There are people in my life that I trust implicitly in their recommendations. MrMr, my husband, of course heads the list, but I also include my girlfriend, The Divine Miss A (lover of cheesy bad movies where things get blown up), and my doctor, Dr. D, an old soul who seeks knowledge simply for the joy of it. While each of these people has recommended some great reading material over the years, they’ve all set me on to books that, for one reason or another, I’ve struggled with before conquering.
MrMr has always gotten that sparkle in his eye when talking about Tolkien’s The Hobbit. When we were first married, I very much wanted to share in that joy with him, so I dove in to the paperback copy he’d handed me and…nothing. It didn’t thrill me. Not only did it not thrill me, it didn’t keep me for longer than a chapter and I found myself setting it down constantly. Each time I’d try to read from where I left off, I’d have to go back and start over again because I couldn’t keep the story in my head. It wasn’t until we’d been together for more than 20 years that I actually managed to finish it (the thirteenth try, as a matter of fact). I thought that if I tricked myself into considering it research for story structures I might actually make it all the way through. I boosted my chances by trying to find all the hobbit food references in hopes of hosting a Middle Earth Party some day to surprise MrMr with (cat’s out of the bag now, luv, sorry).
Then there were the J. D. Robb “in Death” novels that The Divine Miss A recommended at one point. I mean, it was The Nora, so how could this go wrong? Oddly, I just couldn’t do it. I had the same problem again. I’d start one book and then get completely derailed. I just couldn’t muster the strength to stick with it, knowing that there would be all these other novels that followed and that I may not be able to read them all (I completely blame Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin here for making me gunshy). It finally took a box of literally all the paperbacks written to date thrust into my arms as we were on our way to a North Carolina vacation for me to tackle that series. I devoured them all in that week, thoroughly enjoying each and every one.
Which brings me to Dr. D’s latest recommendation. It is so far outside my normal reading comfort zone that I’m flummoxed: Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz’s series referred to simply as The Trilogy. It’s a work of foreign fiction, translated into English, that weaves in carefully researched facts about the combined Swedish and Russians invasion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It is not light reading in the slightest, nor apparently, is it for the faint of heart.
Now, keep in mind that deep reading has never scared me off before. I cut my teeth on the deep, crunchy writing of philosophers like Michel Foucault et. al. during my pursuit of a master’s degree in rhetoric. And for pity’s sake I survived the gratuitous, literary masturbation of Infinite Jest just fine, thank you very much. But I can’t seem to make it more than a few pages at a time through With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, and Fire in the Steppe, without my eyes crossing and my brain cramping up.
It’s just that this series is so damned intimidating. I mean, it’s huge. Multiple volumes, even! I’ve got this stack of books leering at me drunkenly from the side table. They’ve been there so long that I have to keep dusting them off. I find myself bringing along an old dictionary when I read them because I never really know if I’m going to tumble into words that aren’t in common use today. And lord a’ mercy I need my reading glasses to boost the typeface, the pages are so thick with the written word.
What I desperately want to be able to do is go back to DrD (and my dear friend Zyg, who’s terribly impressed that I’m tackling this translation at all) and wax rhapsodic about how cool the story was (it is pretty good, even though I’m not far into it) or how incredible the historical details are (good so far). Yet, I’m struggling every line of every page. Why?
I absolutely refuse to let these books defeat me but I can only take them in small bites, a few pages as a time. I’m determined to win out here based on my willpower alone; however, it’s going to have to happen a bit faster. I don’t think my doctor will be so very pleased with me if I keep his copies for the same 20-year timespan that it took me to finally get through The Hobbit, you know?
Wish me luck. I’ll need all the help I can get.
How do you get through books that you feel utterly compelled to read even though you have to fight your way through them?