Healthy Reading in America

There is little I enjoy more than a good bookstore, usually a used bookstore with nooks and crannies, someplace I can explore and find a hidden treasure.  I read everyday and try to complete at least one book a week, usually I have several I am reading at any given time (professional reading, living room reading, just before bed reading, etc.)  My impression has been that this is unusual, most Americans would rather watch American Idol than open a book.  Yet I am always amazed at the number of people in the major chain bookstores reading.

According to  a report on Book Business, there are 64.2 million “avid readers” in the US.

Estimated number of avid book readers—those who read five or more hours per week—ages 18 years or older in the United States, or about 28 percent of the 18-plus U.S. population. Avid readers purchase 10-plus books per year; 63 percent of them are women. Source: “2010 Survey of Book-Buying Behavior With Verso Digital,” presented at American Booksellers Association Day of Education at BookExpo America, May 2010.

I think the rumors of the illiteracy of the American public are exaggerated, but I am also confident that the reading material for most Americans is lightweight at best.  In fact the report goes on to say that about half of the New York Times best sellers are ghostwritten.  While this does not mean they are bad books, it likely does mean they are autobiographies of pop stars and the like.  I really cannot call someone that reads the Snooki bio an “avid reader.”  But Americans still buy a huge number of books every year and seem to value reading, whether via a Kindle or a Real Book.

Perhaps I am more concerned with the state of Christian recreational reading.  Browse the shelves of any local church library, likely as not you will find quite a selection of Christian Fiction, some Christian living books (how to raise godly children, etc), a stack of donated Purpose Driven Life books, maybe some Lee Strobel style apologetic books, etc. If there is anything serious, it was left behind by a former pastor who didn’t feel like packing his whole library when the church fired him. A new book from Rob Bell will sell because the haters what to have fodder for their blogs.  The major Christian publishers seem to publish two or three controversial books a year, and another twenty books answering these “heretical” views.

I am not advocating an elitist view that Christians ought to only read “Classic Christian Doctrine.”  If you feel the need to read the Snooki bio or the latest Stephen King novel, it is OK.  But know that there are better things out there.  Reading ought to be a bit like eating.  Everyone knows that junk food isn’t good for you, but we eat it anyway.   Some people need a  “Reading Diet”  — for every sugary junk-food book you read, read something that is good for you.  Read a Christian Classic, read a serious Christian biography, read a book which stretches your mind a bit. Try reading a good novel even if it is not Christian. While some of the suggestions might be a bit too much for most people, a good place to start is Eugene Peterson’s Take and Read (Eerdmans, 1996). This is a great list of reading, annotated and categorized.  A more popular collection is 100 Christian Books That Changed the Century by William J. Petersen and Randy Petersen.  This list is also annotated, but the arrangement is by year not topic.  Some books listed in this collection would not have made my list, but the point is that they were influential.

What are some books which might be “healthy” reads?  What are five books which every Christian ought to read?