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Three Books I Can’t Read Anymore

July 25, 2013
I read this once (voluntarily).  I don't think I could do it again.

I read this once (voluntarily). I don’t think I could do it again.

As I get older, I find myself getting more patient in some areas and less patient in others.  I don’t get as angry in traffic jams as I used to.  I am much better at avoiding pointless political arguing (I pretend to be tolerant of others’ ideas, but I’m not; I just don’t argue).  But I’m becoming less patient with books.  I find myself putting down books that I would have finished (or actually did finish) 30 years ago.  I don’t know if I’m losing the ability to concentrate or if I’m just losing interest. 

To give you an idea what I’m talking about, below are three books that I’ve tried reading recently and failed: 

A Clockwork Orange– by Anthony Burgess 

I was looking forward to reading this.  I haven’t seen the movie in 30 years, and I only remember a few scenes.  I was really interested in the story, and I started to read the novel, and… and… Nadsat?  I have to learn Nadsat? 

I appreciate the time that the author put in to create a new slang language, but I don’t have the energy to figure it out.  I don’t even pay attention to text lingo.  I still type out “Haha” instead of LOL (and I actually will laugh out loud sometimes).  Maybe 30 years ago, I would have had the patience to figure out the Nadsat, but I don’t even feel like learning real languages people around me speak. 

30 years ago, I probably could have read A Clockwork Orange, but not anymore. 

 *****

The Brothers Karamazov– by Fydor Dostoyevsky 

 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I know this includes two books, but I count them as one because I have the same problems with both of them. 

I must have some old guy’s reading impairment when it comes to long Russian names.  Sometimes the letters in long Russian names start to move around, and it gives me a headache.  For all I know, the word “dyslexia” could have come from a Russian name except it’s not long enough.  I’m not making fun of long Russian names; I’m making fun of my inability to read them anymore.

25 years ago I almost read The Brothers Karamazov.  It was work, but I nearly finished it (I read it too slowly and then academic stuff got in the way).  25 years ago I read Crime and Punishment.  It was easier than The Brothers Karamazov, and I finished it.   20 years ago I almost read War and Peace.  I would have finished War and Peace if it hadn’t been over 500 pages long. 

500 pages has almost always been my limit.  After 500 pages, I’m ready for the story to be over.  I’ve read some of Leo Tolstoy’s short stories (and they’re actually short).  I can get through Russian names when there are only two or three of them and the story is short.   But I can’t get through over 500 pages with dozens of Russian names. 

There was a time when I could have read long Russian novels with lots of Russian names.  25 years ago, I almost did it.  But now?  I’m pretty sure I can’t read a long Russian novel anymore. 

***** 

The Iliad by Homer… if he really existed 

I’ve read two versions of The Iliad. The first was a prose translation that I read for fun (in 6th grade… yet I didn’t get beat up by my peers).  To be honest, I wouldn’t have understood it if I hadn’t been familiar with the old Classics Illustrated comic book.  The second version was a translation in verse that I had to read in college.  I read it… only because my grade depended on it.  But I did it. 

The problem with The Iliad is that there’s too much killing.  I normally don’t have a problem with killing in literature (I read sword & sorcery after all).  But in The Iliad, it’s page after page of who slew whom and who got slain by whom (though whom usually got the worst of the deal).  It’s overkill.  Take out all the who-killed-whom (Homer and his editor probably argued about that all the time, but it’s clear Homer never saw his editor’s point of view), and maybe I’d read it again.

There was a time when I could read The Iliad in verse.  I know because I did it.  But I looked at that translation recently, and I don’t think I could read it again. 

****** 

I know that as we get older our tastes change, but I wasn’t expecting my tolerance for literature to decline like this.  I thought it would get easier (to an extent) as I aged.    I also figure I’m not the only one going through this.  If you’re going through the same thing, what books (or kinds of books) can’t you read anymore?

23 Comments
  1. I usually find that I don’t know half the books you mention, and of those I know I haven’t read half. So I’m surprised to see that I actually finished all of the books in this post. Maybe I should try again in 30 years.

    • Did you have a problem with the Nadsat? It really distracted me (but it doesn’t bother a lot of other readers). Maybe I’ll try it again when I’m emotionally prepared to tackle the language barrier.

      • Less than most people would. Let’s just say that Nadsat isn’t a totally foreign language to me. 🙂

  2. It took me three tries to get into The Hobbit when I was about 12, once invested in Middle-Earth, I couldn’t stop until the last page of the trilogy. I wonder if I would keep trying now…

    I get frustrated because it takes me so long to get through a book these days, I only have time to read books before bed and then only a few pages.

