Read More Books and Less Blogs

February 10, 2016 — 13 Comments

The past couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from less input to deeper reading.

I’m reading less blogs, bookmarking less web pages and reading more books (yes, I appreciate the irony that you are reading this on a blog).

It started in 2011 when I read Tim Challies’ book The Next Story. He illuminated a huge idol in my heart (and I believe a chief idol of our age)- informationism:

We have begun to believe that the accumulation of information somehow leads to wisdom, that more information will solve society’s ills and improve our lives. We place our faith in information.

We find joy and life in that information – not in using that information or turning that information into useful action, but simply in its constant flow.

Without the distraction of dealing with vast amounts of information and without overtaxing our brains with hundreds of sources of information, we will have the time to know more about less.

Success in life “is not in the accumulation of facts, but in living a life marked by wisdom, by the application of knowledge.”

What we are finding is that more information does not necessarily lead to more wisdom. In fact, the very opposite may be true.

More information may lead to less wisdom.

That last sentence rocked me. My voracious reading of new blogs and articles is actually making me less wise.

I want to know more about less. It was actually the very secular BBC that reminded me that, primarily, that means I need to read less “news” and soak in God’s Word more:

One of the more embarrassing difficulties of our age is that most of us have quite lost the ability to concentrate, to sit still and do nothing other than focus on certain basic truths of the human condition. We are reluctant to admit that we are simply swamped with information and have lost the ability to make sense of it.

The prestige of the news is founded on the unstated assumption that our lives are forever poised on the verge of a critical transformation. Contrast this with how religions think of what is important. The great stable truths can be carved into stone rather than swilling malleably across hand-held screens. Rather than letting us constantly catch up on “news”, religions prefer to keep reminding us of the same old things.

It is not by reading more, but by deepening and refreshing our understanding of a few volumes that we best develop our intelligence and our sensitivity.

We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than St Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.

This clip from Portlandia was me in 2009-2013 (and probably me still!):

Here’s what that has looked like for me. I have over 3,000 unread pages saved in Pocket (a save-to-read-later service)!

Not sure when this “later” is when I’m going to find time to read them.

In 2013 I bookmarked 1,500 sites that I never got around to reading. At that point, I was literally checking 75 blogs every week. I even blogged about why you should read a lot of blogs! I still read blogs but almost exclusively blogs related to college ministry (my field of work)

In 2014, I had 1,000 unread bookmarked pages.

And 500 in 2015. If you do the math, that’s not exactly a trickle – I’m still bookmarking almost 2 pages a day. But it’s progress!

I’m replacing those “must read” late-breaking-this-is-going-to-change-your-life blogposts and articles with the slow, harder work of reading a book. Trading candy for meat. Books make me slow down and absorb information instead of just letting information go in one ear and out the other.

Randy Gravitt says:

If I could choose only one habit to pursue growth it would be to develop a love for books. Reading requires focus and commitment. But the payoff is huge. If you want to jumpstart your leadership growth, spend at least thirty minutes a day reading

A few steps I’m taking to read more:

  • I’m tracking how many books I read each year
  • I don’t necessarily want a goal of number-of-books-read because, again, the goal is not more information input. It’s deeper, slower reading. Last year I read 17 books. And I want to read more this year. But I feel like a goal will make me rush through books instead of slowly absorbing them.
  • I’m not finishing every book I start
  • I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving. 15 minutes here and there really adds up. So I sucked it up and subscribed to (a ridiculous $22/month for two books). I listen at 1.25 speed and can get through two books in a month.
  • I’m committed to reading every night. A couple of years ago my wife introduced the new rule of “no blue light an hour before bed” = no checking twitter or reading online. I’m thankful for God’s grace through her! It made me take up the habit of reading before bed every night. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
  • The trick is finding when to read the right kind of book:
    • In the morning I read a spiritually developmental book (right now I’m reading John Piper’s Bloodlines on ethnicity and racial reconciliation). I need to carve out more time for this category. I rarely read during the day.
    • In the car on audiobook I can’t listen to any book that I want to take notes on. I need a book that can just wash over me. That’s more of a story/biography. Shadow of the Almighty – the story of martyred missionary Jim Elliott was perfect. Though there’s plenty of quotes I’d want to underline, I’ve read it enough times that I can just let the story and Jim’s singleminded pursuit of Christ and the Great Commission wash over me. How We Got To Now was also a great one for audiobook. VERY interesting stories of the 6 most important innovations – great stuff to inspire your thinking and own innovation. But nothing much that I’d need to write down to remember.
    • At night, again, I can’t read any book that I’d want to underline or take notes on or that will get my brain’s gears turning. At night my goal is to unwind. So I stick mostly with biographies that inspire. “Readers of good books, particularly books of biography and history, are preparing themselves for leadership. Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers.” Harry Truman
    • Bonhoeffer was a great nighttime read. Or my current bedtime book- River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. On deck:
  • I’m keeping an Evernote on books I want to read in each of these categories (audiobook, morning, and night reading)

What about you? What helps you read more books?

