Reading Plan: Sara’s Approach


I grew up loving the Ben Hur film with Charlton Heston. Thanks to Anne Shirley, I discovered that it was based on a book by Lew Wallace and now I love the book even more than the movie.

There is a key moment in the story of Ben Hur when Judah’s character is evaluating a team of horses for chariot racing. Judah knows that he has to arrange these horses in such a way that he can maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. He must carefully balance their speed, their personalities, and their preferences so that he can get a team that moves like one animal. That piece of the story has always stuck with me as a metaphor for many of the things in my life that I want to bring into balance.

Over the years, I have learned to approach my reading a little bit like a charioteer would evaluate his team. There are seasons of my life in which I need more of one kind of book than another. There are seasons of my life where I have more time to read than others. And so, a few times a year I take a step back from my routines and prayerfully discern what the foundation of my reading for the next season should be. I pray and I plan, but at the end of the day, all of it is guessing and hoping. Even though I am guessing and hoping, I know that if I prayerfully discern a reading plan for myself, I am more likely to read to my best advantage than if I try to just wing it.


I am an INFJ. That may tell you a whole lot about me or very little, depending upon your knowledge of and belief in the Myers Briggs typing system. In a nutshell, being an INFJ means that I am the kind of person who takes my reading plan pretty seriously because I live mostly in my head, I wish to read things that matter to me, I would like to have a way of organizing my thoughts and my books, and I love to see connections in what I am reading. Most importantly, I hate to “waste” my reading by not getting the most out of it that I can.

I have taken many different approaches to reading over the years. Some have been perfect for the season that I was in, some have proven to be opportunities for me to learn more about myself and guesswork, and some have just been upended by unforeseen emergencies and stresses. Since forming the Potato Peel Pie Society, however, I have taken my reading plan even more seriously than before because as a group leader I understand that there is a pressure for me to be involved in the book club events. This is a very good kind of peer pressure for me. Because there is an important and valuable invitation for me to be involved in those book clubs, I need to make that reading a priority. In many cases, however, the book club selection is not a book from my desired reading list. And so, balance and scheduling of my reading becomes even more important. If I am going to honestly read along with the group, take care of my spiritual life, read for my vocation, read with my kids, and still have time to read the things that give me pleasure or challenge or satisfaction, then I need some kind of clear plan of attack.


For me, it really breaks down like this:

  1. I need to have a collection of audiobooks that will keep me company while I do mundane household tasks or exercise. It is best if these are re-reads of old favorites that I wish to review for Plumfield and Paideia. Re-reading those in audio format is a great way to redeem the “lost” time of housework while filling me up with old beauty that can then be summarized and evaluated for others. It gives me a great sense of joy and purpose that makes it easier for me appreciate the undesirable tasks of my primary vocation. For this kind of reading, I read at my own pace as my schedule allows.
  2. I need to read for my soul. This includes daily Scripture study and works of theology or Christian witness. I do this first thing in the morning. Usually I listen to scripture on my morning wake-up walk, then I either keep walking while listening to a religious book (currently I am reading The Creed by Scott Hahn) or return home and study something spiritual with my coffee. For this kind of reading, I read at a pace suggested by my church leaders and my own prayerful discernment.
  3. I need to read for Potato Peel Pie. It is my obligation and my joy to co-lead this book club and I want to be as present as possible in the monthly selections. Depending on the format of the book, that may either be an audiobook I listen to on walks or while I work in my journal, or it may be a spine that I read at bedtime and anywhere I can steal the time to read. For this kind of reading, I am usually trying to read just a bit ahead of the group so that I can be conversant throughout the book club.
  4. I long to read with my “Rabbit Trail Sisters”. We are a group of friends who tackle some scholarly reading together. Presently we are chasing some Chesterton and Shakespeare rabbits because of some things that we read in Wisdom and Innocence and In Defense of Sanity. I do this reading on Sunday afternoons and with my morning coffee during the week. For this kind of reading, we have an aggressive schedule that we tweak as we go. It is a heavy load of reading but it is rooted in the best kind of peer pressure. It is invigorating and exciting for me to read a chapter a week across five or six books that fluidly connect and speak to each other. There are seasons of my life when this would not be possible. Blessedly, right now, I can keep up.

It has not always been so “easy” to prioritize my reading and likely won’t remain this way indefinitely. I am not shooting for forever. I am seeking to be wise with the time that I do have and using it in a way that nourishes me, challenges me, and draws me closer to God’s will for my life.


UPDATE: I have updated my record keeping and created a printable template for my weekly reading and my book shelf. Check them out here.



  1. Heidi says:

    Beautiful thoughts!

    Can I ask a question? How do your kids react when you have earbuds in listening while you do household chores, etc.? I really want to do this, but since mine are so young (5 and 3) and ever-present, I wonder if I’m choosing the good (listening) over the better (attempting to involve my kids in my daily tasks). I desperately *want* to enjoy my work by zoning out in a book-world. My kids, however, aren’t at an age where they disappear on their own for very long…and if they come to find me and see I have earbuds in, I might appear “unavailable.”? Does that make sense?

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Absolutely you can ask a question! 🙂

      First, my kids are 5, 7 and 9. I am reading much more these last two years than I did when they were smaller.

      For me, the good vs the better involves a critical need to set valuable boundaries. Modern critics will tell us that we must be available to our children all of the time. I can’t accept that. As a former high school teacher, I have seen too many children who have no sense of boundaries. I think that boundaries and balance are learned at home.

