Dispatches | April 11, 2014

By Morgan Denlow

My sister used to have this grand idea that she would read all the books in the world when she was younger and my parents supported it (why wouldn’t they — their child wanted to read instead of watching endless cartoons), while I scoffed in her face. (If you can’t already tell, I’m the older sibling.) Reading all the books in the world meant that she had to read every book she laid her eyes on from cover to cover. I used to always think that she was ridiculous for continuing to read books she found boring or just plain bad, but it’s been several years since she’s grown out of that grand idea and now I’m not so sure I was right to scoff at her.

Let’s look at this from both sides, shall we? On the one hand, there isn’t enough time in the world for a person to read every single book ever written, even if all those books were conveniently housed in one super-duper library down the street. So why suffer through a book if you don’t like what you’re reading? Just pick up another one! I will admit though that I’ve done it before. For class (in which I was forced to continue reading) and sometimes just because I kept hoping that by the next chapter it would get better. And was I mad after finishing that terribly boring book that I followed through to the very end? Yes, sometimes I was, but there were also times when I felt a sense of accomplishment, especially if that book was considered a classic. I know that sounds somewhat haughty, but I’ve found that it’s usually nice to be able to contribute to a conversation about well-known books, even if you didn’t particularly like them.

For me it was Faulkner, more specifically, As I Lay Dying. (Was your mother really a fish?) But my favorite example would have to be Pride and Prejudice. I read the first two chapters as a homework assignment, and I immediately assumed that it was going to be a dreadful read because it was difficult to understand the style of writing. So I set it down until the next two chapters were assigned as homework again and by the fourth chapter I was hooked. The rest of my weekend (which just so happened to be the weekend that Valentine’s Day fell on) was consumed by finishing the book. If the next two chapters hadn’t been assigned as homework, I never would have picked the book back up, and what a shame that would have been. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge the entire book based on the fact that it was somewhat of a challenging read. Since then I have reread the book two more times and now consider it to be one of my favorites.

Sometimes reading a bad book is worth it. Sometimes, that bad book sticks with you days after you’ve finished reading it and you realize that the bad book has actually made you think about things differently and possibly even see things in a new light. Take, for example, literary magazines. Now before you freak out I am not saying that the writing in literary magazines is bad. I love the stories and essays they publish (most of the time). But my 10-year-old self probably wouldn’t have made it past the table of contents of The Missouri Review. My tastes in writing evolve as I grow older, and I hope they continue to do so. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll pick up As I Lay Dying again find it impossible to put down.

I’ve found that although most literary magazines have a different style and feel, most of them publish well-crafted stories that really make you think. And isn’t that the whole point of reading — to reflect on the various aspects of your life and the world around you? I guess what I’m trying to say is, although you may have been clawing your eyes out while reading that terrible book, you still might learn something in the end. Thus, I challenge you, whoever you may be, to take up the gauntlet for my sister and read every book you can get your hands on!