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August 4, 2012 8:28 PM   Subscribe

The Top 10 Most Difficult Books compiled by critic/author/editor/literati/people-who-use-their-middle-names Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg who have been surveying Difficult Books for TheMillions.com since 2009 (and you think the last 3 years have been hard for YOU).
posted by oneswellfoop (87 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lots to discuss here... difficult or just needlessly dense? What did the list miss? What about the other 'postmodern meganovels' noted near the end of Garth's Picks? And why no "Where's Waldo?"
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:29 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


How hard can that Clarissa book be if they made a Nickelodeon show out of it?

I probably couldn't make it through any of those; I gave up less than a quarter of the way through Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver.

Even though I've never attempted it, I'm a little surprised to see Finnegans Wake on there, just because so many people seem to talk about it.
posted by Several Unnamed Sources at 8:39 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel that it's cheating to put Hegel and Heidegger in there. Once you open up the field to non-fiction like that, there would be no need to include any novels.
posted by smoke at 8:39 PM on August 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


Hegel and Heidegger are hard enough in the original German, it's kind of unfair to the English reader. Imagine Finnegan's Wake in Japanese...
posted by mek at 8:41 PM on August 4, 2012


Huh. To The Lighthouse is either my favorite or second favorite book, depending on my mood, and I'm not a particularly deep thinker or reader by any stretch of the imagination. I do like to do what the article says though, and let the prose wash over me. It's such an absolutely gorgeous book.
posted by gaspode at 8:41 PM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hegel, Heidegger? Pfft. Where is Jacques Lacan's Ecrits? Fucking thing is labyrinthine, minotaur and all.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:42 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Tunnel is a genuinely bad book, in addition to being self-consciously Difficult™.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:43 PM on August 4, 2012


Yeah, through Hegel and Heidegger in, and you may as well finish put with Deleuze and Guattari, Lacan, etc.
posted by whatgorilla at 8:44 PM on August 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


I also think it's interesting, the use of the word "difficult" - really, I think, "challenging" is a better description. I've read plenty of books that difficult as in hard to finish, didn't make them challenging, though.

Couldn't help wondering if Henry James was gonna make the list. I've not read any of those listed, but in my personal top ten, he'd be in there.
posted by smoke at 8:44 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Was expecting Naked Lunch to be there, but perhaps that's just because I read it when I was 14 or 15.
posted by mannequito at 8:44 PM on August 4, 2012


I also think it's interesting, the use of the word "difficult" - really, I think, "challenging" is a better description.

This is a good point. Any asshole can write a "difficult" book, just as any asshole could create a "difficult" meal or a "difficult" film. The truly hard part is making something both challenging and worth the challenge.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:45 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not an elitist reader, but I have managed to read and enjoy all of these except Heidegger and Hegel. I enjoy literary puzzles and that is really what most of these are.
posted by Isadorady at 8:52 PM on August 4, 2012


Clarissa joining the Phenomenology as two of the five most difficult reads is risible in so many ways.
posted by kenko at 9:06 PM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


These books have nothing in common. "Difficult" is such a mongrel category that they could have justified putting in nearly anything.

The Faerie Queen is a delight and it pains me to see it on the same list as Being and Time.
posted by painquale at 9:06 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant are no problem for readers of Richardson, but even they must respect Hegel.
posted by kenko at 9:07 PM on August 4, 2012


You got a problem with Being and Time, pq?
posted by kenko at 9:07 PM on August 4, 2012


I feel like the author of the article should have titled it "10 Most Difficult Books I've Read", because if Nightwood is one there, I can be certain he/she never read Nobokov
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:15 PM on August 4, 2012


Weird, To The Lighthouse is assigned in high school. My picks have to include Auto Da Fe, The Decameron, Rising Up Rising Down, with an honerable mention for City of Quartz.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:23 PM on August 4, 2012


Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

Ah, there it is.
posted by JHarris at 9:26 PM on August 4, 2012


Shoot, if you're going to include Hegel, why not go whole hog and include Russel and Whiteheads's Principia Mathematica? (Here's a tasty little sample.)

For me, the novel I found to be the most difficult slog was The Erasers, by Robbe-Grillet.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:27 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me: Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Truly, it was only by an epic act of will that I managed to hold out to the last page before drowning the thing in the bath.
posted by flabdablet at 9:29 PM on August 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Robbe-Grillet, as a practitoner of "roman nouveau" is an absolute genius.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:32 PM on August 4, 2012


What about going through an Introduction to Analysis Course or one on Differential Equations?

