I watch science-fiction. I write science-fiction. And all of that started by reading science-fiction. So in an attempt to broaden my sci-fi base, and with a handy challenge on the news site Reddit to read through NPR’s 100 Top Science Fiction, Fantasy Books, I launched into reading the great Ursula K. Le Guin’s seminal classic “The Left Hand of Darkness.”
This book has been in my “to read” pile for ages, before that pile became digital some time last year. I’d gotten in a few pages and was distracted by a myriad of things, those kinds of things that make you leave the paperback somewhere, forgotten. I unforgot it and got to reading it.
It has not been smooth going. I wondered if my brain had shrunk, if I’d lost my ability to read sensibly. I tried to concentrate, sure that it was my lack of focus that was the problem. This book is a classic, written by one of the trailblazers of sci-fi. How could I not be absorbed by it?
I own Le Guin’s book on writing, “Steering the Craft,” for goodness’ sake. And it’s a fantastic book.
And yet “The Left Hand of Darkness” and I trudge slowly forward. I even lost a week’s reading time when, after virtuously reading for an hour or so, I left the book at my parents’ house, abandoned on the couch for something more pressing and not thought of again. I usually don’t do that to books.
So we’ve been reunited, but the book does not call to me, does not press me to hurry to finish what I am doing so I can sneak in a few minutes here or there, does not invite me to lie back on the sofa and lose myself in an admittedly flawlessly constructed world.
I usually have no qualms about stopping a book that doesn’t grab me. I can close it, return it to the library when applicable, and move on with my life without a twinge of guilt or curiosity. Even the insistence of something being a classic doesn’t sway me. I like what I like, and sometimes it’s something people think isn’t all that literary, and sometimes it’s something I think everyone else is insane not to adore, and once in a while we’re all agreed.
But here’s a book I want to like. I recognize its importance in the genre through which I filter the world, and understand that it was created by an exceptionally skilled writer. But for some reason beyond me, I cannot read it for the vast stretches of afternoon that feel, when you’re really loving a book, like an indulgence.
But Le Guin is no Joseph Conrad, and unlike Conrad, I will not turn my back to her in a refusal to accept her as a classic. I will finish this book, and hopefully, in doing so, I’ll figure out why, though I’m not compelled to read it, I’m compelled not to stop