Gentle readers, I’m pleased to announce that for the first time in years, I finally have a chance to do nothing but read books. I’m currently in between jobs (the new one starts March 6), leaving me with free time and a chance to finally tackle all the books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t had the time for. The “to read” pile has been accruing over the past year—every now and then I’d make some headway, especially around the holidays, but never quite managed to demolish the whole stack. Now, over the next two weeks, I’m going to make Serious Progress, if not vanquish the pile entirely.
Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda wrote a column last month about conquering such literary challenges, not just making peace with the challenge of “too many books, too little time”, but also the special pleasure of having finished books that seemed too long or too hard—the literary equivalent of running a marathon. He asks:
So, members of the Reading Room, what books have you been most proud to have read? What Everests and K-2s have you attacked and conquered? How old were you? Why did you choose these particular peaks of literature or history or science? Please share your thoughts and reminiscences.
The comments are worth a read, and Dirda’s questions immediately brought back memories of how I plowed through all 1,000+ pages of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in 12th grade to complete some kind of summer reading requirement (We had to read a set number of pages and I thought I would be clever and pick one long book rather than several shorter ones). I remember being extremely proud that I finished it…and yet, I can’t remember for the life of me what that book was about. I can’t even remember the characters’ names—uh…Karamazov?—let alone the plot. So much for that achievement. I did improve on reading comprehension, though. In college I majored in English literature and minored in Spanish literature, so there was a LOT of reading. Plowing through both Middlemarch and Love in the Time of Cholera in Spanish in the same week was probably my proudest achievement. It’s a miracle I didn’t go blind from eyestrain.
But that was more than a decade ago. When one of my friends emailed me this weekend asking what I thought of Umberto Eco’s latest novel, I honestly told him that I hadn’t read any heavy-duty literature in a long time. These days, I have a lot less tolerance for the literary K-2s. It may be that working a media job that requires tons of reading has worn down my patience for super-long books. Or maybe I just don’t have something to prove the way I did when I was a student. These days instead of trying to knock off a single 1,000 pager, I just try to keep them at around 300-400 pages and spread them out a little more.
What about you? Any fond (or not-so-fond) memories of running a literary marathon? Any favorite ultra-long or very literary books that you thought were totally worth the effort? Please share in the comments….