Sunday, August 5, 2012

Finishing a DISAPPOINTING book

We are quitters by nature.  As a rule, when a thing ceases to please us, we cease to pursue it.  We see this in virtually every area of our culture.  When that dream job loses its luster, we tend to move on to something else, usually every 3-5 years.  When a church or pastor no longer meets our felt needs, we simply stop going, or "shop" for a different church.  When a spouse ceases to please us, many "check out" of the marriage either emotionally or permanently, typically in about 8 years or so. 

Books seem to be no exception to our custom to quit.  I suspect I have started many more books than I have finished, and likely you have done the same.  But although there may occasionally be a valid reason to stop a book once started, I have come to believe this is typically a mistake.  Giving up on a book simply because it proves to be LESS than expected is, in my opinion, a bad habit that needs to be broken.  Ray Bradbury, author of the classic Fahrenheit 451 once said "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."  Regularly quitting the books we begin is not much better than not reading at all.   And so, having just encountered this situation once again, allow me to share the sorts of things that now help me push through an author's work, even when it is somewhat disappointing.


1)   Remind yourself why you chose the book in the first place.  Did the subject matter intrigue you?  Did the author inspire you?  Was it a friend who recommended it?  Think about the circumstances that originally aroused you to purchase and/or start reading the book.  Re-kindle those beginning thoughts on the furnace of your heart.  

2)  Give some particular thought to the author's qualifications and the reputation of those who have recommended the book.  Has the author been places, done things, experienced life, obtained degrees that you have not?  Then he or she undoubtedly has a perspective on the subject of the book that is unique to them.  It should not, in some senses, surprise us that a book ends up being different than we expected.  Let a humble recognition of the author's accomplishments and experiences persuade you to keep going even when you find yourself, for some reason, unimpressed. 

3)  Consider that jewels of wisdom are sometimes found in the dark mines of difficult reading.  Samson found honey in the carcass of a lion.  Readers often find sweet delicacies buried in an otherwise boring paragraph.  A single quote that crystallizes some truth in your mind, changes your approach to certain aspects of life or even provides just a few moments of needed encouragement may well repay the hours spent slogging through the dry desert of unfruitful pages.

4)  Find an outlet.  When tempted to give up on a book, consider that maybe the contents (though not especially helpful to you) may be helpful to others.  Share it.  Talk about the book with a friend, post a quote online or include it in an email to a friend, write a brief summary or review of a chapter recently read.  It has often been my experience that the very act of articulating an author's point helps to increase our appreciation for it.

5)  Remember that reading profitably involves some hard work.  When a book you are reading is disappointing, take it as a challenge to strengthen your reading and application skills.  The resolve that is developed while working through a difficult or unsatisfying book will pay rich rewards, either in this book, or possibly the next.  Effective reading involves thinking, and real thinking is hard work.  Napoleon Hill once put it this way "Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit." 

6)  Make a plan and include a reward.  When reading an engrossing page-turning story, no other plan or incentive is needed beyond the pure joy of the book itself.  But when you are knee-deep in a difficult book, it may be helpful to set a plan for daily reading and a reward for finishing.  Can you commit to 20 pages per day until it is done?  Can you hold off on buying or borrowing another book until this one is done?  Such things may help you keep you marching through the hard terrain of a disappointing book.

So...these are my thoughts on getting through a difficult or disappointing book.  In the middle of a hard book?  Keep going!  Afraid to start another book from fear of quitting?  Push ahead!  Dare to read again!  Allow me to leave you with the memorable words of Douglas MacArthur:  "Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul."

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