When Book Challenges Go Awry

Many,  many years ago, my sister decided to read all of Dickens. She asked me to buy her his novels for her birthday and Christmas. This made me happy because she’s not the easiest person to buy for and there are a lot of books by Dickens.

After a few years, I asked her which book was her favorite so far. She shrugged. “Oh, I haven’t read any yet.” I learned  that she had leafed through a few and couldn’t get into them. So I stopped buying Dickens.

Two years ago, I challenged myself to read a biography of each U.S. president as a way of studying American history. I even put up a poster of the presidents and circled each one as I finished the book.

Things started well enough. Washington and Adams both had interesting lives and great biographers (Ron Chernow and David McCullough). I found Jefferson more intimidating than interesting, but Jon Meacham was a skillful writer. In fact, all the way through Andrew Jackson (Robert Remini), each president’s story could hold its own. But after Van Buren, I felt I was in a wasteland. (And I take the blame; after all, these were tumultuous times in our country.) I just couldn’t find myself interested in the men between Jackson and Lincoln. I made  it through Polk, but then took a break and haven’t yet returned.

Unlike my sister, I do plan to return to the presidents. But I may have to find a way to deal with the ones who don’t speak to me. Maybe read a children’s biography or just read an article in an encyclopedia that will allow me to move on.

But I don’t feel like a failure. After all, if one book or subject doesn’t satisfy, there are so many others waiting!


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