Reading Books You Don’t Enjoy

If you think that title's true for ALL books, we might not get along.

This week I finished reading Cien Años de Soledad.  Normally, I reserve mentioning that sort of thing until the weekly numbers and recap section of this blog, but in the case of this book, it proved to be an especially heavy challenge.  Not in a difficulty of reading sense, though it was a pretty tough, artistically-minded book with complex language, but rather in the sense of how hard it was to stomach finishing the book, and that aversion to it combined with the fact that I pushed through to the end felt like something I ought to talk about in general.

I think, in the broad sense, that “literary classics” get a bad rap.  I do understand why lots of people aren’t fond of them, though.  You don’t get a choice about reading a lot of them since they’re a staple of the school system here in the US, which can easily lead to bitterness toward the genre.  Which doesn’t even factor in how dry they can be, like the writers thought that being entertaining or engaging was too vulgar for real art, or something.  Combine that with the fact that being “important” and being “good” are not synonymous, and lots of people are ready to write off the classics as boring, pretentious crap that’s only useful for passing English classes.  Which, sometimes, is true, I think *cough*The Scarlet Letter*cough* but is ultimately selling classics short.  Some books are difficult to read, break rules, challenge the reader, and result in something obtuse but thought-provoking.  You aren’t necessarily happy to read them, but content with having read them.  It’s a taste that isn’t for everyone, but can really click with certain types of people.  In that way they are truly the Dark Souls of reading.

No, but for real, I tend to like classics.  They can have stuffy writing styles and choices that fly in the face of modern sensibilities, and they bury their ideas in shrouds of metaphor, but those things aren’t necessarily negative.  It requires approaching them from a different perspective.  You need to put in more work with them, reading them slower and more carefully and putting up with their more prickly parts.  And some books have very prickly parts.  It can be a little thankless and take up a bit of energy, which is why I’m only up for classics every once in a while, but getting a taste for them and putting in the book can feel very rewarding.

Cien Años de Soledad was not rewarding to finish.

I’m hesitant to just call it a case of a boring, pretentious crap book with no use outside of getting a passing grade.  The themes and metaphor were there, and for the right person putting in the work, I could see it being rewarding.  I put in the work, dug through the themes, and found them all distasteful and unpleasant.  The book followed the rise and fall of a Colombian family over the hundred year history of a small town they founded.  A family of awful people, all flawed and self-absorbed in some manner or another, who are shone upon and punished by fate in ways that are supposed to be resonant.  The problem is, the time and perspective of that resonance was often repugnant to me.

The simplest example surrounds the wife of Coronel Aureliano Buendíá, one of the original characters of the family from the very start of the book.  The coronel is the second son of the original founder, who is quiet and more solitary than his older brother, and takes to sculpting tiny fish out of gold and rubies, before being thrust into the role of rebellion coronel through a series of civil wars all over Central America, something that he is both drawn to and alienated by, driving him into further isolation from others.

Sounding like the typical layers of metaphor classic?  Yeah, sure.  What if I told you that before he was dragged into war, he fell in love with and married Remedios, the daughter of the mostly-useless local representative of the government.  Remedios is nine years old at the time.

Okay, so the book wasn’t gross about it, or I would have thrown it across the room.  It treated this as bizarre of him, and the family of the wife-to-be (who, again, is a nine-year-old) reacted with some level of outrage…before allowing the marriage to be arranged and happen, seemingly without care of Remedios’ feelings on the subject.  She seems happy, if vacant from having general opinions, and takes to “growing up fast” in order to be “a good wife” pretty well.  Up until she dies in childbirth.  An event that has some lasting effect on the family, and perhaps a deep one on Coronel Aureliano Buendíá, driving him into his war-torn solitude, but is then forgotten, reduced to a name that is passed down through the generations and a daguerreotype print on the wall of the forever-nine ancestor.

