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In Defense Of 'Difficult' Books

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Why in the world did you have him read the Salinger book? That's the most over-praised book I've ever read. What's so great about it? Tell me.

I loved Catcher in the Rye. Beautifully-written book. I think it's the most "modern" early 1950s book I've ever read, just a very interesting approach, interesting observations, fascinating insights into a very flawed psyche. Maybe the two biggest flaws with it are a) it's not a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end, and b) it's a story where the narrator harshly judges many of the people around him, but doesn't think to examine his own actions to realize how many bad choices he's made in his life.

I think it's a very vivid, realistic use of language, and I think the internal monologues are excellent. The thing sold 65 million copies, so apparently quite a few people liked it. I think it's an interesting presentation of several episodes in the life of a very psychologically-damaged character who puts himself through a lot of grief (getting thrown out of 4 or 5 schools, causing all kinds of problems to people he knows), not understanding the cause for his depression and anxiety, yet going through life searching for something that's innocent and pure. It's a sad novel, and I don't think that Holden Caulfield is admirable at all, but I think it's brilliant in a lot of ways. Clearly, you think it's "crumby" (a word he uses frequently, which my partner and I got a big laugh out of).

It's sobering for me to reflect that my father was very close to the age of the protagonist -- actually, he was about 19 or 20 at the time of the story -- and it's interesting to think of how the teenagers of the late 1940s looked on life, what they thought of the war that had recently ended, and what they thought lay ahead in the 1950s. For a period novel, it has a very modern feel, and it's also one of the most realistic yet stylized novel I can remember reading.

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Obviously, you got more out of it than I did. But I read it when I was 14, three years after it was published, and I wasn't a cynical teenager like Holden, and so the premise of the book escaped me. I couldn't understand why he was so dumb to see the world in the way he did, or make the decisions he did.

I liked books where I could identify with the protagonist, and I couldn't with that one.

I suppose it's possible I'd have a different response to it today.

C

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I think it is very true that what we bring with us when we read, or even watch a movie for that matter, does colour our reaction to the work.

I have also found that such reaction is not consistent, but dependent on age, experience and our willingness to adapt to different thoughts whose significance once escaped us, or has only just come to be appreciated.

For an orangutan that might mean that humans may suddenly seem to be attractive for purposes best not discussed in polite company.

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It works in other ways, too. When I'm feeling depressed, I enjoy Tchaikovsky's 5th and 6th symphonies and much of Sibelius' music more than when I'm happy. They speak to our darker emotions more eloquently than our brighter ones.

C

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Personally, I've never wanted to learn how to speed read. Reading is my escape from the pressures of everyday life. By taking my time and savoring what I am reading, I can picture, in my mind, what is happening in the book or story, as if watching it on television. Why would I want to trade that for being able to read more books in a shorter amount of time?

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I have a hard enough time reading a story and getting everything slowly. Speed reading might as well look like an eyechart.

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I speed read when I'm reading technical material and all I need is a feel for what it's about. Most of that is filling in new information about a topic that's very familiar. For example, we installed a new backup system for our servers in the office. I already know what backup is all about, the differences between differential and incremental backups, encryption types, compression levels, the different retention schemes, when to schedule a new full backup, etc. etc. What I want to know is additional features and what's different or missing vs the prior backup system we used. Being able to speed read through the help files (yes, even $3,000 backup software comes without a manual -- and it's that expensive because of the number of servers being backed up). Anyway, speed reading let me focus on what was important for me to understand and not spend an afternoon doing it.

I recently finished reading The Art of Fielding. The Kindle version has 517 real pages. I read it in about four and a half hours (a rough guesstimate based on the average 23 minute trip time from the North Berkeley station to the Embarcadero station in SF and the reverse in the evening, plus about 7 minutes on each platform waiting for a train, equals (23+7)*2 or about 60 minutes of reading time per day. I finished the book in 4.5 days, which is 4.5 hours or 270 minutes. That's about 1.9 real pages a minute (there are roughly 1.6 Kindle screens per real page in The Art of Fielding).

Reading on BART depends on the crowd level of the train. In the morning I usually get a seat; in the evening I usually have to stand. Standing is not conducive for reading. Anyway, that's a s.w.a.g. of my reading speed to complete this novel.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I recently finished reading The Art of Fielding. The Kindle version has 517 real pages. I read it in about four and a half hours (a rough guesstimate based on the average 23 minute trip time from the North Berkeley station to the Embarcadero station in SF and the reverse in the evening, plus about 7 minutes on each platform waiting for a train, equals (23+7)*2 or about 60 minutes of reading time per day...

Reading on BART depends on the crowd level of the train. In the morning I usually get a seat; in the evening I usually have to stand. Standing is not conducive for reading. Anyway, that's a s.w.a.g. of my reading speed to complete this novel.

Colin :icon_geek:

Sad to say, anyone attempting Colin's feat on trains in Washington or New York would soon be missing a wallet or a briefcase.

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