I’ve read books. Let’s say hundreds. Maybe more. (That’s not to brag, the point is coming.) Rather than focus on the wonderful books that I’ve read and the vast amounts of information, learning and pleasure that I’ve derived from this pastime, I spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on the less than 1% of the books that I haven’t finished. The incomplete. My inability to finish.
Resting firmly on top of this list is Ulysses by James Joyce. That’s the cover on the right. The book, the same hideous cover, has been sitting next to my desk for eight years. It stares me down. It torments me. Here come the low guttural whispers: Quitter. Not capable. Not good enough. Over your head. Farm boy. Loser! Public school project.
I happened to come across a recent article in Publishers Weekly titled “The Top 10 Most Difficult Books” and the festering sore opens wide again.
“…The “Difficult Books” series is devoted to identifying the hardest and most frustrating books ever written, as well as what made them so hard and frustrating…If you can somehow read all 10, you probably ascend to the being immediately above Homo sapiens…”
Here we go. Intelligentsia slapping me around again. You want to hit nerve – - hit me here. Hit me. Neanderthal man immediately surfaces.
So, I immediately surf Google (the paragon of all knowledge and things) and search for “Most Difficult Books.” And bang – - up comes Good Reads list of the Most Difficult Novels as rated by readers who finished the books and deemed them as the “Novels that made you work the hardest.” And voila…lookie, lookie at what was #1 on the list. Now let’s set aside the sample size and the minor fact that I didn’t finish Ulysses. (I’m begging you not to ask me how many pages I read before setting it down. And I’m begging you not to ask me how many times I picked it up, only to set it down again. And again. And again.)
So, for a moment, I took some comfort that I wasn’t alone. Of course, I couldn’t leave it there. No sir. I took a gander at the top 100 Most Difficult Books and how I fared. The good news is that I somehow managed to avoid 90% of the Most Difficult Books to read. The bad news is that of the 10% that I did read, 50% went unfinished. And then I paused and asked myself…Self: Why is it good news that you are avoiding 90% of the classics? Avoiding what’s difficult – that’s why. THAT’S SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE. So, it’s back to getting after this or it’s off to therapy. Mimi/Kristin, where are you when I need you?