How To Read 500 Books a Year

D. A. Carson recently revealed that he reads about 500 books a year . . . sort of. During a question and answer session at a conference in New Mexico, Carson was asked about his reading habits, and he explains how he approaches the reading of books. Some books, he will read every word. Others, he gets the main idea and skims. He doesn’t necessarily read every line of every book he reads. “There’s reading, and then there’s reading,” he says.

If I remember correctly, this is in keeping with Mortimer Adler’s advice in How To Read A Book (but I can’t be sure because I think I skimmed it). All books are not created equal, so we shouldn’t read them as if they were.

Anyway, you can hear Carson’s full remarks on this subject below. The relevant portion is from 18:00 to 20:00.

For those who are interested, all of D. A. Carson’s and Michael Horton’s messages from the Clarus Conference are available for download. The remarks above occur in the link titled “Panel Discussion 2 (Saturday Afternoon) Pt. 1.”

20 Responses to How To Read 500 Books a Year

  1. Barry May 27, 2008 at 9:33 am #

    As much as I love the guy, D. A. Carson is a freak of nature. (I mean that with great respect. There aren’t too many men like him; he’s quite unusual.) He’s right on the point that not all books should be read the same, but even with that in mind I’ll never be able to read 500 a year. My max is 450. :)

    Barry

    PS – If Carson is truly a “master of none,” as he claims, then I quit. Further, around 22:00, he has to be talking about N.T. Wright, right? Who else has recently written an 800 page book on the resurrection that is the “best of the past 150 years”? Yet according to Carson, in an interview abotu the book, Wright denied the essentiality of the resurrection when asked about some of Wright’s extremely liberal friends who deny the resurrection.

  2. Denny Burk May 27, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    Barry,

    Carson is in fact referring to N. T. Wright. Wright made the remarks a couple of years ago, and I wrote about it here: http://www.dennyburk.com/?p=265.

    Much luf,
    Denny

  3. Barry May 27, 2008 at 9:57 am #

    I must have missed that post. Unbelievable.

  4. myles May 27, 2008 at 11:47 am #

    I wonder if Dr. Carson will accept his own loose interpretation of “reading” when it comes to my reading reports for his classes? This changes everything. I wish I’d known this in systematic theology (gag!).

  5. MatthewS May 27, 2008 at 12:12 pm #

    Cool. I always appreciate hearing tidbits like this. It helps me be realistic and not feel guilty for doing the same, when appropriate.

  6. Barry May 27, 2008 at 2:48 pm #

    Myles! Hey bro! What did you have Carson for?

    BTW – In my classes I have to tell my students how to define “read” when it comes to class material.

    Barry

  7. mike May 27, 2008 at 3:01 pm #

    I’d much rather read a few books well than a lot of books skimming. I think that really lends itself to misconception. Particularly regarding non-fiction.

  8. Michael Metts May 27, 2008 at 3:55 pm #

    Given the right amount of time it might be possible among you super-intellects to read that much, but surely only a handful of scholars could afford 500 books a year!

    Buying 500 books must take several thousands of dollars a year. Not to mention storage costs. Do you professors always buy the books you read, or do you sometimes check them out at university libraries?

    I imagine there are only worth buying about 100 books a year in the area of biblical studies, but I honestly wouldn’t have a clue. Just when I think I can feel the bottom of the pool with the tip of my toes, it seems there’s a large drop off into another abyss of undiscovered knowledge which pours out, not just new titles, but authors as well as subjects.

  9. Tyler May 27, 2008 at 8:40 pm #

    “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”

    Call me a slacker, but 500 books a year would wreck my marriage and kids. Not to mention my budget. I learned awhile ago that I’m no Dr. Carson or Dr. Mohler. I say stick to blogs. They tell you everything you need to know. ;)

  10. Barry May 27, 2008 at 11:24 pm #

    I assure you that once you reach the stature of D. A. Carson, you don’t have to pay for many books. Publisher’s know you by name and put you on their mailing list. Call it a pretty sweet perk, and I don’t begrudge him one bit for it. He’s the man. Someone once called him the “evangelical pope.”

  11. mason beecroft May 27, 2008 at 11:45 pm #

    Wow! The evangelical pope?!?!?!?!? The Man?!??!?!?! Well, he is white. Reading books and offering criticism does not make a bishop. It only produces an academic. This is not necessarily bad, but it reflects a certain ecclesiology. Ask Rev. Dr. Jim Samra about the pope…
    I still giggle.
    +Mason

  12. Gim Anderson May 28, 2008 at 7:13 am #

    A fairly pointless boast.

    So why isn’t the heading: ‘how not actually to read 500 books a year’? Or ‘how to skim read 500 books a year’? Or ‘how to gain a superficial acquaintance with 500 books a year’?

  13. Michael Metts May 28, 2008 at 7:56 am #

    When D A Carson skim reads a book in half an hour (I believe that’s the time frame he mentioned), it is likely the same as if one of us were to read it cover to cover. In agreement with comment #1, the man is indeed “a freak of nature”, ha.

  14. Jerry May 29, 2008 at 8:15 am #

    I had the privilege of attending Clarus, and hearing Doctors Carson and Horton in person. I recommend that folks listen to the audio of the sessions, and concentrate more on the topic of “Galatians and the Problem os Self-Justification” than Dr. Carson’s comments on his reading regime.

  15. Denny Burk May 29, 2008 at 8:25 am #

    Jerry,

    Agreed. I thought Carson’s message on Romans 3:21-26 was wonderful.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  16. David Reimer May 29, 2008 at 10:11 am #

    It might be worth balancing this advice with this advice from a wise Christian pastor.

    ;)

  17. Glenn May 29, 2008 at 10:45 am #

    I have an Uncle who heads up a large non-profit and oversees 25 churches in the US. Publishers send him books every week because they see him as someone who can influence a large group of people who can influence even larger groups of people to purchase specific books if he deems them “essential reading”. They also know he’ll pass books on to the right people. I imagine DA Carson is at the top of many a publisher’s list as a person of influence. And if you love books it ends up being an ideal situation to find one’s self in!

  18. Mark May 29, 2008 at 5:28 pm #

    Cool post!

    I think it is great he reads that much and is honest about how much time he spends on each.

    Gim (#12): it really doesn’t seem like anyone is boasting, does it?

  19. Michael June 10, 2009 at 1:57 am #

    I’ve actually been doing some study on speed reading, and Carson came across as a person of interest, since he says he reads a ton of books. I’ve also been listening to his sermons and lectures for a while, and I remember him mentioning that when he read “The Da Vinci Code” after it had just come out, he didn’t think very highly of it (because it was too preachy). He said it was “one of those books you read on a four hour flight from Chicago to LA and then toss when you land.” Because he said “it’s one of those books,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that he did read it in that amount of time. But if he did, then that’s about 100 pages an hour, or roughly 800 words-per-minute, if he doesn’t take time to eat the complimentary peanuts or chat with the person sitting next to him. That, coupled with the fact that he enjoys reading mystery novels (and therefore might not skim through it), makes it reasonable to believe that he does read pretty fast, and would skim much faster. So he could probably get a pretty reasonable understanding of a book, even if he only spends half an hour skimming through it. All this to say, he probably has more than a “superficial reading of 500 books a year,” as one poster jeered, though to be certain, Carson himself said that his reading was “broad but skin thin.” Anyway, all this speculation on my part is rather superficial itself, especially on a blog discussion that hasn’t had a post in over a year. Consider it all a minor footnote.

  20. Nathan January 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Amazing… Carson is one of my absolute favorite moderns to read. This explains his brilliance.

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