Or do literary people just consider math to be easy?
posted by sien at 9:40 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What, no Tristram Shandy?
posted by subbes at 9:46 PM on August 4, 2012


It really doesn't make sense to mix philosophical works and literature, they're really two wholly different animals that require different foundations.

They shouldn't be doing that, period. Besides which Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is more difficult than either of the Hegel or Heidegger works mentioned there IMHO.

I would really really stress that a younger person not make the mistake of reading the German philosophers first, if their love is literature or writing. Get the literary classics down first.
posted by Skygazer at 9:47 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Math books aren't difficult reading in the sense that's used here, not even Principia Mathematica. To go from understanding one line to understanding the next one requires only formal logic, using rules which have previously been explained in the same text. It may be boring, or (most often) teach a subject that's very hard to practice, but the books themselves tend to be straightforward -- no allusions, no baffling subtle sentences, no questions about what a word "means."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:48 PM on August 4, 2012


Although I would make exceptions with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche or that other melancholy Dane Soren Kierkegaard. Those guys are imminently readable almost anytime.
posted by Skygazer at 9:50 PM on August 4, 2012


Very odd concept, difficult books. A book may be hard to read because the author cannot write, because it deals with a difficult/complex area or because of emotional resonance. Sure that there are lots of other reasons. I find Heidigger hard to read because the man was utter scum. One person's difficult book is another's favourite.

The book I found most difficult to read was Dan Brown's Angels and Demons as, 2 pages in, my arm, by pure reflex, threw it across the room to save my sanity.
posted by fallingbadgers at 9:50 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Weird, To The Lighthouse is assigned in high school.

My public high school in Oklahoma assigned us A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as our first book of 10th Grade. I mean, that's not as challenging as Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake but it's not what you might expect for the grade-level either.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:53 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


So does "difficult" really mean a book that you have to think about while you are reading it versus a book you just read? For what it's worth, seeing the Wake on this list doesn't make me feel proud that I read it. Both of these lists seem more like bragging about books read. "Wow,it was hard going but I finished it and there might be something worthwhile there."
posted by njohnson23 at 9:53 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Please, let's not get into books that are difficult because they're bad. I had a friend/co-worker who gave the best book criticism I ever saw. I was moaning about one of Heinlein's later/lesser works I had regretted buying and he asked to borrow it for a weekend. He worked in shipping and receiving and on Monday morning, I found he had put it on my desk... wrapped in 20+ layers of shrink wrap and bearing multiple "toxic" warning stickers. I never unwrapped it and kept it in my bookcase for years, a constant reminder.

(yes, "The Number of the Beast" was a beast)
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:54 PM on August 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


You got a problem with Being and Time, pq?

I can't say I'm a fan, but here I just meant to compare Spenser's clarity of expression and the pleasure of reading the Faerie Queene to Being and Time.
posted by painquale at 9:54 PM on August 4, 2012


The Kindly Ones.
posted by boo_radley at 9:58 PM on August 4, 2012


How on earth is Clarissa "difficult"? It's long, sure, but it practically reads itself. I mean, it's a huge runaway bestseller of a novel for a reason, and it's not because there was a C18th market for "challenging" novels of the Finnega's Wake variety.

I rather suspect they've never actually read it--just felt how thick it was and thought "not this year."
posted by yoink at 10:03 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't really get this. They compile a list of difficult books every year, but it's not limited to genre or publication history, and from a quick glance at the previous years' entries, the only requirement is that they not repeat entries from previous years.
Me? I'm still trying to get through Riddley Walker.
posted by KGMoney at 10:07 PM on August 4, 2012


"Shoot, if you're going to include Hegel, why not go whole hog and include Russel and Whiteheads's Principia Mathematica? (Here's a tasty little sample.)"

Ahhh, propositional calculus. We meet again.
posted by pcrsweetness at 10:12 PM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Japanese translation of Finnegans Wake is actually a much easier read than the original, at least for me (non-native speaker of J., native speaker of E.). And now that I think of it, German acquaintance of mine once remarked that the Big H's made much more sense to him in English. Omnis traductor traditor nevar 4get!
posted by No-sword at 10:14 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Twilight was one of the most difficult reads for me. By the second chapter I wanted to rip my eyes out, but I wanted to finish it because I heard "it was soooo good". And by god I finished it. And then burned it.
posted by littlesq at 10:20 PM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm still trying to get through Riddley Walker.

