Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: The Top Ten Most Difficult Books I Have Read...Or how I learned to avoid Ulysses

Yikes, I can't believe it's Tuesday again! Where does the time go? Soon Christmas will be around the corner. I've been meaning to post some more reviews last week but work has kept me quite busy and any free time has been spent, well, reading voraciously. Don't worry, I promise to post some new content soon. In the mean time, it's time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and Bookish and this week they ask book bloggers to list their most difficult reads. I'm going to include some novels that I started but never finished because those ones exemplify my most painful reading experiences.

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce: The constant thorn in my side. This is supposed to be the greatest novel ever written? Balderdash! I've lost count as to how many times I have tried to read this monstrosity only to toss it aside in a fit of rage. This book right here is the apotheosis of literary masturbation. For 800 pages, Joyce wants to prove to the world that he is a literary genius. This may be true but I can never get past chapter three to find out. Oddly enough, I don't despise Joyce as a writer and really enjoyed Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but Ulysses is beyond my intellectual capabilities, only serving to put me in a foul mood of consternation. 
  2. The Ambassadors by Henry James. I detest Henry James and his convoluted, ostentatious writing style. Enough already with the excessive details and run-on sentences that stretch a full page amounting to nothing of significance! Get to the bloody point, geez! Here is my rant
  3. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: I don't know what it is about his writing exactly but it's aggravating to me. I've tried several times to get past the firsts few chapters but gave up. Sorry Mr. Dickens, looks like you and I aren't meant to be friends. 
  4. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence: Again, another one of those "classics" that I have tried to finish countless times but failed because it proved far too effective as a sleeping drought. I am big fan of Lawrence's short stories but this novel along with some of the others I have attempted are so tedious and verbose as to drive me mad.
  5. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: Probably the most difficult novel that I have forced myself to read cover to cover. Maybe I am used to Woolf's more elegantly composed stream-of-consciousness but Faulkner's attempt in this style is so rough, jagged, violent and completely incomprehensible. The various time lapses and abrupt jump cuts between past and present left my mind reeling in agony. I might tackle this novel again in the future to see if I am able to make better sense of it. 
  6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Ugh. I really had to force myself to finish this novel and came very close to tossing it out the window. I'd rather gouge my eyes out than have to read this rubbish again.
  7. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway: Dull. Dull. Dull. 
  8. As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross: Apparently, this is is a Canadian literary masterpiece. What a joke. I had to read this for class and if anything, it sets Canadian literature back another 50 years. Terrible writing and tedious. Probably one of the worst books I have had the displeasure of reading.
  9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: One of the most overrated 'classics' in my opinion. Not a difficult read by any means, just overlong and repetitive. It's just the same joke over and over and over and over...
  10. The Waves by Virginia Woolf: My favorite author but this novel puts stream-of-consciousness and free association into overdrive. The writing is achingly beautiful as much as it is utterly perplexing. 
I'd be curious to know if any of these titles would make your list or what other novels gave you much difficulty. Feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. I enjoyed reading your opinions on these titles, only one I which I have read (Tale of Two Cities - Dickens is challenging; though, have you tried Oliver Twist?).

    I actually look forward to Catch-22 and Sound and the Fury. So we'll see how it goes.

  2. One of the museums we went to had a whole Virginia Woolf exhibit and I was hard pressed not to buy copies of all of her books. I resisted the urge . . . barely.

  3. Ruth: Appreciate the kind words. No, I haven't read Oliver Twist before but I'm familiar with the story and have seen the movie version. Perhaps that would be a better introduction to Dickens than AToTC. Good luck with Catch-22 and Sound and the Fury! Hopefully you enjoy them more than I did.

    Satia: Wow, I'm so jealous right now. That sounds so cool. You should have at least bought 'To the Lighthouse'! tssssk tsssk :P

  4. I haven't even opened Ulysses yet. I'm convinced that I'll hate it but to be fair, I haven't given it a chance. I have marked a blog that compares it in detail to The Odyssey, so I'll have that reference when/if I decide to read it.

