How to Read 200 Books a Year
Dr. James Emery White Dr. James Emery White's weblog
- 2017 Aug 21
Want conviction? Try the title of this article: “In the time you spend on social media each year you could read 200 books.”
But is it true?
Yes, I believe for most people, it is. Here’s the four step process:
1. Do not quit before you start.
Many will hear “200 books” and immediately say, “I can’t!” or, “It’s just not possible.” All that does is guarantee that (for you) you won’t and it is.
2. Do the math.
As author Charles Chu notes, the average American reads 200-400 words per minute. The typical non-fiction book has 50,000 words.
Here’s the math: 200 books at 50,000 words per book equals 10 million words. Ten million words at 400 words per minute equals 25,000 minutes. 25,000 minutes equals 417 hours.
I know, you’re thinking: “417 hours?! No one has that kind of time.”
Which just means you’re now ready for the third step.
3. Find the time.
It was the famed business author Jim Collins who first challenged me about finding time for what matters most. He said that most of us don’t need more “to do” lists, but “stop doing” lists. That the war against something like reading isn’t that we don’t have time, but that we are filling our time with things other than reading.
Now to Chu’s point. The average American spends 609 hours a year on social media and 1,642 hours on TV. Once again, let’s do the math. That’s 2,250 hours a year. If you took all of those hours and spent them reading, you wouldn’t read 200 books a year. You would read more than 1,000 books a year.
So we have the time. Lots of it. In excess.
So why don’t we do it?
We don’t take the fourth step.
In my book A Mind for God, I have an entire section on how to read more. It includes practical steps like turning off the TV or shutting down your phone. It involves carrying reading material with you wherever you go so that you can take advantage of empty pockets of time in waiting rooms or lines. It means putting books around your home and office so that they are always there, reminding you and encouraging you to pick up and read.
And perhaps most of all, it means setting aside a time – ideally when you are mentally fresh – to read a certain amount every day. And it matters on so many fronts. As Chu writes, “Books gave me role models and heroes and meaning in a world where I had none.” Or as I wrote in A Mind for God:
From reading alone could I gain a sense of the currents shaping the world; from reading alone could I understand the prevailing worldviews from which Christianity was being assailed; from reading alone could I place myself in the vanguard of taking the Word of God to the word of the world. For it would be reading that would fill my mind with virtually limitless knowledge, instruction, and insight. It would be reading that would exercise my mind and force it to break through barriers of stagnancy.
Little wonder that a monk in Normandy penned these words in 1170: “A monastery without a library [sine armario] is like a castle without an armory [sine armamentario]. Our library is our armory.” This was certainly the conviction of the apostle Paul who, even from his prison cell in Rome, implored Timothy to be sure to bring him his books (II Timothy 4:13).
So, 200 books a year? You don’t have to give up social media and TV altogether. Just take one hour out of every four you’re spending on them,
… and read.
James Emery White
Charles Chu, “In the Time You Spend on Social Media Each Year, You Could Read 200 Books,” Quartz, January 29, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.