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Reading out of duty


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#16 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 01 May 2009 - 02:47 PM

Are there contemporary books that anyone has read out of duty? A best seller or widely praised book that everyone seems to be talking about?

Well, I've *begun* quite a few books out of a sense of duty, but I almost always finish them. Many past experiences have taught me that if a book has become well established as a classic, sticking with it usually pays off. New books with a lot of buzz are another story. I just couldn't get into Alex Ross's And the Rest Is Noise; but all my friends were talking about it, so I plowed through to the bitter end. It took me so long that by the time I finished, nobody was talking about it anymore!

#17 bart

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Posted 01 May 2009 - 03:49 PM

I just couldn't get into Alex Ross's And the Rest Is Noise; but all my friends were talking about it, so I plowed through to the bitter end. It took me so long that by the time I finished, nobody was talking about it anymore!

:( You reminded me that this is on my Started but not Finished shelf.

It's one of those books that I enjoy reading out of chapter order. Skimming though my pencil underlings, I find that I seem to have begun with composers and movements that I actually know something about. My book mark has gathered dust at "Messiaen, Ligeti, and the Avant-Garde of the Sixties," which probably says more about me than it does about Ross.

Gathering dust on my New from Amazon shelf is the Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote (all 940 pages). I've never been able to finish this classic. I can't even enjoy the Don Q ballet plot, possibly because it brings up memories of my failures with the original.

#18 vagansmom

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Posted 01 May 2009 - 09:05 PM

Ach, Don Quixote! That's one I could never wade through either. When I first met my husband, he was a student at St. John's College, and Don Q. was required reading that summer. He and I embarked on a summer of hitchhiking through Central America, and I tried valiantly to read that book, hoping that spending time in Spanish-speaking countries would provide the right atmosphere, but to no avail. I hated it. My husband finished the book, but retains no fond memories of it. It was bitter medicine.

However, we both have the fondest memories of a summer replete with bed bugs, cutter ants (their bites made me miserable), poison toads, and Montezuma's Revenge. :thumbsup: There's nothing like new love.

#19 bart

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 06:27 AM

Thanks, vagansmom. It's good to know that I'm not alone in this.

:thanks: There's nothing like new love.

Indeed. And it feels even better without the nonstop, nagging accompaniment of Great Literature. :thumbsup:

#20 Hans

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 07:33 AM

I have a friend whose favourite books are Don Quixote and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Maybe DQ (which I've never read) requires a fantasy novel mind-set?

#21 bart

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 12:17 PM

I have a friend whose favourite books are Don Quixote and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Maybe DQ (which I've never read) requires a fantasy novel mind-set?

An very interesting thought. I'm not one who enjoys fantasy fiction. I HAVE, on the other hand, loved a number of books about Cervantes, his period, the historical context, etc. Maybe your friend is right. Vagansmom, how about you?

#22 dirac

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 02:15 PM

New books with a lot of buzz are another story. I just couldn't get into Alex Ross's And the Rest Is Noise; but all my friends were talking about it, so I plowed through to the bitter end. It took me so long that by the time I finished, nobody was talking about it anymore!


Often as not the 'buzz' is skillful marketing as opposed to real word-of-mouth. And the Rest is Noise is one of those books I've been meaning to get to, etc. Ross is a pretty good writer and it's one of those books that I would expect to like. What made it so hard to get through?

I couldn't make it through The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen when it seemed everyone was talking about it.

I know that certain members won't read any book I suggest except for the first few cursory pages, and I often do the same with one member's choices.


The politics of book clubs are an interesting subject. (I tried joining two, and dropped out quickly. In both cases the selections were much as you describe.)

#23 bart

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 04:45 PM

Ross is a pretty good writer and it's one of those books that I would expect to like. What made it so hard to get through?

The book is actually very well done. I think the problem for me is that it covers such a wide range of 20th century composers.. I just was not famililar with -- or attracted by -- the work of a number of them.

Later, however, I learned that Ross has an "audio guide" to much of the music mentioned in the book. This was actually wonderfully interesting and useful. I confess, however, that I used it more for reminders of music that I already knew, rather than as an intro to music I did not know or had not enjoyed when I first heard it long ago.

http://www.therestisnoise.com/audio/

#24 vagansmom

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 04:57 PM

Hans and Bart, I think that's probably true - with a couple exceptions, I'm not much of a fantasy novel reader. I liked C.S. Lewis's space trilogy and Isaac Asimov's science fiction Foundation trilogy, but other than that, I'm generally not interested in fantasy. Ditto my husband's tastes too.

