Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A For Effort?

Note: This is a repost from a different blog which most of you would have no reason to read; therefore I feel no compunction about reposting it. If it's "new to you," it's new, right? Good rule of thumb for cars, jeans, boyfriends, and blog posts.

"Tolstoy wrote for the masses, the common man. It's completely untrue that you have to be some sort of genius to read his stuff."

-Rory Gilmore

Okay, so a couple of things here. First of all, have you ever noticed that the only people who make statements like that are, in fact, geniuses (or at least much smarter than you)? Because, you only have to watch 5 minutes of Gilmore Girls to be fully aware of the fact that Rory Gilmore is supposed to be a smart cookie. Definitely smarter than the average cookie (although the average cookie has chocolate chips in it, which are yummy, so it all evens out in the end).

And, I think she has read more books than the Library of Congress contains. A bold statement? Indeed it is, but consider the following. TV time is different from our time. TV time is kind of like Santa time... basically, an hour lasts just as long as it needs to last in order to get from Point A to Point B in the plot. And people are whatever age they feel like being for as long as they feel like being that age. Rory was 16 for two years, as an example. That's the kind of time this kid has to read all the books ever written by Tolstoy and Dickens and whoever else wrote really long, confusing novels. She has had A LOT of time to read and absorb aforementioned really long, confusing novels so that she could then go on to make moronic statements like that, not realizing that it's easy for her to say everyone should be able to understand this stuff when she already understands this stuff!

The point I'm trying to make here (yes, I do have one) is that when it comes to reading Dostoevsky (he's not exactly the same as Tolstoy I realize-- some nonsense about being a "different man" who lived a "different life" but for the purposes of this rant he's close enough-- I might even call them Tolstoevsky from now on), I am a complete hopeless idiot. I can't even spell his name, for God's sake. I had to look it up, and then use the copy paste function. Never mind actually slogging through an entire novel. I have been trying for around three years to read The Brothers Karamazov. Can. Not. Do. It. Where. Is. Stove? Must. Stick. Head. In!

So my dear, sweet, gentle, well-meaning sister who I'll stab to death one of these days, recommended I start with something easier (not in quite so many words, naturally, or the aforementioned stabbing would have already occurred... I don't take constructive criticism particularly well, especially when it comes in response to copious whining). She handed me a copy of Notes From Underground, which certainly is easier than The Brothers K, provided you define "easier" as "just as fiendishly difficult, but at least it's shorter."

It is shorter, almost to the point of being short-- just over 100 pages, which I actually think was kind of malicious of my little pal Fyodor, because it makes clueless morons like myself think that we actually have a shot at successfully slogging through the thing. I can just see him finishing this devilish little book, giggling to himself as he pictured all the people who would try to read it and then experience failure on such a massive scale that they gave up reading and writing altogether, thus eliminating his competition forevermore. I know what you're thinking-- yes, that is quite a journey he had to take there, but this is a guy who thinks nothing of fifteen-page sentences, so you can see how long journeys come somewhat naturally to him.


I spent the last week sitting on the subway trying to gut this thing out. Now, for those of you out there who, for whatever reason, such as a will to live, do not live in this grand cosmopolitan snake pit I affectionately refer to as NYC, here is some advice for you should that will-to-live thing ever reverse itself without warning (perhaps after reading some Tolstoevsky!): always bring two books on the subway. This is sage advice, my friends. It's right up there with "Look both ways before crossing the street" and "Don't pick your nose in public." Trust me, you'll be glad you listened to me.

If you do not have two books, if you only bring one, and you finish that one before your ride is over or it gets boring or stupid or whatever, then you will have no alternative but to focus intently on the body odor of the large man sitting beside you. Or, it could be a woman. Or possibly a well-groomed Newfoundland. There's really no way to tell. Anyway, a good book isn't a complete guarantee against noticing the body odor, but it does help to stave off the nausea. Well, sometimes. Don't ask about the other side of sometimes-- some stories are better left untold (Notes From Underground, as a completely random example).

So, bring two books. I, silly little dear that I am, did NOT bring two books while I was reading NFU. Or trying to read it (kind of ironic that I was underground almost the whole time). I brought ONLY THAT BOOK, for exactly that reason-- I didn't want an alternative book, because I knew if I had one I would definitely not ever get around to reading Notes From Underground.

And God knows, that would be sad. Tragic like the Holocaust. So, I did read the whole thing, and I even understood what was going on during a whole solid eleven pages, and now here's my question: how much does reading comprehension count when one is reading a classic? I mean, do I get to claim that I read Notes From Underground by sheer wish-fulfillment? Does it matter that I couldn't understand the words, so long as I read the words? Also, do I get kicked out of the I Read Books For Fun Club because I am not Rory Gilmore and also not my sister, because they can understand these books and adore these books and I can't, because I am thicker than a concussed troll when it comes to classics, because I know I can't read them because they have words longer than two syllables, but I try sometimes, because I feel like I should for personal growth and attempting this has obviously strengthened my run-on sentence skills a little, and damn it, that should count for something, right?

What do you think, guys? A for effort? Please?? Help me out here, I'm just an average cookie!! I have yummy chocolate chips, though!!


Mommy bird said...

Well, I admire the fact that you tried to read it. I wouldn't have lasted 2 pages. Being old, I figure I don't have as much time to read boring stuff and if it doesn't catch my attention....
You go girl:)

Anonymous said...

Stupid Russian men with their stupid writing. Dostoevsky was the only book that I actually cheated my way through in AP English back in the day. See, I can't even remember which one of his books it was, it was just that painful.

red_wagon said...

I always bring a book and a magazine. Gets me through the boring parts. And helps me keep my focus AWAY from the creepy guy across from me staring and drooling...

You get an A++ for effort, and desire to try. Most people would just say "Screw it," but you said "screw it" WHILE trying to read it, so that's worth 2 +s. And some chocolate chips.

Lady Snark said...

mom... This happened a long time ago and to the best of my knowledge, I haven't touched a classic since. It's better that way. For all of us.

anon... My high school English teachers apparently knew better than to subject us to this torment. I suspect there would have been mutiny. Arthur Miller was much more our level.

red_wagon... Yes, saying "screw it" WHILE MAKING AN ATTEMPT AT SOMETHING counts for more. If only because you say so and it's in my favor here :-)

Deanna said...

You should get extra credit because of the run on sentences! THAT takes effort - trust me, I know!

(And do I get credit for reading Pride and Prejudice if I get the movie from the library? Didn't watch it - but I brought it home...)