    • I think you’re onto something when it comes to the amount of time we have. There used to be fewer things to do in my disposable time, but now reading is just one of dozens of possible activities rather than one in just a few things. Maybe the greater variety of options makes me (or us) less willing to concentrate. Or maybe it’s my age. Or both.

      • Can’t be age, I think we might be of the same era – so I reject age as the reason. Must be the greater variety of options….

  3. I can’t do anything long-winded anymore. I definitely won’t be able to read Lord of the Rings again. Stories that move quickly and don’t get side-tracked by too much description seem to keep my attention these days.

    • The Lord of the Rings is a good example. The first time I read it, I was ready to be done after Helms Deep, and I took a break (maybe a week or two) before I finished the rest.

  4. I can’t read the bible from cover to cover anymore. I have read it over three times, cover to cover. iI can’t seem to read more 6 chapters a day now. The chapters are all over the bible. I will read at the new normal. The old tried and true methods don’t work anymore. I still read the whole bible, just not cover anymore.

  5. I’m reading The Iliad for the first time at the moment so will try to get the most out of it, in case I suffer from the understandable “can’t reread it” in a few decades! Great post, thanks 🙂

  6. I’m reading The Iliad for the first time at the moment so will try to get the most out of it, in case I suffer from the understandable “can’t reread it” in a few decades! Great post, thanks 🙂

  7. I don’t even want to look at the titles to these books. I started Clockwork Orange not that long ago for the second time thinking maybe I was smarter than I used to be. I was hugely disappointed when I found out I wasn’t. Another book that got good reviews that I was looking forward to reading was Neuromancer. No. It just required too much of a commitment on my part to try to figure out what was going on. I like your blog though. I was able to follow what was going on right through to the end! 😀

  8. This article I wrote might get you interested in a read version of “Anna Karenina.” The same woman is working on volume two of “War and Peace.” I’m looking forward to it, for the reasons mentioned in the post.

    “The Iliad” is a book I’ve read numerous times and in various translations. Good grief the A. Pope one is horrible. I can always guess what the next rhyming word is going to be and it’s intolerable. As far as a prose version, the Butler translation is fine by me. Fitzgerald’s is good also. I’ve become desensitized to killings and such over the years. It used to bother me. Now, I have to contend with it to follow recent US history.

    Haven’t read “the brothers” but between Tolstoy and Conrad, I’m thinking the Russian writers are the best.

  9. I agree with you on The Illiad and Clockwork Orange. Though, I did read Burgess years ago, and finished it, it did little for me, and when I attempted it again years later, I gave up, moved on. Though, I do like several of his other books, Kingdom of the Wicked, Earthly Powers, The Enderby novels.

    I respectfully disagree with the Russian novels … yes, they can be tough, all those long names, but, the translation can make a world of difference. Most of the cheap copies you get of the books were translated years ago, and aren’t very stylistic, and sometimes you feel as if you’re trudging.

    Take a look at the works translated by Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky .. they’re quite good, and, actually make an effort to make the book into something interesting. Their War & Peace translation really is quite fine, and, really is not a struggle to read.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I may try a chapter or two of the translation you recommend. If I can keep track of the characters in the first scene or two of War and Peace, then maybe (just maybe) I can commit to the book… but I need to emotionally prepare myself first.

  10. I’ve decided to read all these books before the decade is over. Does that make anyone feel better?

  11. I’d like to read ALL the Great Books of the Western World series before the End of the year…..(that will never happen – but it’s a nice thought.)

  12. Reblogged this on empower With Hal and commented:
    Great ideas…

  13. I found Clockwork Orange was a royal pain for the first 20 pages until I figured out what everything meant, and then it was okay. I don’t think I’d read the Brothers Kar… again. The only Russian literature I really enjoyed was War and Peace and even then, it was the “War” part much more than the “Peace” part. I probably won’t read it again, at least for a really long time.

  14. I feel you on the too-much-killing-in-the-Illiad point. My friend still brings up an occasion when I said to her while I was reading it “I know that it’s supposed to be about war, but does there have to be so much actual war in it?”

  15. I feel like The Satanic Verses should be on this list … reading it was probably the second time in my entire life that I was just completely unable to finish a book. I think the last time I didn’t finish a book I was 10.

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