Books and Reading: An Interview with Mike Leake

Mike Leake and I attended the same small college and have scores of mutual friends. Beyond that, our paths crossed each summer when his slow-pitch softball team would massacre mine (You guys should have been in the A-League!). Like a moron, I never spent much time hanging out with Mike face-to-face, but thanks to Al Gore, we keep in touch with facebook and twitter. Mike also operates one of my favorite blogs– I especially enjoy his posts about how the Gospel is changing him- and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

What’s the story on the blog? Why did you start it and what’s the current purpose?

Originally the blog was a place for the students at FBC New London to go for devotionals, event schedules, pictures, online interaction, etc.  But then I began personally interacting with more like-minded blogs; plus it never really took off as a place for students to visit–perhaps this is owing to my incompetent web-designing skills.

The blog is much different now than when it began.  I forget what it used to be called but now it is called Borrowed Light.  The name comes from a Robert Murray McCheyne quote.  After reading through Edwards’ diaries McCheyne wrote in his own diary, “what a feeble does my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun!  But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me”.  I chose that name because I read and post many quotes from dead guys that are “as a sun” compared to me, but I must always remember the source is still open to me as well!

Regardless of the name, my passion has always been the same, that through what I write Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen God, might be the only boast of this generation.  Now I just hope to accomplish that goal differently.  I write many devotional type of things, I tend to also write articles to help with ministry, and as an avid reader you will find plenty of quotes and book reviews.  Honestly, I’m spending time before the new year reassessing a few things on my blog and trying to be a little more focused and intentional in 2012.

It seems like you read a lot, between book reviews, seminary assignments, and your job as a pastor. How much time per week do you spend reading books?

I do read often.  On average I probably read (intentional focused reading) about 3-4 hours per day.  That may increase during the months of crunch time in seminary.

Should being a Christian change the way I approach reading, besides the obvious guidelines of read the Bible and don’t read smut?

Tony Reinke has written a very helpful book that attempts to answer this very question.  The book is called Lit! and he outlines reasons why being a Christian changes the way we read things.  So you’d probably be better served just taking a look at what he says.  Besides plugging that book, though, I will offer a short answer.  

Christians and non-Christians can read the same book but not in the same way.  A Christian ought to be reading a book with biblically-informed Christocentric goggles.  We realize that everything we read can be used by our wise Father for our edification.  This means that God can just as easily use Sherlock Holmes to teach me a truth about ministry as he can John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.  Obviously, it is more likely that you will find ministry help reading Piper’s book but the point is that everything can be used by God and so we read expectantly with eyes wide open and hearts anticipating the opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

What would you say to the busy Christian out there who wants to read more and maybe has a bookcase full of unread books, but just can’t 
seem to find time to start and finish a book?

First and foremost, don’t neglect reading Scripture to read books.  Having said that I tend to apply Edwards’ 5th Resolution to book reading.  “Never lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.”  I know myself and I know that I can struggle with depression and silly thoughts.  So I don’t let my mind wander.  One way that I do that is through reading.  So, if I take a bath (as opposed to a shower–where I have yet to figure out how to read) rather than just stare at the ceiling and open the door for wandering thoughts I take a book with me.

Even the most busy person, I think, can block out 15 minutes per day for reading.  If you really truly want to read and you make it a priority you will find time.  So, I would suggest for the person with a bookcase full of unread books to find a good one pull it off the shelf and make an effort to read one chapter per day.  Most books have 10-12 chapters. That means you can finish a book in about two weeks.  That would be about 25 books per year. But some books aren’t worthy of your full attention like this…more on that below.

Should we feel guilty about starting a book and not finishing?

The simple answer is no.  Some books simply are not worthy of finishing.  A good reader like a good poker player (not that I know anything about that) knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.  That is why I would suggest making Mortimer Adler’s book How to Read a Book one of your first reads.  Reinke’s book that I mentioned earlier may be helpful with this too.  

For me I typically read about 10-12 books at a time.  I wouldn’t suggest that for other people.  Some books that I review I read in an hour or two.  I have learned how to skim in such a way that I can digest the authors point and how he/she is backing it up.  Other books I read a little more devotionally.  With pen in hand I read them relatively quickly and do not chew their contents for very long.  Other books need some good chewing.  I tend to read only a couple books at a time that require a good amount of chewing.

There are some books that once you read a little bit of you know that it’s not worthy of finishing.  If you pick up a stinker or one that you just can’t seem to grasp either sell it on Ebay or put it back in your bookcase for later reading.  Don’t feel guilty just move on to the next one.

If a person decides they really do want to be a better reader, but can only carve out a small amount of time, maybe 10-15 minutes a day, how can he or she maximize that time?

I’ll assume you mean reading books other than Scripture.  Never neglect Scripture.  Having said that, make Adler’s How to Read a Book your first read.  It might be boring but the fruit from other books is well worth the sweat.

I would also say always have a pen with you.  Underline and mark up your book.  Write in it.  Draw stick people in it.  Whatever you have to do to make the book yours.  You may only be able to read it for 15 minutes per day but you can think through what you’ve read much longer than that.

Also, challenge yourself to play less Farmville and extend that 10-15 minutes per day.  If you watch one less episode of M.A.S.H. on TV Land per week you could easily read two extra books per year.  Yes, God can minister to you through watching your favorite TV program or playing Farkle with your Aunt Gertrude.  But I have found more times than not he uses good books.

Any tips on e-books or audio books that could help us all read more?

I am only beginning to use e-books.  I can’t use audio books because I have a hard time learning that way–I’ll start thinking about football or peanut butter or Abraham Lincoln.

One of the things that I am finding difficult with ebooks is that highlighting them with my finger or stylus doesn’t have the same effect as writing on a sheet of paper.  I retain less when I read an e-book.  I’m not certain why.  Also, I think they should try to figure out how to make e-books smell like real books–that’d help too.

When will you see the light and become a St. Louis Cardinals fan?

1987.  I was a Cardinals fan once.  But then I realized that the Prince of Darkness masks himself as an angel of light.  The light you think you see, my friend, is only a deception.  They may seem victorious now but don’t worry redemption is coming.  The Royals will once again own I-70.

Be sure to visit Mike’s blog. I think you’ll be glad you did. And Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it.


About Brian Phillips

Brian lives in Spain with Kassie and their kids.
This entry was posted in Books, Christian Life, Interview. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Books and Reading: An Interview with Mike Leake

  1. Mike Leake says:

    Thanks for the interview and for letting us put a hurt on you in softball. I miss those days. I’m getting fat here in Indiana without church league softball.

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