Victoria at VPO was writing the other day about finishing books no matter what. She's been doing her best to pass on the habit to me, and for good reason. During my undergrad years, I picked up a really nasty habit of starting books and never finishing them. I can make lots of excuses (I was busy! Books are heavy to carry around! School reading!) but really they're all pretty lame. When it comes down to it, I just have to make time to read non-school stuff. And now that I am, it's incredibly rewarding. I had forgotten how much of an avid reader I can be during those few years.
But what started the problem? The one book I can think of that really got me into this habit was Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. My best friend in high school read it. And I later found out that Victoria read it. My uncle loved it, and wanted me to read it. So I should read it, right? And I tried! I got about 400 pages into it on several different occasions, but never finished. I'm not really sure why. It takes forever to read, but I certainly enjoyed those first 400 pages (even on subsequent readings). But after doing exactly what Atlas can't and dropping my burden, it was the start of something bad.
Now, I read pretty normal sized books, and I am pretty leery of the giants in literature. I still have Atlas Shrugged mocking me from my shelf, and I worry that if I start another behemoth, I won't finish it and the pattern will begin again. This doesn't mean I haven't read any of these. In the past year I've read Don Quixote (ugh) and The Three Musketeers (amazing) and lived to tell the tale.
But the strange thing is, despite my caution around these monoliths, there are a few I desperately want to read. I am planning (at least until I chicken out) to read War and Peace over winter break (the Richard Pevear translation, I think), and that is the representative of door-stop books. Also, I think a group of graduate students and I are going to take on Richard Taruskin's monumental 3,856 page Oxford History of Western Music. We plan on modeling it after the Taruskin Challenge blog, and reading 50 pages a week. At that rate, it will only take 77 weeks to finish.
So I'm not really sure what draws me to these things. Maybe it's the immense sense of satisfaction after I finish them, and maybe it's just knowing that they are often some of the most "important" books ever and that I should read them. When I (hopefully) get through War and Peace, I'm not sure what my next giant of a book will be. Maybe it's time to finally tackle Ayn Rand.