When asked the secret of his success, billionaire investor Warren Buffett pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will.”
In fact, many of us don’t. The statistics about American reading habits are staggering—and not in a good way.
According to the Literacy Project Foundation, 44% of American adults don’t read a book in a year; and six out of 10 households do not even buy one book in a year. I find this shocking. But as I look at the trajectory of our culture, I’m not surprised.
So, how many books have you read this year?
Let me tell you something you already know—reading is critically important—especially for Christian believers. God after all, reveals Himself to us in the written words of Scripture. Think about it—when we read the Word, we place ourselves in the very presence of God.
In our Colson Fellows worldview program, we want to develop Christian leaders—leaders who can shape the culture in their communities. Over the course of nine months, we have our fellows read 16 books on history and theology and culture in addition to various articles. Because we agree with author Michael Hyatt that readers are leaders. And leaders are readers. Beyond helping us gather information and data, Hyatt says that reading makes us better thinkers, improves our people skills, and helps us master communication.
In addition to the spiritual, intellectual and relational benefits of reading, reading helps us combat stress and keeps our aging minds sharp.
Martin Luther once said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” I’d add that if you want to change your world, pick up a book and read.
So how do we accomplish this in a world of binge-watching, incessant social media, commuting, and a million other distractions? The title of a recent article by Charles Chu at Qz.com sums it up well: “In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books.”
His logic is simple: The average American reads 200 to 400 words per minute. Say a typical book is 50,000 words. Two hundred such books equals 10 million words. At 400 words per minute, it would take 417 hours in a year to read all 200 books. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really just a smidge over an hour a day.
Even so, where would we even find that much time in our busy lives? Well, Chu says the average American spends 608 hours on social media and another 1,642 hours watching TV. “If those hours were spent reading instead,” Chu writes, “you could be reading over 1,000 books a year.”
Chu goes on: “Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books: It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important.”
So what do we read—besides the Bible? I suggest a judicious mix of history, theology, fiction, and yes, even poetry. And as C.S. Lewis once said, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
We have more suggestions for you at our online bookstore at Colson Center.org—where you can check out Chuck Colson’s recommended reading list, and get a look at the books our Colson Fellows are reading.
But whatever you do, get reading!
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2017 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.