The Problem with Reading

Over a year ago I began to read Calvin’s Institutes. I decided that the only way to make progress was to read for 15-20 minutes per day. (Stuart Olyott once said that he only knew two people who had read the complete works of John Owen, and they had done so by this method. I decided to try out the method.) Unfortunately it has been fitful. I have always been a slow reader and I am a bit of a dreamer. If an idea comes up in a book, I often wander off into the distance with it, coming back much later to resume reading. Sometimes this is fruitful. More often than not is much more like a child chasing soap bubbles or dandelion seeds in the Summer.

The language of Calvin is slightly strange and it takes time to adjust, When I started reading it would take almost 3 minutes to get through a page (including those little bubble-chasing moments). So, in 15 minutes, a grand total of 5 pages would be covered. Given that the institutes is some 1600 pages, this means 320 days to read them. Not promising. In addition, I find that it is difficult to get into Calvin’s way of thinking (i.e. not just his style) in such a short time. It’s no surprise then that my daily dose of Calvin disappeared.

Since my exams have finished I have had some more time to devote to reading, an exercise I consider essential to Christian ministry, so I have resumed the Institutes. Two practical steps have made a difference:

  1. I can find an hour to read.
  2. I discovered that if I use the stopwatch/lap-timer function on my mobile phone, I can monitor the progress I am making. I can sit holding the top of it between my index and middle fingers (it’s one of these chocolate-bar rather than clam-shell shaped ones) while holding the book with both hands, and flip the lap-time button with my thumb when I turn the page.

With this method I can see how long a page is taking. As a result I have managed to get a Calvin-page down to 1m40s (making ~35 pages an hour). I also know from the numbers when my concentration is drifting. It is remarkable how time-consuming and wasteful it is! I have also noticed that the main reason my reading has been slow has been the tendency to skip back over words and phrases that I did not understand. This is a fruit of lack of concentration. I now major on trying to avoid skipping.

So, 1150 pages to go. What’s that? 33 days? We’ll see.

The Problem with Reading