In April, I sojourned back to my home of four years (Louisville, KY) for a pastor’s conference with a group of about ten men. There were more than a handful of meaningful takeaways that have impacted my life since the conference, but one unexpected application has already bore great fruit.
Because of my trip to Louisville, I am on pace to finish the longest book I have ever read (that wasn’t part of an assignment for school) by the end of the summer.
During this panel discussion alongside Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, and John Piper, Derek Thomas, the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, significantly changed the course of my year by sharing a personal anecdote about a season he spent with one of his mentors. Early in the morning, Thomas and his mentor would wake up and read aloud from the works of John Owen. Now, reading John Owen at any time during the day is a supreme challenge. Thomas’ story of reading such dense material in the early hours of the morning along with his mentor arrested my imagination.
I started to ask, “What would it look like to try to do something similar in my own life?”
The fruit of that meditation has led me to uncover a method of reading incredibly long books that entails far less pain and fewer instances of warring against the urge to fall asleep.
To be upfront, I am still working my way through my first book using this method. However, the fruit of this endeavor has already proved to be so worthwhile that I thought it best to pass it on now so that you can have the opportunity to adopt the strategy this summer as well.
Many thanks to Derek Thomas and his unnamed mentor for the inspiration to pursue this adventure.
Seven Simple Steps to Actually Finishing the Longest Book You’ve Ever Read
1. Pick a reliable partner. You need to have confidence that your partner is going to be there for you. You need someone who will finish each section on time and hold you responsible for doing the same.
Like the example of Derek Thomas, I have found this method to be especially beneficial in a mentor relationship. Within the context of mentorship comes natural levels of expectation for growth and challenges. Reading a massive book alongside someone you are in a mentor relationship with provides a great opportunity to develop character as well as to have fun while learning aside one another.
Whether it is a mentor, a mentee, an accountability partner, or just a good fried, do not go on this trek alone. Frodo needed Sam. You will too.
2. Pick a worthy read. You not only need confidence that your partner is not going to waste your time by not keeping up, but you also need confidence that the book isn’t going to be a waste of time either.
Pick something that has been on your dream reading list for a long time. Tackle a book you have always wanted to read but have always put off because of its unflattering weight. Get recommendations from people you respect. Choose an all-time classic.
Personally, I wanted to introduce my reading partner to the world of Biblical Theology (the study of the Bible in which one traces a major theme throughout the big-picture story of Scripture). So I bought a pair of copies of Tom Schreiner’s 736 page, The King in His Beauty. It has not disappointed at all.
3. Pick a time to regularly meet with your partner. This doesn’t need to be written in concrete, but you want a reliable time that will consistently be available for you and your partner.
Bright and early in the morning before work and school will usually be a good option. Make some coffee if you need to make it less painful. The pleasure of reading aloud with your partner will quickly propitiate any early morning grumpiness.
With it being summertime, my partner and I are fairly open-handed on what day we will meet. We usually aim for 6 a.m. on Mondays, but are open to moving it to another day depending on the demands of the week.
4. Map out your reading plan for the entire book at the outset. Planning your reading schedule will help in a few different ways. It will prevent the completion date of the reading from being arbitrary. Knowing ahead of time when you will finish the book provides a sense of urgency to open the book up and work through a few chapters.
This will also ensure that you evenly space out your reading so that you are not reading hundreds of pages one week and only a few dozen the next. This step is especially helpful during the summer when you and your partner might be out of town on vacation. Mapping your reading ahead of time enables you to know how to work around these weeks that you will not be able to meet.
Below, you will see the Table of Contents from The King in His Beauty. Notice how I have written a date beside each major section of the book. This is the date that we will begin each new section together.
5. Meet together and start reading the assigned section aloud with your partner. When my partner and I get together, we read for an hour. We do not waste much time in small talk before or after our reading. We may highlight a few things after we have read a chapter, but for the most part, we read and nothing else.
We want to knock out as many pages together out loud as possible. The more you read out loud together, the less you have to read on your own.
The method we use to read aloud together is to alternate pages: I read one page. He reads the next. When we come to the end of a page, we finish whatever sentence we are on and let the other one pick up from there.
Nothing fancy here. Read a page. Take a break. Repeat.
6. Read the rest of the assigned section as homework. When your time together comes to an end, you need to set a page number as the place you will begin to read aloud when you meet back up with your partner. This short-term finish line should coincide with the long-term plan you mapped out in Step 4.
Agreeing on the next goal together gives you a firm plan for reading on your own over the next few days. It provides a clear idea of how much time you are going to need to dedicate to get to the next checkpoint.
I have actually found that if you pick a good enough book, the hard part is not getting to the checkpoint. The difficult thing is to not read ahead and to wait for the day you meet back with your partner.
7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 until the book is complete. When you map out your plan ahead of time and stick to it, it might surprise you how fast you can finish a rather lengthy book.
My partner and I started our 736 page wonder at the end of May, and we plan to complete the last section before the end of July.
A few months ago, when I went to a pastor’s conference on the topic of evangelism, I did not expect to come across such a helpful takeaway in regards to reading lengthy books. Reading this worthy book with a reliable partner has already been a worthwhile endeavor for me.
I hope that some of you might try your own adaptation of this reading method I picked up from Pastor Derek Thomas. There’s still plenty of time in the summer to knock out that book on your list that you never dreamed you would actually finish.
I would love to hear some of your thoughts and plans. Are there any methods that you have used to help you finish some rather lengthy books? What’s the longest book that you read just for fun that you have ever finished?