100 novels: Arabian Nights/1001 Nights

I am reading the Telegraph’s “100 novels everyone should read” list. You can follow my progress on the twitter hashtag #100novels.

This review will contain spoilers.

1001 Nights

This is the first book on the 100 novels reading list that I won’t be finishing. I’ll be honest, I had trouble from the start. Firstly, like most collections of fairy-tales, there’s about a million different editions, some framed for children, some for adults, many with different titles. In the end I settled for a version called Arabian Nights, that had been translated by Richard Burton. I sat down expecting to get Scheherazade telling tales about Aladdin, Sinbad and so on. Instead, I got a collection of what are obviously the ‘lesser known’ stories – filled with wives committing adultery with tailors and so forth.

I’ll be honest: I have a hard time with myth, fairy tales and legends. I like my characters well-rounded, their motivations consistent. In fairy-tales, evil is painted in stark lines, whilst good is not so much good as ‘the person who wins’. There are some fairy-tales I love, and myths are a great place to go for inspiration but as actual stories they lack something.

Eventually I reached a story in which women of various appearances sang songs about how awesome they were, and slagged off the other women by singing about how terrible they were. Fed up, I decided to take a break. I put the kindle down and picked up Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs. From there I read Red Dragon, Black Sunday and then Philip K. Dick’s Simulacra. At that point, I realised that I was never going to finish Arabian Nights.

With that in mind, I bought the next book from the 100 novels list.

Life is too short to read something you hate

I still remember the first book I gave up on. It was a turgid fantasy novel, and I literally couldn’t face reading any more. I decided to stop, and with that decision I felt suddenly free. Until that point I had forced myself to finish anything I started. But now I know there are too many stories in the world – over 100 million of them just in book form – to waste time on the ones you hate.

However.

That is not an excuse to never read anything difficult or challenging. I could easily read nothing but 60’s science fiction for the rest of my life – but at this point I know most of the questions that 60’s sci-fi deals with backwards and forwards. I’ve read the originals, the rip-offs and the parodies. There is nothing new there.

For me, reading should introduce me to new ideas, it should help challenge my prejudices. It’s not ‘just for fun’ although some books can be!

(Photo by Arlo Magic Man)

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