Tag Archives: War and Peace

Books I Haven’t Read: ‘ISOLT’ by Marcel Proust; ‘ROTTK’ by Luo Ghanzong

51sCIJ7uTlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Re: Proust's In Search of Lost Time On 2013-11-06, at 2:06 PM, Rinehart, Dianne wrote:     DIANNE RINEHART BOOKS EDITOR AND WRITER TORONTO STAR, ONE YONGE ST. TORONTO, ON., M5E 1E6 416-945-8694 From: Klein, Evan [mailto:eklein@randomhouse.com]  Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2013 2:06 PM To: Rinehart, Dianne Subject: RE: Proust's In Search of Lost Time   Hi Dianne - Here it is. If you need anything else please don't hesitate to ask. Thanks, Evan   Evan Klein  Publicity Support | Random House of Canada  One Toronto Street, Suite 300 | Toronto, ON | M5C 2V6  eklein@randomhouse.com                                                                                                           From: Rinehart, Dianne [mailto:drinehart@thestar.ca]  Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2013 2:00 PM To: Klein, Evan Subject: FW: Proust's In Search of Lost Time   Evan, possible to get this? thanks! D.   DIANNE RINEHART BOOKS EDITOR AND WRITER TORONTO STAR, ONE YONGE ST. TORONTO, ON., M5E 1E6 416-945-8694 From: Rinehart, Dianne  Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2013 1:59 PM To: 'Sharpe, Dan' Subject: Proust's In Search of Lost Time   Hi Dan, is it possible to get a jpeg of this cover? Best, D.   DIANNE RINEHART BOOKS EDITOR AND WRITER TORONTO STAR, ONE YONGE ST. TORONTO, ON., M5E 1E6 416-945-8694   Books I Haven’t Read

‘In Search of Lost Time’ by Marcel Proust

‘Romance of The Three Kingdoms’ by Luo Ghanzong

Not content with merely reading books that can be perceived as challenging (see http://thatdifficultfirstnovel.co.uk/books-i-havent-read/books-i-havent-read-infinite-jest-by-david-foster-wallace/ for my initial forays into the world of challenging literature), I began to desire another way to challenge myself. I was already trying to cram in a number of books within the year, as per my Goodreads challenge, but this didn’t seem enough. Suddenly, it hit me. What if I not only decided to read a certain amount of books within a year, but I included some of the biggest books ever published?

As with anything related to reading and reviewing media of any kind, it can be difficult to not cross over into pretentiousness. There can arguably be no more pretentious a statement than ‘I shall read the biggest books known to man’, because the task is designed to allow you to tell people that you are reading these books, and in the end, that you have finished these books. There is obvious literary merit to these novels, don’t get me wrong, but there is also that self-satisfied smugness that comes with mentioning ‘War and Peace’ when comparing the novels you are currently reading with a group of readers. It is the literary version of waving your hands in the air and shouting ‘look at me’.

I bought ‘War and Peace’ first, before deciding that this wasn’t enough – I even typed into Wikipedia ‘the world’s longest books’ to give myself some other alternative options. Finally, I settled on ‘In Seach of Lost Time’ and ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’. The lure of three of the longest books recorded for the sum total of around five pounds felt like the most amazing bargain ever: so many hours of entertainment for so few pence. I felt a richer man as these books found their way onto my Kindle.

What has stopped me from reading these two books, when ‘War and Peace’ is halfway finished? Would it be too obvious to suggest the length? Anytime I tried to pick the books up, the metaphorical weight of trying to tackle two novels of such length crushed me – I didn’t have time to commit my precious reading time to books that would, according to my Kindle, take me over a day to read…each. What about all the other novels I can’t read as I traipse for the next few months through worlds created by Tolstoy, as well as Proust and Ghanzong?

The only things that ‘War and Peace’ has over these two monolithic masterpieces are that I bought it first, and I started it first. This choice came from a pre-conditioned understanding of ‘War and Peace’ as this monster of literature, a view solidified over the years by cultural and social references towards the book. ‘War and Peace’ became the buzz phrase for a long book, and the punchline to any joke about the length of a piece of writing. Even though the complete volumes of ‘In Search of Lost Time’ dwarf Tolstoy’s novel, the layman or woman KNOWS how big ‘War and Peace’ is.

