Category Archives: Reading



Here is a picture of our home library. There are more books downstairs, but this is the main library. 

As promised, I wanted to offer the various ways you can build a great library without spending too much. Here in no particular order are the things we’ve done:

Check out your local library sales. They happen on a regular basis. When we lived in Palo Alto, we got a 19th century hardback edition of Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest for fifty cents! It deeply impacted both of us. In between her discipleship meetings with students, I vividly remember my wife reading it (many times with tears in her eyes) in the student union at Stanford.

Used bookstores. You never know what you might find. I found a first edition of God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley for $5 in Annapolis. A few months back I found an old biography on H.L. Mencken for $1. While thumbing through to make sure it was clean, out fell two personal letters from Mencken. They got appraised for $250 and $150. I was already thrilled about just getting the book for $1!

Garage sales. Many people don’t know what they have. Yes, there is usually an abundance of pulp fiction, but I have found some incredible and valuable books.

Amazon has many partners who sell new and used books. I have ordered several and rarely had a problem. I typically look for used books which say there are no markings/like new. And I look at how many good votes they received as a carrier.

Write reviews. Publishers will send you free review copies if you have access to a solid platform. For example, if you want to write for a blog with decent readership, here is how to get started:

*Familiarize yourself with the blog by reading it on a regular basis.

*Don’t comment too often and don’t make your comments long. I am amazed how many people still violate these simple tips. When I see a long comment on a blog post, I always pass over them. The only exception is when someone comments who is an expert on the topic under discussion.

*Thank the blogger for their efforts with the blog. If you have been posting thoughtful and brief comments, they will probably have some vague idea of who you are. If you write them a personal note (again keep it brief!), you will definitely separate yourself from the masses! A younger pastor recently sent me a hand-written note of thanks for one of my articles. Putting pen to real paper makes a big difference.

*Pick books to review the blogger would appreciate.

*Approach them about the possibility of doing one.  

*If they say no, know that real authors don’t lost heart.  Persevere. Perhaps your writing is not as good as you think. Perhaps the blogger does not connect to your style.  Whatever the case, real writers keep writing. Real writers don’t write simply to get published. Real writers write because they must whether many or a few are listening.

*If the blogger says yes, work very hard to do a great job writing the review.  

So this is kind of a twofer: how to build a library and a few thoughts about getting your work noticed.

Finally, if a book makes a big impact on you, and if the author is still alive, write him or her a short note of thanks. Believe me, no matter how famous the author, it is a great encouragement. And yes, I’ve had authors send me books as a thank-you for my thank-you, but that of course should not be one’s motivation for writing.  




One constant for me is a red pencil for highlighting and a black pen for marginalia. Pencils are only used if I think the pen will bleed through the paper.

Another constant is that I tend to read about five books at the same time. Different types of books being read at the same time carries these benefits: they start forming a conversation among themselves, if you are slogging through a tome like one of Charles Taylor’s big books you can take a break and read something lighter, and it is motivating to finish a bunch of books about the same time.

For many years, I have kept a log of what books I’ve read, or in some cases, reread. It serves as a good accountability to hit my goal of about 50-60 serious read books each year and it allows me to evaluate how balanced my reading is across different disciplines.

Not a constant, but close to one, is that I usually take a book with me to appointments. I don’t get perturbed when someone is late!


I have read eight books by Tim Keller. None have been duds, but I certainly have my favorites.

Opportunities to interview Keller have come on two occasions. The first was on his book about suffering. That interview can be found here: 

Tim Keller on Suffering

The other was an exchange of emails about preaching. That exchange was published here: 

Tim Keller Answers: How Much Prep Time for a Sermon?

And now we have a terrific book on the formative influences that made Tim Keller who he is. Here then are a few observations from Collin’s Hanson’s wonderfully conceived book:

*Many times, God uses the most unlikely people. Keller’s awkwardness socially would not have made one think he was destined to the ministry we now know him for. By the way, Keller got a C in his seminary preaching class, not an encouraging sign that he would amount to much as a preacher.

*Mentors are hugely influential. Keller had several, but Edmund Clowney was one of the most formative. Clowney’s kindness, learning, and commitment to Keller reminds me of the role Ambrose played for Augustine.

*Keller’s ability to synthesize material, commitment to listen well to others, free people up to use their own gifts, but most of all, his humility, are things God has honored.

*There is no Tim Keller as we know him today without Kathy Keller. If you have a spouse who is a partner in ministry (I am graced by God to say that I do), then thank God for that blessing. If you are single and looking for a spouse, be diligent to find someone who shares the vision God has laid on your heart.

