Friday, January 12, 2018

Why You Should Read Books that Challenge You

via Pixabay
In the early days of October, a group of American soldiers was under severe fire by German artillery. They were so surrounded that the backup they needed wasn't able to get to them. Shot at, starving, and desperate, they sent pigeons with messages to their allies to come and help them out. 

Then their allies started firing. Caught in the middle, being shot by fellow Americans, their position was unbearable. They needed it to stop. 

Enter Cher Ami. 

Cher Ami was the last homing pigeon they had. They held their final chance to get one more message out to their allies. So they attached a message to her leg and sent her flying back. 

On the way back, Cher Ami was shot by the Germans. One eye was blinded. Her breastbone was wounded, and one of her legs was hanging by a thread, partially severed. 

But Cher Ami kept on flying and made it all the way back. While they suffered a severe loss of numbers, the trapped Americans were saved. 

I learned this story while reading a diary I received about a WW1 soldier. In company with that diary, I also read a book about a particular WW1 battle, called Collapse at Meuse Argonne, by Robert Ferrell. 

I don't often read books about battles. I don't know about all the different terms that make up the troops. It's hard to keep the commanders' names straight, and geography is not in my top ten list of Things I'm Good At. 

i should have learned geography better when i was a little faun 

But reading the Collapse at Meuse-Argonne was fascinating. I learned about a battle I had no idea existed. I learned how sometimes people in charge make poor decisions in war, and what a sacrifice it is to fight. I learned that men with authority sometimes don't know how to handle it, and they can't foresee everything that's going to happen. I learned about the geography of this portion of France. And I really enjoyed it. 

Reading it also put me in mind of something I could blog about: why it's important to read books that are challenging. While this article's title might have given the idea of reading worldview books that challenge you, I was actually thinking a little lighter than that today. 

schuyler. are you sick? what is wrong? let's go deep here

Making a list of books to read this year? How about adding something that's not your normal fare? It's like trying a new food:
  • Maybe you don't normally read science (hand raised here). How about adding a science book to the list? This year I'm hoping to tackle The Evolution Handbook and another book called The Frozen Record, by Michael Oard. The Frozen Record is probably going to be hard to grasp, but like a hard-won trophy, I'd like to add it to my shelf. Years ago I read Buried Alive, which was part gripping account of one family discovering fraud in in the scientific world, and part scientific analysis of very boring skull angles. 
  • Don't read much nonfiction? How about adding five nonfiction books to your list this year? 
  • Try a book about nutrition, travel, or health. Thor Heyerdahl has great travel books. So does Bob Cornuke. 
  • What about adding a Christian apologetics book to your list? What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an, by James White is a fantastic choice. 
  • Haven't read a biography in a while? Eric Metaxas's 7 Men and 7 Women are great books with one biography per chapter to check out. 
  • Not sure what to start with? Ask your friend what their favorite hobby is, and check out a book about it to get started. 
Is there a purpose to reading a book that's challenging, especially if you're struggling to understand it? What if it feels like you're just putting in time, reading words on the page that don't really make sense to you? I think it has a purpose in the fact that it exercises your brain in areas that it hasn't been exercised before. When I only read what is easy and familiar, my world stays tiny. Sometimes the purpose of reading a tough book is not to grasp anything in it, but to practice persistence, discipline, and finishing what can be agonizingly confusing. 

It's kind of like exercise. This month my sis and I started a Pilates program, and it was tough. I'm trying to keep breathing how I'm supposed to while getting used to all these new ways of exercising. It's a lot to keep track of, and sometimes I feel lost. But if I keep on doing it....I get better at it. It doesn't feel quite so foreign after a while. I feel the elation of getting stronger at something.

Exercising the brain is the same thing. 

My next book I'm hoping to challenge myself with is Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi. It might not be as hard as I expect, and I hope it's not. But it's a weight I want my mind to lift. 

I never would have learned Cher Ami's story if I hadn't read something new to me. I'm so glad a friend sent it, and that I had the chance to slow down and savor it at the beginning of the year. 

1 comment:

  1. I read Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, my mom had us all read it. I think it is more appetite whetting than satisfying, because I need to know more.

    I have huge lists at the library according to catagory where I file all the book recommendations I garner all over the internet or that pique my interest from somewhere. I also try to search out books. But one thing is important; it isn't only the subject matter or the writing quality that matters, but how we read. Critical reading is true reading, passively imbibing information is not. It matters how the information is given, what is withheld, the reasoning/logical process, what historical/scientific, etc. methodology is used. I'm always surprised by how people just swallow whatever is read or told to them (that is also a clue to me that I shouldn't be overconfident). Humans are fallible, overconfidence can be dire, this goes for writers as well as readers although they aren't held to it always.

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