Monday, May 21, 2012

The Difficult Read

I'm reading a book right now that I know is going to take awhile to read. Not because it's particularly lengthy, but because of the subject matter.

It's about the life of U.S. Ambassador William Dodd and his family during their post in Berlin, right after the election of Hitler as chancellor, and through the years building up to WWII. It's a fascinating book (and here I should thank my sister-in-law for giving it to me). But I can only handle a few short chapters a night. I love, love, love history, but I've always had a problem studying WWII, particularly when reading or hearing about the inhuman treatment of Jews in Germany and its conquered lands during that time. Oddly, the subject makes my palms itch in a very creepy way. It must be my half-Jewish blood. Despite this, I feel it's important to keep this historical knowledge at the forefront of my consciousness. I imagine an African American might feel the same way about slavery or segregation. Contemplating these subjects does not make one happy, but the continued awareness feels vitally important.

This post has taken a more serious turn than I'd intended. I'd planned to blog tonight about books that take awhile to read, for various reasons, but it seems to be turning into a post about why we read about things that are difficult for us to handle for emotional reasons. This topic must be on my mind because a friend of mine emailed me earlier today about starting to read a book I blogged about recently, Every Last One, even though I'd warned everyone that the subject matter was emotionally challenging. She said it sparked a conversation between her and her husband about why she would go into a book knowing that and yet still be willing to try it. She said it was for the same reason people watch TV cop shows, medical shows, war or disaster movies. I think that's a great point, but I have to laugh about it, because while I'm perfectly willing to brave a difficult read, I'm a lot less interested in watching those types of TV shows or movies. Most of my favorite TV shows are comedies, and on the rare occasion I watch a movie, it's usually something light. I think that's because I'm an extremely visual person, and I have trouble getting graphic scenes out of my head. So I'm willing to read In The Garden of Beasts, which takes me right into Hitler's backyard, but unwilling to watch Saving Private Ryan. And I assume there are plenty of people out there who feel the opposite, and are more likely to watch a terrifying movie than read a devastating book. It's an interesting quirk of human nature.

Maybe I'll get to that other post another night. In the meantime, think about what you find difficult to read or learn about, and try to challenge yourself to try it. Even if you can only manage a little bit at a time, it might open new avenues of thought or feeling for you. I know it does for me.

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