How to Read a Book (Part 2)
Read the Boring Parts
A common resolution amongst the Christian community is to read the Bible cover to cover in a year. This goes well until one reaches the boring parts; a genealogy filled with ancient names that sound like you have marbles in your mouth when you pronounce them or a tedious list of details on how Israel is to build a tent. Inevitably this means that our resolve fails us either in late Genesis or mid Exodus; which in calendar time equals early February. Although many may consider the genealogies and tedious instruction passages of the Bible to be boring, this does not mean they are unimportant. In fact, they are some of the most critical pieces of material in the story. These passages are unexplored theological goldmines that convey to us some of the obvious themes of Scripture. This is why. This is how. This is who.
When it comes to books we often begin with chapter 1 and end punctually on the final period of the final chapter. We do this because we neglect to read the boring parts; the preface, the introduction, the notes, the bibliography. Yet these are the portions of the book that convey to us the most critical information of the author’s work. This is why. This is how. This is who.
In my previous post I discussed the importance of reading the notes. Books without notes are little more than 240 page blog posts. They are unsubstantiated, un-researched opinions. I am not saying books without notes have no merit, but I am saying that we should be discerning in our choice of them. While the notes help us find the path to other authors and other works, the preface and/or the introduction is the place where we find our path toward purpose. What is the thought that holds the book together? What is the outline? What is the author trying to prove, argue, or convey? Why did the author spend so much time writing a book? Why is it worth your time to read? And if I may add any bit of nerd advice here, it would be that when you are searching for a book, don’t read the endorsements on the back cover; take some time to read the intro. Force the author to convince you that his or her book is worth the money and the effort.
As you read the preface/intro you are searching for the theme of the book. As I said above, the theme is this thought the holds the book together. Mark it. Great books are not about 3 things or 10 things. Great books are about 1 thing. There may be 15 chapters, but each chapter should be a supporting argument for the 1 thematic idea the author is trying to convey or prove. Once you find the theme and mark it, refer to it often. Make sure you have it squarely in view throughout the entire book. As you read be constantly asking these questions: 1) How is the author supporting his/her argument? 2) Is the argument logical? You may need to modify these questions based on the genre of the text, but generally these principles hold true for most any non-fiction work.
Be sure to read the boring parts. The boring parts give us the most important information of the book. The intro/preface indentifies the theme. The notes tell us from where the information comes.
(to be continued)