In what ways have you bought into “informationism”?

Would LOVE book recommendations. List some of your favorites in the comments.


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  • Steve Shadrach

    Thanks Tim. Excellent, challenging…convicting! I want you to put “Beyond the Local Church” by Sam Metcalf on your reading list. After you read it, I want to debrief with you to see what you think. It is one of the most profound and empowering books I have read in years. We are going to take all of our staff through it.

    • timcasteel

      Thanks Steve. I’ll have to read it!

      • Steve Shadrach

        if you haven’t already, give us a “Casteel Synopsis” of Beyond The Local Church. I want to glean from the gems you mine from it!!

  • Ken Cochrum

    Yes! Thank you for bringing some sanity and wisdom. I have almost stopped blogging because there is so much regurgitated pseudo-leadership white noise flooding the space.

    • timcasteel

      Thanks Ken. I have definitely blogged less because I fear that I’d be contributing to the noise (and “informationism”). It’s definitely pushed me to be more selective in what I write AND consume. The blogging/articles that are helpful for me (and seem to be for others) tend to be very practical and about my field (college ministry). Posts/articles that I can immediately adapt and apply on campus.

  • inateapot

    You might check out the Overdrive app – it allows you to download books (AND audiobooks!!!) from your local library, as long as you have a card. Now, of course, they may not have every title you’re looking for, but you can request books & maybe nudge your library into purchasing more titles you want.

    I sit around a lot (special needs kid with lots of appointments) and am thankful to always have a book to read on my phone!

    • timcasteel

      I just downloaded the Overdrive app on your recommendation and am LOVING it for Audiobooks. Maybe I’ll cancel audible. The only problem is I didn’t make it through my first book (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) in 2 weeks and now I have to wait to check it out while it’s on hold! They don’t have every title. But it would have saved me $15 if I had found it a few Overdrive earlier before I bought Between the World and Me on Audible (which my library DOES have). Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Samantha Barnes

    I have been trying to be more conscious to carry a book with me when I know I am going to be waiting somewhere like a doctor’s office because it will be so much more life-giving than social media. Or, if I have a thirty minute break between appointments with students, bringing a light-hearted fiction book (I have certain classics I reread frequently that just make me happy, like all six of the Chronicles of Narnia or The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy) seems to re-energize me for the next conversation as opposed to trying to cram a few minutes of other type of work in, since thirty minutes isn’t quite enough time to refocus on a whole lot.

    I like your categories for books! I unconsciously find myself tending towards similar categories. My morning book right now is An Invitation to Silence and Solitude by Ruth Haley Barton, though it is slow going because she gives you things to practice at the end of each chapter and I am finding that I like reading new ideas but I am not great at implementing them. I really want to grow in this and implement before I move on to the next chapter. A couple of my all-time favorites in this category are A Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and Knowledge of the Holy by AW Tozer.

    Memoir-type books are some of my favorites for the evenings. A lot of my favorites are probably more female-oriented but A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken is one of my all-time favorites (was recommended to me by two guy friends in college so it’s not girly). Also, if you like CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces is INCREDIBLE. I didn’t “get it” till the end of the book the first time, then had to reread it to really soak it in. Elisabeth Elliot’s biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die, is also very good.

    Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.
    CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters.
    Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor.

    • timcasteel

      Thanks for sharing Sam what you’re reading and how you’re trying to read AND process more! Always great to see what others are enjoying. A Severe Mercy is definitely NOT female-oriented! It IS a love story. But it’s one of my favorite all time books as well. I’ll have to check out Till We Have Faces.

  • John Majors

    awesome post! audible rocks, rocks, rocks.
    I’ve been using goodreads to track my reading and share with others. join and let me know and I’ll follow you. I also review my list Sunday night and decide what I’m going to read for the week. So helpful. Nice work on this.

    • timcasteel

      Thanks John! Most of my books in my “to read list” have come from your recommendations. I’ll have to check out Goodreads.

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