Getting through a tough book

It doesn’t have to be your personal Everest.

I have spent just about four weeks reading the same damn book. In fact, it was such a challenge for me I had to stop reading it at page 26. the 216-pager is considered a sci-fi staple, and being a fan of the genre, I feel like I’ve been living in shame trying to finish something I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my head around.

Some people believe you have to finish a book in a reasonable amount of time. I am one of those people. In fact, I did that with one of my all-time favourites the first time I read it: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I was in grade nine (we were reading the book for English class) and while I managed to finish the book in about four days, I had no interest in trying to read between the lines or make personal connections with the story or its characters. The following summer, I was compelled to pick it up again after making an observation about people wearing headphones (I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s akin to the description of the sea shell radios in the book). It freaked me out, so I gave the book a second go, finishing it in about a week. It is now one of my most cherished pieces of literature, and since then I’ve read Fahrenheit 451 yearly.

Yes, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I feel that reading the book is an entirely different story (pardon the pun). As is the case with people, once you get to know them you may find you and the book in question don’t mesh well. Just because you don’t agree with the writing style or the story elements doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad book. If you’re like me and are headstrong about finishing your novel, here’s what I’ve been doing to try and conquer the challenge.

Dedicate time to the book

It doesn’t have to be a two-hour marathon. In fact, I find that counterproductive with more toilsome books because I always look at the clock when I read for more than 30 minutes at a time. As much as possible, I will read on my train ride to work. For more challenging books, I dedicate 15 to 20 minutes a day. If I really find a book is giving me grief, I set a timer on my phone. Often when the timer goes off, I get annoyed with my phone because I’ve become so engrossed in the book, and as I continue to pick up the novel, I become less reliant on the timer.

Do you need to read in a specific spot?

I enjoy reading on transit, but I also like reading at home in one of our couch corners. I also like reading on the bed, as well as on our balcony when it’s sunny and warm. Identify your favourite spots, and use them as a tool to get your reading gears in motion.

Read with a dictionary

If you have enough discipline, your phone can suffice. I  typically don’t like to use my phone while I read because I end up looking for a word, and somehow surfing over to my Instagram feed — which takes away from my reading time. If I’m at home, I’ll read with a notebook (like my bullet journal!) and pen nearby, scribble down the word, phrase or reference in question, then look it up after my reading session. Think of it like your “word/phrase of the day.”

If you’re getting frustrated, stop…

…but don’t stop for too long. Whether that’s a break to take on a household chore, or coming back to it the following day, don’t give up. I had to start reading from the beginning of my current book because I’d left it for so long I’d forgotten everything that happened in the first 26 pages. (Sad, isn’t it?) It’s best to tackle the story when it’s fresh in your mind.

Talk to a friend/spouse/your cat or dog about the book

This process has evolved for me: I began doing this with a stuffed toy while I was taking English AP courses in high school because no other self-respecting 12th grader wanted to hear what I had to say about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Robert Browning’s Prospice (well, until I came up with a joke about Browning being afraid of McDonald’s). Years later and I now have a husband who has the “pleasure” of listening to me whine about the first few chapters of a book. I have had so many a-ha! moments hashing something out verbally; sometimes I do better writing it all out (though I’ve had more successes listening to myself yammer on in the moment). Whatever works best for you, use it to your advantage. I generally try to avoid online forums because people still manage to spoil books, one way or another. *Eye roll.*

Reward yourself with an easier read once you’re done the tough stuff

I tend to consume multiple books at once, so I’ll often throw in comic books or graphic novels as a reward for getting through a dense piece of work. Don’t get me wrong: comic books can also be a tough read, but I often have a much easier time relating to them and find them a welcome escape from everything difficult in my life.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, and don’t give up!

As the cliché goes with so many other things in life, it’s not a race. Books have a lot to offer us. If you get to the end and you realize you didn’t like it, then now you know.

What are your favourite ways to tackle literary challenges? Drop me a line in the comments below!

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