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Source

Gazing at them for hours on end, sitting on the sandy river bank, was a great help to me. I could wash away my anguish and disgust over life. The anguish and disgust were caused by my guardians. They insisted on my taking to as irrational an occupation as learning how to read and write.

I have been unable to understand the structure and meaning of the bold part.

Also, the article usage in irrational an occupation seems a bit odd to me and I think it should be like an irrational occupation.

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    I wonder if you find it more readable if you change the word order: They insisted on my taking to an occupation as irrational as learning how to read and write. That's pretty much what the original means as well, it's just that the word order is tweaked for effect. – J.R. Jun 16 '17 at 21:25
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This use of an is a mannerism, a stylistic tool, a flourish of the language, used here to strengthen the satirical meaning of the simile - after all, it's not to be taken literally (learning being a very rational occupation).

Normally, this would be an occupation as irrational as learning. The article in the original is an archaic form that mostly fell out of use, and here it's used in a facetious manner, to emphasize the mocking tone of the expression.

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  • I'm not sure I understand how "as irrational occupation as learning" would work - occupation is a countable noun, so it needs an article. Can you explain? – stangdon Jun 16 '17 at 12:58
  • @stangdon Agreed, that first wording as it would "normally" be is not heard and makes little sense. The second one is a very helpful rephrasing for learners. – Luke Sawczak Jun 16 '17 at 14:07
  • I deleted the dubious part. Agreed, that thinking where it would fit smoothly I came up blank. – SF. Jun 17 '17 at 13:59

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