Tips for Slow Readers

With the B90X (reading the Bible in 90 days) summer challenge approaching, those who consider themselves to be “slow” readers may be feeling a little intimidated.  A recent Gospel Coalition blog, Advice for Slow Readers, gives one self-proclaimed slow reader’s suggestions on how to successfully keep a steady and productive reading pace.  The blog (in most of its entirety) has been reproduced below.

A tip not listed is employing audio books.  Granted, audio books are not technically “reading”, but they are a great way to get through a book while driving, working out, or while doing “mindless” computer work.  Personally, I have listened to several books (biographies, novels, theological), the New Testament, and a number of sermons while on my daily commutes.  Audio books are not a replacement for the art of reading, but they do allow the listener to multitask and broaden  their “reading” base.  I usually listen to books I get for free (from places like and if I determine that the book has content worth referencing in the future, I will purchase a hard copy of the book for my library.

Now, without further ado, some tips for slow readers from John Starke:

Compared to many, I am a slow reader. I have spent hours on speed-reading techniques to no avail. It’s embarrassing to read something together with my wife, since she usually gets a few paragraphs ahead pretty quickly. I can imagine the disappointment she feels to have to wait at the end of each page. It’s also frustrating to see many close friends moving along quickly down their reading lists, overwhelming me with “must read” suggestions. Maybe you’ve felt the same way.

For a few years now, I’ve used a reading plan that has helped me get through a pretty good number of books every month, despite my setback of being a slow reader. For the frustrated and overwhelmed readers, here are a few suggestions.

Read in 15 minute segments.

The maxim of “do everything in the 15-minute periods of time, because the hours never come” is certainly true–especially for parents with small children. I try to follow that wisdom with my reading plan. Usually, at 10:45 a.m., I’ll stop what I’m doing and spend 15 minutes reading. After my 15 minutes is up I go back to what I was doing. I do the same at 2:45 p.m.. I can maybe get 30 pages read with both slots (I told you I was a slow reader). If I do that over every day of the week, that’s 150 pages—a small book or half of a big one. That is 150 extra pages I usually don’t have read by the end of the week. It doesn’t seem like much, but it goes a long way when it seems like there’s never any reading time.

Get up 40 minutes earlier.

I don’t mean to sound like a Puritan, but early in morning is the best time to knock out a big chunk of a book. We have a 2-, 3-, and 5-year-old and once they’re up, kiss any quiet and focused time goodbye. So after devotions, I usually try to set aside at least 40 minutes of reading of time. My computer, iPhone, Twitter, Facebook, and all other distractions are still tucked away. By the time I’ve moved from my devotions to reading a book, I’m on my second cup of coffee. My brain has ceased from lagging.

Use the odd times to read.

At the gym, I usually spend 30 minutes on the bicycle. Instead of listening to music or watching the horrible Hollywood news on the TV screens, I bring along a book. Because I’m exercising, and my rebelling, out-of-shape muscles can distract me, I usually bring a biography or some good classic piece of fiction that doesn’t take too much brain power.

[Another “odd time” is to utilize the time spent sitting on the toilet.  Some object to toilet multi-tasking, but it is a great time to get some uninterrupted reading time.  Several fathers of young children have informed me that they covet the quiet moments of toilet reading.]

Read widely and more than one book at a time.

There was a time when I had a bad habit of not finishing books. There are some who read books because they’ve gotten everything they need from it, they need to move on, or they know the arguments well enough to know where the author will go. But my reasons weren’t so virtuous. I simply grew bored with the books or was lured by the next new release.

I discovered that if I read a couple different books at a time, I usually won’t get bored and not finish one. Even more helpful, I found, was when I read widely. In other words, I try to keep from reading two or three books of the same kind. For example, I am reading three books at the moment. In the morning, I’ve been spending 30 minutes reading… a good, boring [theology] book to grit my teeth and read through, not [being] too worried about making notes in the margins. I spend the last bit of my morning reading time with [an intriguing and easier to read spiritual book]. At the gym, I’m reading [a biography]. During my 15-minute reading segments, I’ve been reading [a novel].  This variety keeps me from being disinterested in one of the books and giving up on it. 

[My non-sermon & discipleship reading stack usually read a novel, a book by a great dead theologian, a book directly pertaining to my ministry work, and a “fun” spiritual book.]

Work hard to finish a book.

It’s true that a bad book is not worth your time. But not finishing a book is an easy bad habit to get into. There are three or four enticing books that come out each month that tempt us all to forsake our current one. Don’t do it. Finish books! Don’t be tossed to and fro by the pretty paperbacks that fill the “New Books” aisle. Good books are less common than you think. Important books are rare. And we probably shouldn’t label anything “great” until it at least hits the second printing…

These principles have helped me go through a pretty steady reading list every month. I’m still a slow reader, so the number of books I read won’t dazzle you. But I’m reading enough to be regularly strengthened, encouraged, and stretched. I even happen to fool some into thinking I’m a fairly quick reader.


One thought on “Tips for Slow Readers

  1. Thanks for the great tips! I’ve fallen at times into the habit of either not finishing books or just not reading because I KNOW I won’t finish books, both of which I realize are terrible excuses. Entering into the summer season, I hope to have more time to devote to reading. I appreciate your practical advice! God bless~

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