The challenge of challenging books

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alastair Harper from the Guadrian asks if reading challenging books is really worth it:

Nowadays I wonder how I could have read so many books that were such heavy going and which I so clearly disliked. It only shows what a cowardly, deferential youth I was. Rather than find my own tastes, my own pleasures, I tortured myself by slavishly emulating someone else's idea of a good time.

He makes the case for following one's own tastes instead of reading books from the canon because you are "supposed" to read them. If your choices happen to be challenging, so be it, just don't torture yourself because some literary grandee says it's good for you.

I'm just as guilty of avoiding long or supposedly difficult books, not so much because I fear the challenge but because it would slow me down. I like to ring that bell and mark off another book on my list. But then again, reading Infinite Jest last summer was perhaps the most rewarding reading experiences I've ever had. Maybe the trick is reading along with others.