Ah, god, when I read the tiny excerpts on Amazon I could hear my brain grinding its teeth.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:31 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got pretty much straight A's all the way high school English, and didn't do too bad in University either. Therefore, when I come across a tome that's so dense/indecipherable/incongruous as to be indecipherable, I tend to just shrug and figure the writer blew it.

Me? I'm still trying to get through Riddley Walker.

I got through that one. Great stuff, but Pilgermann is a superior book by Russell Hoban to my mind.
posted by philip-random at 10:31 PM on August 4, 2012


I figured this list would be weird even before I clicked on it, but I hadn't anticipated the weirdness of sticking German philosophy next to Richardson's Clarissa. (Which, as others have said, is not a particularly hard read, even as eighteenth-century prose goes. It's just long.) And Gulliver's Travels? Really? Sure, it's difficult in the sense of "oh hai, must read footnotes to comprehend," in much the same way that Byron's Don Juan and Alexander Pope's The Dunciad are difficult, but it hardly inhabits the same universe of difficulty as Finnegans Wake or Being and Time...which are themselves difficult for entirely different reasons.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:32 PM on August 4, 2012


Hegel and Heidegger are totally cheating. Clarissa is merely long. And Nightwood is actually kind of a beach read when compared to some of its contemporaries. If we define difficult, as "I'm never going to finish that fucking book," I'd like to nominate Musil's A Man Without Qualities with a side of William Gass.
posted by thivaia at 10:34 PM on August 4, 2012


I recently tried to make my way through JR and gave up after 70 pages. It's mentioned in this article but I haven't read the majority of these books so can't make a comparison. Anyone able to weigh in?
posted by EsotericAlgorithm at 10:40 PM on August 4, 2012


when I come across a tome that's so dense/indecipherable/incongruous as to be indecipherable,

I blame the heat for this comment, or perhaps the drugs
posted by philip-random at 10:43 PM on August 4, 2012


What, no Tristram Shandy?

What is remotely difficult about Tristram Shandy?

Also, hot tip for people having trouble with Riddley Walker: read it aloud.
posted by kenko at 10:43 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay so hey, in the article it claims that Heidegger, in Being and Time, is responsible for some absolutely profound discoveries that remain little-known, shrouded in thickets of obscure prose. I figure if I ask this here, somebody will know -- what the hell are these discoveries that Emily or Garth is so convinced by? Could they be packed down to a convenient Nietzsche-size gelcap format?
posted by insteadofapricots at 10:45 PM on August 4, 2012


I really tried to get through Gulliver's Travels, but I just couldn't get that far into it - it felt like work to read and I wasn't enjoying it at all. I am really curious about Finnegans Wake.
posted by littlesq at 10:46 PM on August 4, 2012


I feel like the author of the article should have titled it "10 Most Difficult Books I've Read", because if Nightwood is one there, I can be certain he/she never read Nabokov

What Nabokov did you read? I've read about 85% of his stuff and I can't think of anything that was anywhere near as much as struggle for me as Nightwood was. I probably ought to give Djuna another go one of these days and see if age has brought me wisdom, but Nabokov always seemed fairly clear, with the possible exception of Ada.
posted by Diablevert at 10:48 PM on August 4, 2012


...Nightwood? Seriously?


As per philip-random, I blame the heat for further inability to type much or even really construct a sentence properly.
posted by jokeefe at 10:48 PM on August 4, 2012


Finnegans Wake ?

Thank God!

I thought it was the shrooms.
posted by mule98J at 11:19 PM on August 4, 2012


I never thought of Nabokov as hard to read-even Ada. I read it in different mindsets-sometimes a nineteenth century Russian novel, sometimes as a modernist puzzle and sometimes as erotic tabloid. I would count it in my top ten fave books and often recommend it to people.
posted by Isadorady at 11:20 PM on August 4, 2012


Ok, just for kicks I went to amazon and read the first pages of Nightwood. My first, no, my only thought, was that I was reading a series of entries for the Bulwer-Lytton prize.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:23 PM on August 4, 2012


I was kind of hoping to see Péter Nádas on this list given the stuff I've been seeing around the internets about the colossal size of his latest opus, 25 years in the making or something. I recently battled with his A Book of Memories, easily the hardest words on a page I have ever read (that isn't Hegel or anything that has ever been said about Hegel).

