I feel like there’s a general agreement that there’s very little one can do in life that will either provide lasting happiness or even a feeling of existential satisfaction. Nonetheless, there’s something fun about doing difficult things. And doing those things is even better if society will reward you for having done them. That is why I like going to the gym. It’s not particularly fun, but it feels like such a praiseworthy activity.
Reading books is also another arena for bolstering your ego.
I am sure there is someone out there who just picks up Ulysses and enjoys it and reads further onwards out of a sense of curiosity and enjoyment. Indeed, the fact that the book exists and is popular is due to the efforts of people like this. When the book came out, it was not yet a monument: there must’ve been a time when a person could’ve thrown it off to the side without feeling any sense of failure, because there was not yet an understanding that reading this book was a praiseworthy activity.
Nonetheless, when I read long and/or difficult books, there’s almost always an element of ego involved. I simply want to be the kind of person who’s read this book. Does that mean I don’t enjoy the books? No. Bolstering my ego does not feel so good that it outweighs the boredom of ploughing through a book that I don’t like. But in many cases, I would not’ve picked up or stuck with a book if that book had not occupied an important position in the canon of literature.
The only reason I am posting about this now is because I am in the mood to read something that will make me feel good about myself. So today I’ve conducted an exhaustive search and considered a number of candidates:
- Crime And Punishment
- Nostromo or Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad
- Native Son, by Richard Wright
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison
- Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens
- The Cancer Ward, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
And after looking through the first pages of a number of tomes, I have finally settled upon Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak. Looks pretty interesting so far, but I honestly could not tell you what it’s about, except that it’s one of those sweeping Russian family epics and has something to do with the Russian Revolution. It’s entirely possible that I will abandon it. That does happen occasionally. For instance, I got a fourth of the way into the Canterbury Tales before deciding that life is toooooo short.