Confessions from a Tired Reader

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It’s time for some not-so-juicy confessions here at The 100 Greatest Books Challenge. I am cracking open the door to my soul today for no less than four reasons:

1. It’s important to tell the truth (though it’s equally important to tell it nicely).
2. Confessions are great for bonding, and I think we could stand to get to know each other better.
3. I have a debilitating condition wherein no lid can contain my emotions except in dire professional situations.
4. I couldn’t keep these confessions to myself any longer (see #3), and I’m desperate for some help.

I am hopeful that good will come of this, and very confident that it sort of maybe might. Here we go.

Confession #1: Sometimes I worry that reading (and writing about) classic literature is unforgivably pretentious. 

I am devotedly anti-snobbery, especially when it comes to books. I actively address the classics with irreverence in an attempt to shrink their overlarge heads. I read and discuss all kinds of books on my blog. I take time out to fight against book-shaming.

But the very idea of The 100 Greatest Books Challenge is, perhaps, irredeemably snooty to some. And, as an anxiety-inclined person, I find this occasionally distracting. Then I think, “Who cares? Nobody is even paying attention to me, probably,” and move on with my life.

And then I worry about it all over again a few days later.

Confession #2: Sometimes I think I’m reading the same thing over and over again. 

The Awakening is basically Anna Karenina, which is basically Madame Bovary. And while—honest to God—I enjoyed all three, I would also enjoy reading about a woman who doesn’t have an extramarital affair and then kill herself.

Similarly, there’s lots of overlap among the 19th-century Brit lit I’ve encountered. And if you asked me 30 years from now, I’m not sure I could tell you the difference between The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid.

Criticism of the classics is, I’ve discovered, unpopular in many (often snobby) circles. People are very attached to books they’ve enjoyed, books that have moved them, or books they pretend to like for status. But I’m committed to My Truth, or some shit—and often, My Truth is “Didn’t I already read this book?”

So there. I said it. I hope you can handle My Truth.

Confession #3: Sometimes the classics bore me to the point of revulsion.

The appeal of reading the classics as an adult—at least, for me—is the minimum guarantee of quality. I like to read excellent writing, and I don’t like to waste my time on not-excellent writing.

There almost never is one, though—a minimum guarantee of quality, I mean. Not even with the classics. We’re all far too picky to like everything we read, no matter how much we want to. So, inevitably, there are classics that read to me as offensively dull. Belligerently, in-my-face, asking-for-it dull. And, inevitably, my motivation starts to wilt on the stem as my eyes casually melt out of my face.

This is how I’m feeling now, (not-so-)incidentally. I’m currently midway through three classics, and I’m currently finding each of them insufferable. One of them started out well enough, but has since repeated itself over and over on a long, tedious loop. The second was described by many Amazon reviewers as “hilarious,” despite putting me to sleep on the subway more than once. The third might be interesting if I weren’t listening to the audiobook—but I refuse to give it up and switch to paperback. Audiobooks aren’t cheap.

I am finally admitting to my current readerly resentment because:

a) I wouldn’t want anyone to think The Challenge is easy/smooth/overflowing with previously unimagined delights,

and, more importantly,

b) I’d rather do something than just complain about it.

With this in mind, I’ve carried out some careful basic research. It turns out that much of the advice around goal-chasing is predictable: Define your reasons for pursuing your goal, and remind yourself of them often. Find a way to make it fun. Reward yourself along the way. Visualize the result.

Some of these are (sort of) applicable to a reading challenge (I guess). One useful strategy I’ve invoked is outlined in this Forbes article: Break down a long-term goal into smaller, easier pieces. Obviously, my goal of reading 100 classics has already been broken down into smaller pieces called “books.” But even within that framework, I can divide my approach into simpler steps like “read 25 pages a day.”

The Forbes piece also suggests that when a period of demotivation hits, I should think of “hard-core endurance models” like cancer patients and Holocaust survivors. So, um, there’s that.

This wikiHow article on reading boring books offers mostly pointless advice until the end, when it says (and I quote): “remove distractions” and “just get it done.” Which begs the question, Why did I think wikiHow would be helpful?

For now, then, for lack of a better option, I’m going to keep searching for answers—and I’m going to take a much-needed break from laborious reading. I’ll let you know if and when I manage to make stale, timeworn literature read like The Da Vinci Code. I remain, as always, kind of hopeful-ish.

Final thoughts: Did we bond over these confessions? Please say yes, because the only alternative is that I embarrassed myself. In either case, good luck with your Wednesday—and happy reading!

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12 thoughts on “Confessions from a Tired Reader

  1. Yes, we bonded! You put into words the thoughts I have had about reading (certain) books for some time now!
    Thank you.

  2. I totally agree with you. There are so many books that claim to be classic’s and great pieces of literature, but I find the prose to be tired and uninspired, the storyline myopic and meaningless and the charters boorish and sufferable. I’d rather read one good book then a hundred highbrow crapy ones. If the book doesn’t grab my attention within the first twenty pages, then to hell with it. Opera and Rap, I put in the same category, overrated and they all sound the same. My advice to you is, read what you love and love what you read, toss the rest of the crap in a trash heap…..

    • These are wise words. I tend to prefer finishing tasks for the sake of it, but I’m beginning to reconsider this strategy in a big way. Does the joy of finding an engaging book outweigh the gratification of finishing a difficult one? I haven’t quite decided yet… In any case, thanks for your note!

  3. Bonding accomplished!
    A very liberating piece. I’ve studied literature for years and over-respecting classics while shaming contemporary [or not-as-high-class] reads has always made me cringe, especially at Uni. It’s like with movies, when everyone pretends they love a movie, but would really just watch it because they have to if they want to belong… – and don’t get me wrong, I’m one of these people. It’s hard to escape cultural expectations. To compensate, I then watch or read something totally unacceptable. It feels great.

    • Haha! Agreed, the best approach is to find a balance. There’s surely some value in challenging ourselves (right?? HOPEFULLY???), but that shouldn’t stop us from seeking pure entertainment as often or even more. And then there’s the occasional, incredible book/film/hobby that challenges us AND entertains us. I hope to find many of those in the future.

  4. We bonded! I love some of the classics and die of boredom reading others, often ones that other people love. I couldn’t possiby live on a diet of pure classics, even ones I enjoy – I have to break it up with lighter stuff and factual stuff. Variety is indeed the spice of my reading life… There’s so many classics out there – can’t you toss the ones that are boring you and add some different ones to your list?

    • Yes. THIS. I’m usually good about mixing it up, but I got on a roll with the classics this year and went with it… assuming it would eventually (as it now has) start to slow down. I’ve definitely thought about some substitutes, but my silly pride wants to see this Challenge through… Then I’ll probably wait 10 years before touching a classic again. :)

  5. Your challenge has encouraged me to try and do the same. So far I am on my third (with one being a children’s book I read to my 4 year old!) It is challenging! But I think will be well worth it. I have wanted to read many of these for some time, so now I have challenged myself to do this. Thanks for your words and inspiration.

      • I copied your list as well as another. I also have a list I was given way back in high school of books to read before college-of course they didn’t all get read! I am going to combine them and read the ones I think will be most interesting first. I read “Charlotte’s Web” with my 4 year old and just bought “Pippi Longstocking”. (Don’t think it is a classic, but I think she will enjoy it). Trying to instill a love of reading in her!

  6. Pingback: 100 Books! a.k.a. Challenge Completed! a.k.a. A Cautionary Tale | The 100 Greatest Books Challenge

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