I've been re-reading Jeanette Winterson's collection of essays, "Art Objects." In "Writer, Reader, Words," she says:
"The only way into a piece of literature is through the front door - Open it. Once there, if the arrangement of the rooms is unfamiliar and the fabric strange, reflect that at least it is new, and that is what you say you want."
What "doors" did you initially find "heavy"? What rooms did you find disconcerting but now look back on as fabulous vacations into other countries of the consciousness?
For me, the text that stand out in my mind is Goethe's Faust. Part Two, especially, was like trying to wrap my mind around mist, history, future, all at once. But I felt exhilarated at the end, like a marathon runner, not just that I had completed it, but I went to another place and came back with new understanding, new eyes. Orlando, too,comes to mind.
How about you?
For me it had to be George Eliot's Middlemarch. I may have been daunted, in part, by the sheer weight of the tome -- I was an undergrad with more than a novel to read per week -- this just didn't seem worth the effort. I couldn't get past the first 50 pages; I didn't finish it by the assigned due date; but that actually worked to my advantage. While I was unable to particiapte in the discussion, I certainly became intrigued after class that week. I did perserver by the end of the semester and made a good show it on the final exam. I have gone on to read everything she wrote -- I am a sucker for that 19th century stuff in the first place, and I continue to be enchanted by her ability to put me in that time and place so eloquently. My favorite is Silas Marner -- a sweet and clever, 2-plots intertwined, tale of the power of love and the importance of family. Ah...
The running question in my class is: "Is it as bad as Hawthorne?" The Scarlet Letter was a huge challenge for me in my first year of teaching--the thorn in my side, I'd say. I have since developed a passion for the complexity and the moral intricacies with which I must deal when I read this novel. It's always interesting to me which of my students appreciates it and which do not. For many, it's their favorite
Pride and Prejudice, while certainly not a particularly difficult read, was a challenge for me, as well. I read and re-read the first fifty pages three or four times before I finally broke through and could enjoy the delightful wit and social commentary found in the piece.
A Tale of Two Cities, as mentioned above, is difficult reading, but I enjoyed it from the beginning. The House of Seven Gables (also Hawthorne), on the other hand, was torture from start to finish. Taught it once and never picked it up again. Same with The Diary of Anne Frank. Can't explain it, just found it difficult to connect with in every way.
Faulkner is a struggle but worth reading; Vonnegut is a struggle but not worth reading for me.
I could go on forever....
#3: Stick with Dickens! I must admit the first time I tried to read A Tale of Two Cities I really strugged and didn't get much from it. Now I have to teach it and understand it I have found that reading it more slowly and taking my time over it has revealed an incredible richness of language and character. I have gone from being someone that didn't really like Dickens to someone who really loves it and now thinks he is an AMAZING author.
You are SO right! I completely blocked out of my mind the whole literary criticism venue--Derida (MS?) and all the deconstructionalists. UGH! I loathed that class and haven't picked up any of it since.
My favorite that would fit in this category is CS Lewis - when I first picked up one of his books, I was so confused I couldn't figure out why anyone would read him. Now, I pick up his books knowing that my mind is going to be turned in all kinds of circles, but when I'm finished, I will have encountered truth in an inexplicable way.
I also initially struggled with Dickens, but I now have a secret love affair with him. I started reading some of his less popular works this summer just for the challenge.
I would also put Milton's Paradise Lost in this category. I had to read the entire thing for my senior seminar in college and swore I would never touch it again, but I find myself interested in the characters and complexity of what Milton was trying to achieve.
Heidegger, anything Heidegger! I can relate to the marathon. Existentialism was the very first upper division philosophy class I took and I felt at the beginning that I had gotten in way over my head and that it was time for a change in my major. When it was finished I felt like I had finished a marathon. I got it! It was the reason I stuck with Philosophy and I ran into so many heavy doors and confusing rooms and every time I came out on the other side with an understanding of concepts so far out of what I thought my realm of comprehension was and it was (and remains) a huge rush! :)
Anything Faulkner, Dickens, or Henry James. I found them tedious, wordy, and uninteresting. Since then, I have come to love As I Lay Dying although I admit I still keep a short distance from James. I have also come to like Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Still have trouble with other Dickens novels, though.
I still have trouble with A Tale of Two Cities! Believe it or not, I've tried several times to actually read it...finally settled on the Cliff's Notes. UGH.
Very good topic! For me, it had to be Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. What torture that was! I had to read it for a theater class way back in college, and I still run from anything to do with Chekhov. I even went to see the play when a community theater group produced it. More torture! I wonder if that was the point of the play. I was so happy to have it done with!
When I was at Bread Loaf, the play Cloud Nine was produced by the theater group. Now, I like absurdist drama; I even wrote one for a French class. Cloud Nine was just too bizarre for me. I had the feeling that nobody really understood it; they just acted like it was a great play so they'd appear to "intellectual."
These two plays helped me have an "epiphany." I realized that disliking a piece of literature doesn't mean I'm dumb. I can have my own opinions, and they're as credible as anybody elses.