White Whales – The Books That Drive Us

We all have those books out there that have been on our reading lists for as long as we could begin compiling them. Perhaps we haven’t gotten around to them yet, or maybe, just maybe we haven’t worked up the courage to begin. Usually these books are longer. The language is challenging, and the story might not strike a cord with your mood. All you know is that one day, oh yes, one glorious day, you will have read them all or died trying. {sidenote: ok maybe not died, but you know, heavy exertion.}

I call these books my white whales. {totally original right?} Ironically, Moby Dick is not one of mine. I’ve gotten through that old friend three times now, and I’m planning on a fourth this winter. Something about Ahab’s struggle keeps me coming back for more every time. The feeling of calm when I’ve finished it makes those 90-page long descriptions of sperm oil harvesting almost seem worth it.

However, there are several books or series of books that I haven’t completed. I’ve either tried and failed or just plain put off trying. I’ve found that this site does wonders for my accountability so why not post them here.

1) In Remembrance of Times Past – Marcel Proust – Ok I’ve actually read Swann’s Way before, but I don’t think I really immersed myself in the story enough to comprehend the magnitude everyone’s always referring to. My plan is to start over and do it right.

2) War and Peace – I’m no stranger to long Russian novels. I’ve got Anna Karenina and Brothers Karamazov under my belt, but something about War and Peace has me spooked. Can I do it?

3) Les Miserables – Long. French. Plot sounds awesome. Why haven’t I read it????? I love Dumas books, and dare I say it, they’re quite straight forward for classics. I hate that I can’t compare to Hugo because I haven’t read it!!! Must be done. Just must.

4) 2666 – Roberto Bolano – I’ve started and stopped this book about 15 times now. At this point, it’s like a sharp little thorn in my side that just bugs me. It’s on Bolano! Number 16 will be it!

5) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – I got 3/4 through this one several years ago. However, I honestly think my brain was in a different place, and I’d like to try it again now that I’ve matured a bit.

6) Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace – Ok, the fact that people have published companion pieces to this book make me feel better, but I’ve false started this puppy too many times to count at this point. One day.

7) Anything by James Joyce, but let’s go with Ulysses – It just doesn’t compute. I’ve met people who are obsessed with Joyce, and they make a pretty good case for the awesomeness just waiting to be read. However, every time I pick up Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake etc. anything and everything distracts me. I might accidentally strand myself somewhere just to make it happen. The kicker is, I loved the Odyssey. I was lucky enough to go to have a fantastic English teacher who taught it well. I should be way more into this book than I am. Out of all of these, I’m most likely to never read Joyce, but we’ll see.

8) Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon otherwise known as Gibberish McFreakypants, I will make sense of this book. I don’t care if I have to read a page a day for life. I will make sense of this book.

Those are my personal challenges. If these don’t float your boat Publisher’s Weekly¬†and The Millions both provide some really brutal choices.

Any challenges you care to share?


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