September 4, 2012

Padding or the Point?

Category: Literature :: Permalink

I’m the kind of reader who, having once started a book, feels an almost-moral sense of compulsion to finish the book, even if I’m not enjoying it or benefiting from it.  But today, I took the plunge.  I decided to stop reading a book that I was at least two-thirds of the way through.  Yes, part of me insists that it wouldn’t take me long to finish the thing and so maybe I should.  But there really isn’t any should about it.  Life is short.  It’s time to put some books away.

But what was so bad about this book?  In a sense, nothing.  The book itself was innocuous, a mildly helpful book on the importance of thankfulness, which is certainly a subject I could benefit from.  And the book had some good things to say.  So why am I giving up on it now?

Because most of the book strikes me as padding.  Yes, there are good things here and there, but I have the feeling that they could all have been summed up in, well, a medium-length essay instead of a book.  To make the thing book-length, numerous illustrations and stories have been added, a few of which are quite helpful but many of which seem unnecessary.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I mean, which I’ve made up for this occasion.  Suppose an author says something like: “The Christian life is difficult.”  Suppose then that the author goes on to tell the story of a classical pianist, tacking an extremely difficult piece.  Suppose that story goes on for a page, maybe even two or three pages, describing how the pianist had to practice, how she failed to master the piece, how she had to work at it for years until finally she had trained herself well enough so that, at last, she could play it … and even then found it extremely taxing.  All of that to make what point?  Well, no point, really.  It was all just an illustration of what it means for something to be difficult.

That’s the kind of thing I found in the book I was reading and it’s why I’m closing the covers.  It’s padding, not an illustration that really helps make the point.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:06 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Padding or the Point?”

  1. Tim VanBraeden Says:

    I have also found myself thinking that what I was reading could have been said in far fewer words. Which is extra annoying for me because I am a slow reader. I feel the author doesn’t respect my time if he adds superfluous words.

  2. Dan Glover Says:

    I too am a reader that feels a nearly moral obligation to complete a book once I have read past the introduction. And I have had the same emotion described by Tim welling up within me if the author has “padded” their book (as though they were being paid by the page) unnecessary illustrations and stories, wasting some of the time which I feel is valuable even if the author does not. Someone who uses many metaphors, stories, illustrations, etc., in their writing but to opposite effect is C.S. Lewis. He makes his point very clearly and pointedly in his arguments to the point where one thinks, “yeah, this guy is absolutely right and at some level, I’ve always known this to be true but never yet consciously…”. And then he injects not “an” illustration but “the” illustration, and fireworks go off in your mind and spirit and you “get it” down to a whole new depth. None of his illustrations or stories are ever more than two or three sentences long and, so far from being superfluous, they are the exactly right way of hammering home his point to the degree that, you may someday forget his illustration and you may even forget the particular point he was making but at a subconscious level, the truth he just imparted has now become part of your own mental filter.

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