A close friend suggested yesterday that perhaps the books that are hardest to read are most worth it to try… And this got me thinking perhaps I can find the courage this summer to tackleworks I’ve carried with me for ages. In the very least, naming the problem/challenge seems to be Step 1 in any program, and declaring such things in public spaces creates some aura of accountability, so with a goal of (hopefully) having reviews of these by end-August, here’s the top 5 books that scare me witless:
In a very particular order–
#5) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This is a weird one for my list, because I loooooove Russian literature (just yesterday I wrote about one of my favorites of all time, The Master & Margarita by Bulgakov). The problem stems perhaps from my dislike of Dostoevsky, and my association of Tolstoy with D. And the source of that is probably high school (thanks, English class) – it seems like I have an aversion to everything I was force-fed back then. There is hope, however: recently, a GR friend wrote a brilliant review addressing most of my concerns (such that AK is a sappy love story).
#4) Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
I have probably owned this book for decades (since early HS); it sounds like everything I’ve ever wanted of an immersive and enjoyable reading experience: a mystery, a medieval historical setting, philosophizing monks, brilliant wit and humor. But it’s also 536 pages. Which, come to think of it, is about half of the size of Anna Karenina, so it could be a lot worse. But if I remember correctly, I’ve attempted reading this book at least a few times to no avail, which probably has also imprinted memories in me of failure and made me want to avoid this book even more. Still, I couldn’t have given it much of a chance, as I don’t remember ever getting past the first few pages. So: hope!
#3) Blindness by José Saramago
My cousin, a Belgian and a translator for the European Union, is one of those people that speaks something like 20 languages. In the early 2000s, she was located in Lisbon, where I was lucky to visit her one summer. At the time, she was becoming fluent in Portuguese (it took her a few months…) – not only by speaking, but by reading José Saramago, which she could not stop talking about and recommending. I came home, bought almost all of his books, started on Blindness, and gave up quickly, never to take him up again. It’s a testament to my cousin’s genius that she was learning Portuguese with the aid of this book – I could barely follow it in what is now my first language (English). It’s incredibly hard to read because there is absolutely NO formatting (no punctuation, no capital letter, no paragraphs, just one long running stream of words). Maybe when I try it this time, I’ll turn reading it into a game and put in my own punctuation. Why not, I mean reading is interpretation and I mark up my books all the time…
#2) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Postmodern genius is perhaps what intimidates me the most re: books. I have no idea if House of Leaves falls into this genre, because I’ve read both adoring, doting House-groupie reviews as well as many that claim this book is pretentious nonsense. Like Saramago, the formatting makes House of Leaves especially challenging – there are various fonts and colors and footnotes that refer to nonexistent sources and a plethora of other devices that lend an aura of density and profundity (or perhaps, just of intellectual pretension). Also, it’s 700 pages. Perhaps I’ll do the same with this as my plans for Saramago: bring out the box of markers and scissors and tape for a postmodern reading experience.
Ok, so Borges is not a book. He is a postmodern genius – no pretensions, no senseless experimentation, just pure, unadulterated poetic visionary. This was my reaction to the one book I’ve read by him, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings:
“The BBC, in declaring Borges the most important writer of the 20th century, declares “reading the work of Jorge Luis Borges for the first time is like discovering a new letter in the alphabet, or a new note in the musical scale.” That is a vast understatement. Reading Borges is like discovering an entirely new dimension of experience, it is like having all of your neurons plucked out and rearranged in unfamiliar configurations, it is like attuning to a new form of perception, it is like being suspended between a dream and consciousness, it is like having your mind exploded to the extent you begin questioning the most basic aspects of existence that you never once thought to question. Reading Borges is a magical, surreal, psychedelic, intellectually-erotic, twisted, world-shattering, intense literary-orgasmic experience.”
Someday I hope to have the stamina and courage to make it through all of his works; ideally, I’d love to be able to read fluently in Spanish so that I can partake of them without the intervention of a translator.
Wow, just listing these books induced a good amount of anxiety. Time for some light reading for the night – currently enjoying a romp through the gilded age with A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock…