Posts tagged Reading
Top 10 Books of 2015

In his book An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis elucidates on the power literature has to broaden our horizons and form us into new people by offering us the perspective of another:

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books…. in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do. (emphasis added)

This is why I read. I am often asked, “How do you remember everything you read?” That’s just it: I don’t. Our minds are like a body of water. The person who does not read treats his or her mind like a stale, stagnant creek. Old ideas fester, mold and algae grow free, thereby unchecked by a current of fresh water, which book reading provides.

I ask that you will allow me to obfuscate my analogy a bit. Our minds are not empty shelves waiting for fresh information to be categorized and filed in our neat cubbies. Rather, now situated in a rushing stream of water, our minds are more like a stone being tossed, rounded, and smoothed by the steady current of new information. I do not read to remember (per se), I read to reform.

With that, I have provided a list of my ten favorite books read in 2015:[1]

  1. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead: A Novel (New York: Picador, 2006).
  2. Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (New York: Scribner, 2014).
  3. Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).
  4. Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014).
  5. Dale Allison, Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012).
  6. Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).
  7. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch: A Novel(Back Bay Books, 2015). The content of this book is graphic. I would advise you to read my short review before picking up this novel.
  8. Tom Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Mentor, 2013).
  9. Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction(Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993).
  10. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014).

Tolle lege (Take up and read)!

  1. That is not to say these books were published in 2015; only that I read them this year.  ↩

Reading Like J. P. Moreland

In his book “Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul,” J. P. Moreland writes, “If possible, never read a serious book without something with which to write. Your goal in reading is to surface the structure of each chapter.”[1] I read this pointer more than five years ago and have not departed from this sagacious utterance. Moreland’s book was my first encounter with Christian Intellectualism. This now ubiquitous term, likely due to my circles of relation, had escaped me. In fact, my overal orientation toward Christianity was akin to a strict fideism–knowledge depends on faith. But this is neither an autobiography, nor a hagiography of the eminent Moreland. My intention in writing this post is to share some helpful tips on reading that I gleaned from Moreland in his book.

In the aforementioned chapter, Moreland offers a helpful yet uncomplicated system for annotating books. He first advises readers to do some preliminary perusing in order to familiarize themselves with the field/issue. “[Y]our goal is to obtain an initial set of categories that can help you be more informed in noticing things you may otherwise miss when you set out to analyze more carefully a detailed text in the area of investigation.” (p. 167) From there, Moreland offers readers a glimpse into his personal annotation system. His almost-monomaniacal aim is to identify the structure of the arguments.

  1. In the left-hand margin, about every two to three paragraphs, he composes a summary of the main arguments of the text in his own words. The goal is both noting structural flow while synthesizing the information. Here, Moreland offers a few example questions he asks himself in analyzing the flow: “Is the author continuing to develop the same point of discussion treated in the preceding paragraphs? Has the text shifted to making a new point parallel to the one just made or are we now reading criticisms and rebuttals of the main thesis?” (p. 167)
  2. Subsections serve as stop signs. Upon seeing a marked subsection, Moreland writes a two or three sentence summary of the main point in the subsection. He, then, goes through his snippet summaries and writes a brief summary of the entire chapter at the top of the first page of each chapter. He adds, “You want to mark up the book in such a way that if you return to it months later, you can look at your marginal notes and get a feel for the main flow of the chapter’s structure and its content.”(Ibid.)
  3. Moreland uses two notational devices to help him comprehend a chapter’s structure.
    1. Recognizing a thesis argument, he puts a “+1,” “+2,” and so forth in the margin where each specific argument begins. That way, even if the next arguments doesn’t appear for another five pages, he is still able to easily trek with the author. He also notes arguments against the author’s thesis with “–1,” “–2,” and so on. The obvious telos of this effort is to track the arguments and counterarguments that compose the structure of the debate in the text itself.
    2. For personal thoughts, Moreland puts his remarks in parentheses and begins it with “N.B.,” which is the abbreviation for the Latin term nota bene, which means “take note.” The reason for the parenthetical comments is to easily distinguish between summaries and reflection
  4. Inside the front cover of the book, Moreland constructs his own index. During the process of reading a book, he marks topics/terms with special interest to him, and writes these terms or phrases in the blank pages at the front of the book, followed by the corresponding page number(s) in the text.

He closes with this piece of advice:

Finally, when you undertake to read a book seriously, you cannot treat that book as a novel to be read for recreation. Compared to intellectual reading, recreational reading is fairly passive, can be done quickly, and does not require a great deal of work or engagement on the part of the reader. In intellectual reading, you simply must stay alert, use a pen, make notes regularly, and remember to look for three things: Structure! Structure! Structure! If you do not walk away from an occasion of reading with a better grasp of the flow of argument in what has been read, you have not practiced intellectual reading successfully . (pp. 168–9, emphasis added)

  1. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, Kindle Edition (NavPress, 1997), 166.  ↩