About two years ago, I wrote an article about my first experience with a Kindle. I had a little fun with the description and I used the metaphor that the Kindle is a bad kisser. What I want to talk about today reminded me of just how well that metaphor can work. Many people are just plain overwhelmed when it comes to reading good books. While they may have an inclination to learn, they so often don’t persevere in engaging with a book, much less the many other books they could continue to read afterwards. And I especially see this result when it comes to reading books on theology.

But, as I’ve mentioned recently, reading is an active exercise. You wouldn’t want to take out a prospective good date and be a bore all night, would you? And you need to ask the right person out to the right occasion. In other words, you need to be good at the art of sizing up a book. Let’s say that you wanted to approach a woman and ask her out. If every time you see her she is in heels with her hair in a bun, you most likely wouldn’t ask her to be your partner in the Tough Mudder competition when it comes to town. At least, not until you get to know her a little better.

Likewise, when you first meet your new book, you need to make some observations and develop a bit of a reading strategy. We all tend to take a look at the cover, and maybe the endorsements on the back. Most of us will do a quick scan of the Table of Contents to get a better idea of what we are getting into. But I thought I’d offer some additional tips that you may or may not be doing that can help you not to fall asleep on your date, I mean book, and be more engaging. 

Be Realistic 

Go ahead and put some time goals on your date. How many pages are in the book? This is simple math people. Let’s say your book is 180 pages long. If you are finding it hard at first to carve out good reading time (or to concentrate for long periods of time), commit to 10 pages a day. You will be finished your book in a little over two weeks—not too shabby. It’s not all that much a of a sacrifice to give ten minutes of your time for a mere 18 days. With a longer book, do the same thing. You can stick to your ten minutes and spend a month or so on it, or you can bump it up to 15 or 20 minutes.

When you ask someone on a date, you are setting aside time for them. You don’t let a bunch of silly distractions end your time together. That is, unless the date really stinks. Then you should always have an exit plan… 

Come With a Clear Expectation 

What is it that you would like to get out of this book? Are you trying to grow in an area that you already have some knowledge? Are you trying to learn about something completely new? It would be a good idea to even write down some expectations you have for the book. You will be able to get an idea from the introduction whether your expectations are realistically going to be met. What do you suspect that the author is going to say? Are you coming into the book with an open mind to their position, or do you think you are going to be disagreeing with the material? Either way, how would it be enriching for you to read this book?

This is comparable to something I’ve shared before about how my friend Dana plans for our get-togethers. She makes a cheat sheet. This consists of all the things that Dana wants to share with me, topics that she wants to discuss, and questions she may want to ask during our short time together. Preparing the cheat sheet before hand ensures that she wont forget all that she was hoping to achieve in our time together. I really appreciate that! It keeps us absorbed in meaningful conversation (well, it’s not all meaningful, some of it is just plain fun) when we have the opportunity to hang out. 

Engage in the Conversation 

The best readers are active readers. Don’t just sit down expecting to absorb a bunch of information. Have an imaginary dialogue going on in your head while reading. Let yourself wonder where the author is going with a particular section. Are they setting you up for something else? Just because they bought you dinner doesn’t mean they can come in for coffee! Be discerning as you read. And remember that you aren’t reading as a blank template. How does this particular book connect with other things you have read? Particularly, how does it measure up to Scripture? Read synoptically. Make connections. Develop some of your own insights as the author is sharing their own. Ask questions. Write them down. See if the author addresses them later. This goes along with the well-known tip to read with a pencil. I like to use a colored pencil. 

Talk About Your Date 

One of the best things I do to better comprehend what I’m reading, retain the information, and personalize the material is to recognize how what I’m reading relates to other conversations I am having. Take your book for a test drive. Let her meet your friends, or your mom if she’s really special. What we read shapes us. Be aware of this, and be cognitive of how your book is affecting your thinking. Maybe the book is written poorly, or doesn’t shed any new light. That is okay too, because recognizing this is a sign of discernment. You don’t continue to take out a bad date, and you wouldn’t want to recommend them to others. But know why it is bad. And if it wasn’t necessarily a bad book, but maybe just not for you, someone else may benefit from you sharing it with them. 

Consider Writing a Review 

Although you wouldn’t want to kiss and tell with a date, books are meant to be publicized, discussed, and even dissected some. Think about writing a review. You may not be a blogger, but you can still get in the discussion and inform other readers by leaving a review on a site like Amazon or Goodreads. This doesn’t only help prospective readers, it helps you to articulate your thoughts and even bring up some of those questions you had. But as with a date, remember that there is a person behind the book. You wouldn’t want to write anything in a review that you wouldn’t feel is appropriate to share with the author themselves. I have found that writing out reviews, or even a reading reflection, has helped me to become a better reader. I

t also helps improve my skills to know what I’m looking for in a book. So there’s just a few things to keep you engaged. What helps you to improve as a reader? Do you set reading goals for the year? Do you have something that you would like to learn more about, but haven’t had the nerve to ask it out yet? What keeps you reading and what keeps you from reading well?

*Originally published on January 27, 2014.