3 narrators with exactly the same voice across 2 countries and 2 time periods, time/place/voice shifts happening without any way of knowing for sure until many pages after the fact, hardly any paragraph breaks, every single sentence is multiple pages long & broken up by dozens upon dozens of semicolons, each chapter a preposterous longueur describing a microscopic episode in the psychosexual history of 1 or perhaps 3 dudes. Punctuated briefly with information on farts, incest, and communism??

All the while Susan Sontag's blurb on the front cover taunting me: "The greatest novel written in our time." [sigh] READING IS TERRIBLE
posted by geneva uswazi at 11:32 PM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hands up everyone who just went to Amazon and searched for "Péter Nádas".
posted by No-sword at 11:46 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Couldn't help wondering if Henry James was gonna make the list.

I was going to say that I just don’t bother with "difficult" because I think that means someone just doesn’t write well, but then you brought James up. I’m not sure why, but I have a total masochistic love for his books. I do feel like they are sometimes a pile of words simply because he was dictating and couldn’t edit himself well. Bless his heart.
posted by bongo_x at 11:52 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about this one?
posted by iotic at 11:54 PM on August 4, 2012


My public high school in Oklahoma assigned us A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as our first book of 10th Grade

Ninth and tenth grade I read mostly Delillo, Faulkner, some Woolfe, also a lot of Cummings, and various Poet Maudite.After that I made it a point to read everything from Eliot's footnotes from The Wasteland. So I read Ritual to romance, The Golden Bough, all of Dante. As a senior in high school I started on Japanese lit. I read all of Mishima, Tanizaki, Kawabata and modern Japanese lit like Oe. Starting college I read Acker and old school NYC transgressive lit, like Tim Ferret, Vollman, everything from Black Ice Press. Alexander Trocchi. I read all of John Rechy, all of Hubert Selby jr. After that I stopped reading, except for DFW and Cormack McCarthy.I went to a little man tate style school for the gifted so none of this makes any sense.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:12 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


(and don’t skip the notes and foreward)

I stopped right there.
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:16 AM on August 5, 2012


I read Judith Butler's Gender Trouble because I thought the idea of gender performativity was interesting. The book turned out to be a turgid tour of 20th century pseudo-intellectualism. I still like the idea, but I'm not entirely sure she's interested in communicating anything about it to anybody other than those in loved with discredited philosophers and fantasy psychoanalysis. Obscurantism on stilts.
posted by Jehan at 2:31 AM on August 5, 2012


an honerable mention for City of Quartz.

The Mike Davis City of Quartz, about L.A.?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:42 AM on August 5, 2012


Ben Marcus' "The Age of Wire & String". It’s a very, very short novel. I spent a month reading it. Then Stupid Boyfriend said: “Oh. Did you try to make sense of it? I didn’t. I just read it for the beautiful words.” But I did try to make sense of it because that is what I try to do when I read: I rarely read for the plot, if you know what I mean. Marcus' book messed with my head and I appreciate that - but it was such a tough, tough read. If Stupid Boyfriend hadn't given it to me three months into our relationship, I wouldn't have persevered.

Oh, and I co-sign Heidegger's Being & Time. I think it was my lack of preparedness - if I had approached it with a solid grounding in philosophy rather than critical theory, then I might have taken something from it. See also Wittgenstein and Henri Bergson.

*shudders*
posted by kariebookish at 4:27 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Decline of the West ought to be on any list of difficult books.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 4:49 AM on August 5, 2012


[The Faerie Queene] is allegory drunk out of its mind on sugary wine, dressed up in layers of costumery, made to run singing through the garden of Eden at four o' clock in the morning before falling down in a heap at sunrise to make silver love to itself.

I just threw up sugary wine in my mouth a little bit.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:52 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why didn't I make the cut?
posted by wittgenstein at 6:13 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, but no mention of any book by Mark Danielewski (sp?) missed the mark. House of Leaves? Concrete is more porous and easier to read.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:50 AM on August 5, 2012


The Faerie Queene is one of my favourite books but there is no denying that is difficult. It is a joy to read, in the same way completing a marathon is a joy. (I can't imagine why I'd run all of those miles, but I'm okay with a book demands you sit up, pay attention, grab a pen, take notes, and have an OED to hand.)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:55 AM on August 5, 2012


House of Leaves? Concrete is more porous and easier to read.

