An Apology For Reading Difficult Books

As you might guess, I am not, today, apologizing for reading difficult books – far from it. Rather, I want to give an apologia (i.e. a defense) for why you and I ought to read difficult books. As I worried (only a little bit) about whether I might have lost some readers last week who may have been put off by the difficulty of reading Scougal, I thought it might be useful to think briefly about this important endeavor. Let me share an excerpt from a remarkably helpful book, which you would all do well to read if you have not, entitled How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler:

“If you are reading in order to become a better reader, you cannot read just any book or article. You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you…books that are over your head. Only books of that sort will make you stretch your mind. And unless you stretch, you will not learn. …A good book does reward you for trying to read it. The best books reward you most of all. The reward, of course, is of two kinds. First, there is the improvement in your reading skill that occurs when you successfully tackle a good, difficult book. Second–and this in the long run is much more important–a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable–books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life. There are some human problems, after all, that have no solution. There are some relationships, both among human beings and between human beings and the nonhuman world, about which no one can have the last word. This is true not only in such fields as science and philosophy…it is also true of such familiar and everyday matters as the relation between men and women, or parents and children, or man and God. These are matters about which you cannot think too much, or too well. The greatest books can help you think better about them, because they were written by men and women who thought better than other people about them.”

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One thought on “An Apology For Reading Difficult Books”

  1. Bryan~

    Personaly, I think that the hardest books to read are the ones with the footnotes in the back of the book, and not at the foot of the page.

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