How to Read a Book in 10 Minutes

How can a minister keep up in our field?  We who are ministers have all faced laity who gush about a latest book they found at the Christian bookstore. They gasp to discover we have not read it. How could we be so ignorant when this is our field? Of course they may not realize that more than four thousand Christian books are published every year and we don’t have time to read them all.


But we can know about them—even know enough to intelligently discuss them. Which brings us to this week’s topic: How to read a book in 10 minutes.


I’m not talking about reading Karl Barth (that can take 10 minutes per paragraph) but about reading the huge torrent of pulp Christian books that flood Christian bookstores every month. Many can be read right in the bookstore and most only take 10 minutes to capture the basic content and message.


Reading about 100 books a year will cover our field fairly nicely though if you have a widely read congregation it might require 200 books. Sure, in a 10 minute read we can’t master a book. But in 10 minutes you should be able to discuss most books intelligently.  And, after a 10 minutes read you will know if you want to purchase the book and consider your speed-read a “Pre-read.”[1]


So how to read a book in 10 minutes?  The trick is combining the following tips into your own personal pattern, and then adding others you discover along the way.  Start with the following simple recipe then adjust to your own style.  IN just 90 minutes a month at your local Christian bookstore you can read a hundred books a year. Here’s a pattern to start with:


Minute 1: Memorize the title and author. To discuss a book intelligently you need to know the author, not remember him as “That guy from California.”  Study the cover until it is emblazoned into your mind. This take one minute, which is longer than you’d think.


Minute 2: Read the cover blurbs and recommendations—these often give a general sense of the book’s content and contribution.


Minute 3: Scan the front matter to get the gist of the book.  Unless the chapter titles are vague or cute you can often find the scope and sequence of a book’s contribution in the table of contents, Foreword and introduction.


Minutes 4-5: Find and scan the key chapter. Many books have a single chapter that includes their primary contribution. Actually many books are only a single chapter—the rest is filler and repetition. Look for the key chapter and scan it. 


Minutes 6-7-8: Find and read the secret clues.  Most books today have a way of “giving away” what they are about.  Find these clues and use then to figure out the message of the book.  If your book closes every chapter with a summary paragraph—read the final paragraph of each chapter. If your book does this by using pullout quotes or diagrams read them. Some writers carefully craft the first sentence of every paragraph as a logic outline—if so, read these sentences one after another to find the logic flow of the book.[2] Usually you can get the general idea of a book in just three minutes scanning through the entire books reading these clues once you have learned how to find them.


Minutes 9-10: Write a summary on a note card. To condense what you learned take the last two minutes to write a summary in your own words of this book’s point. Use just one side of a single 3X5 note card—maybe drawing the cover on the other side as a memory prompt. Then, to solidify when you learned, tell someone about the book in the next 24 hours.[3]


You should be able to do all of this in 10 minutes. If you are just starting out it might take a bit longer but don’t linger too long—remember your goal is to grasp a basic knowledge of these books, not to master them. If you set aside 90 minutes a month for a visit to your local bookstore you should be equipped to intelligently discuss a hundred new books every year. But, here’s the bonus: while reading a hundred books at 10 minutes each you will probably find five that are so good you’ll want to buy them. If you do, take these home and dedicate time for in-depth reading. After all, these five books are the ones you’ll want recommend to others.


So, how do you keep up with the flood of 4500 new Christian books each year?


So what do you think?

During the first few weeks, click here to comment or read comments


Keith Drury   April 14, 2009



[1] If you serve in a larger church your staff probably already purchases a hundred books a year combined. In this case the staff can take turns reading the books and writing a a short abstract or “Executive summary” for each other—that works too. But learning the skill of reading a book in 10 minutes, and scheduling time to do it bring long term benefits to your own ministry, so you might still schedule time for this kind of a speed-read.

[2] Of course we are speaking here of non-fiction books. Fiction speed-reading is a totally different skill and has dubious value—like speed-eating a steak. The 10 minute read is mostly for fast food books—of which there are plenty in the marketplace. IN my later books I use the first-sentence-of-a-paragraph for exactly this kind of logic flow outline, though I did not use it in my earlier books (but still I hope some of my books make your final cut and get purchased ;-)

[3] If you can convince one or two others to practice this kind of reading it is fun to bring your note cards to a lunch each month and report to one another. Such reporting freezes your learning in your own mind for the future and if others have read the same book it is fun to see how close you are in your review.