5 Tips to Alleviate the Dense

There are those tomes that try as we might to read with some semblance of speed and agility, our progress remains nearly stationary when set against the larger page count. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of finishing a thousand plus page book in a society that’s becoming known for an attention span of less-than-30-second vine clips makes me cringe.

That said, is it futile to push on? Never. Set your goals for reading the bigger books high, and live up to those expectations, for the worth in finishing the dense books that many have tried and few have conquered can become some of the most meaningful experiences of your life. Here are a few tips to get you going:

1. Set a Schedule: This is by far the most important element in succeeding whenever reading a book that could easily suffice as a car seat for a toddler. Set a specific page goal for the day and stick to it. Through thick and thin it’s most often when we’re in the throes of the monstrous–wallowing away four hundred pages into a book and not even being halfway–that we tend to toss in the towel fifteen-twenty pages too soon. On days when I don’t work, I mandate one-hundred pages from myself. On work days–50. Whatever yours may be, set it and stick to it.

2. Read Summaries: This is an aspect of reading a large, difficult book that many people deem cheating. But, if you’re like me and pride yourself in tackling those books others shy away from because of difficulty and length, reading summaries alongside some of the more difficult chapters of a dense Dostoevsky or Dumas novel will alleviate some of the stresses of gleaning plot from antiquated and nuanced language. Certainly every word has its place, but grasping a loose understanding of the plot either before or after reading a section of a larger novel can be an essential tool necessary to pull you through to the end.

3. Find Your Quiet Space: I’m a bit of a hermit when it comes to reading, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I value my peace and quiet–to the point that the faint hum of the refrigerator can sometimes be distracting. Thus, I read on my couch, away from distraction, screens and computers, the accoutrements of a culture hell-bent on switching attention every thirty seconds. I need silence to read, and thus I seek it out wherever I can get it–I suggest you do the same.

4. Persevere: Common sense has never been so simple. In order to wrestle your way through the Don Quixote‘s in the world one must be willing to stomach the boring, the passive, the antiquated, and the frustrating in order to extract those bits of truth we hungrily vie for whenever we set our sights on one of the denser classics.

5. Self-talk: This might just be me, but often when reading something particularly difficult and dense, there’s always that moment when the world sort of screams for you to quit. That little voice can be the bane of trudging through the marshy waters of dense literature, and thus, I need to personally remind myself that I can read thisIt’s worth it. Just like long-distance running, the prize is often awaiting you at the very end. The exhaustion and clear-headedness of finishing something others deem too difficult is reward in and of itself.

So the next time you set your sights high and feel your diligence and perseverance wavering under the pressure of the dense, remember the above strategies for making it through those books that are worth it–and, believe me, they are.

Summer Reading: My Ultimate Top Five

It’s time to open up those windows and breathe in the glorious scent of freshly cut grass. It’s summer, and with the sweltering heat comes leisure time galore (if you’re me, and have summers off), and the prospect of books, books, and more books.

Thus my ultimate top five summer reads:

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

A tome of info on India, Shantaram is the story of Mr. Lindsay and his post-prison-break refuge in Bombay. He falls in with the Indian mafia, revels in slum-life, and explores the sights and sounds of a country known for it’s mellifluous and mirthful spirit.

Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

Greene’s 1958 Cuban spy-parody is a comic romp through the eyes of vacuum cleaner salesman James Wormold as he’s accidentally thrust into the world of top-secret MI-6 espionage during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Certainly, one of Greene’s more uncharacteristically hilarious novels, it’s without question the light-heartedly perfect pool-side read.

The First Man– Albert Camus

Discovered in manuscript form amidst the wreckage of the car accident that prematurely took Camus’ life, The First man is a departure from his more intellectually weighty works. It’s the story of childhood, sun, sea, and the life of a small boy growing up amidst the turmoil of French colonized Algeria. The perfect read for the isolatory deep-thinker.

The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac

The story of Ray Smith (Kerouac) and Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) as they explore the duality between aesthetics and buddhism, and how all ultimately converge with nature. Experience the free-wheeling world of youthful late night wine-drinking parties combined with the serenity that comes with supreme mountaintop isolation in this beautiful summer read.

The Complete Short Stories – Ernest Hemingway

Nothing spells summer like a good Hemingway story. Thus, why not read them all? From the bullfights in Pamplona to African safari mishaps, this essential collection is a perfect portrayal of a man who reached near-mythic status in his literary career. Far more accessible than one would think, The Complete Stories is the perfect beach companion for the serious literarist.

Note: these are my personal favorites, though I would be remiss not to include the glorious pleasure-filled reads of summer like Harry Potter, Stephen King’s It, and Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, all of which come together as some of the best summer reads out there.

A Fraction of the Whole

Steve Toltz’ 2008 Man Booker Prize finalist A Fraction of the Whole is quite possibly one of the most entertaining and over-looked novels of the past decade. Part familial chronicle, part historical saga–the book is nothing short of astounding, and you’ll laugh through it all.

In Fraction we follow the Dean family through their misadventures as cultural heroes, villians, and everything in between. The story centers around Jaspar Dean, the illegitimate son of philosophical agoraphobe Martin Dean and brother to Australia’s simultaneously most hated and beloved, and by far famous criminal Terry Dean.

In between we get everything from zany societal discourse, trans-continental love affairs, literary/publishing debacles that would make Melville (victimized by publishing houses until death) cringe, and the global conundrums of drug-kingpins. It’s an absolute pleasure to read.

For those interested in a laugh-riot a la Garcia-Marquez style saga, look no further. Fraction of the Whole is it.