      I do not use earbuds during family work. And we do plenty of that. There is a time every morning and another every afternoon when we approach chores as a team. Some things we do absolutely together, most we do sort of tandem. (One child is moving chairs and stools while another is sweeping while the other is washing dishes while I am changing the laundry over or putting away perishables.)

      But there is a lot of work that I do independently. Folding laundry, cleaning out closets, cleaning toilets, etc. That is when I am listening to my books – and rarely with ear buds (unless the content is not appropriate for little listeners). I usually just carry my iPhone around with me and am listening to a book while I am working. When kids enter the room and ask for my attention, I pause my book and give them my attention.

      However, there is also a time and place for interruptions to cease (other than emergencies). If I hope that my children will respect other people’s boundaries later in life (including each other’s) it is important that I teach them some gentle boundaries now. When I am exercising, baking (something I love to do for me) or doing particularly hard work, I explain that this is a time to play without mommy unless it is an emergency.

      Like anything, it is about relationship and balance. But at the end of the day I do far more chores than they do – and I love to redeem that time.

      1. Heidi says:

        Such good advice! Yep, I typically hide in the closet to fold laundry (because my 3 yo seems drawn to clean laundry in a sort of “leaf pile” way) and listen from the speaker.

        And I completely agree with boundaries. That is a struggle for me right now, because I 198% agree with you, but my kids are not grasping the concept. We’re making s-l-o-w progress.

        I dream about the day when we can a) do family chores happily together and b) have time each to ourselves. Ah! Happy dreams!

        1. Sara Masarik says:

          Oh friend, I understand! The years of itty bitties is just plain hard! I am sure that you have heard this 100 times – but it does get better. What a difference 12-18 months will make! 🙂 I say this to encourage you. That boundary training is always, always, always hard but it bears good fruit – and sooner than you think! 🙂 I will pray for you this afternoon! -Sara

          1. Heidi says:

            Thank you! 🙂

  2. I’m much more scatter shot with my reading, but, like you, I do end up with literature, spiritual reading, etc, and something on Audible, in addition to multiple physical books. Do you find you hit a limit when there’s just too many voices going into your head? I seem to have a moving limit, when sometimes I just feel like, I need to finish some of these books so that my input stream slims down.

    I really like that you give yourself permission to read in the mornings. I tend to only do scripture or a devotional, but I can see that other things can fill this time wisely and effectively too. I just branched out into reading some Sally Clarkson after my scripture reading is done. Might help me continue to get up earlier as we start to move into darker fall mornings.

    Also, all your bullet journal type loveliness creates feelings of envy in my heart. 🙂 That is all.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Danielle, thank you! My BuJo is something that I really struggle with because I am not artistic – but I do function best with something colorful that I can reference and mark up! 🙂

      Yes, absolutely. There is a limit to how many voices can be going in my head. What is special about this reading plan right now is that my “Rabbit Trail” books are all interconnected. Each one has at least two of three things in common – GKC, Joseph Pearce or the Inklings. So, it is not like 5 different voices in my head, it is more like sitting at the Eagle and Child and listening in on an Inklings evening or something. Because these books are all almost interacting with each other, that becomes one space in my brain.

      Listening to Scott Hahn’s Creed (and when I am done with that I will probably re-read “My Sisters the Saints”) feels like it is building on what I am praying through in scripture. So I just think of that as one combo.

      Then, depending on my mood, chaos in my life or whatever, I can have 1-4 more voices in my head from PPPS and P&P reviews. There are moody days where it is too much and I just need to read one. Then there are days when I need lots of different things for different tasks to keep my physical energy up.

  3. Dakotah says:

    Hello Sara!
    Do you pre read all material that you expose to your children? And if so, when do you make time to do it?! 🙂

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Hello Dakotah! If we are reading it together (me out loud), then no. We discover it together. If we find something objectionable in it, like Ella Enchanted which was a huge disappointment, we either stop or we keep going with discussion.

      Things that I am turning them loose on – I pre-read most of it. But not all of it. The things that I would not pre-read would be really well known recommendations that are on a variety of trustworthy book lists. Example: Thornton Burgess. I have not pre-read it, we read enough of them that I knew that the book lists were spot on. So, I just turned them loose on the rest of the books. (I got the huge bundle of books from Dover.)

      Right now, I am trying to get laps on my kids. So I am pre-reading things like The Mysterious Benedict Society or 100 Cupboards. I do that in audio on the treadmill.

      My oldest is only nine. I really have no idea how I am going to keep up going forward. That said, I am not as concerned about them reading voraciously in new territory when they are teens. I endeavor to help establish their good taste and their good values in these early years. I hope that when they are in the logic stage they will learn how to put a book down if it is objectionable or come to me with questions.

      1. Dakotah says:

        Thanks! Yes I am definitely not to a point where I need to worry about this yet, the girls are still young enough that we are enjoying books that I have enjoyed as a child and lots of picture books! Just curious for the future 😉

  4. Kortney says:

    Such nourishment and richness here, Sara! My reading is much more scatter shot and haphazard than this. But I am drawn to your lists and schedules.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Thank you Kortney! If I didn’t have a couple of reading buddies and my PPPS commitments, I would be much more like duck shot. 😉 And truly, this is still very organic. Every week we Vox each other and say: “Whadda ya think? Anything we should change?” For me it has been the perfect balance of a plan (so that I don’t have to think about what to read next) and flexibility to leave the plan.

Comments are closed.