A woman reading next to her dog

I Struggle to Finish Books

A friend recently told me, “I struggle to finish books.”

I hear this a lot, so let’s talk about it. We want to be better readers, and so we go to bookstores and fill our shelves with shiny new releases. We jump into reading challenges with the best of intentions, join book clubs, and set daily reading goals. We commit to reading first thing in the morning, on the treadmill, and at our lunch breaks. But then it doesn’t happen.

We get a few pages in, and our attention wanders. We start to feel uncomfortable reading, like it’s preventing us from doing the truly important stuff of life from bathing the dog (again) to pumicing our feet into baby-smooth perfection. We then set down our books for these pressing matters and promise to return when we have “mental space.”

That mental space never comes. Instead, we’ve joined the ranks of some invisible clan known as “The Great Unfinishers of Books.” We decide we’re not capable of finishing these tomes – that we’re just too darn busy, distracted, or incapable. And so we relegate our hungry brains to the shiny objects that we call cell phones – oh, how fervently they glow (eyes staring wide in wonder).

Here’s the thing. I know you can do this. You wanted to be a better reader for a reason. Your mind misses that deeper connection to thought. Somewhere in the recess of your being, you’re itching for a meaningful intersection of thought and importance. Somehow, the YouTube videos aren’t quite getting it done. Part of you feels like something has been left on the table and you’re curious about it.

Try this: Choose an easy book to get you started as a reader. Something small (under 300 pages) with a simple narrative and a powerful takeaway. Then, commit to reading for just 10 minutes a day, and while you do – try your best to enjoy the experience. At the end of 10 minutes, you can look at your phone and wash the dog all you want. But until those 10 minutes are up, you’re committed to finishing something, damn it! You’re embracing a new battle cry, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, I’m going to finish this damn book!”

The goal is to complete the thing. I want you to become a finisher because once you read a full book, you realize you’re capable of doing it. Once you do, a beautiful feeling will flood your brain – the serotonin of readerly success. You’ll discover that it not only feels good to complete something, but that you got far more out of your reading time that you would have mindlessly watching random YouTube videos.

To help you get started, here’s a list of books that have helped me get back into reading when I’ve fallen off the literary horse:

  1. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho (168 pages): The novel follows the journey of Santiago, a young shepherd boy, on a quest for his Personal Legend. Through encounters with colorful characters and experiences of love, loss, and self-discovery, Santiago learns the importance of following one’s dreams and listening to the language of the universe.
  2. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (214 pages): Narrated by the iconic protagonist Holden Caulfield (whom I love), this classic novel captures the disillusionment and angst of adolescence. Set in New York City, the story follows Holden’s experiences over a few days after being expelled from prep school, exploring themes of alienation, identity, and the struggle to find authenticity in a world he perceives as phony.
  3. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck (105 pages): Set during the Great Depression, this novella tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced ranch workers striving for a better life. Their dream of owning their own land is overshadowed by Lennie’s mental challenges and the harsh realities of the time, resulting in a tragic exploration of friendship, loneliness, and the pursuit of the American Dream.
  4. “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom (263 pages): A powerful memoir recounting the true story of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who, along with her family, harbored Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Imprisoned for her actions, Corrie’s faith and resilience are tested as she grapples with the horrors of the Holocaust and finds strength in forgiveness and love.
  5. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell (141 pages): A timeless allegorical tale, “Animal Farm” satirizes the Russian Revolution and subsequent Stalinist regime through the lens of a farm where the animals overthrow their human oppressors and establish their own government. However, the pigs, led by Napoleon, gradually abuse their power, mirroring the corruption and tyranny of authoritarian rule. Orwell’s masterpiece explores themes of power, corruption, and the dangers of unchecked political ambition.

You can do this. Pick one of the books above, read for 10 minutes a day, and in no time, you’ll have read a powerful story that will change your life.

Let me know how it goes.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.

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