See, and this is why I wish they'd been more precise in their usage of "difficult." I found House of Leaves "difficult" in the very best of ways; I recommend it to everyone who says they're looking for something good to read, but with the caveat that they are going to have to work for it. I see that as a plus, when it comes to good reads, not a minus. I like books that ask me to gear up and get in the game.
posted by tzikeh at 6:58 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was thinking of you, Wittgenstein. I still haven't decided how to pronounce your name.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:23 AM on August 5, 2012


I would have replaced To the Lighthouse (which if I didn't read in high school I'm sure I read in college) with Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Also, not sure I get the snarky editorializing in the FPP. Please to be explaining?
posted by fuse theorem at 7:32 AM on August 5, 2012


I know academic books are up for debate, but no list of this sort is accurate without Harold Garfinkel's Ethnomethodology's Program on it, sorry. That book is freaking impossible, on purpose.
posted by gusandrews at 7:42 AM on August 5, 2012


I'm ashamed to say that apart from Finnegans Wake and Clarissa most of those titles aren't all that familiar to me. I wouldn't feel too guilty about dodging any of them.

In terms of difficulty/challenging AND always being in "top 100 books you must read" lists, for me, it's got to be The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner. Trying to understand what's going on is like trying to remember what you were thinking when you were very drunk. Glad I read it though. Like most difficult books I can't remember much about it but it's left a chunk of its weird atmosphere lodged in my brain like semi-benign shrapnel.

Please don't be put off by comments on here about Nabakov. I've just finished Pnin and it's as funny as Hell(er and Vonnegut).

Also, don't be put off about Riddley Walker. It's written in a pidgin English but it's only as difficult to pick up as Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange. Maybe difficult for a non-Brit because of some of the slang and allusions to history and place names.
posted by Brian Lux at 7:49 AM on August 5, 2012


PROTIP: All difficult novels are better understood and appreciated if read aloud in a voice as close to Dick Van Dyke's "Burt the Chimney Sweep" accent from Mary Poppins as you can muster.

For example: Hegel, "Phenomenology of Spirit" -- "But th' udda soide of its Becomin', 'istory, is a conscious, self-medi-tayting pro-cess — Spirit emptied out into Toyme; but this extehnalization, this kenosis, is equally an extehnalization of itselwf; th' negative is the negative of itselwf, innit? This Becoming presents a slow-moving succession a' Spirits, a gallery a' images, each of which, endowed with awl the riches of Spirit, moves thus slowly just becawse the Self has ta penetrate and digest this entire wealth of its substance."
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 8:09 AM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


"In this space I could put any number of postmodern meganovels... [such as] Mason & Dixon."

"M&D" was a fabulous read. But take it slowly, slowly, as though you're listening to a favorite old wicked uncle (well-plied with his beverage of choice, sitting in a comfortable chair by the fire long after the sensible relatives have, sensibly, gone to bed) who spins tall tales out from his main narrative, casting them out and reeling them back in. Read as though you're indulging him because when he talks he becomes mysterious and persuasive, and because he takes you to some other world he visited and is now excavating (in part, because you know there are things he has seen and won't, or can't reveal) for your edification and perhaps for the soothing of his own troubled and tired soul.

I never quite know what the hell I've read when I tackle Pynchon, but I find that reading in this spirit of indulging my wicked uncle helps immeasurably.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:29 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Danger is my middle name...okay, actually, it's Risk. But that's kind of like danger, right?"
posted by Rangeboy at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2012


Tried to read J.R. by Gaddis, made it 25 pages and gave up.
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2012


people-who-use-their-middle-names

Can't speak to Risk, but Ms Wilkinson has many competitors for her name, so it's a fair move.

And it's not like you go under the name One Foop
posted by BWA at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2012


I found House of Leaves "difficult" in the very best of ways;

I was going to say just the opposite; a really great idea poorly executed. It’s difficult to read because it’s not written well.
posted by bongo_x at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2012


Reminds me of the first time I encountered Clarissa, in a grad school class on the 18th-century novel. Prof assigned us the abridged version. Which was worse than abridgements usually are, since it avoided tons of tasty 1-3-page scenes and emphasized repetition (especially from the 1st half). Butchery and dullness, what's not to like?

I thought this was wrong, so I bought the full novel (Penguin, size of a huge phone book) and brought it to class. Prof took me aside and told me not to do that. Yes, in a graduate program (University of Michigan). I kept bringing it to class anyway, and other students started doing this as well. This made an enemy of the prof, which was a mistake, and another story.
posted by doctornemo at 10:40 AM on August 5, 2012


There are definitely different kinds of difficult. When I was young my favorite book ever was either The Hobbit or Watership Down and I reread those many multiples of times. One day, shortly after rereading Watership Down for the nth time, I began reading this book I got from the Library called Sea of Glass by Barry Longyear which I got because the cover art seemed pretty. Not very far into it, I had to stop and take it right back to the library.

