The other day I noted that I’m looking for criteria in determining whether a book is difficult but worth reading or just not very good and not worth the effort.
Example: Currently I am reading Weaving the New Creation by James W. Fowler. I’ve read Fowler before, and his prose isn’t exactly wonderful, but it isn’t terrible. I got fed up with the first bit of Weaving because of the multiple mixed metaphors used. It wasn’t just mixing metaphors, it felt like metaphor soup. Now I get the idea of using metaphors in writing non-fiction. The metaphor may give your work shape, or it may help your readers get the idea you are putting across. Metaphor soup, on the other hand, felt over done.
But I kept reading Fowler, got through the soup, and am glad I did. He does some nice things later in the book, including some good work on vocation. It was worth it for me to push through the part I found badly put together to get to other parts of the book. Now the things Fowler says about vocation and the church are not easy slogans, they require thought and re-reading, and I’m not sure I agree with all of what he says. The key thing about this section was it made me think. It opened up new possibilities. I put things together in a different way. I think that is what good theological writing should do. I wouldn’t call Weaving the New Creation a difficult book, but I found parts of it hard to push through because of a style issue. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between style issues and profundity.
Speaking of difficult books, here is a proposed list of the most difficult books ever written. I would add Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan.