On my 30th birthday, I made a “Before I Turn 40, I Want To ______” list.
No. 1: Read each of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time, as enumerated here.
Before my 31st birthday, I’d read 10 of the books. Dostoevsky, Austen, Capote, Roth, Waugh, Woolf, Steinbeck, James—these authors’ volumes no longer merely lived as props on my bookshelf, artfully arranged to give my home a certain air of sophistication. I actually cracked the spines, pored over the texts, and read them cover to cover.
And then I decided to tackle Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.
To paraphrase Mr. Dickens himself, it was the worst of times… and it was the worst of times. Eventually, I abandoned David Copperfield after the tragic thing happened to him that I was supposed to care about but didn’t and before the next tragic thing happened to him that I was supposed to care about but wouldn’t. But my decision to let go of dear David was not made without a bit of hesitation and a soupcon of angst.
I know that I am not alone. Surely some of you have struggled to find the courage to put down that classic piece of literature you were more than a little smug to be seen reading on the subway, in the waiting room, or at the lunch table.
As a public service for those of you who may be staring at the hefty volume on your nightstand and thinking, “We’re not right for each other. But how can I give up on this?” I have outlined below the five stages of breaking up with a book (which happen to coincide with the Kubler-Ross stages of coping with loss).
STAGE 1: DENIAL
Sure, you may have nodded off three times in the last 10 minutes while reading it. Sure, you may find yourself making your grocery list in your head as you stare blankly at the page. But that’s not because you don’t love it. I mean, this author has given us some of the most eloquent and poetic prose the western world will ever know. It’s a literary masterpiece. And you are the sort of person who reads literary masterpieces. No, you definitely love this book, you just need to focus a little more and Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
STAGE 2: ANGER
“How can this #!@$&*! book be so #!@$&*! dull?” you ask yourself. You decide to Google the title in hopes of discovering some fascinating analysis of it that will suddenly make it riveting, compelling, a real page-turner. But instead you learn a tidbit such as the following: David Copperfield isn’t the title Dickens gave to his novel. No, he planned to call it, The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account). And that’s when you start yelling about being misled and how obviously you never would have attempted to read something with that title. Soon you’re directing your anger at characters in the novel and muttering things like, “Ham Peggoty—what the $#@ kind of name is that?” and trying to rip out the pages of the book, which proves to be a little challenging, as you are reading it on your NOOK.
STAGE 3: BARGAINING
After you calm down, you attempt to reason with yourself. True, reading this book is not exactly a joyous experience, but you can and will finish it. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment upon the completion of this lengthy text, and isn’t that reward enough? No. It’s not. So you create a figurative carrot for yourself. As soon as you get to the last page, you’ll treat yourself to a manicure. Or a glass of wine by the fireplace, in which The Complete Works of Charles Dickens will serve as the kindling.
STAGE 4: DEPRESSION
This book is never going to end. It seems to be getting longer. Are the pages reproducing at night, like Gremlins? During this stage, you may become despondent, spending days on the couch, unwashed and unable to bring yourself to read anything at all, instead watching hours of Jeopardy! and giving the (incorrect) answer of “Wuthering Heights … no, Great Expectations … no, Wuthering Heights” to every question in the literary categories. The person watching with you may say something like, “What exactly did you study as an English major?” to which you may respond, “There’s more to being an English major than reading old books. It’s about learning skills to analyze texts with.” He/she undoubtedly will then point out that you just ended a sentence with a preposition, and soon you will be seeking comfort in the bottom of a Seagram’s Jamaican Me Happy wine cooler and muttering about the present participle and how you should have majored in political science because even though that was an impractical course of study, too, at least those people know how to drink the hard stuff.
STAGE 5: ACCEPTANCE
You’ve now showered and brushed your teeth. Congratulations. You are ready to acknowledge that you are never going to finish the novel, and that’s OK. It’s not that you’re incapable of enjoying the classics or even other works by the same author—I mean, you own the movie musical version of A Christmas Carol starring Kelsey Grammer. It’s simply that this book was not right for you. Occasionally, you’ll pass by it as you’re scrolling through your NOOK, and you will briefly consider going back to it. For a fleeting moment, you will only remember the good times—didn’t page 53 offer at least a modicum of reading pleasure?—but at these times you must not forget what the other 237 pages put you through.
I hope this will help some of you through the difficult task of letting go of a book.
As for myself, I’m happy to report that I’ve just begun James Joyce’s Ulysses, and it’s amazing. I mean, Joyce has given us some of the most eloquent and poetic prose the western world will ever know. It’s a literary masterpiece. And I am the sort of person who reads literary masterpieces. I definitely love it. I just need to focus a little more and …