The Count of Monte Cristo and Success

I lost count at how many attempts I made to read The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a big book.

While I was in elementary I read Ramona Quimby age 8, The Candy Corn Contest, and Flubber. I even read a couple of the Baby Sitters Club books. But that’s the extent of my reading resume from first grade through high school. I don’t know how I managed to not read books while in high school and still get As and Bs in my English class. In one of my English classes we were required to read Shakespeare, and I worked painstakingly hard to read a few pages. I’d read out loud to myself and I would read and then reread passages over and over until they made sense. I felt pretty successful at not only reading but somewhat understanding those few pages, but I never read the whole story.

I graduate high school and moved away from home to go to college and that where I met Tara. We weren’t suppose to be roommates, but the landlord made some last minutes changes to both hers and my living arrangements and so we ended up in the same apartment. She was the crazy college roommate that would dance on the table at Coldstone and who would randomly kissed that one guy walking down the street just because we dared her to. She’s the one who somehow convinced a total stranger to let us borrow his jet skis for the day. So I guess it shouldn’t be to surprising that she was also the one that accidentally made me fall in love with reading.

For my birthday she bought me a book the book Rumors of War, which she finished reading before she gave it to me. I actually sat down and read it and was smitten by the story. It just so happens that that book was the first of a series of five, so naturally I had to read the next one, and then the next, and by the time I finished the series, I was in love with reading and I’ve been trying to make up for the lost time ever since.

Emerging myself into this new hobby of reading, I saw the Classics as my self-inflicted initiation to becoming a true literate. Classic after classic I started and never finished and soon reasoned with myself that my Classic Initiation Theory was silly.

But the Count of Monte Cristo never lost it’s appeal to me. I loved the idea of this individual struggling with the injustice that had robbed him of a significant portion of his life, and then receiving the power to overcome his oppressors and having to deal with what he thought was the most right thing to do. And so I’d start reading The Count of Monte Cristo and make it a few pages in and then stop. And then a year later I’d try it again. And then again. And again. Every time I failed to finish the book, the siren song to read it grew louder, but every time I attempted to read it I hit a reading wall.

With renewed commitment I bought the audio version of the book. Do you know how many hours the audio book is for The Count of Monte Cristo? It’s 46 hours and 56 minutes. That’s enough time for me to drive from my house in Utah to Nova Scotia 3,029 miles away, passing through six states, one country boarder, and two Canadian Providences. And if I traveled the whole way following the speed limit and never hit traffic, then, according to Google Maps, I’d have one hour and 56 minutes left of the book to listen to while sitting on the shoreline of Peggy’s cove. Which, by the way, would be the perfect setting to listen or read the last chapter of this book.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia
Image Credit

I got about 15 hours into the book (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is 8 hours 6 minutes, The Shape of Mercy is 8 hours and 56 minutes, Educated is 12 hours and 10 minutes) and decided it was just too big. I was losing interest, I couldn’t keep track of who was who, and I felt like there was just too many unnecessary details. Maybe I should try the abridged version? Or better yet, maybe I’d just watch the movie.

Growing up my dad read to me Summer of the Monkeys, Where the Red Fern Grows, Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer. My Dad always had a book he was reading. I bet if I was to walk through the front door of his house tonight, I’d find my dad on the couch with a book in his hands. Dad gets so absorbed into books that we’d joke that the house could burn down and dad wouldn’t know it unless the flames caught a hold of the pages of the book making it impossible for him to continue to read. I love listening to my dad read Patrick McManus’ books. He doesn’t read them out loud, but you’d always know he was reading Patrick McManus because you could hear him laughing.

So when I was thinking about breaking up with The Count again, I went to my dad to talk. Dad reads long, big unabridged books like Les Miserable, and Bleak House, and he’s read the Count of Monte Cristo. And, he’s read these big long book a half dozen times. He just laughed as he listened to me whine about The Count of Monte Cristo. Dad couldn’t help himself, Before I was even done complaining he just started talking about the story and by the end of the conversation I decided to give it another try.

After getting off the phone with my dad, I opened up my laptop and ordered a paperback version of the book and an election version, and the cliff notes (I already owed an audio version of the book). I backed up to the part when Edmond Dantes escapes from prison and started afresh. I started taking notes so i could keep track of who was who and their role in the story. And the mysterious story began to unfold.

