It’s Okay to Read Books You Don’t Understand

by Kaitlyn Brewer

I talk a lot about why authors need to simplify their writing. I’ve written entire blog posts complaining about unnecessary language and passive voice. But there is something to be said about putting aside Lee Strobel and picking up Blaise Pascal every once in a while. I’ve borrowed plenty of books to friends and family only to have them returned unopened weeks later because they’re “too hard to read.”

I don’t want to be a hypocrite here; I’ve found myself having a hard time reading through these kinds of books. One reason is school. Being a public relations student, my instructors have hammered it in me to cut out the jargon. It’s made me less inclined to wade through academic writing.

But in an attempt to convince you to stretch your mind every once in a while, let me tell you about my attempt to read The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis. Like The Pilgrim’s Progress, Lewis’ book is an allegory about one man’s journey to the Christian faith. But Lewis’ tale is far more philosophical. The protagonist, John, meets characters that represent philosophies and religions he encountered before coming to Christ. Some of them are easy to figure out, like Mr. Enlightenment and Reason. Others are confusing at first blush, like Mr. Savage and Mother Kirk.   

It’s so complicated, Lewis even has a caption on every page so you can figure out what the characters and places represent. The thing is, I needed a dictionary for the captions themselves half the time.

I picked up The Pilgrim’s Regress thinking it would be like Mere Christianity. It wasn’t. At 12 years old, I forced myself to read through the entire book and pretty much only understood that the Landlord represented God.

But I decided not to give up.

I resolved to wait a few years, read other books, then come back to The Pilgrim’s Regress and see how much more made sense. It’s my meter stick to tell me how much I’ve grown my knowledge. The next time I read it, I picked up about 25 per cent. Then 40. Now, at 20 years old I’d put myself in the range of about 70 per cent, if I let myself look up the occasional word.

In the end, I’m so glad I challenged myself, because that book that at first had me so confused has now grown up with me. So don’t be afraid to pick up something complicated – it could teach you more about yourself than other books can.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.

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