The Books that Were My Waterloo

After two months of disjointed reading, I finally finished Tale of Two Cities. It is quite rare for me to drag out a book for so long. This usually happens because of lack of time or when life gets in the way.However, I had sufficient time in my hands: a long series of free weekends. So what was the problem you ask? I’ll tell you.

Every time I sat down to read Tale of Two Cities, I could not go beyond two chapters. after finishing the second chapter, the words stopped making any sense to me.

I took a lot of breaks while reading Dickens’ novel. In the breaks that stretched out for days and weeks, I read Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta (more on this brilliant graphic novel in a later post), Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Everyone Should Be a Feminist and a couple of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays.

Tale of Two Cities became my almost-Waterloo, the book I probably won’t be able to conquer.

I did finish it, though. I pushed myself through the book. Yes, I needn’t have struggled through it. Yes, I could have just skimmed over the pages and claimed that I am done with the book. But, that would have been cheating. It would not have been fair to the book. Also, I do not like reading that way. I think this kind of floating-over-the-surface reading is of the superficial kind.

Thus, my righteous claims of a conscientious reader made, this was the question I asked myself: Why was I unable to warp my head around the book?

I claim to be a voracious reader. I have read the worst kinds and the thickest kinds of books. Not to brag about it, but I have devoured Virginia Woolf’s writing and come away immensely gratified. So when I get inside a book I am unable to get through, it bothers me. A lot. I go through a phase of reader’s guilt.

The answer to my question? Honestly,  I don’t know. The thing I know is this: Tale of Two Cities was not the only book I found hard to conquer. So, dear readers, I now present to you the books that I nearly gave up and dropped to never pick up again.

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Moby Dick (Herman Melville): When people see my dog-eared copy of Moby Dick, they probably assume that I have devoured this book a dozen times.  The truth? I spent ten months reading this tome. Not because I wanted to fathom the depths of the relationships between  Ahab and the great whale, but because I found the book…not engaging enough.

I confess: I skipped pages just to get it done with. I probably read twenty other books while still struggling with the adventures of the Pequod and its crew. I regret to say I don’t remember more than half the plot of Moby Dick. I either fell asleep or into a stupor in which I was reading but was thinking of something else.

It was after this experience that I came to the conclusion that I ought to give undivided attention to a book, no matter how tedious it is to me.

Except, I really could not stick to my resolution.

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Ulysses (James Joyce):  This book shattered my reading principles and ideals. I was curious and the idea was to read this book just for pleasure. Wrong idea, big mistake.  I couldn’t even get past the first page!

A couple of years later, I made a second attempt at reading. The intention this time was not to know the “story”, but to understand what is so great about the book. I failed, again. I was barely able to drag myself to the end of the first chapter. My mind became numb under Joyce’s excessive imagery and symbolism. I gave up.

The book has been sitting untouched in my shelf for ages. Maybe I’m imaging it, but the book gives off vibes that it doesn’t care whether it gets any attention from me.

After a long time, I laid my hands on the book. Why? To take a stunning photo for this post, of course. Does it matter that I hardly read it if I can take really cool pictures and post it all over social media to claim my pseudo-intellectualism?

Ulysses, my grandest Waterloo, but what a great photogenic cover you have!

I don’t feel so terrible about it, you know. Because I am not the only who struggled through  James Joyce’s magnum opus  The Goodreads page of Ulysses is a proof of this.  Going through the Goodreads reviews saved me a guilt trip.

The upside is this: Unlike the French emperor Napolean Bonaparte’s decline after the Battle of Waterloo, these books didn’t cause a decline in my reading, just led to a bit of a slump.

Tell me I  am not alone in this. 😀 Have you ever encountered a book that you just could not read?

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