I have a friend who doesn’t like to be told what to do. No, I mean, she REALLY doesn’t like to be told what to do. She’ll ask you what you think she should do in a certain situation and turn right back around (tongue & cheek) with the most serious face and say “Don’t tell me what to do.” If you didn’t know her, you’d think she was crazy and maybe she is, but no more than the usual amount. (She doesn’t even like it when the GPS tells her where to turn).
I have to admit that I recognize more than a little bit of myself in her stubbornness. Something happens to me when I receive a challenge (we’ll just insert “reading” in front of that). It’s as if something snaps to inside of me. A white glove stinging my cheek and all of the sudden I’m standing erect, choosing my weapon and walking ten paces. I cannot refuse. It’s like someone double-dog-daring me to do something and my 10-year-old self, with that unwavering 10-year-old logic emerges.
So, when the simplest of (reading) challenges / memes showed up in my Facebook feed, I did what most people do. I ignored it. The best way to stay out of a trap is to avoid it (Girl Scouts 101). I ignored it each time a friend shared it. All 13 times it showed up in my feed, until… “You’ve been invited to an event.” I didn’t even see the glove until it left that stinging sensation on my cheek. Damn.
“You’ve been invited to an Event” – Facebook’s version of a double-dog-dare.
It should be said, that most events I’m invited to on Facebook are actual events, happening in the real world and the only challenge to overcome is scheduling. In this case, the event was more conceptual… A reading challenge. The same reading challenge I had been side stepping (successfully) for the entire week.
Now, the challenge itself, upon first glance, was a simple one. Read 12 books in a year. No Prob! So Easy. I can do this in a month! (okay, maybe two). And I have to say, it was going pretty well. I got a third of the listed challenges knocked out in a week. But here’s the thing, one of the “challenges” was to read something that intimidated you. Intimidated. It’s an interesting word. One that most people would take at face value. The problem? I am not most people.
What exactly does it mean, a book that intimidates you? Should I read a scary book, one that frightens me? A book that threatens me, threatens my way of thinking? A book that overpowers me in an emotional sense? Perhaps I should find and read the heaviest / largest book I can find, one that literally overpowers me? Or should I find one that is dense with language? (OH my literal mind!) – so many titles flashed through my head:
- Scary: Communion (Whitley Strieber), The Collector (John Fowles), Cujo (Stephen King)
- Threatening: Mein Kompf (Adolph Hitler), Crippled America (Donald Trump)
- Emotionally overpowering: Requiem for a Dream (Hubert Selby, Jr.), Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway), A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Husseini), Was (Geoff Ryman)
- Thick: The Instructions (Adam Levin), Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace)
- Dense with language: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante…
In the end, I chose to challenge myself (& my brain) with a language dense (& somewhat thick) 450 page Hindu poem made up of 24,000 verses (500 cantos). Valmiki Rámáyana is one of two popular stories told to children in India, Bali, Java, etc. As such, I figured it would be an easier read, but as I said before, my brain is quite literal, so reading rhyming verses that loop around themselves only to repeat the story told in the previous verses, well… this became the real challenge for me. I had to remind myself that, even though the length of the poem would suggest otherwise, this was indeed written for children.
I am still slogging through it, but I have been assured that once I get through book one, it becomes “much more engrossing. At this pace, however, it may take me the full 12 months to finish. Still, had it not been for the challenge, I would never have pressed myself to read something beyond the familiar.