Top Ten Tuesday: Books I had Trouble Getting Through


The good folks at The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme post they call Top Ten Tuesdays. They publish the themes well in advance, and even provide a way for TTT bloggers to share links with one another. This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read (because difficulty of book, subject matter, because it was cringeworthy– however you want to interpret).”

I’ve read a ton of difficult books in my day. Here are the first ten that come to mind.

1. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

This was the hardest book I’d ever attempted when I tried it the first time (I was 12). I didn’t get through it on the first go, but I did two years later. I’ve read this text cover to cover more times than any other, and I still don’t feel that I’ve mastered it.

2. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

It’s the most difficult book I actually like. I’ve read it five or six times now, and “The Sicilian Expedition” is still a long slog despite its evocative title. It’s worth the effort, though. Especially if you’re a history or social science geek.

3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace gave a reading for Booksm...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

My problem with this one was the weird time ordering, the abundance of characters, and the fact that you have to wait hundreds of pages to see how the various subplots intersect. I was also suspicious from page one that the author wasn’t telling a story so much as playing a practical joke on the audience. I almost put it down for that reason, but I decided to give it a chance. When I was done, I wished I’d put it down instead of finishing it. I felt as though the author had just played a practical joke on me instead of telling me a story.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert

I first read this one when I was in my late teens, and I came away not wanting to read another Herbert book, ever. I’ve since mended my ways and acquired the taste, but that didn’t happen until I was in my 30s. The first act of Dune is so slow it’s painful, which is quite a feat when you consider that it includes a strange psychic sect, a personal betrayal, and dynastic warfare on an epic scale carried out with sci-fi weapons. As if the pacing problem weren’t enough, Herbert’s proper names are as difficult in their own way as Tolkien’s, and there’s an added layer of techno-speak thrown in. Also, Herbert sometimes comes across as a guy who’s writing to show people how smart he is, which isn’t an attractive quality in an author of popular fiction.

5. House of Leaves By Mark Z. Danielewski

This could be the most difficult text I’ve ever encountered. It began as hypertext fiction. It’s a doorstopper of a book, and it includes things like pages printed sideways and mirror writing. It’s peppered with coded messages, and the keys are hidden in the appendices. It’s a story-within-a-story-within-a story, it’s loaded with symbolism, and it questions the nature of both authorship and audience-ship. I did not feel like the author had just played a practical joke on me when I was done, though. Nor did I get the idea at any point that he was just writing to show off his high IQ.

6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

William Faulkner, 1954

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I’ve not studied Faulkner extensively, but I’ve read more than half a dozen of his novels. His style is disorienting. It’s easy to get so lost in his work you have to backtrack 20 pages to figure out what you just missed. This one took me three attempts, but like Thucydides, it’s totally worth the effort.

7. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

This is the text on this list I found easiest the first time around. I read it in one go, thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed it, and have read it a second time since. It took a long time, though — a couple of weeks at least. And it required the sort of intense concentration that makes you feel like you’ve had a workout when you’re done.

8. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Assigned reading for 9th grade literature, and I hated it. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would use such complex language to tell such a simple story, nor could I answer that all-important question, “Why the hell should I care?” This one almost soured me on Dickens forever. Fortunately, I was assigned A Tale of Two Cities the next year, and it inspired me to write poetry. It’s still one of my favorite novels. I’ve since decided that my difficulty with Great Expectations was mostly a product of my immaturity, but I’ve never re-read it and don’t plan to. It left a bad taste in my mind, and life is too short for that.

9. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

This one is the fourth in the Narnia series, and I’m not sure I ever actually got through it. If I did, it didn’t leave much of an impression — not even a negative one. I know I picked it up several times as an adolescent, though, and I’ve read the entire rest of the Narnia books for sure. So I suppose I can count it 30-something years later.

10. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I may be cheating here, but I did not actually read every word of it. I read the first chapter, then skimmed the rest. This is the only book on the list that was difficult because I find it cringe-worthy. That’s all I’m saying about it, though. I totally respect the legions of people who like the Twilight series. It’s just not to my taste. I also find it problematic,  but I see no need to go on about my problems with a text after I’ve just admitted I only skimmed it 😉

(Forgive me for breaking my self-imposed rule that all my book lists contain a graphic novel unless they’re too genre-specific for that to work. I’ve never actually read a graphic novel that I found difficult, and if I don’t like the subject matter or find them cringe-worthy, I always know it within the first three pages and just stop reading.)

