Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Serious Reading

A friend of mine has just finished Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, apparently for fun, and it has me asking a simple question (beyond the obvious "is he mad?"): Why do we sometimes get the urge to read big, serious books that we never otherwise would? Some possible reasons:

  1. Because they are genuinely great books that have stood the test of time.
  2. Because they have a reputation as serious, important books and we want to know everything in the entire universe ever.
  3. Because books like that are a challenge, and we feel like we've achieved something when we finish them.
  4. Because we're utter show offs, who want to boast that we've finished books other people see as intimidating.
I'm trying to remember the last book like this I read. Probably my occasional forays into books on maths/science count, given that history is my normal field. There are lots that I've started and then somehow never got round to finishing, perhaps suggesting that I'm more interested in point two above than point three. Then again, maybe I just get enough big, serious books with my research. Keene's St Paul's certainly counts. That said, I'm still wandering vaguely through the complete works of Shakespeare when the mood takes me. What about the rest of you? What's the last big, awkward book you read?


Staci said...

Well, I can't remember one that I read like that...I gave up struggling through books that others thought were "high class literature." I read what i want and enjoy it for what it is!!

Jodie said...

Daniel Deronda was the last big awkward book where I didn't enjoy the expereince much but 'Quicksilver' was the last big, awkward (full of science and maths whcih are just not my speciality at all) book I loved. This year I'm planning on reading the sort of sequel to 'Quicksilver' and for some mad reason 'The Anatomy of Melancholy'. I asked for it for Christmas because I liked the title before I realised how big it was.

englishcoach said...

The real killer, Proust. I hasten to add that I only managed the first volume, Du Coté de chez Swann, and only under pressure for a seminar, but oddly enough, once I got over the problem that it sent me to sleep, I actually began to enjoy it. I hadn't realised that he also went in for scathing social criticism and lesbian sex, great fun.

stu said...

Well, these are certainly some difficult sounding books.

Staci, I tend to agree, reading what you want is much better than what you think you ought to.

Jodie, I still have the odd unread present lying around myself.

Karen, it's amazing the things we end up reading because we have to.

Heather said...

Good post and I'm so all about numbers 1-3 hehe. I can't think of a book that I've read recently that fits into this. I suppose my annual attempts at The Faerie Queene would count but I've yet to finish it. sigh.