Back at the beginning of the summer, I challenged myself to read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for a bit, either because they looked difficult or because I just hadn’t had sufficient motivation to pick them up. I chose two poetry volumes, two nonfiction, and two fiction. Below are my brief thoughts/reviews on them.
The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton: Girl had issues but she had a way with words. I love her odd imagery, but less so the weird sex imagery (although I’m sure many people enjoy it). My favorite collections are To Bedlam and Part Way Back and Transformations. I wrote about a couple of her poems here.
Another E.E. Cummings ed. by Richard Kostelanetz and John Rocco: This book tries to show other facets of E.E. Cummings besides his more famous poems; it gives a taste of his prose, translations, and memoir, as well as some of his less-read poems. I liked it as a survey, but I don’t think it collected his best work.
Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research Into Homosexuality by Simon LeVay: This is a really good overview and discussion of the studies and “treatments” of homosexuality done over the last 100 years. It tries to answer the questions “what makes someone homosexual?” and “Who cares?”I was very ignorant going into this book but it was reasonably accessible and comprehensive.
The History of Alexander by Curtius Rufus: Roman guys sure love their rhetoric! This reads like history for the most part, but with a bunch of headcanon speeches added in; everyone gets pages and pages of monologues. Curtius Rufus really loves Darius and really hates Greeks.
The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus: The trilogy includes Agamemnon, The Libation-Bearers, and The Eumenides, and takes place soon after the events of The Iliad. I can see why mythology was so popular back in the day if plays like this were bringing them to life. Agamemnon returns home to Greece only to discover that his wife isn’t thrilled about his new girlfriend slave or the fact that Agamemmnon sacrificed his own daughter. Shenanigans ensue as various family members deal with the curse laid on them.
The American by Henry James: Like most of Henry James’ work, I’m not certain whether we’re supposed to sympathize with his protagonist or judge him. I certainly don’t like Christopher Newman, and I spent half of the book hoping that Madame de Cintre would destroy him emotionally so that he would learn that she’s not an object to possess, and the other half hoping Newman would destroy a few other people emotionally.
I was glad I challenged myself to read these books, so I’m going to do the same thing for fall. My list is:
- The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Fiction by Sarah Orne Jewett
- The Awkward Age by Henry James
- The Complete Works of Horace
- Sophocles I: Three Tragedies
- The Generalship of Alexander the Great by J.F.C. Fuller
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
What about you? Do you try to challenge yourself or approach reading more whimsically? How do you get yourself to read “difficult” books?