Why Men Don't Read — And Three Reasons They Need To

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One of the constant conversations I have with men is the stress they feel at work. They are expected to do more on the job with less help. They feel pressured to email and text on weekends. Margins for rest erode. Time to re-create is pushed aside. And one of those things pushed aside is reading. 

Add to this the modern-day movie. It has become the place where many men go to enter a story visually. It's a matter of simple math. Why read a book that takes hours when I can watch a movie version of it in two? Finally, add to all this the stimulus of video games and social media. There is an immediacy about both that viscerally pulls in a man, especially a younger man. The results are known by every publisher. Whatever statistic you want to use, it says the same thing: women are now the majority readers by a large margin. 

The cultural forces are compelling us as men not to read. But we need to push back the other way. Here's three reasons why:

1) Leaders universally admired by men were life-long readers. Abraham Lincoln taught himself to read from an early age, traveled far to borrow books, and read every day even during his White House years. Winston Churchill read every morning and before afternoon naps, helping him clarify his views on life and politics. Teddy Roosevelt had a daily habit of reading before breakfast and late every night, reading thousands of books in his lifetime. Somehow these incredibly busy men knew how crucial it was to read. The well-known maxim says it best: "Leaders are readers."

2) Reading is rest. In the physical act of taking up a book, we slow everything down — our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. We focus in and attend to the narrative or flow of thought in front of us. I work with men all the time — ministers, therapists, teachers, doctors — who struggle to slow down. They are used to life at hyper-speed. Reading is one way to interrupt the hurry, and it can become part of a daily pattern of rest. 

3) Reading fires the imagination. Behind all great scientific discoveries, victorious war strategies,  and winning sports plays lies the imagination. It allows a man to dream, to envision, and to move forward into the future with hope. It is certainly one of the most powerful gifts God has given to us as men created in His image. But when the imagination is disabled or unused, the capacity to envision and dream suffers. So do the men. I believe that the loss of a sense of God's presence and the hope of heaven is largely due to a loss of imagination. But when we read a book (unlike watching a movie), we are invited to use our imagination with the scenes and stories set before us. We exercise that muscle and find it suddenly helping us in other areas.

So if you want to start or improve your reading habit, here are a few tips:

  • Start small. Find 15-minute slots that work for you and expand as you can. I read before I fall asleep most nights and when I drink afternoon tea on the weekends. 
  • Go with books that stimulate your curiosity. This will keep you motivated to read.
  • Work with a genre you are drawn to, but be willing to expand out. I once read mainly non-fiction, but my foray into fiction and myth opened a whole new world for me. 
  • Finally, ask God to point you to the books you need. Of course, we need to keep reading the Scriptures (Lincoln did that every morning as well), but I cannot tell you how many times a book has been God's tool to give me something crucial I needed. Remember God is always at work. He is not discriminate. And He can work through the books we read.

So be one of those men that push back against the culture. Take up that book you've been wanting to read and dive in.