So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and read one of the really great classic novels. Then you peak at the page count: 1,242 pages. And it’s the small typeset with no pictures.
What?!?!?!?! You think to yourself. I don’t have time for 1242 pages! How on earth am I supposed to read all of that?
Well, if you think the page count of The Count of Monte Cristo is bad, then don’t ask about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series which has 650+ pages per book and the series is 14 books long.
Or Dune which has a similar page count to Monte Cristo. Or The Way of Kings by Brian Sanderson. Oh, and you might as well forget Les Miserables and Don Quixote while you’re at it.
Who has time for all that?
Good question. Who does have time to read 1,242 pages these days? Or the interest, for that matter.
It’s one thing to take a trashy paperback with you on your much-needed vacation or use apps like Radish, Mentorist, or Kindle which tap into our technology addiction.
It’s completely another thing to sit there with a 1,000+ page book in your hands and conscientiously read it all the way through.
How long will it take you? Will you get bored? Is it even worth with the bother? Why does it even matter if I read something someone wrote well over a hundred years ago?
These are all perfectly valid questions to ask yourself.
Here are some tips to help you answer them….
Commit to Reading Every Day
Ok, easy enough, right?
Well, let’s delve into this often touted piece of advice.
There are many different articles on the internet about starting a reading habit. Self-help gurus, stylists, business coaches, and even Forbes have reams of advice on why establishing a reading habit is good for you.
But what is it you’re reading? Even scrolling through your social media feeds involves a bit of reading. Reading articles on LinkedIn is still reading. Researching anything on the internet requires reading. Technically, you already have a reading habit, but it’s molded around technology which you use on a daily basis–almost without thinking about it.
We are used to reading in snippets when we do any of these things. Reading a long novel is quite different. It requires patience, presence, and stillness to accomplish. We are not used to any of these things in the day and age of DoorDash, Prime, and instant gratification.
For those of you who have a particular taste for dystopia novels, it’s a lot like Fahrenheit 451. Except blog posts and online articles are subtly and significantly longer than the traditional magazine articles of past decades.
Which means, you already have the means and the patience to tackle a much larger reading project.
Read a specific number of chapters
Chapters are an extremely handy way of signposting your way through a particularly long novel. The author has already taken the trouble of breaking up the action into manageable bites for you, so why not take advantage of it?
While they’re slightly longer than a blog post, each chapter is itself a complete idea–with cliffhangers to keep you reading.
Start with just one chapter per day. Just one. Take as long as you need to complete that chapter. If you are an early rise, start your day off with a little reading. Haven’t finished your chapter yet? Read a little more over your lunch break that day or during your morning commute, if you use mass transportation or take and Uber. Or, save it for after work, pour your evening glass of wine and turn off the TV for a little while.
If you are particularly goal-oriented, you can give yourself a very specific date by which to finish the book and then read however many chapters per day you need in order to finish reading by your target date.
The only drawback with this approach is the temptation to read for the sake of getting through the book–not for the sake of exercising your mind, being present in the moment, or absorbing what’s actually happening.
Read during a specific time slot
Are you one of those super organized, ultra-optimized people who has their day scheduled down to the last minute?
Yeah, I’d be willing to bet that most of you aren’t either and if you’re attempting to schedule everything into your day, it may already be more stressful than its worth.
Organizing your time into blocks or chunks is one of the easiest ways to organize how you use your time mostly because it doesn’t require you to commit to doing a specific task at a specific time.
It’s the old timer method from our school days. Or if you are currently prepping for an exam. You have so many minutes to work on a specific task for today. Set a timer, and when the time goes off, there you go. Take a break, get another cup of coffee, and move on to the next time block of time.
So, schedule yourself a little self-care session with your chosen reading project. Get into the mindset that you are reading for your own well-being and set the timer.
Just be aware that if you are in the middle of a particularly good spot when your timer goes off, you will be tempted to go over time.
Won’t I Get Bored?
This is an objection that comes with the territory, unfortunately. If you find something boring, you are less likely to follow through with it.
Perhaps it’s a better question to ask yourself why the book in question in boring you.
Do you have a good translation? Whether English isn’t your native language or you are reading a work which has been translated into English, language is going to be a barrier at some point.
Take it from someone who’s suffered through quite a few bad translations.
While there are always going to be academics who argue for accuracy in translation, there is something to be said for readability. And readability will make or break your commitment to follow through on reading a particularly challenging piece of literature.
So, when you are looking at a book which is a translation, make sure that you enjoy reading it.
Don’t, for instance, blindly buy a translation because it’s the newest one or the most revered one. Read it first and determine if it’s something you can understand, relate to, and enjoy. If you pick up a translation which isn’t to your liking–then find a different one entirely.
Have you found something in the novel yet which piques your interest? It could be the plot, it could be a particular theme or character.
If Monte Cristo is your next big reading project, take a look at my series on some of the different layers to the novel. Pick one and dive right in!
If you are reading a book only because you “heard it was good” then you need to delve a little more deeply into the book itself. What’s the historical background? Is there a theme which resonates with you? A detail? In some of the truly great literature, there’s nearly something for everyone–even if the only thing which interests you are business practices.
Try researching the book beforehand. Classic literature is perfect for this because there are usually decades, if not centuries, of scholarship, marketing, and media to help you. It may be the author’s own story which inspires you to read further.
I discovered Ann Radcliffe, for instance, when I read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Which helped me discover Walpole and the rest of the gothic novelists.
Is anything that long worth the effort?
Why can’t you just read the abridged version? Why can’t you just skip the archaic language and read the No Fear Shakespeare version?
Does anything written over a century ago really matter in the 21st century?
Perhaps rephrasing the question will put things into perspective.
Is your mind worth investing in? Are you worth your own time and effort to expand your horizons?
It’s easy to buy a course on a new skill–it’s something else to dedicate time to learning and applying it to your own life.
Cut corners if you want to–but you’ll be selling yourself short.
And you may end up missing out on something that is really and truly life-changingly inspirational.
Great literature, classic literature, has always been more than just another notch on the belt so you can sound smart at a party. It forces you to think, it forces you to make connections between different ideas.
Reading more difficult works opens your mind to other people and experiences you may not otherwise get to have. How do you know the love and loss of a parent in 1820s Paris are not the same as your love and loss in 21st century America? How do you know the isolation felt by a poor relation in 1810s England are not the same feelings you feel every time you’re out in society?
Such is the basic idea behind bibliotherapy. Reading more difficult content can be good for your mental health in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
The concept isn’t new by any means–Jane Austen was used as a treatment for PTSD during WWI and Churchill himself famously read her works during his lowest points during the Battle of Britain. Queen Victoria took solace in the poems of Tennyson. John Dryden and Alexander Pope, both great poets in their own right read Shakespeare in their darkest moment.
The idea is even present behind Arts in the Armed Forces, Adam Driver’s charity which works with military and the performing arts as a form of therapy for dealing with the horrors of war.
Is reading the 1,000+ page book a waste of your time?
Ultimately, you don’t know until you make the effort to read it. If you fail you fail. But if you succeed….
What wonders await!!
So take this as a challenge: pick a book you always wanted to read but just thought you couldn’t because it was too long and commit to reading it.
There are two penitential seasons coming up: Lent and Ramadan (Lent in March, Ramadan in April) and a third new year–the astrological new year. If that’s not a sign to start, then I don’t know what is.
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