Just Keep Reading, Just Keep Reading...
A little piece of Disney wisdom can go a long way. Dory encouraged Nemo to "just keep swimming," and when it comes to reading certain books, sometimes you have to just keep reading...
I've encountered some books that have forced me to reconcile my belief that reading should be purely for the sake of enjoyment and my principle of giving things the old college try before throwing in the towel. While I wouldn't encourage anyone to keep reading a book he or she isn't fancying, I would encourage the reader to really give the book a chance.
A few months ago, I found myself reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It's quite the doozy. If you're familiar with Mitchell's canon, you know accessible novels aren't really his forté. Anyone who has the patience to even make it through the movie can attest. And I'll be the first to admit that I loathed the first 100 pages of the book. I couldn't seem to form any coherent thoughts about it, so I was left with the exceptionally articulate reaction: WTF? But there was this element of mystery that made me want to figure out what was going on with this acid trip, time warp, WTF?-inducing novel.
In retrospect, I'm really glad I stuck with it. Once I figured out how the unusual plot line worked (don't worry, no spoilers), I was thrilled. I couldn't put it down. I still vividly remember the moment of revelation when I, like a child correctly executing long division for the first time, thought, I get it... I finally GET IT!
I had a similar experience while reading William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury in high school. Being the nerdy little bookworm I am, I took it upon myself to read this grim stream-of-consciousness puzzler without it having been assigned. I obviously had no idea what I was getting myself into...
I found myself frustrated. Why must there be more than one character with the same name and no tangible hints that they might be two different people? Why must Benjy incomprehensible? Then, like an epiphany from the gods of wacked out Southern Gothic literature, the answer came to me as I was reading page 308. It does make sense after all! Page 308 of The Sound and the Fury will forever have a special place deep in my mental treasure chest of fond reading memories.
Will I ever read either book again? Probably not.
Were they the most enjoyable books I've ever read? Not even close.
Am I glad I read them to completion? YES.
If I'd given up without finishing them, I might still be thinking I'm just not smart enough until this day. I'm not saying people who don't read these books or read them and don't like them or start reading and give up aren't smart. But I am saying that it's a pretty damn good feeling when you challenge yourself and you come out on top, and, for me, reading feral literature is rewarding.
Based on these experiences, I've given myself the principle rule that I don't abandon any book less than 100 pages in. I don't say this because I feel like I owe it to the book or the author who wrote it to read a minimum of 100 pages--but I feel like I owe it to myself.
Have you ever challenged yourself with seemingly incomprehensible books? Tell me in the comments!