Varieties of Difficulty in Reading

I’m experiencing trouble reading two very different books in very different ways. On the one hand, 2666 by Roberto Bolano is intentionally difficult, as he clinically relates the individual stories of the hundreds of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez in the 1990’s, one after another, the unsolved crimes getting their day in public court, in a sense. The way he tells their stories leaves out so much, but then again, their lives were also cut short and the narration reinforces that fact. It’s a brooding and depressing book in general. Hard to keep going at some points, but tremendously compelling at others.

The second book is the one I’m reading aloud to my son, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. This book is beloved by so many people that I’ve been surprised both at how poorly it’s written and how very boring it is (to me). It’s essentially Starship Troopers with a precocious six-year old. Ender is six in the same way that Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes is six – not really. But he’s a genius and isolated and misunderstood and manipulated by the adults around him, so it makes sense this book would appeal to nerdy teens and tweens. I’m just not the audience.

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10 thoughts on “Varieties of Difficulty in Reading

  1. I still love Ender’s Game, but then I’m a nerdy 75-year-old. I first read it long before I became so conscious (and self-conscious) about writing style, so Card’s less than topnotch writing didn’t come across. What really brought it front and center was recently rereading, for the first time in many years, Ender’s Shadow. Wow! I had no idea.

    But a read being hard – yes, for many reasons. I’m still cringing away from a first reading of Shake Hands with the Devil. Maybe if I hadn’t already seen the documentary about Dallaire’s experience in Rwanda, I wouldn’t be quite so much a coward. Some books shove reality in your face, and it’s hard to deal with.

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  2. I loved Ender’s Shadow. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but I love the Bean character. I also followed most of the series. But I never did get to Shadow of the Hedgemon. I think we all have our preferences. I know there are quite a few books I’ve read and disliked that have had glowing reviews. Unfortunately, writers cannot please everyone.

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    • I’m also fond of Bean and the idea of a book devoted to him would have been great — if the writing wasn’t so bad. It was shocking that I hadn’t seen it all those years back.

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      • Reading aloud is a different experience, too. When I read silently, I tend to skim books such as sci-fi, because I know it’s usually just about the plot and not the writing, but reading it out loud exposes every sentence to the harsh light of day :}

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      • I’m strictly a silent reader. I can’t even stand audio books. Sometimes I skim, but that means either I’m too tired to pay close attention, or the book isn’t interesting to keep it and I shouldn’t be wasting my time. 🙂 And it doesn’t matter how good the plot is, if the writing gets in my way, that book goes in the discard pile. I can’t separate them anymore.

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  3. I was interested to read your thoughts on Ender’s Game, because I totally disagree with everything you said! I feel it is an excellently written book — not because it’s particularly brilliant in the writing itself, but because of the story it tells and the way Card tells it. And I know a lot of adults who have read the book for the first time and loved it. But, like all books, I suppose that whether or not you enjoy it is just a matter of personal taste 🙂 It’s always good to hear other viewpoints — helps you re-evaluate your own opinions toward something.

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    • Michelle, you said it yourself, in a way. But the writing isn’t just not particularly brilliant, it’s bad. Note that I’m not talking about the plot, the characters, or even the structure. I’m talking about the use of language. But I recognize that not everyone is sensitive to or cares about how the language is used. And that’s fine. But I do have to say if Ender’s Shadow was the first book of Card’s that I’d ever read, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. It was only fondness for the character, and wanting to remember how his story developed that I stuck with the reread. As you said, personal taste.

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