21 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books I had Trouble Getting Through

  1. I couldn’t stop by without mentioning Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. I still find it an impossible read. I am planning to attempt it again this year, but am not holding out much hope it must be said.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve never actually gotten through that one. Somehow I managed to get the English degree without being forced to read it, and Ulysses was quite enough of Joyce for me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve made it almost to a PhD having only had to read Joyce’s short stories. The things that are hit-and-miss while getting a degree are really funny sometimes. For instance, I’ve also never had to read Catcher in the Rye (though I have actually read it).

          Liked by 1 person

          • I had to read Catcher In The Rye when I was eleven, it was okay. Isn’t it ridiculous what you do and don’t have to read at a formative level? I left education at 16, so maybe that explains a lot 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • You’re right about that. I never had to read The Catcher in the Rye. Also: Neither of Flannery O’Connor’s novels, which I find a little strange. and I think the only Faulkner I was ever actually required to read at the college level was Absalom! Absalom!

            Very cool that you didn’t look. I try not to look at your lists until mine are done when we’re both writing them.


      • I managed about 200 pages of Ulysses before throwing in the towel. The BBC have produced a handy guide to Ulysses which you can read in about five minutes:

        Here’s a sample for chapter 15:
        (horrorstruck) Blimey, this looks like heavy going.

        No kidding! There’s over 100 pages of this stuff, all written in the style of a play script. But all you need to know is that Bloom follows Stephen to a brothel where they have lots of freaky hallucinations.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dune definitely made my Top Ten list. In my opinion, any book that needs that long of an index of made up words just to keep you straight while reading is a pretty tough read.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Faulkner is a trip and a half. I read The Sound and the Fury a few years ago and I doubt I could repeat the feat. It was confounding and even though it was written in English I felt I needed a translation.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I wouldn’t look at your list until after I finished mine, and we have a couple of books in common, and there are a few on here that didn’t make it to mine but that almost did—like The Sound and the Fury.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t read Dickens until I was an adult and I’m glad. The style of the language is too off-putting for most children and teenagers. To be honest, I struggled a bit with A Tale of Two Cities, but I absolutely adore Bleak House and Little Dorrit. The recent BBC adaptations of those two novels are also outstandingly good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Victorian fiction in general is off-putting to me. I’ve not read more than I absolutely had to, and have only read the two Dickens novels I mentioned here and David Copperfield. It’s hard to get into that stuff when you’re educated on minimalist, realist prose. I’ve been meaning to give Bleak House a try for awhile.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t find Twilight hard to read. I thought it was actually a pretty easy read (if a bit silly). No, I didn’t hate the series until I read the fourth book, Breaking Dawn. Now that book was hard to get through!

    I had to read Great Expectations in school, too. I hated it. I hated it so much that I didn’t actually read the whole thing. I just listened carefully to the discussions in class and managed to pass the unit. I’ve not bothered with any Dickens since.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by! I didn’t find it a difficult read, just had trouble getting through it because I found it cringe-worthy.

      The Dickens is definitely an acquired taste. I do recommend A Tale of Two Cities, though.


    • You should! I’d be very interested to read 🙂 And you must know there aren’t many bloggers in the universe I’d give a comment like to for pimping their book on one of my threads. So feel special, and pimp away, my friend. As long as you do it in an entertaining way.

      I hope you saw those tweets and retweets of mine today. 😉


  7. I feel you on some of these. I still sometimes try to struggle through Moby Dick, but I never get more than halfway. The same was true for every Charles Dickens book I read, until Bleak House, which I finished quickly and loved.

    Also, your problems with Infinite Jest are the same problems I now have with A Song of Ice and Fire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never gotten all the way through Moby Dick, and since you’re the second person to mention Bleak House, I should probably read it.

      Interesting you feel that way about Martin. I don’t feel as though he’s playing a joke, but I do think he’s allowed the plot to drift too far and introduced too many threads. I think he’s in danger of becoming another Robert Jordan.


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