If you missed my introduction of contextual reading, here’s the gist: Contextual reading is the practice of reading specific books in specific contexts at specific times. My argument is that familiarity helps retention and comprehension—it’s really nothing new.
To get you started, here are 10 contexts (with practice ideas) categorized into basic functions, places, moods, purposes, and times. You can mix and match these to work for you, but my goal is to spark ideas of your own.
1. Take Advantage of Time.
Throughout your day, you have five minutes here or fifteen minutes there—when you arrive at work early, finish a project before a meeting, or get delayed at an airport. Keep a small book handy for these moments, ideally something with short chapters. I use periodicals like TableTalk and Modern Reformation.
2. Take Advantage of Schedule.
We all have scheduled activities—breakfast, a shared commute, or waiting during kids’ practices. Depending on the schedule, your choice of books will vary. I recently finished Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle as my lunch break book because it was entertaining, educational, and didn’t require too much on my part.
3. Take Advantage of Place.
Have a woodsy park nearby? Read a fictional novel like The Lord of the Rings where you feel breeze and hear the noise of nature. Every place you go has an experience or context all to itself.
4. Take Advantage of Traffic.
No, not car traffic, but people traffic. Most homes have a living room, and much of your household traffic goes through it—even guests. So be intentional with the kind of book you leave there to read, since it will certainly spark conversation. I like to keep a Bible there so my kids see Daddy reading what matters.
5. Take Advantage of Seasons.
Speaking of people traffic, I use Christmas as a seasonal context. I usually place Christmas books in our living room that contribute to the decor and more importantly, the meditations of the family. I’ll have a book like God’s Gift of Christmas on a lampstand or coffee table.
6. Take Advantage of Activity.
Function and activity play a role in context. For instance, cookbooks are usually found in the kitchen, mechanic magazines in the garage, and do-it-yourselfers in the restroom (though I’m not sure why). Keep a book where an activity contributes to your reading. It may not even relate, but you can bind the two together.
7. Take Advantage of Light.
Lighting can help with context. During the fall and winter in Texas, lamps are used more—perfect for novels. The dim lights and warm seating help set the mood. I like to keep books with stories nearby, like On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness from The Wingfeather Saga.
8. Take Advantage of Covers.
Paperback covers are more convenient for travel. Hardbacks are more convenient for clip-on reading lights. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?) They both have advantages that make reading more or less enjoyable.
9. Take Advantage of Genres.
You have story, poetic, prayerful, academic, devotional, and other genres. Keep a specific genre for a specific context. You might leave an academic book on your desk and sermon collections near the bed. But, keep in mind that associating genres with other contexts forms a context within itself.
10. Take Advantage of Family.
It sounds a little malicious and self-seeking, but using the family as your context can be beneficial to everyone. Think of it in terms of story time with young children. Books like The Jesus Storybook Bible or one of Sproul’s children’s books would be perfect. Adolescents and young adults might benefit from catechisms or family-oriented books. Be the family that reads and prays together.
The list could go on, but these are just to get you thinking. Once you get started, you will come up with far more contexts and ways to use them. Maybe only reading Christmas books in December, or Jonathan Edwards’ writings during January, or salvation themes in September will be in your mix.
The point is, take advantage of your contexts and be creative about it. Experiment with contextual reading until you find what works best.
Share your ideas below.