If you have been around here for more than a hot second, you might have read that I majored in English Literature. I can talk to you about the development of the novel or Shakespeare's impact on the English language. I could point out all the different ways to look at a piece of writing (also called lenses by pretentious English major people).
But the truth is that I still occasionally read a book and find myself befuddled. The two culprits this year (so far) are One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and City of God by E.L. Doctorow. Both authors use stream of consciousness in their books. Marquez jumps all over the history of a family with some magical realism thrown in for good measure. Doctorow tells the story of a priest who is losing his faith in the midst of long passages about science, the universe, and belief.
While reading these books, I found myself stopping and re-reading to see if I really understood what was going on. Sometimes I could figure it out; in other instances, I couldn't gain any more clarity and just kept reading anyway. I finished both books feeling glad I had read them and like I had accomplished something by sticking with a challenging book. But I also felt like I had missed out by not understanding everything that was written.
So I'm wondering if it's a deal-breaker for you if you don't understand all of a book. Do you set it aside in favor of easier reads? Do you work through it with the intention to try it again at a later point? Do you need to understand every bit of a book to enjoy it?
I tried to read One Hundred Years a while back and put it aside. Don't know whether at this stage in my reading I would enjoy it more.ReplyDelete
I even had trouble with The Alchemist, which everyone raves about. I think magical realism throws me for a loop because I usually read crime fiction or mysteries, where the plot can be muddled on purpose, but it's also more factual.
I don't keep going with a book unless I'm gaining pleasure from it, despite the confusion.
I've read some challenging books that were rewarding in the end, but I can understand putting One Hundred Years aside!Delete
This is kind of how I feel when I read Victor Hugo. I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame earlier this year, and there are pages and pages of what's essentially a thesis on architecture in the middle. It certainly has nothing to do with the story. I kept reading, but I can't say that I put a lot of effort into understanding that section of the book.ReplyDelete
Yes! Victor Hugo LOVES to go on a tangent. Melville does a similar thing with Moby Dick, where you get chapters on theology, living in an inn, and lots and lots about whaling without anything happening with the characters.Delete
Interesting topic... I don't need to understand a book to read it, but I do need to get lost in the words for me to fully commit and want to pick up said book. By getting lost in the words I mean they need to sit more than surface level in my mind. More than just words on a page. I hope that makes sense!ReplyDelete
It does make sense and I think it's a good method for picking which books to stick with!Delete
It's not a deal breaker for me necessarily, but a book that befuddles me is one that's more like not to grab my interest and keep it. That's what happened to me and 100 Years of Solitude. Womp. lolReplyDelete
Fair enough. There are times my interest is caught at a later point, but those first few chapters can really make or break it!Delete
I make sure I understand most of a book if it's a really good one.ReplyDelete
That's fair. What are your favorite difficult books?Delete