Seven Hundred Men Died On The Beaches Of Dune|
For me, the experience of reading Dune was like unsuccessfully pole-vaulting. I’d run up at it with all the speed and flexibility I could muster, flinging myself into it as hard as I could… And ultimately, I’d fall short. I’d get about fifty pages in and walk away, disinterested and frustrated.
But my Uncle Tommy, who never once recommended a bad book to me in his entire life, didn’t back off from his statement that Dune was a good book. “It takes some getting into,” he admitted, “But I liked it a lot.” He read all the sequels, which he admitted were clearly methadone, based on the impact of that one great book. So I tried again.
After my third attempt to get all the way through Dune failed, I began to feel like it wasn’t a novel, but a fortress. I’d go storming in with my men, and would be thwarted at the moat of ridiculous vocabulary. I didn’t like having to look up every third made-up word, none of which were explained in context. I was twelve, and I’d never found a book this challenging.
The fourth time, I began to feel distinctly substandard. I kept charging further inland, getting to page 100 or so, but I always got bored.
The fifth time was a success, and my uncle was proven correct; Dune was a great novel, once you understood the world. If Frank Herbert had bothered to explain his terms and concepts in the plot, he would have had to waste hundreds of pages; as it was, he could tell a sweeping political saga, stripped down of the need for explanation. Once you acquired the vocabulary, it positively hummed.
Unfortunately, Dune proved to be my undoing. Since then, I’ve believed that my inability to finish a given well-known book is, ultimately, my fault for being a poor reader, not the book’s fault for being badly written.
I discussed Guns, Germs, and Steel yesterday, but the truth is I’m a piker; my dad had to give me the unabridged audio book before I could finally get through it. GG&S was a damned dry and uncomfortable book, and I had it on my coffee table for two years, making sporadic attempts to read it and failing, before finally giving up. Only a nine-hour trip with nothing else to do finally got me far enough into the book that I could start sucking out the tasty parts.
The book that has totally killed me is The Blind Watchmaker, which is supposedly one of the best introductions to the foundations of evolutionary theory. It’s theoretically a great book, and I know many who love it, but despite at least four attempts I’ve never been able to get further than two or three chapters.
So I ask you, gentle readers: What book left you so breathlessly bored and confused that you couldn’t finish it, yet everyone else seems to love it?
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