Some Books Just Aren’t Worth Reading all the Way to the End

My wife’s mother read the newspaper.  I mean she really read the newspaper — from cover to cover.  (She passed away last summer). When she would visit us, in Los Angeles and later in Dallas, the Sunday paper was a big challenge for her.  She would sit in the chair, and tackle that massive stack of sections — much larger than the Sunday papers she received in her home town of Abilene, Tx.  It took her a long time, but she plowed through each section.  When she finished, she would let out a sound that was a cross between relief, accomplishment, and exasperation.  And she would say simply:  “finally!”

I thought of this as I read two posts on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, In Praise Of Not Finishing Books, springing from an article in The Washington Times by Kelly Jane Torrance, referencing Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor, from his book “Discover Your Inner Economist.”  (Read these here and here and here).

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

No matter what you choose, though, you’re bound to run into the same problem eventually: What should you do when, 20, 50 or 100 pages in, you realize you just don’t like a book?  You could spend your entire summer slogging through it. Or you could take the advice of a prominent economist who simply advises: “Give up.”  Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor, makes the suggestion in his book “Discover Your Inner Economist,” which shows how to use economic reasoning to improve your life. Scarcity is one principle — a lack of attention and time keeps us from being as cultured as we’d like.  We should ask ourselves if reading a book we’re getting little out of is the best use of scarce resources.

This is a pretty good principle to follow for a number of business books.  I have stated more than once that many business books are not worth reading — they are worth having read.  There is no virtue in reading for reading’s sake.  The virtue is in learning (I’m speaking here of reading books as part of our “work/development.”  There is always virtue in reading for enjoyment.  But most people choose authors other than business book authors for such reading). 

Here’s another quote from the article:

“Don’t slog your way through books just so your reading list will conform with other people’s ideas about what’s hot or what’s smart. Find the books that compel you from first page to last.”  Don’t take these readers’ words for it. A no less august reader than Samuel Johnson declared, as Mr. Cowen quotes in his book, “A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.”

This is one ofthe values provided by the First Friday Book Synospis.  We read the books, all the way to the end, so that you can save and invest your precious reading time for other books.  Or, we let you know that “this book” is worth the investment of your time.

I think the honesty of these articles is true, and  refreshing.  Some books really are worth “quitting on.”  (And no, I’m not about to name names or titles!)

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