Sunday, September 14, 2014

162. On reading classics

I am currently reading a famous English novel spread over 1000 pages in excruciatingly small print. I have finished reading about 300 pages over the last 4 months. The novel is not interesting enough to boost my speed, but I have been continuing nevertheless. With normal 12 point font, the book would have easily run into 1500 pages. The 8-point font is, perhaps, a deception to catch unsuspecting  readers like me. The problem is that once you start reading a famous novel, you cannot leave it mid-way. First, the book must be worth reading, because millions liked it. You don't want to appear to yourself less intelligent than such a huge number. Second, once you have invested some time reading a book, you want to justify the investment. You invest more time in the hope that the writer will have mercy on you and at some point, switch to something that can grip your interest. In that sense, reading such books is like investing in share markets. In the face of losses, you invest more money in the hope that your initial investment can be recouped. 

I wonder how people could write such huge novels. Wherefrom did they get so much energy and so many ideas? There may not have been internet, television and other such addictive forms of entertainment when they were writing, but there must have been activities like fishing, gardening, horse-riding, etc. to keep them away from writing at least for some time. Or was it the case that these stubborn writers wanted to use every second of their waking time to pass on their pearls of wisdom to succeeding generations which ran the risk of not finding other writers of their calibre?

With many writers of classics, I have observed a very elaborate effort to give the background and the context and a rather lazy attempt to lay out the characters. It is like laying table for lunch or dinner. Table cloth, plates, glasses, forks, bowls, knives - everything is lovingly and lazily laid before the meals are actually served. I am sure, many have the required patience, but I am one of those who would not mind some sloppiness in preparation if the food is good and can be quickly served.


Indrani said...

Good luck with reading this. :)
Hope you will find it was worth investing time in it.

Sai Charan said...

Well written! I believe that every reader undergoes similar experience with some books - we find the plot being dragged/stretched so long that it turns boring after reading quarter of the book. Personally, I stop reading in such cases, cause reading should be fun and not a trouble.

Classic writers were more disciplined and had no distractions - so, they wrote way too much into each novel/play. Modern day writers have technology, internet, latest gadgets, social network, media - to divert their attention.

Sometimes, in a very fat novel when it gets boring, I tend to skip about fifty pages and surprisingly enough - the characters would still be in the same situation - that saves your time and effort. I think every reader has a different taste - so, classics and popular books may not interest everybody - just skip them and choose whatever makes you feel good reading!!

Cheers!! :)

Ankita said...

nice post! I wonder the same too :P

btw is it War and peace?

How do we know said...

ha ha.. I think it is to do with the current style of writing. At the time, people also had more time to read. The other factor is that books could be read anywhere around the globe, but the reader was not likely to be familiar with the scenery. So it became necessary for the writer to describe it in detail. Today, we have access to a lot more pictures and we also travel a lot more. So while an Khaled Hosseini may still need to be descriptive about the location, a normal Western writer does not need to be.

If you don't like the book, please leave it. As a rule, I do not read books more than 250 pages unless they are highly recommended. If you cannot tell a story in 250 pages, you cannot tell a story.

Even Premchand's very complicated novels with plots and sub plots take less space than that.

So I am on your side. :)