Classics, as much as I love them, can be a challenge. They’re especially difficult to read when interspersed with more modern books. They may have good stories and be well written, but because of the conventions of their time, they can seem to drag or to be obtuse. There was a certain period (cough nineteenth century cough) where brevity was NOT valued, and this can be a problem for me, who likes to keep it short and sweet.
I recently finished Relish by Lucy Knisely, which like most graphic memoirs that I read, I finished in about a day. I can tear through those like a bear through a beehive. I did not start my next read until I was on the train the next day. It was the only book I had on me, and it was The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. At first, I flipped past the entire first section of the book, because it is labeled as the Editor’s Notes. But, as I quickly realized, the Editor’s Notes are part of the book. One of those old “these are real documents whoa!” kind of books. Immediately I was disappointed, because I suddenly had seventy-eight more pages of classic to read, after having just been in a lighthearted world that included pictures! But I began my slow plod.
It’s not that I don’t like The Private Memoirs and Confessions…I do. It’s just difficult to get into it, which is a bad situation when you’re stuck on a train. I kept wishing I had a second book so that I could alternate, to escape the antiquated writing style for ten minutes and then get back in. Despite the action, there is not much in Hogg’s masterpiece that usually hooks me. There aren’t any strong and sympathetic characters. Everything is pretty one-dimensional, and since things go so slowly, I am able to skim passages and still get the idea. It’s certainly not one that I’m going to abandon, but I’m not super stoked to pick it up on the train.
So how does one get into a book that doesn’t have the easy way in for modern readers? For me, it’s persistence. I find something that I care about (with this one, it’s the religious fanaticism leading to violence, which I think is the one element that transfers disturbingly well to modern times), and I dig into my stakes in that. With every new development in how much of a murderous creep Robert is (it says it on the back of the book; this is not a spoiler), I feel rewarded for sticking with it. Plus the writing is fun.
But if I need a break, I take it. I read today for half of my commute and put it away for the second half, because I did not want to get sick of it. Plus I was a little tipsy, so it was more difficult to focus. Is that relevant? Probably. The point is, I get vertigo when I try to switch reading paces quickly, and I adjust by taking it easy.