7 tips for Difficult Reading

Sometimes it is difficult to read scholarly books. Language and concepts can both be dense and tangled, but only one of the two need be obscure for difficulties to arise. (See what I mean?)

We (Crux Staff) have read our share of difficult texts. Here are 7 strategies (see what we did there?) we use to wade through and find meaning when things get tangled and twisted.

  1. Fling the book in question across the room and against the wall. This releases the tension caused by obfuscation and may allow you to move on with reading. This also works when you find the argument vacuous or ridiculous. We have flung authors from Hegel to Harris across rooms. You can decide which of those is obtuse and which ridiculous.
  2. Use a dictionary or other reference tome that may shed light on the text. Regular English Dictionaries are very helpful, as are specialized dictionaries of theological or philosophical terms. Maps and diagrams can be helpful depending on the subject.
  3. Read slowly and in small sections. Sometimes summarizing a paragraph helps decode what happened in that block of text. Active reading includes taking notes and sitting at a desk or table, not sprawling on a couch or bed. Some difficult books must be read on hard chairs, no cushions allowed.
  4. While cushions are not allowed, breaks are allowed, and even recommended. Breaks help the brain digest the heavy rich food found in difficult books.
  5. Talking about a book with a study group can help untangle the threads of an author’s point. Of course, class discussions and professors can also make things plain, but the work of decoding a text yourself is far more rewarding in the long run. Really.
  6. A summary or précis can be helpful. Some authors realize this and produce their own summaries. Other times we resort to notes and summaries written by others. Be Selective in the summaries you use though!
  7. Speaking of selective, help yourself out by being choosy from the beginning. Pay attention to which English translation you use. Translators make a difference — are you reading the King James Version of a work or is it more like The Message?

Ask the Crux Staff — we sure do. We are here to help in any way we can, even when the reading gets tough.

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