Tackling Tough Books

Is it me or am I seeing a lot about difficult books? Life is too short and abandoning Finnegans Wake being recurrent themes. I’ve yet to even attempt the Wake and may come to sympathise with those who leap overboard. I do however disagree with those that give up difficult books and then encourage others that these books are not worth trying to understand.

I share the view that I’d rather tackle a dense, chewy book that has entranced or confused or challenged readers for many decades or centuries, than tackle some fashionable jujube that will be forgotten within a decade. You have probably come across the fantastic series of articles running at The Millions, encouraging readers to tackle a series of “difficult” books.

What I’ve come to think of (somewhat unfairly) as the grad-school response to such allusiveness – treating each sentence like a puzzle to be solved – isn’t always the best way to approach to a tough text. With Finnegans Wake, for example, a willingness to let things wash over you can be the difference between sublimity and seasickness.

In addition to those in the article, the series continues in the sidebar, including two of my favourites: Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle and To the Lighthouse.

4 thoughts on “Tackling Tough Books

  1. >An interesting article but the answer may rest in the very popular Atlantic article sometime back that asked if Google was making us stupid. Like you, I have read and enjoyed many of those listed, and do not think that all are difficult. They just require sustained effort. Time set aside to immerse yourself in the language, the flow. For instance, is Proust truly difficult? It is almost conversational but you have to surrender to the cadence of the novel. Which means that you cannot take breaks to tweet. 🙂 Of which I am as guilty as anyone unfortunately. 🙂

  2. >What a wonderful series at The Millions; I somehow did not know about it before. The entry on Ada is marvelous.I'm reading one of these "difficult books" right now, and the fact is I can't put it down. If you do make time to immerse yourself, as Frances says, they are an experience. Sure, sometimes that experience isn't to your taste, but you won't know without trying it.

  3. >Frances – I'm yet to succumb to tweeting; there is distraction enough on the net already. The truly difficult books, those worth attempting, are, I suspect, reducible to those you can count on one hand. Several of the articles about tackling difficult books confuse length with difficulty.

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