The library's paperbacks where shelved in these basket racks, with each basket holding several books face-out; one outermost and the others behind it. For some time afterward, whenever browsing the Sci-Fi paperbacks at that library, whenever I came across it, I would tuck Sea of Glass in the very back, and reversed.

I have no adult assessment of it but, in retrospect, I sort of doubt it's very bad, or even very difficult book. But if you are a kid whose literary tastes are keenly attuned to fantasy epics of the low-to-middle brow variety, it may not be for you.
posted by wobh at 11:37 AM on August 5, 2012


I always re-read Dhalgren in the Summer. That's when I first read it. Heat and humidity go so well it. Time to read it again.
posted by Splunge at 1:27 PM on August 5, 2012


I'm sorry, but no mention of any book by Mark Danielewski (sp?) missed the mark. House of Leaves? Concrete is more porous and easier to read.

whathuhwhat!? For me, it was a total page-turner. As in, I'd read it on my way to work and not want to get off the train because it meant I'd have to stop reading. Then I'd get home from work and read it some more. Finished it in a couple of weeks. I was spellbound... the first book I've read in years that ACTUALLY scared me.

Most difficult books I've read and finished :
Don Quixote -- lots of side-plots and jokes that didn't make it over the language barrier.
Pedro Paramo -- couldn't tell who the narrator was half the time, who the other characters were, or if they were alive or dead

Most difficult book I couldn't finish :
Moby Dick -- I have a really hard time with the flowery, wordy, "poetic" style that was popular among American and British writers in the 19th century. "get to the point already!!!"

Books that I enjoyed, but were difficult because of the subject matter :
American Psycho, 2666

Books that people say are hard that really aren't :
Tolstoy, Crime and Punishment, most of the Russians

Books that would be difficult if I stressed out about trying to understand every damn thing but enjoyed because I'm okay with enjoying something that I don't completely understand :
Naked Lunch, Gravity's Rainbow

Books that were difficult because I hated them (but finished them anyway) :
The Poisonwood Bible
A Visit from the Goon Squad
posted by Afroblanco at 1:38 PM on August 5, 2012


Trying to read The Lime Twig by John Hawkes right now. But it's so dense and confusingly or maybe, dizzyingly impressionistic, I should say. It's slow slog and my patience is waning. There amazing language things happening, but not in the way that, his, The Blood Oranges, literally felt like prose alchemy, and unbroken awe.

Wow, what a fucking book, The Blood Oranges was to read. Seriously a spellbinding miracle.

Anyone read The Lime Twig?

Sometimes I wonder if being online too much also simply ruins one for the original experience of true reading used to be, making books that were already requiring serious bandwidth and immersion, just that much more difficult, to get to the right place with, that sweet spot of absorption and communion and storytelling delight, that a good book can induce. Good Dickens does it for me, but not if I'm too distracted and just cannot seriously settle down and focus.
posted by Skygazer at 2:34 PM on August 5, 2012


*NB: The web is seriously making peoples brains and thought processes mutate in a certain way that's almost like a different cognitive default state. And it attracts those who're most in their heads to begin with...it just eats brains.
posted by Skygazer at 2:39 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree that at least Clarissa has the thriller (well, 18th century thriller) factor going for it. I would rather nominate Sir Charles Grandison, which is another Richardson novel, but longer and doesn't have anything going for it.

I bought it in a Cleveland used bookstore and discovered the chair of my university's English department once owned it. He started making copious notes in the margins, as if intending to write about it. There was nothing around the last 200 pages—I don't think he finished.
posted by spamguy at 4:00 PM on August 5, 2012


Anything by Thorstein Veblen is torture.
posted by Twang at 4:37 PM on August 5, 2012


The hardest book I ever read was about differential topology. A difficult book that's written in words? No such thing.
posted by jfuller at 6:31 AM on August 6, 2012


Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Don't know what ever possessed me to attempt that one, must have been overconfident after tearing through Gravity's Rainbow and Underworld. Also Decline of the West, thanks Oswald Spengler for making me feel like such a mental midget.
posted by e1c at 9:28 AM on August 6, 2012


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