Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Books that Defeat Me

Despite the fact that I majored in history in college and minored in classics, pretty much everything I knew about Claudius prior to starting I, Claudius came from A Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors by Anthony Blond. This was also the book that taught me that Romans ate things like sow's nipples in tuna brine and fermented fish sauce. Exhibit A in the argument that the more you learn about history the happier you are to live in the hear and now. Anyway, this lack of knowledge was probably because I got my classics minor by taking four semesters of Latin for my language requirement--of which I remember next to nothing--and one class on the Roman republic for the aforementioned history major. This is what I knew:
  1. Claudius probably had cerebral palsy.
  2. Unlike pretty much all the other Julio-Claudian emperors, there don't appear to be questions about his heterosexuality.
  3. Despite the fact that he's popularly thought of as being one of the more benevolent Julio-Claudian emperors--not a role for which there is much competition--he was actually a bloody ruler who had a crapload of people killed.
So I figured that, given my fondness for historical fiction, I, Claudius would be a good way to dip my toe into the historical waters (theoretically made more entertaining by a heavy dose of make-believe) before taking the plunge into an actual history. Which I still think is a good theory. But three years later I'm only about 150 pages into the book. And it's not a short book. I think it might be time to admit defeat.

And normally I would have no problem with this. I stop books part way through on a regular basis. After all, why waste time on something that is giving you no pleasure? But somehow I got it into my head that this was a book I should read. And then, in year two of my struggle to read it, I decided that I needed to finish it because I'm not a quitter. But now, in year three, my relationship with the book is entirely adversarial and there's no way I'll ever enjoy it at this point in time because it's an obligation above all else. So fine, Robert Graves, you win. Your writing has defeated me and the appeal of your classic work of literature is beyond me. And now the time I spent pretending to read your book will be spent actually reading something I enjoy. So maybe I win too?

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