To continue our theme of Sound of Music song titles…
I’ve been thinking recently about my own reading habits. As a child, I was a voracious reader. By the time I was ten, I was checking books out of the library ten at a time (that was the limit that the public library allowed for children), only to bring them back three days later. I often look back on those days with a mixture of nostalgia and humor, imagining the Matilda-like image of my young, insatiable self. Unfortunately, as I’ve aged, it has become harder and harder to maintain quite that speed of literary consumption. At my lowest point, back in 2013, I only managed to read 18 books in an entire year. But this year, as a semi-New Year’s resolution, I made myself a promise in two parts: 1) I was going to do a little bit of leisure reading every day and 2) I was finally going to finish all those books that had been sitting on my to-read shelf for years and years, collecting dust while I smothered under the weight of all my assigned reading. (Never let it be said that being an English major is a walk in the park.)
To begin this journey, I started with the books that I had filed under my “currently-reading” shelf on Goodreads. They were books that I had picked up at some point, then put down again for various reasons (schoolwork, only a limited number of books fit in my suitcase going abroad, etc.) and never finished, but couldn’t bring myself to put back on the to-read shelf, denying the progress I’d already made. Most of these books had been there for perhaps a year, maybe a bit more. But there was one outlier in all this, the dark shadow at the back of my bookshelf, lurking, waiting: Dune.
Dune and I have a long and storied history, one that begins more than four years ago. My junior year of high school, I had a good friend with whom I often exchanged book recommendations. I got him hooked on Brandon Sanderson. In turn, he gave me, as a Christmas present, one of his favorite books, and with the naive promises of youth, I told him that I would finish it over Christmas break and get back to him about what I thought.
Fast forward to four years later. I currently like to think of Dune as my literary Everest. I have started reading Dune no less than four times. Of those four times, I made it to about page 200 on three occasions, before I set it down, didn’t look at it for several months, and then, dripping with guilt, picked it up again only to realize that I had no idea where I’d left off, much less what on earth was going on.
To say I felt bad about the whole affair was a vast understatement. Not only was this a treasured book in the life of one of my good friends, Dune is a sci-fi literary classic. Every time I put it down, I asked myself if there was something I was missing. Was I just not getting it? Was there some hook I hadn’t gotten to yet? Was I, perhaps, just not as genre-savvy as I purported myself to be? But every time, months later, I found my interest slipping or other things calling for my attention, until I once again set it down, to be picked up again a year later.
I feel like we all have stories like this. Whether it be a piece of literature, a genre work, or even something more broad like a movie or TV show, we all find ourselves with these insurmountable Everests, looming in the distance, taunting us with their unclimbable slopes.
I am currently on page 456 of 489 of Dune. It is my fourth attempt and slowly but surely, I am getting through it. With any luck, I will have finished Dune by the end of February. So what does it mean to have reached the top of my literary Everest? I guess I’ll have to wait and see to find out.