I am trying a new campaign of reading (we’ll see how well it goes) where I cycle through the kinds of books I read. The problem is that there are so many books I think I ought to read, but they keep getting pushed out by books that are actually readable.
Non-fiction is the culprit. So many non-fiction writers seem to be operating under the misguided notion that, because what they have to say is true and important, people ought to read it out of a pure regard for the content of the book. They hold to this concept with a firm conviction that allows them to thereby insult the reader with a style that is so blindingly dull, the only way you can get through all that True and Important stuff is by a sheer act of will. And the more seriously the author takes his work, the more likely it is to be devoid of the kind of rhetorical sway that pulls you from one concept to the next. Nobody cares about the reader anymore.
The importance of non-fiction reading resembles nothing to me so much as the importance of bran in the diet. And I’m the kind of guy who likes to start his day with grape nuts.
The fact that there are voracious readers out there who never touch a page of fiction truly disturbs me. Tim Challies really disturbs me. Iain Murray, who may be one of the greatest Christian historians alive, wrote a book in 2009 called The Undercover Revolution, in which he argues that novels revolutionized the English speaking world in the 19th century (unfortunately, in his opinion, for the worse). In an interview with Mark Dever, when he was asked “how should we be thinking about novels today,” Murray responded, “I’m not sure we should be thinking about them all; we’ve got so much better things to do. And it amazes me that Christians who are called to redeem the time have got time to read novels.” Fiction changes the world, but we haven’t got time to read any. Astounding.
Maybe a better metaphor is those people whose diet consists of steak and protein shakes, as though they’ve never heard of fruit and bread and candy.
Anyway, I have to force myself to read non-fiction, especially the really important stuff that’s clogging up all the space on my shelves. So here’s the system: I read a fiction book, and then a non-fiction. Hopefully, the future joy of fiction will spur me on through the slough of brute facts. The jury’s still out.