In January 2016, I challenged myself to complete the following list. I finished 1-4 and #6 by June … so how’d I do on the rest?
- A book published this year– Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold
- A book you can finish in a day (done — Married with Zombies)
- A book you’ve been meaning to read (done — Outlander)
- A book recommended by your local librarian/ book seller — The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (recommended at a Scholastic Book Fair a few years ago and on my list ever since. Finally read it.)
- A book you should have read in school.
- A book chosen for you by a spouse/ sibling/ child/ parent — kind of cheating, but we jokingly call DJ my sister-wife, so yeah. She recommended it, I finally read it. The Gunslinger, first Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series.
- A book published before you were born. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
- A book that was banned at some point. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
- A book you previously abandoned.
- A book you own but have never read.
- A book that intimidates you.
- A book you’ve already read at least once. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain and Power & Constraint by Jack Goldsmith
Yeah, I totally cheated with Huckleberry Finn. Basically, I re-read it in early fall partly because I read something about some previously unknown and utterly complete (edited and everything) published works of Mark Twain that were rediscovered, which got me looking to read some other Mark Twain stuff (actually started looking for his satire about the Garden of Eden), but then I read an article about Huck Finn being banned in a school for use of the n-word and I was like ummmm. Its been a while since I read that, but I’m pretty sure its a) era appropriate, being written in that era and all, and b) Twain is vehemently anti-slavery. Context matters.
Five, nine, ten, and eleven I didn’t complete.
Five, because its hard to think of a book I “should” have read in school and did not– I read every book I was assigned, which kinda just leaves me in the grayer area of reading lists where I was allowed to select amongst a variety of texts, or perceived failures in literary education.
Nine, because its only been in the past five years or so (after I read Twilight and Women are from Venus, Men are From Mars) that I started actually putting books down when I thought they were garbage and walking the fuck away, which is super freeing. For years I had this weird compulsion that I like had to finish every book I started no matter what, and now I’m like, why? If the book is balls, why?
Ten, I have no excuse for. I have a to-read pile of books I own but haven’t read that were either gifted to me, picked up from a free bin, or I purchased on a whim at a used book shop … and yet, somehow, I went and purchased best-selling series by Sarah J. Maas and Marie Lu instead of reading any of those books. No excuse.
Eleven I didn’t complete because–like five–I was having difficulty coming up with a candidate I was interested in reading. I suppose that’s the point of an intimidating read? That they’re intimidating, not interesting? But I just feel like reading is for enjoyment, enrichment, and education, not punishment.
I don’t mind reading things that are complex or difficult, but I do want to at least be interested by the writing and material, no matter how intimidating the topic. Its a fairly low bar.
So with that criteria in mind, I find myself at a loss for intimidating reads. I enjoy reading academic nonfiction, which some people have reacted to as unusual, maybe not their choice? Like, after I re-read Power and Constraint and discussed it in unbook club, the reaction was, “A book on law and policy in the White House? Um, sounds … interesting …. ,” in a tone of voice that indicates it sounds the opposite of interesting and more like an awful chore. Which is interesting to me, because that’s how I view, say, Infinite Jest or anything by Tolstoy.
I enjoy fiction, and believe fiction is a useful and necessary medium in which to distill larger cultural stories about ourselves–but I hate slogging through emotionally draining, dense, psychologically complex, unentertaining fiction. I’d much rather read about law and government policy, haha.
Don’t get me wrong: I can enjoy emotionally draining and psychologically complex fictional pieces. I just prefer them short instead of long and dense, and most of all interesting. More Of Mice & Men than Moby Dick. So I did have trouble coming up with an option for number eleven, I dunno.