Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

It is as though there are certain novels that need more than one read-through to appreciate in full.

I don’t recall exactly who said it, but… I was listening to a podcast this summer. The guest (to whatever particular show it was I was listening) suggested giving oneself permission to read novels in a different way. This is particularly true if you have had a little trouble getting into a book.

Open it up to the middle, she said, and read three random chapters. If it still doesn’t get you, then read the last three chapters. What have you got to lose, after all? Worst case, you have spoiled a book you were going to put on the shelf and never then return to. Best case, the middle bits or the exciting conclusion sparks your interest enough that you dig back into it and (re)start again on page one.

This reminded me of Dune. Why? It reminded me for one simple, clear reason. On my first read (which was already half a decade ago) I had found the first quarter of the novel impenetrable.

Then, I got into it.

I finished it. I liked it. I even wrote about it.

I’ve been reading Dune by Frank Herbert for the better part of a month, and the seven hundred page monstrosity has been both a slog and a glorious tale that has wend its way around my heart.

Me, the last time I read Dune

My parting thought was that I should (probably) go back and re-read the first quarter of the novel again … someday … and that Dune was worth the effort.

Some people read thick, heavy books many times because the story takes a few attempts to get settled in your head in the right way. It takes many reads before the characters, plot, and everything about the novel becomes comfortable… becomes enjoyable to read about. I assume this is what makes other popular fiction “easy” to read. It often falls back on tropes and familiar settings. Those books are already comfortable from page one.

I’ve been (re)reading Dune recently. I am enjoying it much more this time. At page two hundred (of about seven hundred) I know in advance where the story is leading me. It twists through the machinations of a traitorous overthrow of an empirical duke and his family for reasons of greed and money and power. Dune, it seems, improves with persistence.

I wrote just yesterday that I was going to try and read twenty books in 2021. I have a couple weeks off over the holidays and my goal is to clear my docket (or in other words, finish reading Dune.) This is so that I can dig into some other novels I want to read (or re-read) next year. When I recently picked up Dune again I knew that I was stepping back into something that had burrowed into my brain. It was living there like a sandworm, settled for the last five years and biding it’s time. Also, I knew I was seeking comfortable and enjoyable reads, especially during this weird time of pandemic lock-downs and social uncertainty.

My many readings of Dune is giving me a little better appreciation not only of the novel but also of the idea of finding peace and clarity in familiarity. That is something particularly tough to find these days. I don’t know if that sought-for comfort will shape my reading choices next year, but I can’t help but think it will play a partial role.

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