Reading Journal (June 17): Reinforcements

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I have been struggling to read The Arabian Nights.

I enjoy it. It has a rambling fairy tale-like feel to it as the story within a story turns into yet another story and as magic alternately saves and destroys the day. Because it is from a different culture, I’m finding it fascinating to think of this as the stories of a cultural heritage. I’m glad I’m reading it.

But at the same time, it’s a story in a story in a story on to eternity; it feels repetitive; it’s long-winded; it’s just plain challenging to read. I almost gave up on it. But I did not.

I remembered that Eva mentioned a companion volume (by Robert Irwin) to The Arabian Nights in her library loot last month, so I decided to find it at my library too. Reading commentary helped when I was reading Julius Caesar last month, so I figured why not?

Apparently, I’m not alone in struggling through Arabian Nights, so now I don’t feel so odd calling in for reinforcements. Here’s what Irwin says in the introduction:

According to a superstition current in the Middle East in the late nineteenth century when Sir Richard Burton was writing, no one can read the whole text of the Arabian Nights without dying. There have indeed been times (particularly when toiling through Burton’s own distinctly unattractive translation of the Nights) when I thought that I might slit my through rather than continue with this enterprise. However, I am still alive. It may be that I have acquired some sort of literary stamina [as a child]… (page 1).

That was a relief to me to read that even the expert writing a companion guide to Arabian Nights struggled through it at times.  I’ve determined to read the companion volume as I continue reading The Arabian Nights. (Thanks for the idea, Eva!) I look forward to being able to say that it helped to get the literary stamina for which ever book I next think is going to kill me. I’m going to read it! I will not die!

What book did you think was going to kill you? Did it kill you, or did you pull through?

Do you turn to commentary or companion guides as reinforcements to get you through your challenging reads?

This week, I also signed up for my summer reading program: I need to read six books (audio counts). I also signed up my 20-month-old son up for their baby program: among other things, I need to read him five new books, sing him a lullaby, and recite him some Mother Goose. I think it’s an adorable program! Are you and your children joining your library reading program?

Currently Reading

Last week, I was very good at not getting any books from the library. This week, I succumbed to the temptation and doubled my loot. My problem is that I really, really want to read all the books I check out: then I find myself trying to read faster, which takes away the point of careful reading.

For the first time in about two months, I read more than 500 pages in one week. I’d been “good” at keeping my reading to 100-200 pages a week, but this last week I just kept reading. I made good progress on Forstye Saga, and I finished my Robinson Crusoe adaptation project.

I also finished The Alchemist for my book club, which is meeting tonight. I’m afraid to say I am probably the only one in my book club who didn’t really like the underlying theme of it, but I’ll leave you in suspense until tomorrow or whenever I can get my review up. I hope I can tone down my negativism about this book for my book club; I’m new and I’d hate to be disagreeable. Do you still go to your book club if you dislike the book and everyone else is probably going to rave about how great it is? I’m almost dreading it.

It’s nice to get things finished, but I like reading slowly too. How does one consistently read slowly and surely?

My Books

  • The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (717 read of 906 pages; fiction)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (via, about 41% finished) on hold
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (200 read of 750 pages; children’s fiction) on hold

Library Loot, Old

Library Loot is hosted by Eva and Marg.

  • The Arabian Nights translated by Husain Haddawy (160 read of 425 pages; fiction).
  • The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington (146 read of 340 pages; nonfiction).
  • Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts (audiobook, 6 disks, about 6 hours; nonfiction). FINISHED!
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo (167 pages; fiction). FINISHED!

Library Loot, New

  • The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk (18 read of 263 pages; nonfiction)
  • The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin (8 read of 292 pages; nonfiction)
  • The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (audiobook, 9 discs, about 10.5 hours; fiction) My next audiobook
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Burrows
  • Chicago: Then and Now by Elizabeth McNulty (150 pages; nonfiction/coffee table book) FINISHED!
  • Lost Chicago by David Lowe (270 pages; nonfiction/coffee table book)

It doesn’t appear that I made much progress on The Clash of Civilizations; in actuality, I reread the first 100 pages. I’m hoping to focus on it this week. It’s another “challenging” book for me, for some reason, but I’m enjoying a different perspective on global politics. I’m pretty clueless! I also believe I’ll finish The Forsyte Saga this week and start watching the television series of it.  I may also make some progress on The Arabian Nights. It’s actually due this week (after one renewal for a total of six weeks) so I’ll probably have to return it and check it out again.

My sister and I are going to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society together this summer. I got the book about the U.S. Constitution in honor of the Fourth of July, and I got the Chicago coffee table books because of my recent interest in Carl Sandburg’s poetry and by extension my hometown/metropolis. I have a few more on hold. Yes, out of control once again this week!