When I started the book I played the “If I was the publisher abridging this book what would I cut out” game. Early on in my relationship with the book I had successfully chopped out many passages and even chapters of the book. But after my conversation with my dad and The Count and I repaired our relationship, I found it harder and harder to find parts of the book that I would get rid of. And then I found it absurd that someone would even consider mutilating the story by making an abridged version. The humanity! The injustice!

And then something magical happened, I didn’t care anymore when I finished the book. I still wanted to finish it, but finishing the book wasn’t what was important anymore. I wanted to read the book from beginning to end, not to finish the book but so that I could know the story. It wasn’t a trophy anymore, some claim to fame, some way to reach some perceived high literary society. It wasn’t something to capture and cage. No. Rather, it is something to quietly watch and observe so you don’t chase it away. It is something to experience not something to check off a to-do list.

Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, has more than 12 million copies in print worldwide and has been translated into 24 languages. Talking about the success of his book years after it’s publication he said, “I had none of this in mind when I wrote the book in 1945….I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential and meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable one.”

He didn’t sit down with the desire and goal to write a book that would be so good that it would sell millions and millions of copies. He sat down to find a way to tell others that “life holds potential and meaning under any condition.”

He’s counseled his students to not aim at success. Frankl said, “Don’t aim at success–the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success [is] the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself… you have to let it happen by not caring about it…listen to what you conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run-in the long run, I say!–success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.” (Preface to the 1992 Edition, p. xiv-xv, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl.)

But isn’t it good to aim at success instead? Take Olympic athletes for example. Don’t you think that every athlete who has a chance to compete at the Olympics are aiming at success? Doesn’t aiming at success created progress and push us to reach new levels of ability?

Do you remember Ester Ledecka at the 2018 Winter Olympics during the Super-G event?

“An instant after completing her run in Saturday’s Olympic women’s super-G, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic stood motionless in the snow as she gazed at the scoreboard where her name was atop the list of finisher.

“She shook her head side to side, convinced that what she saw was a mistake or a timing glitch. Professional snowboarders racing on hand-me-down skis do not win gold medals in ski events at the Winter Olympics.

” ‘I thought they were going to put a couple more seconds on my time,’ Ledecka later said, laughing and well aware that the race would be decided by hundreths of a second. ‘I was waiting for it.’

(Quoted from the New York Times)

I don’t know, but I wonder if Ester Ledecka success that day on the slopes on hand-me-down skis was “successful” because she was more focused on doing her best rather than being the best. Perhaps she was more focused on preforming in a way that she would feel proud of and just giving it her all. She could have showed up for that race already defeated telling herself she didn’t have to really try, after all she was ranked 43rd in the World Cup. She was the last one down and the course was in bad condition after having all the other racers take their turn on the snow. She could have just skied down not really caring, just wanting to get from the top to the bottom so she could check that off her bucket list. But she didn’t. Even with all the odds stacked against her, she seemed determined to ski her absolute very best. There are many athletes who are just as successful as she is, in the sense that they do their best and they walk away feeling proud and satisfied. Some of those successful athletes walk away with a medal and some do not. I for one believe that not every athlete that walks away without a medal is not “successful”.

When Viktor Frankl was writing his book I’m convinced that his motivation wasn’t driven by a desire for fame and fortune. He wasn’t motivated by that type of success. However, I would imagine he hoped that his book would be “successful” in offering something of worth and value to others. Perhaps he even hoped that his book would be “successful” in articulating the powerful lessons he learned during his time in the concentration camps. But he focus wasn’t on creating a book that would sell 12 million copies and be translated into 24 different languages. He wasn’t writing his book with the focus of reaching one of the coveted spots on the New York Times Best Seller List. That wasn’t the “success” he was aiming at. And to be honest, it’s probably best that he didn’t know the future life of his book. Can you imagine sitting down to write a book knowing that millions and millions of people were going to be reading it? That kind of knowledge could create a crippling pressure.

When I attempted to read The Count of Monte Cristo I was more focused on finishing the book than I was on reading the book. When that motivation morphed, it was then that I was actually able finish the book. Focusing on the wrong success gets in the way of success.

By the way, I absolutely loved the book, it is way better than the movie.

May 15, 2029

Time writing: 2 hours

Total Time Writing: 237