Read a Hard Book

I'd like to make a case for reading a hard book.

Specifically, the same hard book every year.

Let's start by defining hard.

By hard I mean the first time you attempt to read the book, there are several parts you simply don't understand.

The key here is that you persist.

You finish the book, despite there being pages upon pages that just don't make sense to you.

Why do this?

I'll give you my own example and perhaps it might convince you to try it.

This book for me is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Prisig.

I purchased this book at an independent bookstore in Bristol (United Kingdom) about two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began. I was on a short visit to Bristol with my family, and will forever remember that trip as something normal that happened before our collective definition of normal changed.

I started reading the book on the plane back to Canada, and finished it once I got home.

During my first read through, I think I understood probably 30-40% of the book. That may even be generous.

The parts I did understand, were compelling enough to make me want to actually try to read it again someday. So I put it on the shelf.

A year later (March 2021), I read it again.

This time, I think I understood about 60-70% of the book.

I should mention, during the year between readings, it's not as if I googled, "How to understand Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," and then studied every link that came up.

I simply just continued to read other books, reflect, have conversations, and deal with a pandemic.

At the time of writing this, I've read the book twice and it is easily one of my top three favourite books of all time. There are still several pages of it that I just don't get. At all. Not even close.

Through this experience I learned something beautiful about hard books.

Hard books provide you with a tangible way to measure how much you've changed over a period of time.

The logic is simple.

The first time you read the book, you don't understand much of it, so you put it on the shelf. It sits there, unchanged. Then you pick it up again, and somehow you now understand more of it. Since we know the book didn't change, the only part of the equation left, is you.


Go find a hard book.

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