 February 2018

Is there is a pile of books you want to tackle in 2018?

If you have any interest in reading, you’ve probably read at least one of the many excellent articles on how to read more. Then, if you are like me, you read an article about how someone managed to tackle 50+ books in a year—you become deflated, overwhelmed and drift back into being a half-engaged reader.

That’s why I asked my friend Laura Denny to give me some thoughts on how she developed her profile as a reader. She’s a home-schooling mother of three, active in her local church, and busy like everyone with life in general—but she managed to tackle more than 60 books in 2017.

The first step, she says, is to own your time. Yes, everyone is busy. But just about everyone who is busy is willing to admit that there is time to spare for TV, Facebook, magazines, etc. While time seems like the real issue, it’s clear that may not be true once we examine how we use our time. “We need to convince ourselves that reading is important enough to make time for,” Laura said.

How do you do that? Don’t underestimate the tremendous privilege we have to grow and learn to be more like Jesus Christ by simply engaging with a book. Reflecting on her own growth as a reader, Laura said, “Through reading, I am able to connect with and learn from men and women from worlds completely different from mine. I can read books whose authors lived centuries apart but that discuss truths about the timeless God we worship and the unchanging nature of the gospel. It pulls me out of my own tiny world, my limited perspective, my tendency to be self-consumed. From the outside looking in, it seems like a very private, solitary thing to do. And yet it’s the best (dare I say only?) way to truly understand the times and places outside our own.”

Having convinced yourself that you have at least some time to read and then great privilege of being able to do so, it is time to actually start to read.

Here are four pointers from Laura and I on how to get started and keep going:

  1. Start with a book on a topic that really interests you. This could be a need you have (parenting, money, friendships) or a need of a dear friend you want to help. The key is to make it go beyond ‘pleasure reading’ because that is the first thing you will give up once time runs short. Create a sense of urgency and excitement that will keep you reading even through busy periods.
  2. Gain momentum by finishing a book soon. There are a growing number of quality short books on the market. For example, I know someone who, whenever the topic of engaging (or wanting to) with someone on Facebook comes up, recommends Gospel Speech Online. That is a great example of these first two points because it’s a little book that can finished in one evening or two, and its topic is really compelling for those who discuss issues online.
  3. Set a reasonable and achievable goal for you. Don’t go from not reading any books to a goal of 50 in a year. And don’t think ‘total number of books per annum’ is the only goal you can have. You can set a goal for this upcoming month to give you a sense of achievement sooner. A different kind of goal is one of inputs compared to outputs. Instead of a goal of ‘how many books you will read’, make a goal of regular engagement with a book. For example, John Piper said that his practice when he was busy with full-time pastoral ministry was to read for 20 minutes three times a day. This is a great kind of goal, especially for those who want to tackle a long book.
  4. Remind yourself regularly that you are not just reading for your own interest and consumption. Other-person-centredness is the essence of the Christian life and should be applied to personal reading habits as well. Laura said, “As we read and learn we are changed ourselves—maturing as church members, friends, spouses, citizens, evangelists, and more.”

Remember, the overall goal is not to finish a certain number of books in a certain time. While people may be impressed if you continue to build up your numbers, there is probably no reward beyond that if that is your main or only goal (cf. Matt 6).

The higher goal is no better stated than by Timothy Raymond: “Should every Christian aspire to read more books? Only if every Christian desires to be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.”

Laura furthers the point Tim made: “I grew up with wonderful, Christ-honouring parents and in a Bible-centred church. I am very grateful for my background. But with that came an unfortunate underestimation of the impact reading would have on me, until I actually committed myself to reading. Now I know what a rich resource I was ignoring for all those years. So I don’t want to miss an opportunity to tell others—young and seasoned Christian alike—to start reading as soon as possible.”