*If I were asked to list a couple of specifics that make a minister used of God, I would list true piety, humility, ability to keep loyal friends over the long haul, and courage. For the latter, Keller had a powerful model in a pastor who preceded him. He is a long-forgotten name, but you will be inspired by getting to know William E. Hill Jr. I’m glad Collin regularly brought in obscure figures who had a big impact on Keller.

*I mentioned above that I have read eight books by Keller. Making Sense of God is probably my favorite. I am glad that Collin gave some attention on the need to write such a book. My review of Making Sense of God is here: 

Tim Keller’s Newest








I am regularly delighted to find people I respect who diligently mark up what they are reading. Here is another example I found today: J.I. Packer! Though having a top-flight education he still saw marking up his reading as the only proper engagement with a book!

And here is a smart friend by the name of Dave McCoy. Dave has a PhD in chemistry, but does not let that get in the way of him marking up his books. Check out his copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake!

And by all means make sure to mark up your Bibles! You are leaving spiritual bread crumbs for your children and children’s children. One of my Bibles followed by one of Doreen’s. We put the same notes in two study Bibles so our sons and their families can have a record of our journey with Christ.



For decades, I have paid close attention to how many are reading at the DMV, waiting for a haircut, and always while I am flying. I sadly don’t see much reading these days, even on those demonic Kindles. 

On my recent flight back from Boston I saw what I have never seen before and perhaps never will again: Three women in the row across the aisle were all reading…physical books! Ah, the glories of analog. It was a small in-breaking of the kingdom of God!



My friend Warren was asking me some questions about reading, so I shared a few of my regular practices. He said they were helpful, so I thought it might be instructive to others if I wrote them down.

Here then are three things that have guided my reading for many years.

Be engaged!

I do whatever I can to put myself in the best mood possible for reading. It means strong coffee, favorite pens and pencils (picture below), good lighting, being as rested as possible, and seizing all kinds of moments for opportunities to read. I read in line at the post office, waiting for my haircut, and when appointments are running late, but most of my serious reading happens in my favorite chair in our upstairs library.

Books are always highlighted with a red pencil and marginal notes are made with either a black pen or regular pencil (see picture below). If the ink does not bleed through the page, my preference is always to make notes in the margin with a black pen. I always use a very fine point pen for crisp and vivid writing. Fine point pens (and the Tul pens I purchase are not expensive) are also great because they do not easily smudge.

Along with keeping me engaged, taking notes helps me come back later to a book and quickly access what I might use in my teaching and writing. This has paid big dividends over the many years I’ve been doing it.

You are having a conversation

My posture in reading is that I am having a conversation. This means I am not passively receiving what is written. As with all conversations, I try to be a good listener. I also ask lots of questions. This is true whether I am reading the Bible or some other book like the one in the picture. More on that in a moment.

Remembering that I am having a conversation instead of just absorbing information is also a great boon to staying engaged.

Reread the best books

C.S. Lewis said serious readers are rereaders. I’ve found enormous benefit from rereading the best books. Not all books are best so rereading is simply following Francis Bacon’s famous advice:

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some to be chewed on and digested.”

The older I get (currently 63) the more I am enjoying revisiting the books that have either shaped me for many years or those much rarer, new books that cross my radar and wow me. The Pilgrim’s Progress is in the former category while Fleming Rutledge’s amazing book, The Crucifixion, is in the latter category. The picture below is my copy of The Crucifixion. The first time I read the 600+ page masterpiece I made nearly 600 notes in the margins. The second time I read The Crucifixion I made connections and gained insights that were missed during my first read. The second time I made many more notes in the margins such that it now totals north of 900 marginal notes.

When I was teaching at Wheaton College I took some time to check out The Marion E. Wade Center. It houses an amazing amount of scholarship dedicated to seven writers: J.R.R.Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis. I knew Lewis put marginalia in his books so I wanted to see a few examples. The Wade Center contains many of the books that Lewis had in his personal library. To my delight, the librarian brought up one of my favorite books: Paradise Lost by Milton.

The marginalia of Lewis did not disappoint. In tiny, meticulous script (using a pencil) Lewis flooded the pages with notes. What was true of the way John Adams read also applies to Lewis. Adams, it was said, seemed at times to write more of his own words on a book’s page than the author he was reading! If someone as brilliant as Lewis (three degrees from Oxford all with first class honours) thought writing in books was important, who am I to disagree?

I trust these strategies motivate you to be a more engaged reader.


My favorite way to meditate/study the Bible is simple.

Read and reflect several times on the particular book of the Bible.

Take out a legal pad. 

Grab a cool pen.

Bombard the text with questions, connections, musings, etc.

Put my most significant thoughts in my two study Bibles.  One for each one of my sons when I kick the proverbial bucket.

Meditate throughout the day on at least one overall lesson.  Possibly meditate and then commit to memory a verse or two.

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