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How hard are you willing to work when reading a book?


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Or-How hard do you think you should have to work to read a book? Or, how much responsibility does an author have to their readers to make things intelligible? Do you like symbolism for its own sake, or does it need to flow organically from the story and the characters themselves? Obviously there are no right or wrong answers here.

Edited by Dan
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I am not really willing to work that hard, I hate to admit.  I have very much enjoyed certain "difficult" books, but not as a steady diet.  And I've certainly stopped reading other books because the effort to enjoyment ratio was too high.  As I have admitted more than once, I'm not good at noticing symbolism and I'm not good at figuring out what it means if there is some.  

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I am not really willing to work that hard, I hate to admit.  I have very much enjoyed certain "difficult" books, but not as a steady diet.  And I've certainly stopped reading other books because the effort to enjoyment ratio was too high.  As I have admitted more than once, I'm not good at noticing symbolism and I'm not good at figuring out what it means if there is some.

 

I seldom actually notice symbolism as I'm reading. If the book is intriguing enough that I think about it when I'm not reading I will periodically realize that something was symbolic. But then I'm usually left wondering whether I interpreted the symbolism as the author intended. Although I usually conclude that, since I can't know what the author intended, then my interpretation is correct, for me.
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Or-How hard do you think you should have to work to read a book? Or, how much responsibility does an author have to their readers to make things intelligible? Do you like symbolism for its own sake, or does it need to flow organically from the story and the characters themselves? Obviously there are no right or wrong answers here.

Naturally you are aware that there is no 'have to' or 'should have' when it comes to leisure reading. I have to admit, though, since Meg introduced me to stream of consciousness via Orlando, I just can't get enough. So, yes, I am willing to work to read a book. As for symbolism, sometimes I get it, most of the time I don't. That's what study notes are for, imho.

 

I do not read s-o-c every book that I pick up (I finished Alice in Wonderland this morning for example). Before that I entertained myself with 600+ pages of China Miéville's Iron Council. The challenge there was trying to figure out which words he'd made up and which were in the dictionary, in addition to following the story which, as ever, was not run of the mill.

 

Before that I read Kafka which is usually considered 'difficult'. I didn't find it difficult and pretty much got the symbolism in that.

 

That said, when I read The Old Man and the Sea, as far as I was concerned I read a story about an elderly fisherman who came home with a fish skeleton.

 

I think authors should write what they write and that it's up to the reader to decide whether or not s/he wants to engage. There is, after all, a wide choice when it comes to reading material which makes it necessary to choose what you like to read. If you don't feel like working for the story then don't work for it. Some of my favourite books are The Mallen Series by Catherine Cookson. There's no work in that! And you can't say that The Godfather, another favourite, is high brow literature.

 

I have the time and I have the inclination, so that's what I do. It's all about self entertainment, imho.

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Naturally you are aware that there is no 'have to' or 'should have' when it comes to leisure reading. I have to admit, though, since Meg introduced me to stream of consciousness via Orlando, I just can't get enough. So, yes, I am willing to work to read a book. As for symbolism, sometimes I get it, most of the time I don't. That's what study notes are for, imho.

 

I do not read s-o-c every book that I pick up (I finished Alice in Wonderland this morning for example). Before that I entertained myself with 600+ pages of China Miéville's Iron Council. The challenge there was trying to figure out which words he'd made up and which were in the dictionary, in addition to following the story which, as ever, was not run of the mill.

 

Before that I read Kafka which is usually considered 'difficult'. I didn't find it difficult and pretty much got the symbolism in that.

 

That said, when I read The Old Man and the Sea, as far as I was concerned I read a story about an elderly fisherman who came home with a fish skeleton.

 

I think authors should write what they write and that it's up to the reader to decide whether or not s/he wants to engage. There is, after all, a wide choice when it comes to reading material which makes it necessary to choose what you like to read. If you don't feel like working for the story then don't work for it. Some of my favourite books are The Mallen Series by Catherine Cookson. There's no work in that! And you can't say that The Godfather, another favourite, is high brow literature.

 

I have the time and I have the inclination, so that's what I do. It's all about self entertainment, imho.

