Friday, April 23, 2010

A Tough Read

I love reading. I am fairly certain I have made that quite clear within the life of this blog. I enjoy reading difficult, flowery, and timeless books. Then again, I also love Twilight, Harry Potter, and various contemporary, mindless, and/or enjoyable reads.

Occasionally I will pick up a book that for one reason or another, challenges me. Sometimes the book is too smart for me, sometimes the plot is so irritating I have to keep putting it down, and sometimes a book makes me feel a certain way that makes it difficult to finish.

Disclaimer: Some of the books on this list I loved and some I hated. I apologize if I offend anyone in any way. I feel it necessary to state that this is my blog containing my opinions.

These are the most difficult books I’ve read so far: (in no particular order)

1. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand): This book made me want to throw heavy objects at the wall and extreme conservatives. I read this book because SO many people have told me how life changing it was. I read and read and waited for these horrible characters to find redemption. They never did. I found it beautifully written, incredibly self-righteous, and overall frustrating. I felt that every character in the book should have died. Because I wanted them to. All of them. I firmly believe that the little utopia they made should go up in flames. I found that this book wasn’t life changing for me…it was a waste of two months. The Fountainhead is so much better, in my humble opinion. At least she uses subtlety in that book. Again, I’m really glad if you loved Atlas Shrugged. I still rank it as one of my least favorite books.
2. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): This book is slow and dry and wonderful. I’m so glad I was able to stick with it; the fact that I have read the book has come in extremely handy from time to time. The characters were complex and it has beautiful metaphors. However, there are many pages of description that you must plough through (pardon the pun—if you’ve read the book) to get to the story. I find that this is the reason people don’t care for classic literature, which I totally understand. It’s not always easy, which is why Anna Karenina has made it onto this list.
3. Native Son (Richard Wright): Native Son made me feel like a really bad person. I was constantly jumping to stereotypes and getting very angry with the characters. I kept reminding myself of when the book was written. I researched the time period, the geographical setting within the time period, and then read African American history of that time period in that geographical setting. I worked so hard to understand this book and try to imagine the impact it had on society pre-civil rights but I had nothing to relate to. This book may very well be the most difficult book I’ve read so far. I certainly tried the hardest with Native Son. To this day, I have no clue if I actually liked the book. In the end, I believe that the protagonist should have SOME redeeming quality and I get really frustrated when I don’t care whether the protagonist lives or dies. Even Ignatius O’Reilly had some redeeming qualities.
4. Sophie’s World (Jostein Gaarder): I don’t know about you, but I didn’t necessarily excel in philosophy in college. For those of you who are on the same page, I highly recommend this book with one caution: it is a difficult read. Sophie’s World is philosophy 101 on crack. It challenges the reader to learn about a different philosopher with every other chapter, be able to keep them and their theories straight, and understand the theories in a practical sense within the story. I found myself constantly flipping back in the book to remind myself of which philosopher was who. Very difficult, very fantastic. Sophie’s World is probably in my top 10 favorites.
5. Stone Fox (John Reynolds Gardiner): Stone Fox, for me, is lumped into a large category which I like to refer to as ‘Horrible Children’s novels’. Sharing the category is Island of the Blue Dolphins, Old Yeller, and (who can forget) Where the Red Fern Grows. I HATE all books like this. However, some good came of it. I now know to NEVER read books or watch movies where an animal is one of the main characters. It will inevitably leave me curled up on the floor, blubbering like a two year old. The reason this book made the list is because I read it for a Children’s lit class and ended up sobbing in the middle of class one day. Terrible. Just terrible.
6. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner): This book is ridiculous. First of all, there is no way anyone who is reading this book outside of an educational setting will derive any sort of plot. The book is rather short but unbearably incomprehensible. I got halfway through the second (out for 4) part and told Andy, “I am not smart enough to read this book.” I was even reading analyses of the book while I was reading it. Even then, I had no clue how the authors of the analyses were able to arrive at any conclusion. I neither liked nor disliked this book because I could never decipher a plot. I know that stream of consciousness writing is difficult to read and comprehend but this is not my first rodeo. So, kudos to those who are feeling really proud of yourself because you not only read The Sound and the Fury but were able to understand parts of it. You are much smarter than I. I gave up and have no intention of picking it up again.
7. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb): I don’t even know what to say about this one. It was recommended to me and I just couldn’t get into it. I read 908 pages out of the 912 page book and put it down. There is no way the book could improve enough in the last four pages. I put it down four years ago and never found out the ending…which doesn’t bother me at all. The book isn’t poorly written, I just didn’t enjoy it. I struggled through it hoping that it would have some twist to make it more interesting, but it never did. As a result, I have never felt compelled to pick up any of his other novels. My sister has graciously loaned me She’s Come Undone which I hear is a good book, but I haven’t found the motivation to start it.
8. The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emmuska Orczy): I’m not gonna lie. Sparknotes told me all I needed to know about this book. I read the first few chapters in high school, got bored, and relied solely on for the rest of the quizzes. Granted, I was 15 and the book was mandatory. I think I should give it another try at some point. It might be a great book…I have no idea.  So perhaps this book shouldn’t be on this list since I really didn’t give it much of a chance. Does laziness count as making a book ‘difficult’? Here is my defense for including this book on this list: in that same class I was able to finish Les Miserables without HALF of the heartache I had with the “Scar Pimp”.
9. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens): Slow and dull. Much like the Scarlet Pimpernel, I tried to read this book when I was probably too young and should therefore give it another go. However, this was the first classic that I tried to tackle and, though I was able to finish it, I was bored out of my mind and probably missed half of it. Charles Dickens is one author in particular that I have never felt the need to read. I believe Great Expectations had a lot to do with it.
10. Ulysses (James Joyce): This is an anticipated #10 because I am only 250 pages into it. Much like Sound and the Fury I am utilizing and other analyses to assist me in understanding this stream of consciousness. Also, many of the analyses for this book offer how Ulysses parallels the Odyssey. Sadly, I’ve not read the Odyssey (which will go on my list of things to read in the near future) so the analysis is helping immensely in that area. The difference between Ulysses and Sound and the Fury is that Ulysses has a discernable plot. That makes all the difference in the world and will allow me to actually get through the book. 

I’d love to know which books you find challenging…


Mandee Shaffer said...

I love just reading your reviews. Really. That was extremely entertaining.

Travis & Christine Fitz said...

Josh (Elena's Husbond) once recommended a book entitled 'Geek Love' and said that it would be tough but good. Since that time I have attempted to read it twice. The second time I made it a little further than the first but 'Geek Love' is an interest, gruesome, twisted, sick satire on what society is like. If you have the stomach for it, I say go for it.

Candace said...


I actually read "Geek Love" about a month ago. It was disturbing, for sure, but I didn't care for it. I thought the story was too choppy and I really hate when the author feels the need to wrap up a story in less than 10 pages. Other than the characters being freaks, I didn't feel there was anything the book had to offer. Have you gotten through it yet? I didn't love it.