How and Why I Finished a Book I Only Understood 5% Of

It was coming up to 2am in the morning. I’m in my 30’s with a 1-year-old son, so that’s damn late for me. But I only had a few pages left and was intent on pushing through.

When I finally finished that last sentence, I felt a wave of relief, accomplishment, and contentment. I sat for a few extra minutes just staring at the cover of the book, in awe that I actually finished it. Like a true millennial, I Instagrammed the moment.

Here’s why it was so significant: it was the first book I had fully finished in probably the last 2 years. And I understood about 5% of it because it was all about astronomy and physics and was way over my head. The most notable reason, though, is this:

I hate reading.

I love the idea of reading. I would love to be a reader. I want to love reading. I just don’t. But it wasn’t always like this.

As a Kid, I Consumed Books at a Netflix-like Pace

I was an avid reader as a child. As young as 7 years old, my uncle would take me to our local public library every 2 weeks. There, I went straight to all the aisles I knew I could get the books I wanted, like a memorized Target run.

I read all the serialized novels: Encyclopedia Brown, Boxcar Children, Animorphs, and of course, Goosebumps, the cocaine of children’s books.

I grabbed one of each, whatever the next episode in the series was, along with a random book I would always try.

Then at home, I would read through all 4–5 books in those 2 weeks, along with balancing my homework and chores, like a good Asian.

But it wasn’t just fluff books. My uncle got me a 12-volume encyclopedia that covered all sciences from human anatomy to ecology to astronomy. It was a few years above my reading level, but I slowly worked my way through it.

In short, I loved reading.

High School Ruined Reading for Me

It wasn’t just the textbooks.

Though I did hate them. It was the assigned novels for English class. Ok, I get that they’re “classics,” but that doesn’t necessarily make them interesting or even worthwhile.

They’re the same standard books that have been assigned to high schoolers for decades, and they stay the same out of pure laziness. That’s not an exaggeration. Of the millions of published titles in existence, why are the same dozen books being recycled year after year? Surely there are more modern, interesting, and relevant books with equal literary value? It’s just easier to teach the same curriculum and pass out the same test year after year.

So like most other students in my class, I made it through maybe a chapter or 2 of each assigned book while defaulting to SparkNotes for the rest (which was just starting to take off at the time).

Having to read something I didn’t enjoy left a bad taste for reading that persisted on through college and into my adult life. Since high school, I think I’ve read less than 10 books for myself — books that I actually enjoyed and wanted to read.

But I’ve always admired readers. I’ve always wanted to read more. I’ve always wanted to enjoy reading.

Amazon to the Rescue

For some reason, a digital book and a digital library is more appealing.

Blame it on the rise of the internet and Apple and Netflix and YouTube. Going out to get something became less appealing when you could just stay home and get it on your screen.

Sure, I could go to a real library and borrow a book. I just never did.

Enter Amazon Prime. As you know, I along with most of America, have an Amazon Prime account. The main benefit is free 2-day shipping. But it also includes a lot of other perks that people don’t know about. I discovered Prime Reading.

Basically, Amazon will release digital books that are free to borrow and read on Kindle, either through their device or through the Kindle app. Some are mediocre books, but some are new releases and best sellers. With a Prime account, you can borrow and download up to 10 books at a time on your device, and keep it as long as you want. Then when you’re done, you return them (deletes it off your device) and go borrow and download other ones.

So I downloaded a few business books and started to work my way through the first one. But it didn’t go so well.

The first week, I faithfully stuck to a routine and read a chapter a night. But then I slowly faded away and a few months later, I realized I hadn’t read in a few months.

Maybe life just got in the way. Maybe I got too busy or tired. Maybe I got bored of the book. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for reading. I don’t know. I just felt like I gave reading another shot and it just wasn’t my thing.

But then I read an article that changed everything for me.

The Secret of Reading is Multitasking

Or more accurately, multi-reading.

If I started something, I wanted to finish it. But often times, a book just gets stale. Sometimes it’s not even the book, but just the subject matter can be dry after a while.

So I would feel guilty about not finishing that book to start another book. I felt like I was cheating or failing. So I tried to push through that book until I just got sick of reading.

But this article changed that perspective. Unfortunately, I forgot what the article was, but there are tons on the same subject.

It said to read multiple books at a time, like 3 or 4, to get through reading faster. It seemed counter-intuitive, since it felt like you would get confused as to where you were in each book.

But then it clicked for me that it was the same thing I did as a kid. I would read multiple books simultaneously. Well, not really simultaneously, that would be sorcery. I read a few chapters in one book, then bounced to another book, then to another, then bounced back to the first book. Sometimes it was because the story plot got a little slow for me. Other times, it was just that I a had a craving on that day for a particular story.

And so that’s what I did with my Kindle library. I chose 4 books to start, each one in a different genre. Then each night, I just read whatever I felt like reading. Sometimes it was business. Sometimes it was science. Sometimes it was political. Sometimes it was spiritual. Whatever I was craving or not craving.

It was incredibly liberating, and surprisingly, not confusing. Sure it would take me longer to get through a single book, since theoretically I was reading a quarter of the pace of a single book.

But the pace or quantity I read at didn’t matter, because I was reading and I was enjoying it.

I Finished a Book I Didn’t Understand

It was “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” by Neil Degrasse Tyson.

It’s probably child’s play for people with a science background, but it was way over my head. The chapters dove into galaxies and quantum mechanics and dark matter.

I understood about 5% of it, and of that 5%, I probably remember about 5%. Yet it was the first book I finished.

It was a topic I was always fascinated by and had a high level of respect for the professional in that field. They are the literally rocket scientists, the smartest people on the planet. Though the concepts were beyond my understanding, Tyson writes in a very casual, quirky, and humorous way that even the average person like me could grasp a few things here and there. At the very least, I understood just how insanely big and crazy and complex and unknown the universe is, and that was his point.

Of course, sometimes the science got so heavy that I had to take a break from it, and that’s where this system allowed me to jump to another book for awhile. But then I could jump right back to astrophysics when I was ready.

So after about a year of reading (yes, it took me that long to finish this 200-something page book), I read the last sentence of the book on my iPad at 2am in the morning, and felt like a little more of a genius than before.

More importantly, I finished a book, my first one in years. I finished a book I enjoyed reading. I finished a book in a subject matter that was out of my league.

I don’t recall the majority of what I read. But I remember the tone and the overall message, and it was satisfying.

I finished a book.

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