I've started a project recently to read classic novels that I should have read ages ago. I've done fairly well for myself in the last few weeks, I think. Granted, I'm no Petra, but I've read plenty, and I'm feeling good about myself. My reading has been skewed slightly toward recent American fiction (in fact, skewed toward Kurt Vonnegut), but I'm making progress. Soon, I will have read every significant book ever written, and I'll be a fantastic conversationalist.
However, the problem with this is that I tend to read these books while at work. My job has me cleaning some houses owned by the university. I actually like the job - it's simple and physical work, which I really like. The snag, though, is that I have four hours to finish cleaning these four houses, and it only takes me two and a half hours (and that's if I go slow). I've taken to bringing my books to work so I'll have something to do. Yes, I could probably find something else to do with my time (such as cleaning other things), but the person who trained me also reads during our down time, so I don't feel terribly bad about it. We head to our first house at about 4:20 and finish cleaning it by 4:45 or so. We leave for our second house at 5:30, so I usually have forty-five minutes to read in that house. It isn't air-conditioned, though, so it tends to get warm and musty (as we're in the basement when we read, since it's slightly cooler than the upstairs). Almost without fail, I fall asleep while reading.
You're probably wondering why I think this is a bad thing. After all, what's the problem with a job where one can read and fall asleep and still manage to get paid? I'm certainly not complaining about that. My problem lies in the plotlines of these books I'm trying to read while I'm falling asleep. Take today, for instance. I was reading Anna Karenina, which, although long, has the redeeming aspect of a very slow plot. I was trudging through the fourth hundred pages when, true to form, I started to nod off. However, I didn't quite fall asleep. I was still somewhat awake, although I was falling asleep every few seconds. I just didn't quite realize that I was asleep. (I'm sure all of you can relate to this. It's that state between awake and asleep where things start to get weird. You'll see where this is headed.) During this twenty minutes, the plot started to change radically. I was reading about a horse race, when, suddenly, sharks started to manifest themselves in the story. I'm not terribly familiar with Russian literature and themes - my experience is entirely limited to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, also a good read - but I really wasn't expecting sharks. The characters started to become a lot more assertive, too. In fact, they were bordering on belligerent. They would yell at each other a lot, which was out of character for most of them. I would shake my head a bit and re-read passages, only to find that these characters had apparently changed their minds and retracted their earlier statements, becoming tamer and more docile, as Tolstoy had intended.
Such capriciousness on the part of these characters made for a difficult and confusing read for me. I put the book down at 5:25 and headed over to our second house. By the time I opened the book again at 6:40, the plot had reverted to its initial form. The characters were dignified and calm. There were no sharks to be heard of. Everything was as it should have been.
I'm tempted to go back and read that section again to see what on earth it's actually about, but I really just want to finish this book so I can be done with it and move on to the new stack of books I got today. Maybe I should find a less comfortable place to read at work so the plotlines of my books don't change on me again. Then again, those fifty pages were probably the most entertaining of the 450 I've read so far.