Monday, November 08, 2004

On Reading Tough Books 

by NA
Over the last year or so, I decided to read some of the great 'masterworks' of literature in their entirety, instead of just the snippets from the Norton anthologies. Sumer also joined along, reading books alongside. As a result, we've now read Moby-Dick, the complete Sherlock Holmes, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, A Passage to India, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, The Three Musketeers, Portrait of a Lady, Leaves of Grass, Treasure Island, Don Quixote, The Corrections, and a couple of others.

I initially took this on as a kind of personal Mount Everest, to read them because they're there and they're big, honking books that nobody really ever reads, and yet are classed amongst the most wonderful books ever written. Let's face it, there's a great deal of unrighteous pride involved here, to be able to flaunt your current reading -- telling people you're reading Don Quixote is a heckova lot more satisfying than responding with Men are From Mars or The Da Vinci Code. But I've gathered a couple of impressions from reading these big, tough books, and thought I'd get your ideas as well:

First, they're not so tough. The big books take some patience, but they're not so challenging or unengaging so as make them unreadable. War and Peace, for example, is challenging for the most part because of its variety of locales and characters; keep track of those, and the book isn't half as daunting. Getting your mind around some of the ideas, such as in The Brothers Karamazov, is a different matter; I'm still trying to work them out in my mind. But then again, so is everyone else!

Second, they're pretty good. Anna Karenina is now Sumer's favorite book (though its recent Oprah nod shook its reign). Don Quixote is now mine. They are considered the greatest books ever for good reason, but their size and reputations put them out of reach for most of us. I never would have appreciated them without reading them whole -- the fact of having read the entire book makes each aspect of the book seem more satisfying. Now the commandment in D&C 88:118 to seek wisdom in the best books makes a little more sense.

Do you get this same pleasure of working your way through a tough book?
What books are you reading now?
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