Monday, September 28, 2009

The reading of a thousand page book begins with a single sentence

I am currently about halfway through George Herrings excellent From Colony to Superpower. It's a great read, useful to those new to American foreign relations and to those experienced, but I have to wonder how many people give up on it, or even more likely, never start it. With the annotated bibliography, the text is a thousand pages long. I found it a daunting to pick up despite my great love for the subject matter.

After a nice 50 page reading session, I put my book mark in place. I then closed the book to see how far along the bookmark appeared to have progressed. I might as well have read nothing as the mass of unread pages made me hastily put the book down. I also put the book in a slightly out of the way location. That way I wouldn't be constantly reminded of my lackluster progress, but I also couldn't ignore it.

Back in the 80s, A Brief History of Time was famous for being bought but unread. In that case, it was the difficulty of subject matter. I admit to not making it very far into that one (but I have the excuse of borrowing and not buying that one.) Today the problem is of reading opportunity cost. I have hundreds of books that I haven't read, many of which I probably never will read, so deciding to read a long book is also the decision to not read many other books. That's the intellectual reasoning, but the emotional reality is that I stare at all these other books and wonder what they are like.

My solution is to read the long book chapter by chapter, while also reading shorter books at the same time. It means the long book will take months to read, but it will get read.

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