Anyone could tell you what book they remember hating to be forced into when attending school. High school, college or both always has that groaner in the ranks that students can tell you, all too easily, that did not add to their appreciation to the genre of classic literature.
I had a few of these in high school, and it seems today that the curriculum in high school is focusing more on developing lifelong readers other than making kids wrestle the heavy stuff that they cannot possibly have a context to understand when they are 14-18 years old. I agree with this shift of having kids read works more tailored to their interest level, as I have blogged on many YA books already that engender more empathy in teenagers. I feel like I would have understood the plight of Native Americans more as a kid if The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian had existed back when I was being shoved into the pages of A Tale of Two Cities, which I loved much better as an adult than I did as a 14 year old who was in the middle of falling in love for the first time. I am surprised anything got into my oxytocin flooded brain that year. Maybe because oxytocin increases your ability to learn did I absorb things even if my attention was in sharp focus elsewhere.
Anyway, as an adult I have made a commitment to the groaners because now it is my choice and this is how I choose to burn up the rest of my attention span. I have found some vital elements to managing the chosen boring or slow books that I want to share, methods that I honed in order to traverse Don Quixote.
My most valued tools to making it through a difficult book which I have separated into two parts, increasing ease and increasing gratification:
Audio: I talk about this all the time. Anyone who has seen this blog at all knows how key that has become for me to put reading into the margins of my life. Audible with Whispersync. I did not have a Whispersync version of the audio because I got it before there was Whispersync and I had two bookmarks in my paper book, where I was and where the next chapter started in the audio version.
Audible has reeled me in past the point of no return. I initially got a subscription not knowing what books I wanted or how much I was going to use it. Damn.
SparkNotes: I would read SparkNotes after I got through a few chapters to be sure I was clear on everything that happened and then looking over the analysis really helped me put it into context. If I read Alice in Wonderland again I will refer to SparkNotes to help me with the heavy context that I knew I was missing with that work. I tried to use SparkNotes to buoy me through The Last of the Mohicans but I couldn’t do it, but I got further with than without. It also helped to clarify my thinking to review it on the blog, and I felt vindicated when I had a reaction of my own (like the one about the women) and SparkNotes totally mentioned it. I don’t pretend to have the full training in digesting literature that people with English majors or even further degrees have so I like the occasional win.
Goodreads: I liked the small victories in posting progress updates, and I had my best friend set the number of pages I was to get through before I could consider myself fully committed and ready to announce this commitment on Goodreads, which was 300 pages. It is gratifying after wrestling some of the harder chunks when they go on in conversation pontificating about an aspect of the thinking of the times.
Actually holding a physical copy of the book: I may have carried around fat books when I was in school to show off to other kids what I was reading. For some reason my graduating class from high school was crazy smart and talented so this could have saved me from getting harassed. And I was okay looking and pretty nice to other kids so that helped too. I usually like ebooks because they reduce the cumbersome process of being comfortable for binge reading, especially when I only have one hand because there is a child snuggled up against me who will no longer be a child soon enough, when reading will still be there. Or having it backlit is nice when the curtains are closed. But sometimes, I like to feel this big fatty book and be like, yeah, this is nerd gratifying. Just me and my fat book. One weekend in a previous life I read Northanger Abbey in the course of a rainy spring weekend on a glassed in porch on a loveseat with the perfect reading curvature out of a hardcover Jane Austen anthology. So sometimes even an ebook lover like me needs the pages, the heft and the smell. Especially if it is deckle edge.
And I read those last 20 pages of Don Quixote on paper. Just so you know.
I have never been much of a note taker with books or a highlighter or a margin noter. Just has never been me, unless I am compiling notes for research, which I have done much of in my time.
What helps you manage a classic or a difficult book? Leave a comment below!!