Last night I made the final decision on Justification, and it went back on the shelf. I knew going into this project of mine (reading about the debate over the New Perspective On Paul and the doctrine of justification by faith alone) that I was getting into things a little bit beyond me, given that I’ve been out of school for two years now (God, I feel old). As it stands, I have much to catch up on, and I can’t say I’m too disappointed in me. I was bested, sure, but bested by learned authors far beyond my years of experience, and the fact that I stayed in the ring this long with Piper and Wright is quite the achievement.
In light of all this, let’s talk about how to know when to put a book down.
1) You get about a chapter in, and realize you know absolutely nothing about the subject material in question. Yes, this has happened to me. There’s a book on my history shelf known as Albion’s Seed which I intend to read…once I figure out what the heck he means. Another example here would be William Burrough’s Naked Lunch, but that’s another story altogether.
2) You get distracted for a long period of time. By long period of time, I mean you spend days away from the book at a clip. That’s what happened with Justification. I got onto reading other books, spent days at a clip without reading it, and just had too much trouble continuing along with the arguments. When this happens, you’re better off either starting over or setting it aside, because you will not grasp what the book is teaching if you only understand bits and pieces. I was able to get Wright’s overall intentions with Justification, but as to how he argues his points, I couldn’t tell you a thing.
3) The book has no relevance to you whatsoever. There’s a reason I don’t read (or buy) books on basket weaving: I don’t weave baskets. I have no intention of weaving baskets. Therefore reading a book on how to weave baskets would be of absolutely no benefit to me at all. Now, if you find a book of no relevance to you, but find you’re intrigued and enjoying it, by all means continue to read. Who knows? You might find a new interest/hobby/field of study. Still, if it means nothing to you at all, why bother? You might even want to question why you bought the book in the first place.
4) It’s not your time. My friend Mike made a good point on my Tuesday post about how it’s all well and good to make high school students read Death of a Salesman, but until they get older and pick up the book themselves, they’re not going to get very much out of it because it’s probably not the best time for them to read it. This is how I feel about East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath. I would wholly consider Steinbeck to be an amazing author, but when I read East of Eden in high school, I wasn’t capable of understanding that. Even after high school, we still run into this problem. We’re not at a point where we can grasp what’s on the paper. There’s certain books I wouldn’t suggest to people because I know they’re not going to get it. You don’t feed infants steak; you feed them milk.
All in all, if any of the four situations fit you and a current book, just put it down and move on. It’ll still be there when you get back. it’s OK. See you guys tomorrow!