You know the feeling. For weeks you’ve breezed through book after book but now you’re stuck. You’re still interested in the story, so you won’t give up, but it’s just not easy to read.
It stinks. And I feel like that right now, actually. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked was on my to-read list for ages (because retellings are awesome!) so I was disappointed to realize that I was not merrily skipping through it, as it were. Instead, I am slogging through it. (Interesting concept, just not written the way I would like.) It’s silly to be frustrated by this and yet I am because, dang it, I am a Bookworm and I should never admit that a book is difficult! I should read effortlessly!
Except, that’s not very realistic. Not every book is as easy to read as The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Hunger Games or, god help me, the James Patterson Pageturners. (Actually, forget I mentioned those. They’re a waste of time. Even very short amounts of time.) Not every book should be that easy to read. Challenges are good. How else will we learn, or expand our bookish interests?
With that in mind, what makes some books more difficult to read than others? I chose four things, listed from least to most difficult, and how I like to read them.
This isn’t a common problem for me – most of the books I read are at least three hundred pages – but every so often, I do hit a roadblock. Based on the amount of time I have to read (and my interest in the story, which varies from book to book), I usually read a three-hundred-page book in two or three days.
By that logic, I should finish a thousand-page monstrosity like A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin in ten days at the most, right? Um. No. Why? Because I have never found a really long book (upwards of five hundred pages) with a fast plot. Maybe I just don’t know where to look but in my experience, it doesn’t happen. Long books have complex plots – that’s why they’re so long. And that’s why it took me a month and a half to read A Storm of Swords.
How to read super-long books: I have two methods. The first has me attempting to read the whole entire book in an afternoon, or an evening, or a day. The catch, of course, is that while I certainly have free time, I don’t typically have that much free time. And when I do I don’t use it all for reading – there are other things I love to do, like writing!
The other way involves reading part of a long book, and then reading part of another book, and then repeating the whole thing until you have finished the long book. The other book can be another long book. It can be a short book. It can be several books. Whatever. It just keeps me from becoming bored, because if I don’t do that then I end up reading the long book and nothing else for like a week. And that’s just not my thing. That’s boring. I like to be engrossed in multiple stories at once.
I love vocabulary. I think I’m pretty good at the subject – I stopped studying it a long time ago because I learned all fifteen-hundred-plus words in the vocabulary book in one month. So while vocabulary doesn’t usually give me trouble, when it does, it’s very frustrating. I keep feeling like I’ll miss an important aspect of the story because I guessed that a word meant X but it actually meant Y, which puts a whole new spin on the sentence in which it appears.
William Shakespeare’s plays are a good example of this. His works aren’t difficult to read because he wrote about boring stuff. Are you kidding me? Deaths everywhere! And quite a lot of crude jokes to boot. No, his stories are difficult to read because nowadays we don’t speak like he wrote. I have never been able to read any works of Shakespeare without referring to “translations” to modern English, because I’m not familiar with the vocabulary.
But you know what? That’s not a bad thing. I’m glad I read some plays and even gladder that I finally understood what was going on because otherwise, I would’ve missed out on some awesome stories.
How to read books with difficult vocabulary: With a dictionary nearby. No, really. Yeah, it isn’t the most fun way to read – stopping frequently to look up a meaning – but otherwise you’ll be in the dark when it comes to meanings and that’s even less fun.
Consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The individual books aren’t that long, really. All right, so they’re not two hundred pages – try adding another hundred pages to each – but they shouldn’t be as difficult to read as they are.
Well, Tolkien was many things, many wonderful things, but a pacing-genius he was not. True, some parts of the trilogy are complex, but others are quite straightforward: the Fellowship walks from point A to point B. And it takes twenty pages, because each footstep, bathroom break, and nap is recounted in great detail.
And then the sections describing battles proceed at normal speed, or even faster than that. It’s bizarre. It’s the reason I procrastinated on reading Lord of the Rings and then took a couple of months to read it. It was lovely, truly, but it is so. Freaking. Slow.
How to read slow books: Don’t read these at night or you’ll fall asleep.
No, but really. Don’t. Unless you want to fall asleep. On a slightly more serious note, what I like to do with slow-paced books is, again, alternate with other stories. Quick stories. Short stories.
I encounter difficult styles of writing most often with the classics. This quality is partially related to vocabulary – flowery, over-the-top usage of words – but there’s more to it than that, I think.
Many old books have sentences that go on and on, for ages and ages, because the authors were annoying little twerps who thought they were just the greatest people on the planet and confused quality with quantity, and it’s quite difficult to read that type of writing because by the time you reach the end of the sentence you have forgotten how it originally began or what point it was supposed to lead to.
Am I right?
How to read books with overly complex, dense styles of writing: Read something drastically different at the same time to stop yourself from becoming frustrated. I don’t mean literally at the same time, you know. Duh. Unless you can do that, in which case you’re far more talented than I am. But try something else that doesn’t require you to read every sentence six times in order to work out what the author meant.
And on that note, I think tonight I’ll finish The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and continue with Wicked some other time.
And on another note, I just realized that I meant to include books with sensitive subject material because those are difficult too. But I forgot. Gah. Anyway.
What qualities do you think make books difficult? And what was the most difficult book you have ever read?