By study notes do you mean reading another book whose author purports to understand what the original author meant? In addition to reading, in the case of Portrait of the Artist as a Young man, a book or twelve on the history of the Catholic Church and a book or twelve on the history of Ireland? I'm really not willing to work that hard to understand the authors point. But it seems arrogant and elitist of an author to expect that. Of course I can just put the book down and walk away. It is my own scholarly, pedantic, intellectual arrogance that insists I should read and understand all of the Great Books. And that is a Dan problem. However, if what the author is saying is so profound that s/he thinks I should be willing to read other books just to understand theirs, if these ideas and images are so life changing that I should be willing to commit to intensive study of them, then isn't it the author's duty to make them accessible to a common man, of which there are multitudes more than there are literary aristocrats, who is willing to apply an average level of intelligence to closely and carefully reading the book, to ponder the context for the meaning of unfamiliar events and personages, and to contemplate the overall message? In other words, for something to actually be a Great Book shouldn't John Doe be able to read and understand it? Edited by Dan
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Based on what Luna and I did while reading The Sound and the Fury, I think she might mean Cliff Notes (which are called something different in the U.K.).  I also looked at some websites.  

 

Luna, I think you are willing to work pretty hard to understand a book.  It's something I've always admired about you.  

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Binker is correct.  What I mean by study notes is Cliff Notes and their ilk, not other books by authors who purport to understand the book I'm reading. In said notes scholars have identified certain universal truths (for want of a better expression) about the work and therefore can explain same.  Naturally, like all art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And the harder you work at it the more you get out of it.

 


 

 


Luna, I think you are willing to work pretty hard to understand a book.  It's something I've always admired about you.  

 

Thank you Binker.

 

Good points all Dan and I'm not sure I can answer them.  As an example I'll say this : I bought and read 400 pages (out of 600) of Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall.  Even after 400 pages I was at a loss as to what could possibly be happening and abandoned the book.  It was suggested on this here Board that those that got on better with said tome had been given a basic understanding of Tudor England that I lacked - being Scottish we concentrated on the history of Scotland not the history of England - and that this may well have been a factor to my lack of understanding.  The TV series based on the book was a lot easier for me to follow.  Would I read up on the Tudors just to understand Wolf Hall?  Probably.  it would certainly prove to be interesting.  There are now three books in that series.  However, just because I'm willing to do that doesn't mean that everybody else needs do that.

 

I understand what you are saying about Great Books and John Doe being able to understand them.  However, this isn't as easy as it may seem.  For example, Shakespeare wrote perfectly understandably for his time period, four hundred years later we don't speak like that at all.  Same for Chaucer.  Should we translate these works into 21st century language to make them more understandable to John Doe and should they be in American English or British English?  Again, that's what Cliff's Notes are for and, as Binker mentioned, internet sites.  The King James Bible, which preceded Shakespeare, was written in the language of the day too.  It's still the Authorised version but there are also translations in plainer english to make it more understandable.  We only have the Authorised version in the house, for some reason (not deliberate) and I've read a phrase or two.  I've also read a phrase or two in the plainer version and whilst easier to understand I think that it loses the lyricism of what is a great work.

 

I also think that it's worth saying that I don't think that authors set out to write profound and deeply difficult to understand books they just write what comes to them.  Simone de Beauvoir was an intellectual so wrote in an intellectual way.  She thought that what she was writing was easy to understand because she understood it. As did her husband Jean Paul Satre and their friends.  Could she have written in a simpler way?  Don't know.

 

Just as different paintings appeal to different people so it is with books.  There is a great satisfaction that I have found in trying to figure out what an author is saying during one of their books and stream of counsciousness is like getting into the author's mind as they are writing.

 

If everything was perfectly understandable all of the time we woud get bored, well I would.

 

Don't you enjoye a good mystery Dan?

Edited by lunababymoonchild
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Well, Luna, you did a pretty good job of answering most of those points???? Although I do think some writers strive to be obtuse. And for all her intellectuality de Beauvoir wrote very clearly and understandably, if a bit dry and even boring at times. Did mean to ask if you enjoyed Old Man and the Sea? That book is a good example of the symbolism flowing organically from the work. I think it is a truly great novel, even shorn of all symbolism. Whereas The Trial, which I also think is a great novel, wouldn't really work at all for someone who didn't understand a fair amount of the symbology.

But I've also realized, in thinking about this topic all day, that just because I feel like I am entering a relationship with an author when I read their book, it doesn't actually give me a right to have expectations about my opinion of the novel they should have written. It is a Dan problem if I feel they let me down.

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I'm really blown away by all of the foregoing, didn't realize there was so much ado about book reading.  I readily admit that I'm not looking for an education when I read, just want to be entertained or, in the case of a mystery, deceived and puzzled, and with a thriller, to get tingles from reading about frightening situations.  With a book like Virginia Woolf's Orlando I found a lot of it just silly, in fact I think we had a discussion thread on it a year or so back.  

 

I think it also depends on how we're feeling at the time, whether or not a specific book appeals or not.  Maybe I'm just a lazy reader and don't want to try to untangle what an author may or may not mean.

