Thursday, January 26, 2012


Okay. I’m a little ashamed to admit it. But there are some books I haven’t finished. Books that are supposed to be “classics,” part of the pantheon of supposed greats. And yet, I’ve found them very hard to finish. I keep trying. I hit a page or two every few months or years. I don’t get rid of them. In fact, they sit on the shelf, mocking me with their density and agonizingly slow prose. They baffle me with the fact that there are people out there who believe these are great books. I agree that they are incredibly complex, and they work to tackle questions about identity, faith, free will (or the lack there of), and the nature of good and evil, and so on. I get it. I can see that much in short order as I’m slugging my way through them. But I just haven’t been able to appreciate these books. Or finish them. Or, sadly, even really want to finish them. For instance:

Moby Dick.

If you haven’t read it, then you don’t know that there are large sections of this book that completely abandon the narrative and focus on details of whales and the whaling trade that are more appropriate for an entry in an encyclopedia than a “novel.” At least in my opinion. If it were done as a movie, then the screen would go black for long periods of time while a voice read information to you about whales from an encyclopedia. Yep. Time to go get some popcorn.

To be honest, as I read Moby Dick, I feel like I’m simply being toyed with by an intellectual who likes to make other people feel stupid. The imagery and symbolism are everywhere, with no real clues or keys as to what any of it is supposed to mean. And, in fact, it’s hard to care anyway. At least that's how it reads for me. So I haven’t finished it, and I’m not sure I ever will. But I will try. And hopefully I’ll eventually get what all the hub bub is about.

And then there is Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Ah yes. I have my obligatory English major copy of Ulysses. I found it for a quarter in hard back years ago and began working my way through it. And almost from the very beginning I was asking myself, “Why?” Why are you reading this? It is purposely obtuse and distant. It is more like an experiment of a novel than a genuine attempt at trying to write something anyone would actually want to read.” Sort of like Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water” was an experimental film, about film and story telling, that is interesting and even entertaining for people who are into the craft side of those things, but it fails miserably to actually be a meaningful film in it’s own right. It’s too clever for it’s own good, so it ends up being kind of stupid, if that makes any sense. And it’s all in spite of Paul Giamatti, who is always great.

I have never met anyone who finished Ulysses. And it's telling that there are lots of "guides" available for a tidy sum to help you make any sense of the book as you read it. Please. I know some people have finished it, and they are the ones writing the books, trying to explain to the rest of us why it’s a good book. But it’s frankly just too much work.

And there are others as well. I’m still picking my way, page at a time, through a history of the Civil War. It’s good. But too much detail. It’s like reading an encyclopedia. Melville would have loved it, I’m sure.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011


  1. I have read some good novels about the Civil War and learned quite a bit in a round-about way and enjoyed it , try Widow of the South and Enemy Women by Paulette Giles. Alas, I have not read Moby Dick or the Ulysses guy and at my age I will miss all that valuable stuff. I don't feel guilty, should I?

  2. Guilty? Nooooooooo. That's kind of my point. All of the "musts" are not as necessary as some people might say they are.

  3. I am too stupid to read these books. ;)


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