Sunday, May 13, 2012

On Avoiding "Difficult" Books

Sometimes I feel guilty that I often (not always, but often) avoid “difficult” books these days. I mean difficult in two senses: first, books that are very experimental in their prose styles, and second, books that are about very painful topics. When I was younger, I would take on books in both categories, because I wanted to read everything and to know everything that literary people knew. I devoured it all. I would never re-read now some of the books I inhaled back then. Although I still read very widely, in various types of literature and by various authors of various backgrounds, I tend to focus on novels about human relationships in somewhat familiar settings. But I occasionally think about how I am likely missing out on important books that I really “should” read, and would benefit from, and maybe even like better than I think ahead of time that I would. Let me give just one concrete example from the many that I could give. In the current (5/14/12) New Yorker (p. 121), there is a brief review of “The Hunger Angel” by Herta Muller. Although I am attracted by the phrase “moving novel,” as soon as I read that the book is “set in a Russian Gulag at the end of the Second World War,” and that “[s]urviving on bread and cabbage soup, the internees are maddened by starvation” and “steal food from one another and clothes from still warm corpses,” I immediately mentally retreat from the prospect of reading the book. I see the word “bleak” and am too much of a reading coward to face this book. I fully admit that this is a failing on my part, and I am somewhat reluctant and even embarrassed to write about it here. I don’t know, though, if I feel guilty enough to actually change my reading habits. I do resolve to push myself at least a little more in this regard.


  1. Or maybe you simply don't feel like diving into a downer for the duration of the book? Personally, I read several excellent books on the holocaust, one after another, and now I really don't care to focus on that anymore. I think it's perfectly fine to go for joy rather than misery. I think it may just be a seasoned reader's prerogative.


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