My System for Choosing Books to Read

My Fantasy Library sketch

As a book lover, one challenge I do not face is the lack of reading material; rather, the lack of time to read everything I want is my constant affliction. How can I read more books? If finding more time isn't possible, then I must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus on finding greater quality books instead of increasing the quantity of time given to reading. Using discernment in my reading time may not increase the total number of books I read, but it will increase the mental dividends received from time spent reading truly beneficial books.

To help illustrate my decision process, I developed this flow chart. This isn't necessarily a set of rules that I am bound by (beyond the obligation for Christians to shun evil); this is more of a graphical representation of how I answer the question, "What should I read next?"

At first glance the flow chart looks overly complicated, but as you read through the question-and-answer flow the logic of it will take shape. It has helped me. Perhaps it will help you.

My System for Choosing Books

The books that land in the red are never considered. Life is too short to read books that don't matter or would hinder the Christian's growth in grace. Remember: we have a finite amount of time to read, so it's important we redeem the time wisely.

The books that land in the yellow are read cautiously. What I mean by that is that I read them guardedly, scanning their arguments for logical fallacies and spiritual deceptions. Since I also recognize the importance of informing myself about other viewpoints, I am open to reading books that differ from my opinion - some may even attack my worldview - but if they are a significant book or an influential work, I do read them, keeping them at arm's length, so to speak.

The books that land in the green are read with moderation, that is, I read them with enjoyment, but I'm careful not to let one genre consume all my reading time. To me, there's a danger in filling up my reading time with too much of one type of literature - especially fiction. To me, fiction (even great fiction) is like dessert for the brain: delightful, but not something that should eclipse everything else on the menu.

The purple group, what I affectionately refer to as The Worthies, includes such men as Charles Spurgeon, Richard Baxter, and John Bunyan (to name a few). These are writers that I want to influence me continually. As such, I am regularly reading through books like The Reformed Pastor, Lectures to My Students, and The Pilgrim's Progress. These are books that I not only want to read, but books I want to know by authors I want to emulate.

Another way to understand my approach to reading is like a food pyramid: the base of which would be the Worthies, and then on top of them would be books that find their place in the green group, after which is the yellow group, and the red group is left out completely.

This is the system I use. It's not the only way to approach a reading list, but I do think it's important that we at least approach our reading in an intentional way.