Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Wounded, Expanded Self-Esteem

"Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all." Thomas Szasz

After finishing Crime and Punishment, I tried to read the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. I had taken a break during the reading of Crime and Punishment to read the first book, which I enjoyed. But I wasn’t able to get beyond page ten of the second book, and that made me wonder if the problem was along the lines of “Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions” (Oliver Wendell Holmes), or if the second book’s plot is really going to be as predictable and banal as it seems. If you’ve read the second and/or third books, and you want to advise me, feel free. For now, I’ve moved on to Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood ( to satisfy my hunger for dystopia) and Trinity by Leon Uris (on my brother’s recommendation), but I’m feeling propelled toward the Brothers K or Tolstoy's  War and Peace, I’m not sure which.

It’s not that I think Dostoevsky is a great writer. He’s not. His prose is stilted, and his characters are annoying. His mastery lies in the ideas he introduces and the way he introduces them. In the space of roughly 550 pages, he threw so many new, mind-expanding ideas at me that I still haven’t caught up. Not necessarily even ideas I agree with, but what does that matter? You cannot become a fully developed human being if you aren’t willing to “suffer an injury to [your] self-esteem.”

My experience with trying to read Catching Fire after Crime and Punishment makes me wonder if reading great literature ruins you for lesser, entertaining literature. It’s kind of like skiing the greens after skiing the blacks or riding a beginner MTB trail after you get used to an advanced one. Can you go back and still enjoy yourself? I don’t know. Stay tuned to find out.


Cipriano said...

Crime and Punishment is the book that has been most frequently recommended for me to read, and yet I have never gotten to it.
Looking at some of the other books you have on the go, wow -- I love Margaret Atwood [and my signed copy of Year of the Flood], Tolstoy is my favorite classic[al] writer, for sure [War and Peace is excellent], and as for Leon Uris, I have a copy of Trinity but have yet to read it.... but his Mila 18, Exodus, and QBVII -- were all extremely memorable books for me.
Happy reading to you.

Amy said...

You should definitely read Crime and Punishment, just don't expect uplifting and inspiring. I too love Atwood. Her Alias Grace is one of my favorites, and I thoroughly enjoyed Oryx and Crake. The only Uris I've read was The Haj, but I remember devouring it so I'm looking forward to his others. I'm so overwhelmed by my TBR plans that I have no idea when I'll work on War and Peace, but it's something to look forward to for sure!

SFP said...

I haven't read Crime and Punishment since high school and I really need to make time to read it again (but first I have to read the second half of The Idiot which I started last October and had to put down because THE RANTING. It never stops).

I hope you will read The Brothers K. It's one of the most brilliant books I've ever read and so rich in ideas. I credit this book with turning my daughter into a Russian major.

Amy said...

Oh god, ranting. I hate ranting. Good luck with that. I will definitely read The Brothers K at some point. It's on my Kindle AND my nightstand waiting. I took Russian at Wake for a semester and fell in love with the culture - not so much with learning the language ;)

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