Reading Out of my Comfort Zone

Reading 1984 over the past week has been an interesting experience.  It is very difficult to read, which of course was expected, considering the jump in reading level compared to the books I’ve read before, but I’ve made myself jump up levels of difficulty before.  I’d go as far to say that it is the biggest increase in difficulty I’ve really attempted up to this point, and what’s surprising to me is how I’ve gotten by with it despite that.

The previous jumps up in difficulty, like going from the rather simplistic Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate to the more complicated writing style of El Principito, or the move from very short and mostly childish language of books like Charlie, El Principito, and El Maravilloso Mago de Oz into the firmly young-adult territory of Harry Potter, both proved to be serious undertakings rife with complete failures.  El Principito was constantly frustrating and left a defeated, sour taste in my mouth that persisted until I went back and re-read it, while Harry Potter actually did defeat me, forcing me to go read something else before I could try again.  They were hard, and that was frustrating and demoralizing for me.

So then we get to 1984, which has been harder than either of those jumps, both in the objective sense that 1984 is of course aimed at a higher age than either El Principito or Harry Potter, but also in a relative way.  The step up from Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban to 1984 was much, much steeper.  It’s structured and written with a tremendous amount of complexity, riddled with tons of new vocabulary and types of sentences for me to arduously process step by step, like I’m wading through a pool of molasses.  I talked recently in one of these blogs about it being a while since I’d encountered sentences in fiction that were entirely opaque to me at first read.  Well, here comes 1984, which gives me at least a few of those every chapter.  If I were to know how hard it would be before I started in on it, and were I to make a prediction based on past experiences for how it would go for me, I would have unequivocally stated that I would have given up by now.  The book’s too hard right now, it’s harder than Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal was when I gave up on that, clearly I’m not ready and I’d just need to come at it again with more experience under my belt.

That guess would have been wrong.  As of Monday evening, I’m nearly finished with the book proper, contemplating whether I’m going to read the appendix and/or afterword, and ready to start back in on Harry Potter y el Cáliz de Fuego in the next day or two depending on the answer.  The book didn’t defeat me.  And what’s more, as I stand here contemplating my next moves, I don’t feel beat up and run through the ringer, either.  It’s hard, but that’s all it is, not frustrating or demoralizing, just a challenge.

I’m unsure what the difference is.  It could be that, contrary to the other roadblock books I’ve mentioned, I hadn’t read 1984 before and didn’t have any expectations for how I’d get along with it to be let down about.  Both El Principito and Harry Potter came loaded with the personal baggage of being perennial favorite books, and when I cracked them open and discovered I couldn’t immediately enjoy them the same way as I’ve always enjoyed them in English, maybe that laid the frustration and demoralization on nice and thick.  Maybe without that expectation I could weather the difficulty better.

It could be that, when all is said and done, working as a sort of personal anti-baggage, I don’t particularly like the book.  I mean, it’s fine.  It has a lot of interesting ideas and is appropriately terrifying in all the ways it’s trying to be.  I don’t like any of the characters, and the plot—even affording it the benefit of the doubt from being one of the foundational examples of this sort of plot—is rather lackluster and rote.  Mostly because nothing much happens in the book, preferring to stay inside the mind and thoughts of the main character, Winston, who I remind you isn’t likeable.  The fact that it also contained three chapters of a political memoir written by a fictional character didn’t help matters, either. But really, 1984 isn’t bad, it’s fine.  I just don’t particularly like it.

It could also be a matter of my attitude.  I’ve felt at some point between starting in on Potter and well before starting 1984 that I’d hit a tipping point in how I’ve thought about this journey, where it switched from a question of if I could learn Spanish to when I will be happy with my level of Spanish.  Looking through that framework where there isn’t a question that I’ll make it or not does a lot to shield me from the ego-damage of having a hard time with something.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes me to wade through this pool of molasses, because there’s no current and it’s only up to my knees, so there’s no risk of drowning.  The further along I go, the stronger a base of knowledge I have to lean against, the less intimating the “rest” of the language is to me.  I know I still have a long way to go, but there is a level of comfort with the language that’s growing every day, which includes a comfort with the parts that are difficult and/or beyond me.

Likely, it’s a combination of all those things and other stuff.  It was a good choice of books that was taken at the right time, leading to a very difficult but not particularly punishing experience.  Though, to be honest, I’ve been hoping it would be more than that, too.  I’ve been harboring hopes that it will end up being a wall-breaking experience, where at some point during or after I find myself more or less “leveled up” from the read.  The most striking of the level-ups I’ve had was after the first book at the start of this blog, where it felt like not just reading ability, but everything I was doing had been made much easier as a result.  I’ve had others since then, during reading the first Harry Potter and from watching My Little Pony, where it felt like I busted through and everything got easier, but not to the same degree.  1984 itself has gotten easier as I’ve read it, and the hardest of my TV block, Bojack Horseman, has gotten easier as well, but it still seems too early to make a judgment call on whether there was a wall-break.  We’ll see how I feel about it next week when I’ve had a chance to read and listen to more stuff.

Well then, let’s get into the numbers.

Tuesday 8/21

  • Anki: 150 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 94 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of 1984, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Wednesday 8/22

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 102 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of 1984, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Thursday 8/23

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 92 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 3 chapters of 1984, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 2 episodes of My Little Pony, ~60 minutes

Friday 8/24

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 50 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 1.5 chapters of 1984, ~70 minutes

Saturday 8/25

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 50 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 1.5 chapters of 1984, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Sunday 8/26

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 52 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of 1984, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Monday 8/27

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 50 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 3 chapters of 1984, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes
  • Total Anki: 930 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 490 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 18 tv episodes watched, 360 minutes
  • Total reading: 15 chapters read, 610 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 hours 50 minutes

Another solid week.  Once again I ended up cutting a day’s watching/listening due to football, as well as other things I had to do the same day.  I’m sure there will be some game days where I won’t cut something, but it’s likely going to happen more often than not.

After finishing off the stories in Duolingo, I began doing just practice lessons to fill out the half hour.  They do feel a bit like a waste of time, but sometimes they hit me with stuff that I did need a quick refresher on, so Duolingo reviews for half an hour stays for now.

Also, I ran out of Miraculous faster than I had predicted, because I hadn’t noticed that there isn’t a Spanish dub available for the second season (on Netflix anyway).  So unfortunately, the show got put aside in favor of going back to Magic School Bus, which I have another three seasons of, all with a Spanish dub as far as I know.  The current setup of Magic School Bus, My Little Pony, and Bojack Horseman could be sustainable for a long while, judging by the remaining available episodes for each, though I’m not really sure that’s a good thing.  I do like all the shows and have been reasonably good at watching them daily, but there’s less a chance of stretching my “listening muscles” the way I can with reading by choosing higher level books here and there.  I think I’m going to try more earnestly to find movies aimed towards adult audiences to try and watch, just to shake things up a bit.  I’m sure the static daily schedule is also helpful, but I feel like I could be doing more.

And this week I made an impulse purchase in a Barnes and Noble again, this time coming out with Borges Esencial, a collection of works by Jorge Luis Borges.  I have a feeling it might be further over my head than even 1984 is, and I’m not sure when I’m going to give any of the short stories in it a shot, but shorts are something I’d like to pepper in, between reading novels.  That was something I tried to do with Celia, lo que Dice but found those stories too twee for me.  I’m hoping I get along better with Borges, when the time comes.  I think Harry Potter has waited long enough as it is for a short story to be appealing to try next.

Man, August has really flown by.  Anyway, that’ll wrap up this one.  TTFN.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s