I bought one of the books that nobody can finish
From 'Game of Thrones' to '1984,' we all have those 'Big Important Books' we hope to devour, but secretly just go unread.
We all have the best of intentions when we hear about a new book. Maybe we saw an author being interviewed on TV, or a colleague recommended a thrilling spy novel. We'll go out and buy the book hoping to devour it in one or two sittings. After all, it sounded so fascinating when we first heard about it.
Psychologists call this the "planning fallacy." After we begin a new task, high hopes don't always mesh with reality. The book arrives, we crack open the first few pages and rest it back on the coffee table. So far, so good. But the next time you pick it up to read more, you're too tired and don't make much headway. There are other, newer, more exciting books coming out. Eventually, it starts to collect dust. And over time, it becomes that big important book you've never read.
There's new research out this week about the books we most often try to read but secretly give up on. Topping the list is the original "Game of Thrones" book and coming in second is Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton. (Apparently, after everyone saw the musical, they wanted to learn more about our founding father. Alas, without a soundtrack by the great Lin-Manuel Miranda, it just seemed too daunting.) Other books on the list included "1984" by George Orwell, "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen and "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace.
'Game of Thrones' books look good on the bookshelf, but how many people have actually read it cover to cover? (Photo: Milleflore Images / Shutterstock)
And then there was "Thinking, Fast and Slow," which came in third place on the list. The book was written by Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who grew up in Tel Aviv and began his career by helping establish the psychology department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He became a household name in 2002 when he won the Nobel Prize. The 2011 publication of his magnum opus was heralded as a distillation of a career's worth of research. Quite literally, nearly every book in the "smart thinking" section of the bookstore was based on his work.
The book appeared on many end-of-the-year "best of" lists including by both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. President Obama, who's also a fan of Israeli anthropologist Yuval Noah Harari, called "Thinking, Fast and Slow" one of his favorite books. In 2013, he gave Kahneman the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. Harvard professor Steven Pinker called Kahneman "the world's most influential living psychologist."
Kahneman's TED Talk has been viewed nearly a million times:
Everyone was reading it, and I figured I should, too. So I bought a copy.
I read a lot of nonfiction books and especially ones that explore human behavior. (Hey, I didn't just make up that part about the "planning fallacy." It was something I read.) Books about decision making and cognition really get me excited. Show me a new book by bestselling author Dan Ariely, a behavioral economics professor at Duke University, and I'll show you a weekend with plenty of open time, a pot of coffee and hours of reading.
Indeed, Kahneman is considered the father of behavioral economics and a mentor of Ariely, and all the books I had been enjoying up until now were written by Kahneman's acolytes and students. So a book by the grandmaster himself was not to be missed.
When the hefty 500-page tome first arrived, I was still in the middle of another book. But not to worry. I placed it on my nightstand with every intention of starting it shortly. But then I heard about another book, and then another, and slowly the nightstand became more crowded. Eventually, gravity moved the heavy "Thinking, Fast and Slow," relegating it to the bottom of the pile. Several months later it found its way to a high-up shelf that my 5'2" frame couldn't even reach unless I'm standing on top of a chair.
Now, seven years later, I regret to inform you that I have yet to read "Thinking, Fast and Slow." At least I can take solace in the new research and know that I'm not alone. Although I have watched this two-minute video summary of the book:
I read a lot. And now that you can listen to audiobooks on your phone just as easily as you can listen to a podcast, I've gotten through about a book a week for the past few years. That biography of Albert Einstein? The unabridged audio version I listened to was more than 21 hours long. But I plowed right through it. In fact, and I'm embarrassed to admit this, I've actually read a biography about Daniel Kahneman. (It's called "The Undoing Project" by Michael Lewis and it's in the photo at the top of this article in the pile of books I've read.)
So why can't I read his actual book? I'm not sure. But I'm going to make a renewed effort now that I've come clean. I will read "Thinking, Fast and Slow" sometime in the next few months. Certainly sometime in 2019. I guarantee before the next presidential election. I promise. Planning fallacy be damned.
Sigh. Maybe he should've called the book "Reading, Fast and Slow."
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