Unlike you, Bart, I do love the ballet Don Quixote, but I think that's because my daughter danced it. However, I do like fantasy in dance a whole lot!

#25 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 06:13 PM

As I recall, Suzanne Farrell says in her autobiography that Balanchine asked her to read Don Q, but she couldn't get through it. I also remember some big name in letters (George Steiner?) admitting somewhere that he couldn't swear to having read absolutely all of it. So I think you're all in good company. (Personally, I've never even tried to read DQ.)

dirac, I guess part of my problem getting through Ross's book is that he can sound like a college student trying to prove he's a Writer, with Something Important to Say. He's clearly gifted, but the attitude is exhausting. (He's gotten much better in his column in recent years; though I still miss Andrew Porter every week.)

#26 papeetepatrick

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 10:31 AM

I also remember some big name in letters (George Steiner?) admitting somewhere that he couldn't swear to having read absolutely all of it. So I think you're all in good company. (Personally, I've never even tried to read DQ.)


I can't get very far with it either, and don't have future plans to try. Steiner comes up with all sorts of surprises, as in his book on Heidegger, or some weird ejaculation like 'the SCANDALOUS fact that EVERYONE has to die!'. Hilarious, that one. Just to add that Martin Amis's essay on the maddening aspect of 'Don Q' (may have mentiioned this before) is another example of what is obviously the case--lots of people having to plow their ways through it. Since that's true of a lot of 'duty books', as with Proust and Joyce, and others, I decided I couldn't live without Recherches nor Ulysses, but could live without Don Q, but also without Finnegan's Wake. I must be able to live without 'Moby Dick' to, because I got stuck in the first 50 pages in high school, and never went back to it. Realizing as I write this that it never has anything to do with intrinsic worth, since there really is not enough time to read all of the Great Books-I don't think even Susan Sontag managed, and she had already gotten a good start at U. of Chicago. maybe Harold Bloom, I don't know.

#27 vagansmom

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 01:50 PM

My husband completed the 100 Great Books - the 1970's list anyway. But it was required reading - he went to St. John's College which is the Great Books program. I haven't checked the list in years, but I'm assuming it's changed a little bit over the years, perhaps adding another female author or two?

#28 bart

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 02:21 PM

[ ... ] I still miss Andrew Porter every week.

Me too. But you can still read his opera reviews from London if you can get your hands on a copy of the Times Literary Supplement.

#29 leonid17

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 02:26 PM

Ach, Don Quixote! That's one I could never wade through either. When I first met my husband, he was a student at St. John's College, and Don Q. was required reading that summer. He and I embarked on a summer of hitchhiking through Central America, and I tried valiantly to read that book, hoping that spending time in Spanish-speaking countries would provide the right atmosphere, but to no avail. I hated it. My husband finished the book, but retains no fond memories of it. It was bitter medicine.

However, we both have the fondest memories of a summer replete with bed bugs, cutter ants (their bites made me miserable), poison toads, and Montezuma's Revenge. :P There's nothing like new love.


I think up until the mid 1950’s, educated people in England might have been expected to have read Cervantes Don Quixote. It was considered to be the first ‘modern novel’ and superior to most others. It took me the best part of a year to read in the 60’s. I still love the memory of the reading of this great novel but doubt I could read it again. Later when I read about his extraordinary life I felt more attached to the man himself.
Being most interested in the development of ballet, another reason to love this novel is that even before Petipa’s 1869 production it had spawned 6 previous ballet productions the first by Franz Hilverding in 1740 who was from 1758 introduced ballet d’action to St.Petersburg and developed the technique of the Imperial dancers. Don Quixote also inspired Charles Didelot perhaps the real creator of Russian Ballet who staged his version in St Petersburg 1808. Considering the number of published versions of Don Quixote available from antiquarian auctions around Europe published in the 17th and 18th century it is fair to say that its influence upon the development of the novel in Europe was extraordinary.
I think perhaps the general speed at which we receive new novels in the last 50 years and the way in which they are written and consume them, has had an affect on me at least, in respect of reading novels of the past with extensive exposition. I once enjoyed the highly influential Joseph Conrad but cannot imagine returning to read him again.

#30 papeetepatrick

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 02:58 PM

My husband completed the 100 Great Books - the 1970's list anyway. But it was required reading - he went to St. John's College which is the Great Books program. I haven't checked the list in years, but I'm assuming it's changed a little bit over the years, perhaps adding another female author or two?


Well, the 100 Great Books is still not going to include everything great, not by a long shot, although I think reading everytning on the list is an extraordinary accomplishment. Good for your husband, I certainly haven't done it (nor particularly want to, although I wish I could say I had...)


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