Frustrations With Reading (And How To Beat Them)

You dropped your marker and lost your spot. You put it down for too long. You’ve been reading it, but not absorbing it enough to know what the heck the author is talking about at the halfway point where you are. You’re getting an awful headache. These, and many other reasons, I’m sure, are why people put down books and revisit them.

Several of these reasons are why I restarted, and am now further considering shelving, NT Wright’s Justification.

This might sound really dumb to you. “Pat,” you may say, “Your blog is barely entertaining as it is! Why rant about why you feel bad for not finishing some stupid book?” Well, I say to you, if you think my blog is so boring, go read some celebrity gossip and feel good about yourself then! There are reasons that some of us don’t like to shelve a book when it’s incomplete.

1) The Molasses Swamp Conundrum.  You feel as though soldiering on might get you back on track. You realize, however, how untrue this is when you read a couple more pages and find yourself further stuck in the Molasses Swamp.  No hope of moving forward at all.

2) Sephiroth Syndrome. Defeat tastes rather bitter, even when it comes to books. You SHOULD have finished it, but it got the better of you in the end, like that time you tried to take on Sephiroth way too soon while playing Finaly Fantasy VII and got your butt handed to you. There are multiple books on my shelf that might do this to me, and I cringe at the thought of reading them without being “smart” enough.

3) The Condescension Strain.  They pissed you off. This only ever happened with one book: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Hear me on this: I do intend to read it and other books like it over the course of this journey. Dawkins’ voice deserves to be heard just as much as the theologians I love to read. However, when I made my first attempt at it, I couldn’t help but just feel genuinely pissed off at the guy as he sat there ripping my faith a new one. His condescending tone and belief in my own foolishness as a reader for believing in God proved to be a bit much.

4) The Gibberish Mystery. You picked up something in a field you have no experience in, and the whole thing is pure gibberish to you.  Case in point for me: The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould.  No.  Freakin’. Clue.

So, what do we do when we’ve met certain defeat?  Well, there’s a few options…

1) Start over.  This is usually a good remedy to the Molasses Swamp Conundrum. If you’re not too far in, just back track to what looks familiar, and SLOWLY work your way forward.  Good books make you take your time with them, chewing and digesting slowly, rather than speeding your way along.

2) Put it back. You need to let it go and come back at a time when you’re ready to read it, ready to understand what’s really going on.  This is where I’m at with  Justification.  I just don’t feel ready enough to continue and fully absorb what Wright is saying here. Hopefully, in a month or two, I’ll be able to come back and try again.

3). Chill out.  Most people get mad at books that make them feel inferior.  However, no matter what the author says, or how he says it, you DO have a right to an opinion, and you CAN judge the book favorably or not.  Believe it or not, the power rests with you, the reader, not the author.   Though it’s supposed to be about dialogue, about discussion, when the author throws those rules out the window, then play by the one’s he sets, and then beat him at his own game.

4.  Research!  Don’t understand at all what a particular text is about?  Look it up!  Try to find an introduction to the subject (Wikipedia works wonders here, believe it or not), or, if it really interests you, despite your lack of understanding, audit a class on it!  Who knows; it could lead you to a new path of life you didn’t expect!

5.  Read with a friend.  This goes for all reading problems. Friends help us understand things from new perspective, and invite us to dialogue in three way conversation with the author in question.  When I tackle Critique of Pure Reason this summer, I intend to do it with a good friend, at the very least so we can both understand it.  Should be fun!

This post was originally just supposed to be about my irritation with giving up on a book.  Now it’s here for you so you can find your way through that book that keeps getting the best of you.  Reading isn’t always easy, and it’s not nice to pretend that it is, to you or to others.  Hopefully, you got something from this so you feel encouraged to keep reading, no matter what books are on your shelf.   Use it well!


2 thoughts on “Frustrations With Reading (And How To Beat Them)

  1. I can certainly appreciate this post, and, by the way, have no desire to read about celebrity lives. I feel like a failure when I don’t want to finish a book. Sometimes I will skim the pages looking for something to catch my eye. Even if I don’t finish, I don’t get rid of the book but adhere to your advice about putting it down for a while. I commend you for reading books that make you angry. I think it’s like that saying, “Whatever doesn’t break you, makes you stronger.” Good job.

  2. The Sephiroth Syndrome nearly got me recently. Diving into “Absalom, Absalom!” nearly killed me. But I did persevere, though barely. (Also, kudos for the FF VII reference).

    I feel you #2 advice is the most sound. Some books just aren’t meant for us at the stage of life we’re at. I mean, it’s all well and good to have students read “Death of a Salesman” when they’re in high school, and some people will connect with it, but I think it takes an older individual to realize the terror of having lost everything in the way Willy Loman did. Same with Shakespeare – teenagers might be able to empathize with Romeo and Juliet, but might not be able to grasp the importance of a play like Hamlet or King Lear. Some books speak to us at one part of our lives, and others at a later time. Sometimes we just need to grow up a little, gain or lose something, or just have a different set of experiences before a books speaks to us in a meaningful way.

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