Reviewed on June 17, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • no one can read the whole text of the Arabian Nights without dying…

    That is a very scary quote! It would make a great premise for a book! I hope you manage to battle your way to the end. I am having similar trouble with Genji – and everyone else seems to have switched translator! Perhaps I should buy a study guide too.

  • I love the Arabian Nights quote! I admit, when I read it, I just skipped through and picked random stories to read. I didn’t feel compelled to read each of them in order, and I doubt I read every one in the book. It didn’t feel necessary to me. I was reading it more for language and heritage than for the stories themselves.

    There have been several books that have just about killed me getting through them, but that I had to finish for one reason or another (like book clubs or school assignments): Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Dr. Zhivago, Don Quixote. Those are the four that come to me offhand. Yes, I ploughed through them, but I ended up not reading them as carefully as I could have.

    Since I run my book club, I have to go whether or not I like a book. When we did War of the Worlds back in January, just about everyone loved the book, and I hated it with a passion. I just had to sit back and not say too much, and encourage others to talk more. Sorry you didn’t like The Alchemist. I ended up enjoying it more than I expected. I thought I’d find it cheesy and dull, but I managed to let go of my cynical side long enough to take it in.

  • You’ve made me more nervous about grabbing Arabian Nights! But I’m off to do just that; I’m glad your library had the companion volume too. 😀

    Can’t wait to hear about Founding Mothers; I couldn’t decide if I’d like that one or not.

  • That reminds me I need to pick up my copy of “The Arabian Nights” again. I haven’t gone past the introduction yet. I might have to look into that companion volume, too.

    I don’t think this is one of those books you need to read from beginning to end–keep it by your bedside or chair and read as the mood strikes. Hard to do if it’s a library book, though!

  • I love study guides/companions! Sometimes it helps even just to read whatever Wikipedia has. Anything to give my brain a little kick every now and then seems to give me a new angle to approach, even with books for which I don’t necessarily need them.


  • I love the Arabian Nights quote. It definitely doesn’t make me want to run right out and pick it up. I struggled through Mother of the Believers by Kamran Pasha, and finished it, but the dry history aspect completely overwhelmed what was supposed to be historical fiction.

  • Jackie, I thought of the Tale of the Genji read-along as I read that quote….I imagine it’s similarly challenging but rewarding!

    Amanda, I’m tempted to do that, but then I worry about the stories that I’m missing and I’m just a compulsive book reader: I feel compelled to read it cover to cover. Even coffee table books.

    I’ve read two of your ploughed through books and I enjoyed them both — AK and Madame Bovary. But I read them when I was in a different stage (i.e., pre-blogging). I think I’m more impatient now, which isn’t such a good thing!

    I may like the Alchemist after discussion, so I’m still going; at this point I’m not a huge fan of it…

    Eva, It’s just a long read, and that makes it hard! I do hope you enjoy it when you begin. It may help that you own your copy so you can read it here and there.

  • Valerie, that’s exactly the problem! I have been reading it here and there as I feel like it, but after six weeks, I’m only on page 160! So I’ll keep working on it — once I go check it out again…I’ve only just begun the companion volume. It doesn’t follow the stories in order or anything; it’s just the themes and it’s good as of page 8!

    Lezlie, I also go to Wikipedia all the time. Which is scary considering who knows how accurate it is all the time!

    Nicole, Arabian Nights is definitely not for everyone. Maybe not even for me, but now I’m going to be stubborn!

    Kathy, oh good! I hope I like it too!

  • Ok, I’m 50 pages into Arabian Nights and 100 pages into the companion volume. So far, I’m enjoying them both (although the third chapter of the companion volume was a bit boring). We’ll see what happens as I continue! 🙂

    I signed my niece up for my library’s summer program, since she’ll be here through July. But there isn’t one for adults; that’s in winter.

  • Eva, oh wow. I have a hard time reading big chunks of Arabian Nights so I’m impressed you got through so much in just one day! I don’t know why — I, too, enjoy it. I just have found that I read twenty pages a day and I’m happier…

    I’m glad the companion volume is good; I imagine I won’t read all of that but pick and choose, especially if some chapters are boring!

    That’s too bad that there is no adult program in the summer. I think it’s a good time for adults to read too.

    Marg, oh I’m glad to hear that about both books! My sister’s not a huge reader so I’m hoping reading Guernsey is a positive experience for her!

  • I recently lent Guernsey to a non reader. They are really enjoyeing it, although I am not quite sure how they are spreading such a small book over a long period of time!

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