How To Read A Boring Book

If you read enough books, you will eventually stumble over a boring book. Not every book can be written to our pleasing. Now when we find ourselves reading a boring book, we are in most cases left with two options; we can either stop reading the book, or we can continue to read the book.

How to determine whether we should keep reading a boring book or not can itself be a difficult choice; only because it is not obvious that we should keep reading. If we spent our entire lives reading books, we would still have read less than 5% of all published knowledge, and so there are other books, of which are worthwhile, to read. Thus, some justly reason: why not read one of those worthwhile publications instead?

To continue reading is a choice I shall leave up to you. But for this article, I shall presume we have chosen to read the boring book, for whatever reason.

So, here is how to read a boring book:

      1. Relate the boring book to real life events or other books.
      2. Read the boring book in small, manageable chunks.
      3. Read boring books when awake and energetic.
      4. Read into the psychology of the author.

Those are some of the methods I find useful, as they make boring books a bit more entertaining or interesting. Lets read about each of them, one at a time.

Relate Boring Books to Events or Other Books

Many people read books like they are a vacuum of facts, with little to no relation to real life. I have seen finance students take personal finance classes, to then never develop their own personal finance spreadsheet. I have seen psychology students take therapy classes to then never take any therapy for their own problems. I have even seen economics students learn about supply and demand, and then only pursue something which is in high supply. Many people read books like they are vacuums, filled with facts that do not relate to life.

Books not only can be, but ought to be related to real life, especially books which are utterly boring. I know many people find finance and law boring to read, but many people also perk their ears up when discussions about changes in law or changes in public companies occur. So, even when the topic itself is boring, how that topic impacts their life is less than boring.

For example, let us consider finance. In finance, there are things called financial ratios and cashflows, which can be used to model the performance and value of businesses. Those concepts themselves might be utterly boring to read about, for some; but when we apply the concepts to something like our Instagram profile, it becomes a bit more exciting.

Take Present Value, for starters. Present value is a concept in finance that means: the current value of a future sum of money or stream of cash flows given a specified rate of return. When we relate that to Instagram, we can say, present value is: the current value of a future sum of followers or viewers given a specified rate of return. In finance, the present value of $2000 in the future might be $1500 currently, once risk, inflation, and other relevant factors are accounted for. For Instagram, the present value of 100 followers in the future might be 10 posts currently, once variance in post format, external social factors, and other relevant variables are accounted for.

So, when we relate the concept of present value to instagram, we can answer: how many posts must I make, now, to get 100 followers in the future. Put otherwise, how many posts must I create to gain 100 followers? The answer being 10 posts. Or said yet in another way, “the value of 100 followers in the future is 10 posts now”.

The point being, even something like finance, which I have heard over-and-over is boring, and that every finance book is boring, can be related to a real life situation. We can abstract a concept from the boring book and make it about something in our life that we find interesting.

In doing so, we make the book a bit more exciting than before, because we are making gains and thinking more complexly about some other aspect of our life, an aspect that we enjoy.

Boring Books Must be Read Slowly

I know some of us want to binge read books, and just get lost in a fictional or non-fictional world of cerebral entertainment. But when we have a boring book, that might not be the best idea, and here is why: burnout.

Burnout happens when we are stressed, feel too much pressure, or have no sense of purpose or meaning in what we are doing. Burnout is usually characterized by lack of motivation, cynicism, and lethargy. And a sense of perfectionism about reading can definitely cause it.

Sometimes we read a boring book because we have to for a class, for a job, or because we are studying a topic that requires the knowledge. As a result, rather than reading because of passion, we are doing so because of a sense of duty. That psychologically repositions reading as work. And if we approach work with a relentless perfectionism, we are most likely going to burnout.

In order to avoid burnout, we are better off reading a boring book in small chunks. If a book is 300 pages, then maybe 20 pages a day is best. As opposed to binge reading 50 pages, getting hit by burnout, and then not reading for the next 3 days due to loss of motivation.

When we read boring books slowly, by reading fewer pages per day, we are more than likely going to finish the book sooner than someone who tries to binge read the book. Binge readers are more likely than slow readers to suffer from burnout when reading a boring book, so avoid binge reading boring books.

Boring Books Put us to Sleep

Research suggests that bored humans are more likely to sleep: humans often defy sleepiness and stay awake when attention is necessary, but also experience an inescapable desire to sleep during boring situations. So, if we are anything other than energetic, a boring book will just put us to sleep even quicker.

When our brains have no important stimuli to pay attention to, or when we have no motivating factors at hand, our brain seemingly wants us to sleep. And since boring books are neither motivating, exciting, or important enough to fight off sleep, we should probably avoid reading them when we are already tired or feeling “meh”.

Reading Between The Lines

To be honest, reading into the psychology of an author is fun irrespective of the book being boring or not.  We can learn about biases, attitudes, and withheld beliefs. But what do I mean by “reading into the authors psychology”?

Just as when people speak and reveal something about themselves, so too can people write and reveal something about themselves. During conversations with strangers, we learn a lot about who they are as a result of comments which presuppose beliefs. For example, when a stranger says to us, “I cannot believe people read evolutionary psychology,” we learn that some disdain or disbelief about that field is held by the stranger. And from there, we can start to reason about what attitudes and motivations lead to such a belief.

The same holds true for writing. When an author writes super pretentiously, we can ask why they do so. We might begin to theorize that their education has taught them to do so, or that they have an extremely high regard for their own intellect. Or when an author begins to endlessly cite sources, to the point of overkill, we can begin to theorize that they either have great respect for authority, or that they are an incredibly meticulous mind.

The point being, when we read a boring book, we are still being exposed to the mind of another human being; albeit through a medium which is less intuitive than ordinary social interactions with respect to actively analyzing the content, but a medium nonetheless. And so, a boring book can become an exercise in the psychology of writing, which is always great fun.


Boring books are hard to read. So, to make boring books easier to read, we can use the following tricks:

  1. Relate the boring book to real events.
  2. Read the boring book in small, manageable chunks.
  3. Read the boring book when awake and energetic.
  4. Read into the psychology of the author, and why they wrote what they wrote.

Those are some of the tricks I use to make boring books more fun, and I hope they can make your boring books more fun as well.

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Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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