Long Lasting Books

I can’t believe we’re already reaching the end of 2011… and I have quite a handful of reviews about finished books to post. But before I get to those, I need to talk a bit about two books that I was already reading a year ago… and haven’t finished yet.

Yes, you read it right, a full year, and I’m not talking about a poetry collection from which I could take a peek from time to time.

No, I’ve not attempted to read A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) and got lost somewhere in the middle (Proust is the most fearsome literary classics that spring to French people’s mind).

No, I am not talking about bad, boring books either. Normally, if a book doesn’t engage me for a month or so, I give myself permission to drop it, and if it has an excellent reputation I might have another try in a whole different context (for example in summer when it didn’t work out in winter, or during my commute when I tried during the holidays, because I strongly believe that certain books “work” better in certain environments and not in others – okay, perhaps I’m just having a shifting mood).

Those are special books because I don’t want to drop them, but I can’t really read them in long stints – and they’re both quite different.

The first is A Woman in Berlin, a diary of the “liberation” of Berlin by Soviet troops, from April to June 1945. It gives firsthand account of the occupation and the massive rapes of the women, and it’s a harrowing read. To make it even challenging, I set about to read it in original German (such was the available copy, and I figured the language distance would be helpful), but my progress into the book has been painfully slow so far. Nevertheless, I’m still trying and will hopefully finish it next year (two full years would be somehow over the top…)

The second book couldn’t be further away from 1945 Berlin. Imagine 14th century Greenland. Yes, I’m still reading Jane Smiley’s Greenlanders, and although I’m fascinated by this deeply original story, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the richness of this saga, told in something that reproduces Medieval language and ways of thinking. There’s no way I could gulp this in big bites, all the more as my edition has tiny fonts and narrow margins (ah, I know something about cost cutting, but this one comes at the expense of my eyes).

The result of this extended reading period is a bit ambivalent. Meaning, mostly, that I feel guilty of not reading them more often and more regularly. But the least I can say is that they’re memorable.

That’s why I thought that these two were well worth a few words this year, but hopefully you’ll get proper reviews at some point in 2012 when I’ll be done with them!

Have you ever read books for such a long time? What did you take out of the experience?

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7 thoughts on “Long Lasting Books

  1. Sometimes when it is a long and complex book I pace myself and may even post a comment on each section, as I go. I did that with Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook. That was the only way I could get through it.

    I am trying Proust (in English) but am only about halfway through. I read maybe one book a year.

    On the other hand, sometimes I can’t put a book series down and go right through to the end, feeling sorry when it is over. Paul Scott’s Raj Quartette was like that for me. I think we have to be comfortable with our own reactions, knowing that there is no single “right way” to go.

    • You’re very courageous to read Proust! I have made it through the first 2 or 3 years ago, with the idea to finish “one day”… and until then I have resorted to various movie adaptations that were very interesting too. It is very “loaded” in French culture (people who have read it all are very snob about it) so I find it a bit daunting.

  2. I’m all about mood reading, too! I won’t admit to how many books have been shifted from my own reading pile back into the TBR pile because I just wasn’t quite in the mood for them (and nothing was wrong with it otherwise). I read A Woman in Berlin and found it a painful book to read–maybe it is worse to be a woman and read it knowing how powerless women can be in such a situation. I can see how easy it is to read that one slowly! I’m glad I read it, though, and think it is well worth sticking it out. Thankfully it isn’t terribly long. I’ve never attempted Proust, but he seems a long term read in any case! I have a box of Madeleines made by Godiva by the way waiting for me for Christmas and I was thinking I really should pick up Proust to go along with them….that may not happen though! 🙂 Good luck catching up on reviews (I’m behind too and may just give up at this point and start fresh next year).

  3. Most of the books on my bedside table have been there almost a year, and some longer still! I find the information-dense book hard to read for any length of time, and they somehow accumulate. I was going to be good and try to finish a whole lot of them before the end of the year, but realised after about 24 hours that it wasn’t going to happen! Never mind. The great thing about books is that they don’t come with use-by dates.

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