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Books shouldn’t make one feel stupid

Even though I freely admit that there are severe gaps in my knowledge, I nevertheless consider myself to be intelligent and well-educated, with a better-than-average vocabulary. However, I have been defeated by a book. “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy is a frustrating read, because every paragraph seems to contain more than one word that I have never seen before, and that I can’t guess the meaning of through the context. The book is on my Kindle, which is helpful, because I can point to words, and the built-in dictionary shows a gloss at the bottom of the screen. But about half of the words that I look up in Blood Meridian are not in the dictionary. I tried skipping over the words, but that didn’t help. McCarthy’s prose links so many phrases together with conjunctions that the sentences in the book are often a paragraph long. It’s hard enough following such a long sentence when I understand the words that I’m reading. When I have to mentally hold place markers for unknown words, reading becomes an unenjoyable task.

My disappointment with the book is aggrevated by the praise that others have given it. I persevered with Blood Meridian much longer than I would normally do, because so many people have said such great things about the book. That disconnect between their appreciation for the book and my own experience only made my difficulty with it more frustrating. Finally, last night, I decided that the benefit wasn’t worth the struggle. I deleted the book from my Kindle. I usually fire books because they are poorly written or don’t hold my interest. With this book, I don’t feel like I’m firing it; I feel like I’m quitting.

I guess that I now have a greater appreciation for the frustration that poor readers have when trying to read. The cost of understanding how other people may struggle with reading is too high, though. Reading should be a pleasurable and/or educational experience. Reading should not make one feel stupid.

If McCarthy’s motivation was to show that his vocabulary is greater than the average person, then he succeeded. If his motivation was to get me to read his book, he failed.

One Comment

  1. PMc says:

    Wait a minute. In reading this blog entry I had to look up “aggravated” and “persevered” and “prose” among others. The pot calling the kettle black. Haha. Just kidding, Dennie.

    I’m one of those who would have recommended the book to you. I think I’ve read it three times already and may pick it up again. I know exactly what you mean about the language, however. I just randomly opened a page and before getting through the first paragraph there were two words I didn’t know: “pannier” and “adamantine.” The first, an example of McCarthy’s “Old West” language with numerous special terms that would have been in common usage by riders or drifters of the era. The second is more the erudite language he constantly uses. I think this is purposely done to create a disturbing discrepancy between style and content: he is using the finest, most civilized, complicated, precise language to describe undifferentiated examples of the crudest, most horrific, merciless behavior, lacking any civilizing morality, judicial process, or conscience.

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