    As for The Tale of Two Cities, I've read it twice. The first time I wasn't fussed, but the second time I read it with a group and got much more out of it. Dickens has some nice references to light and dark throughout the novel, which affect the mood of the story and help support certain actions. It's a novel where his female characterizations make me want to gag, but I did try to suppress this reaction the second time and just go with the flow. It's one of my more favourite Dickens (I think my favourite so far is Martin Chuzzlewit, but I haven't read the biggies yet, like Great Expectations or Bleak House). Dickens and I have a love/hate relationship but there are certainly positive aspects of his writing that make me tolerate him.

    Oh, good grief, I so agree with you about Wuthering Heights! Complete drivel from a classics point of view. The only thing that kept me from tearing it verbally to shreds was the fact that dear Emily was so young and so sheltered. I then could understand how such a vapid, silly, incredible plot could be developed. So I forgive her but I still hate the book.

    From some of your descriptions, I'm not sure if you should read Infinite Jest. How would you look bald, because I have premonitions of you tearing your hair out if you attempt it. Hee hee! ;-)

  5. I could never read Ulysses or even try, with all the things I've heard. I was surprised to find Dickens very readable, though. A Tale of Two Cities is my favourite, though I was already used to his style by then, having read The Old Curiosity Shop and Oliver Twist before. The books I've found most difficult to read are Moby Dick and Jane Eyre; I think I just read them too soon. So much depends on when you read a book!

  6. I was just talking about The Waves this afternoon! I love Virginia Woolf, but The Waves? Urgh. Been meaning to re-read it, but... not yet!

    Ulysses I've read twice now and I still don't *get* it!

    As for the rest - I agree with everything expect Wuthering Heights - that I love, one of my favourites, but it's very easy to see how someone could hate it :)

  7. Cleo: I'd be curious to know what you think of Ulysses if you do get around to it. Yes, each chapter is an allusion to Homer's Odyssey, a text which you are familiar with so that might make things easier. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for me.

    I'd be willing to give Dickens to give a second chance but his writing has this stuffy, Victorian style that just irks me. Can't say I am in any hurry to read anything else by him.

    We've touched upon our mutual dislike of Wuthering Heights before and I'm so glad I have an ally amongst so few dissenters of this novel. You're more forgiving than I am though. :P

    Ha, Infinite Jest has weighed down my book shelf for years and continues to scare the bejeezus out of me. I did attempt to start reading it on several occasions but gave up after the first few pages. I don't have the patience to get through that monstrosity. Whether or not I decide to take the plunge again will largely depend on your reaction to the novel. No pressure. :)

    Priya: Don't worry, you're not alone in those feelings towards Ulysses. I thought that I was mentally prepared and educated enough to tackle the novel...oh I couldn't have been more in the wrong. I agree with you that timing plays an important part on one's appreciation of a literary work. There's no way that I would have regarded some of my favorite novels with the same level of enthusiasm had I read them at a different time.

    Moby Dick is another one of those intimidating novels that I can't bring myself to read. I started Jane Eyre but stopped reading it for some reason that eludes me. I was actually enjoying it at the time too. It's on my Classics Club list so I hope to get around to it again soon.

    O: "The Waves" is one of those novels that I'd be hard pressed to read again. Certain passages, perhaps. But not cover to cover. It's too intense and overwhelming to wrap my head around.

    Wow, the fact that you got through Ulysses not once but twice, is to be commended. It seems to me that you could read it countless times and still not be any closer to analyzing every single aspect of its entirety. I'm sure some scholars have though.

    Oh no, a Wuthering Heights supporter in our midst! This might get ugly. Oh, wait, you love Virginia Woolf. All is forgiven. :P

  8. This made me laugh. We act like reading the classics is so important without acknowledging that some of them have a reputation that is definitely deserved! I rather liked Catch-22 but I will admit that the joke is repeated pretty often.