This brings me back to the discussion on pretentiousness. Maybe the main reason I chose to commit to ‘War and Peace’ first, considering there was nothing stopping me from making the leap directly to Proust or Ghanzong, was for the response I would receive when I told people I was reading it. Just like a joke whose punchline needs to be explained isn’t funny, the impressive nature of reading a large book is somewhat negated if you have to explain to people that that is what you are doing. Since I was guaranteed a bigger reaction to one of the three books, did I subconsciously choose it?

Of the two books, I’m more likely to read Proust than Ghanzong – once again, arguably due to the associations attached to the concept of ‘reading Proust’. Ghanzong loses out just because he had the temerity to be born other the other side of the world. Poor sod.

In the end, my desire to impress people has been my own reading albatross. Not only do I have two weighty tomes sitting there ominously, waiting to be tackled, but I also have to try and commit a chunk of my life every day to the reading a book where no end is in sight. The challenge becomes the chore. Sure, it is enjoyable – but I can only vaguely remember what happened at the start of the story and how the various characters are interlinked. It has become the reading equivalent of walking the wrong way up and escalator. You’ll get where you want to go eventually; you’ll just get there very slowly.

Serves me right for trying to show off.

Books I Haven’t Read: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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In terms of things that make little sense, I thought I’d start off the ‘content’ aspect of my book, reading and writing blog by talking about books that I’ve never read. Considering I try to read a couple of hours a day, you’d think I’d have a lot more to say about the authors I am enjoying, rather than the books I’ve not read yet. This is arguably true, but with the ease of access to eBooks and charity shops, my book collection continues to balloon passed an acceptable, and conquerable size. Some of these books may never see the light of day ever again – if they serve as food for thought, at least their purchase was not in vein.

So – ‘Infinite Jest’. A weighty nemesis if ever I saw one (admittedly, my version is on Kindle, but shush…).

For some reason, I’ve decided that merely reading books wasn’t enough. Perhaps it was due to the fact that year after year, I could never quite remember the books I’d read, or if I could, I’d struggle to remember plot or characters. I started to use Goodreads to log my reading, and was introduced to the Reading Challenge. I began to challenge myself to read so many books a year – a commitment in number in the same way that my buying of running shoes was an commitment in cost to running the marathon. Now that I said I’d read 75 books in a year, I would – and I did.

One of the books I didn’t read was ‘Infinite Jest’. Shortly after I made myself the challenge to read a certain number of books, I felt that this wouldn’t be enough. Why don’t I challenge myself in terms of content as well, really up the ante? In a phrase, show off. I started Googling the most difficult books to read, or challenging reads, or any other number of phrases designed to make myself feel smug. This was at the point I came across David Foster Wallace and ‘Infinite Jest’. It also led to the purchasing of ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ by Thomas Pynchon, another novel which hasn’t had its e-spine cracked yet.

When I go all in, I go all in – I bought three books by David Foster Wallace just off of reviews and recommendations, without even reading so much as a word of his writing. ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’ and ‘Consider The Lobster’ were the other two purchases; collections of essays, a skill in which I’d heard Wallace was more adept in. I was excited, and couldn’t wait to jump in.

But I was worried.

What if I don’t get it? What if it isn’t for me? What if I am defeated within the first five pages, left to wallow around a Wallace-less world, those dedicated enough to get it mocking me with their thesauri in hand?

I tried to read ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’ and enjoyed what I understood of the first couple of essays. His writing was genuinely funny when I actually knew what was going on, though his preponderance for using highfaluting vocabulary at perfectly cromulent times made it hard going. I probably didn’t help myself; I used to read it in bed, at the end of a hard day at work. The set-up was never going to be right in this context to fully understand the difficult conceptual ideas that Wallace was discussing in such loquacious ways (can’t beat them, join them…). It was the only Kindle book I’ve read that had the ‘time left in book’ (a cruel invention if ever there was one) figure always going up as soon as I’d read a page or two – it was the metaphorical roadblock after the motorway of a Lee Childs or Peter James story.

Wanting a challenge, but not desiring to stop every few lines to seek out meanings of words, I never really attempted to tame ‘Infinite Jest’. Even now, when I do fancy a crack at it, I’m put off by my other ongoing challenge – to read ‘War and Peace’. It may be a longer book, but at least I’m guaranteed to understand what is going on…mostly.

Will I ever read the book? I really hope so. One time in my life when I’m less skittish about the books I’m reading and I can give over sufficient time to really involve myself in the book, maybe I will. Until then, it’ll just remain another Book I Haven’t Read.