How to Read Books Meaningfully

At the end of 1998, I patted myself on the back as I reviewed my list of books that I had finished reading for the year.  Though not always thrilled by my voracious reading habit, my husband was also impressed with my accomplishment.  Being the good husband that he is by pointing out my achievements to others, he bragged to my brother-in-law, Dan, after dinner one evening when we were visiting.  Dan considered it for a moment and then asked me what I remembered from reading all those books.  I didn’t have much to say!  He said he read one book that year, and then he explained how it had transformed his life and faith.

Shortly after, I came across a quote by Charles Spurgeon, pastor and theologian: “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by 20 books which he has merely skimmed lapping at them.”  Upon further reflection, I realized that my reading was not only largely superficial and unmemorable, but it had consumed much time, hindering me from reflecting on my own. 

With one flippant comment and one insightful quote, the way I approached reading was transformed.  I am still an avid book reader, but now when I choose a book to read, I focus on quality rather than quantity.  My reading is less superficial and more meditative. How do I practice this? First, I begin by periodically praying that God will guide me to the books that I should read. 

Next, when selecting a book, I consider if it will potentially achieve at least one or two of the following:
1.      Explain the Bible in ways that I may not come to very easily on my own.
2.      Allow me to live vicariously through the experiences of others and to increase my perception of the world. 
3.      Enhance my relationships and growth in loving others.
4.      Find deeper meaning in my current season of life.
5.      Refresh my soul and increase my delight in my Lord Jesus Christ.
6.      Increase my understanding of life and provide a glimpse through God’s perspective.

Finally, while reading the book, my method to meaningful reading includes the following steps:
1.     Determine if this is a book that can be quickly digested or one that requires slow rumination, and read accordingly.
2.     Earmark a page that holds words to be remembered. (Even in fictional books, characters may say something that I want to cherish).
3.     Return to the earmarked pages when the book is finished to find the words and determine if it still has impact.
4.     Write the words or idea in a notebook.
5.     Read and reflect on the words in the notebook periodically.

This approach enables me to ponder the messages conveyed in a book and apply them to my life.  If I can find a few words in a book that I want to remember or one idea that could change my thinking or actions, then the book was well worth reading, and perhaps even life-transforming. 


  1. Hey Paula!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    I share your voracious reading habit and, I too, had to learn to stop reading for quanity and start reading for quality!

    I loved the top 6 and top 5 for selecting and reading a book. Very informative!

    Blessings sister in Christ.

    ML Michaels

  2. This is a great quote... ( I love Spurgeon)

    “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by 20 books which he has merely skimmed lapping at them.”

    I believe this wholeheartedly. One "word" illuminated by the Holy Spirit has the power to transform my life. I have also been praying that God will lead me to the books that He knows I need to read.


  3. Paula,Your candor is so refreshing and timely.