 

Not sure I would encounter symbolism in many of the books I read!  :)

Edited by momac
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Like you Momac I mainly read for entertainment. I have been reading The Poldark series recently and have been thoroughly enjoying them for what they are, good stories, not for anything I will learn from them. However as they are set during the period of The Napoleonic Wars, a period of history I knew very little about, I do feel as if I have probably learnt a little from reading them. However in th case of these books that has really just been by accident. My main reason for reading them was for pleasure.

 

I do enjoy reading what many people would refer to as "The Classics" and over the years have read many books that I have had to work a little to understand. Many years ago I read a lot of Dickens and Hardy neither of which I found easy at times but can only remember giving up on one, Our Mutual Friend by Dickens, when I got really bogged down in the middle. In more recent years I have read a number of books by George Eliot and have enjoyed trying to pick out obvious themes running through her books although I have never found it necessary to read any background reading when reading the books. I have never felt as if I am studying the books, just enjoying them.

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When I read your post CP I immediately felt guilty as I have the George Eliot book you asked me to tell you what I thought of it still sitting in my index only partially read, will honestly try to have another go and let you know how I found it.   :sorry:

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Well, Luna, you did a pretty good job of answering most of those points Although I do think some writers strive to be obtuse. And for all her intellectuality de Beauvoir wrote very clearly and understandably, if a bit dry and even boring at times. Did mean to ask if you enjoyed Old Man and the Sea? That book is a good example of the symbolism flowing organically from the work. I think it is a truly great novel, even shorn of all symbolism. Whereas The Trial, which I also think is a great novel, wouldn't really work at all for someone who didn't understand a fair amount of the symbology.

But I've also realized, in thinking about this topic all day, that just because I feel like I am entering a relationship with an author when I read their book, it doesn't actually give me a right to have expectations about my opinion of the novel they should have written. It is a Dan problem if I feel they let me down.

 

I did enjoy The Old Man and the Sea but have never gotten the symbolism.  I think that it is possible to work too hard to try and find symbolism and profundity in a book, like for example Nostradamus.  His predictions were so vague that they could (and probably have been) be applied to just about everything.   And when The Da Vinci Code was popular I herd that apparently some Americans thought it was real and tried to visit the locations described.

 

I also found de Beauvoir dry and somewhat boring and didn't persist with the group read I was in of The Madarins.  She did write clearly and I wasn't searching for symbolism.  I did not however, think that it was de Beauvoir's fault and I still have my copy so may try it again when I grow up ;-)

 

I enjoy my reading, whatever the book and don't really plan too far ahead.  I don't mind working to understand what an author is trying to say but only do so if I think it's worth my while.  That's the beauty of a hobby like reading the reader is the one who decides how far they would like to take it.

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When I read your post CP I immediately felt guilty as I have the George Eliot book you asked me to tell you what I thought of it still sitting in my index only partially read, will honestly try to have another go and let you know how I found it.   :sorry:

No worries Momac. As much as I enjoy her books I realise that they are not for everyone and although I do not find them hard work in any way I can understand how some people would find them so. Having read a number of them and being able to see that similar themes run through many of the books even though the stories may be very different makes it easier too I have found. Good luck with the rest of it!

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I kind of think that if it is a good book, and by that I mean a good story, well told, then it shouldn't be much work. If I am not going to bed looking forward to reading then the book is not worth the effort. I read for pleasure.

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If you'd asked me a few years ago, I'd be more willing to put the hard yards in to get the most out of a difficult book, but with a toddler in the house I'm grateful just to have the time to read anything.   

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If you'd asked me a few years ago, I'd be more willing to put the hard yards in to get the most out of a difficult book, but with a toddler in the house I'm grateful just to have the time to read anything.   

Ah, Grammath. This time will pass, but it DOES seem endless when you're in it.

 

There are some books which I found were hard to crack at first; I'm thinking of Faulkner's The Sound And The Fury, or Sybille Bedford's A Legacy, or Wolf Hall. But once I 'get' them, then reading them is easy, or, at least, highly enjoyable and I don't mind the work as it is pure pleasure. Other novels have defeated me as being too hard e.g. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, which I know other BGO ers and people in the real world really loved. 

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  • 2 months later...

I just gave up on Kim Stanley Robinson. "Aurora" is written in such a convoluted grammar and syntax as if my daughter had tried to translate it from French. Or maybe it is my insufficient handling of English, I don't know. He can do better than that, but this ranks IMO even below this travel-log-masked-as-a-story bore of his, "Antarctica".

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  • 3 weeks later...

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