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!