The Gist…

So, what is this thing, anyway?

Basically, the idea is that people want to, for a variety of reasons, read books that a whole lot of people love. However, this is often far easier said than done. The books that I’ve picked out (see “The List”) are all books that are critically beloved and – just as importantly – beloved by a great many others, but that do not, either because of intimidating reputations or sheer heft, invite casual reading.

The goal here is to provide support, a place where readers can come and share their thoughts, experiences, and struggles with these books and be heard.

Some may see this as pretentious. The books themselves, after all, have acquired that reputation from some, who tend to see anything that is simultaneously difficult and celebrated as suspicious at best.

And difficult they are. I’ve read portions (that’s a nice way of saying that I’ve started but never finished) of Underworld, Absalom, Absalom, and Blood Meridian. This experiment, then, is as much for me as for anybody else, but having others along for the ride will, it seems to me, make the experience richer and potentially easier.

The List

The List

Clear your Schedule

Even though nobody is on board with the challenge yet, I thought I would post the list of books that we’ll (eventually) be working through.

Here they are, in the order they will be overcome.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon

The Brothers KaramazovFyodor Dostoyevski

Underworld – Don Delillo

2666 – Roberto BolaƱo

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

Absalom, Absalom – William Faulkner

Ulysses – James Joyce

The InstructionsAdam Levin

The Challenge

Infinite Jest

The future slayed dragon

Everybody who is serious about reading books has one. That book. The one that you saw rave reviews for and bought with pride, handling its cover and soft pages like it was a new pet.

But then, something awful happened. Your new pet didn’t cooperate. You wondered after a hundred pages or so if something was wrong with you, if you weren’t reading it right, if there was something you were missing, hidden just out of sight. Maybe you wrestled with it for another twenty or fifty pages before you gave up, exiling the snarling monster from your bedside table to your bookshelf where it sits like a dirty lie. The best thing you can hope for now is that nobody sees that barely worn copy of Ulysses and asks you how you liked it.

So what are we to do about all those difficult books that we desperately wanted to read yet could not find a way to finish? We aren’t philistines, after all.

Well, my bookminded compatriots, I have a proposition.

When someone sets out to climb Everest, he or she would never do so alone. Even to attempt a solo ascent would ensure destruction. Only with the aid of others, all engaged in unified struggle, is anyone ever able to stand atop that peak. I propose that we adopt the same philosophy about these titanic works of literature that have beaten back so many eager readers: Let’s do it together.

If we can get a lot of people to challenge themselves to read some of those works that have given them fits in the past (or that they’ve always wanted to read but never been able to muster the courage to take on), then I think a lot of people, including myself, could finally exorcise the demons of their unfinished tomes.

Currently, unfinished copies of Don Delillo’s Underworld, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, and McCarthy’s Blood Meridian decorate my bookshelf. This blog’s purpose is to get them finished, with the support of other like-minded readers.

We will begin our first book, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, on Monday, Nov. 15. Use the time between then and now to get a copy, get yourself psyched, and get ready to tackle Wallace’s Magnum Opus.