How to Read an 800 Page Book

and other thoughts on reading

When I was in my early 20s my pastor shared some thoughts about  reading that have guided me ever since.  He said that you can read any book, no matter how long, if you read it little-by-little every single day.  Think about it:  if you read 15 pages a night before you go to bed, you could read an 800 book in less than two months.  The key is consistency and picking a book that you enjoy.  I have read multiple 700-800 page books in this way including all the ones in the pic above.  I used to watch shows on my laptop right before bed, but I found the screen overly stimulating for that time of the day.  A book provides the perfect amount of relaxation and calms me as I get ready to sleep.

The same pastor challenged us to pick one or two authors and read everything she or he had ever  written.  It’s just not possible to know everything about every author, but you can become very well read with a few.  I picked C.S. Lewis.  While I haven’t read everything he has written, I’ve come close.  I read the Chronicles of Narnia series, his space Trilogy, Surprised by Joy as well as numerous other of his non-fiction works, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Till We Have Faces, A Grief Observed and many others.  I still have his poetry and a few fiction and non-fiction works to go.  Which is my favorite?  I’d have to say Till We Have Faces which is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche that also delves into the issue of fate, spiritual wonder and the essence of love.  

Looking back I see that I also followed this practice intuitively as a child.  I grew up pre-internet and,  because I was overseas and didn’t know the local language very well,  without watching television.  My mom and stepdad were teaching on the campus of an English-language university in Turkey, so I often found myself in the university library looking for books to read.  I became interested in John Steinbeck and began reading book after book. I ended up reading over half of what he wrote without ever setting that as a goal.

Recently I became interested in adopting another author.  I chose Maya Angelou.  I had often heard of her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings but I had never read it.  I started there.  I love her writing – so clear, honest and relatable.  I did some research and found out that she has written seven autobiographies so I am working my way through those.  I’m currently on number five.  I also have several books of her prose on my docket as well as poetry.  It’s so fun to anticipate all the good reading I will be doing.

Now for a few ideas of my own.  One practice I have adopted is to keep a Google Doc of favorite quotes from books I’m reading with page numbers.  So often I want to refer back to something I read and this makes finding it super easy.  Secondly, I refuse to miss out just because certain classic books did not happen to be required reading for me in high school or college.  I look through required reading lists from various high schools and colleges and make lists of books I want to read.  This  led me to read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and as well as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and War and Peace.  Finally, I pay close attention to when various classic works are mentioned in shows and movies.  Whenever I hear of one that sounds interesting, I add it to my list.   This is how I had the pleasure of reading the George Eliot classic Middlemarch which was mentioned in the series Shtisel, which in turn led me to also read Silas Marner and Mill on the Floss.  I like to research the author’s background which can lead to some interesting facts such as that George Eliot was a woman, and provide greater understanding of the author’s context and writings.

Full disclosure:  I don’t always follow these practices and I don’t always read.  It tends to come and go like seasons, like so many other things in my life.  In my twenties I attended a top ten nationally ranked liberal arts college that was extremely demanding, requiring 250-300 pages of reading every two days.  When I graduated, I literally didn’t read a book for three years.  But it came back to me.  Reading is like getting to know another person, and you can even get to know people who have passed on to the other side.  And that’s what always draws me back.

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