Thursday, January 7, 2010

Reading Books I Hate for 2010

I hate New Year Resolutions. How many do we actually keep? According to a 3,000-person survey by Brit psychologist Richard Wiseman, 88% of all resolutions end in failure. And who, I ask you, needs more reason to feel guilty? Not me. So, forget about running a marathon, giving up my secret stash of Kellogg Poptarts, calling my brother more than once a month, I am taking up just one resolution for 2010: I’m going to read a book I think I’ll hate (or that I’m afraid of) in 2010. In this I’m following Laura Winter, who writes in

We all have our little biases, and far be it from me to suggest that people force themselves to read books they don't like, but sometimes that's all these preferences are -- prejudices. Getting out of your rut can lead to unexpected and exhilarating rewards. I once had "ironclad" rules against novels about stage magicians or rabbis in Prague (you'd be surprised how many of these there are), but if I'd stuck to that, I'd have missed one of my favorite books from the 2000s, Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."

Who can argue with that? And even though I consider myself a lover of literature, I admit an aversion of some genres. Included in my list is any novel that takes place in the American West (I couldn’t even watch “Lonesome Dove,” much less read it), memoirs longer than an essay, German novelists (OK, I lived in Munich for two years and perhaps I just had enough of Germany), and reading, all the way through, some of the great epic poetry. I did read Dante’s "The Inferno" last year. Until then, I admit my reading was basically a case of Canto I and random sampling. I think I’m a little bit afraid of those ancient epics even in modern day vernacular, but the "The Inferno” was fabulous and I feel a better person for reading it.

But, bad habits are hard to break--and they're impossible to break if we try to break them all at once. So, I’m not adding Larry McMurtry or Jack Schaefer to my reading list (and for those of you who don’t know who these guys are, well, according to some polls, they are the top novelists of our great mythological ‘West’) and I just don’t see myself suddenly interested in most people’s true life stories. Fiction is usually so much better!

However, I am going to try and read two novels by German writers (perhaps Thomas Mann and our latest Nobel winner Herta Muller). I am also going to read, not skim, not read critiques, and definitely not (just) listen to on audiobook, “The Aeneid,” Robert Fagles translation. Anyway, after "The Inferno,” I just want more Virgil. It doesn’t seem a lot and certainly easier than giving up Strawberry Frosted Poptarts.


  1. I'd start with Gunter Grass and the Tin Drum. Though you can't go wrong with Magic Mountain either... Though philosophically, life is too short to read things you truly loathe. There are so many good books out there; abandon plan if you get bogged down!

  2. Ah yes, Gunter Gras, another Nobel winner! I'll take your advice on that but I AM going to finish it--I can't start out my one 2010 resolution with defeat already in the periscope!