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The Ultimate Difference Between an Interesting and a Boring Book

Have you read a book lately that is interesting? Engaging and captivating? A book you cannot put down. It is difficult. Because of the internet. Because our lives are so busy. Because our brains are slowly being reprogrammed by the social media to watch what we think is interesting, but in the end is boring.

A few years ago, I was challenged by a quote from Gordon Wilson, the Christian biologist: “To be bored in this world is to be boring in this world.” This saying is not immediately clear. Because it is profound. It means two things at least. 1) First, there is an assumption that it is completely abnormal to be bored. God made the world in such a fascinating way, it is impossible to be bored, if we just look properly. 2) Second, being bored is not neutral. It has great consequences: We will be boring to other people. It’s almost like sin. But it is an interesting way to think of sin. We sin not just by doing something terrible to others. We sin toward others by failing to be captivated ourselves by God’s beauty. This thought hits a nerve. Because sin, at its core, is first and foremost, a failure to respond to God’s goodness.

A further implication of this quote as to how we can become interesting to other people is to take interest in God’s true, goodness, and beauty in the world. When we take this insight and apply it to what makes a book interesting, then we have a standard by which to choose a truly interesting book. If you were on an island by yourself, and you could take only 3 books, what would they be? Or if you were to talk about a book to your new friend, what would it be? Some people try to talk about a book they read to impress people, to get them to like them. But that effort is usually ineffective, unless the book they talk about is really interesting, so interesting that your friend realizes that you are not faking it. They want to know why you are so captivated by this book.

C. S. Lewis talks about a moment in his journey to becoming a Christian, when he started to realize what books are truly interesting and others boring.

All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer. . . . Chesterton had more sense than all other moderns put together. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser, and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin. . . . They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple.

My own understanding of this difference goes like this: The most interesting books are those that describe the transcendent spiritual reality of God, yet at the same time his immanent goodness and nearness in the ordinary experiences of life. That’s what you have in all the great authors that Lewis mentioned.

If I could only choose 4 books (assuming we could take the Bible with us) to take with me on an island, it might be: Aeneid, Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, the Lord of the Rings. What books would you take? What books would your children take by the time they graduate Veritas? What kind of interesting person would you like to be?

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