This is, ultimately, the book’s idea of divine justice and punishment.  Coronel Aureliano Buendía believes himself to be too emotionally distant to find love, is proven wrong for falling in love with a child, and then has that removed from him, driving him into a winding path of destruction that scars the country and his family in a way that ends almost a full century later, with the last of his children seeking refuge from the government at the family house, only to be shot in the head by the police when his grand-nieces and nephews open the door.  It’s all very meaningful or something.

Meanwhile, Remedios’ punishment for being molested by a grown man is to die.

This is only one little sliver of a book that seethes hatred for women.  That would be a huge problem if it also didn’t seethe hatred for men, reducing it to just something uncomfortable throughout, like a vague itch that won’t go away.  Macondo, the fictional town that was split apart by civil war after civil war, mortally wounded by the banana trade, is ultimately left to dry up and be eaten by ants just like the family that founded it, and the reader is not left with the sense that they ought to mourn for it, or for the family.  I just wish it was that simple to forget.

This is starting to turn into a book review, so let’s take a step back here.  I didn’t read Cien Años de Soledad to pass a class, and while the intrinsic value of reading it to have read a book is falling a little flat for me, I did read for the extrinsic value of gaining more experience reading in Spanish, and in that I think it was a very worthwhile experience.  Could I have read something else instead?  Of course, and I probably would have enjoyed myself more—I am already enjoying myself substantially more reading El Mundo Según Garp—but life sometimes requires facing and reading disagreeable things.  I am unlikely to forget the experience of reading Cien Años de Soledad anytime soon.  The experience may haunt me.  Maybe being haunted by something that I read entirely in Spanish is a blessing in an unpleasant disguise.

Anyway, let’s take a look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 1/07

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~70 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Radio Ambulante, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, ~70 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 1/08

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~110 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Radio Ambulante, 1 episode of Carole & Tuesday, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 1/09

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 3% of Cien Años de Soledad, 2% of El Mundo Según Garp, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of TED en Español, 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 1/10

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of El Mundo Según Garp, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of TED en Español, 1 episode of Daneil San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 1/11

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: .5 cases in Ghosts of Miami, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 3 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 1/12

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of El Mundo Según Garp, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, 1 episode of La Zona Cero, 1 episode of Ryuyin Ovi, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 1/13

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of El Mundo Según Garp, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, 1 episode of TED en Español, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/4 books and .5 video game cases, 590 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 10 YouTube episodes, 1 tv episode, and 5 podcasts, 490 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 18 hours 0 minutes

A pretty good week.  After having some weird schedule interruptions week to week thanks to the holidays, this was the first one that was back to normal.  Normal for then, anyway, as this last Monday was the start of my new work hours, but still normal any which way.  My reading has slowly progressed during the work week, and based on how the new work schedule seems to be like from Monday, this trend is going to continue.

In addition to the book stuff, I also tried an episode of the youtube channel Ryuyin Ovi based on a random twitter retweet, and while it was enjoyable enough, the channel is rather scarce on content, so I’m unsure if it’ll show up again.  It was fine, though, and about anime, which as a garbage human is a youtube topic that I’m into.

I’m also slowly but surely working my way through Ghosts of Miami when I have time.  I’m enjoying the game quite a bit, the characters are a lot of fun and it’s helped along a lot by a pretty thumping soundtrack.  I have noticed a lot of flaws with the translation work, which is interesting to be able to take note of.  Most of it’s fine, but there are some occasional lines that weren’t translated that well and I can tell they’re kinda clunky.  There are also a few throwaway lines and things that they missed and left in English, which is pretty interesting.  It’s mostly solid, though, so this isn’t a callout or anything.  That sort of work is extremely difficult and thankless, and the fact that it’s 98% great in a visual novel style game is commendable.

Speaking of rading in general, it’s amazing how much more grounded I feel in this project now that I’m back to a book that I’m enjoying, so I’m very thankful that I’ve moved onto El Mundo Según Garp.  It’s kinda funny, too, because a lot of people who describe this book as a “classic” as well, and after all that talk before about things being dense and for when I’m in the right mindset for it, this fits the bill for me at the moment.  I’m now just starting to panic over what to read next.  And I have no ideas there.  Uh-oh.

Well, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

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