Top Ten Tuesday: Books I had Trouble Getting Through

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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.)

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on My Fall Reading List

Each week, the good folks at The Broke and the Bookish host a meme post they call Top Ten Tuesday. They provide topics well in advance and even have a way to share your links with other Top Ten Tuesday bloggers. I love these posts, and I haven’t written anything substantial here in awhile, so this seems a good week to jump back into the TTT game. Enjoy!

1. The Benevolence Archives vol. 1 by Luther M. Siler

This is a collection of novella-length science fiction stories that I intended to read this summer. The author is the delightfully demented genius behind the blog Infinite Free Time, and everyone I’ve talked to who’s read this book so far has thoroughly enjoyed it, so it’s at the top of my list.

2. Storm Front by Jim Butcherdresden wallpaper

The first novel in the Dresden Files series. While I need to commit to another fantasy series even less than I need to try and follow one more t.v. series, the premise intrigues me. This one’s been on my tbr list for awhile, and I’m thinking I might actually pick it up this fall.

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I feel as though this one is a matter of cultural literacy at this point. I’m tired of reading Hunger Games posts and having to say “um well, since I haven’t read it I hesitate to say too much about it but . . .”

4. Lamb by Christopher Moore

Diana loaned this one to me over the summer, and I’ve not gotten around to it yet.

5. The Collector by John Fowles

I’ve been wanting to read this one for years, but I always forget about it when I go for library books. I saw a friend of mine reading it for a course a couple of weeks ago and made a mental note to put it on the list.

6. Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, Ill. By Brian Bolland

the-killing-joke-deluxe-front-cover1This is the most influential Batman story I’ve never read. Judging from the conversations I had over the summer on some of Jeremy’s Batman threads and at CompGeeks, I really need to get on this one. Fortunately, Jeremy loaned me a copy yesterday, and it’s a quick read.

7. One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

I binged on Fforde’s Thursday Next series a couple of summers ago, and this is where I left off. I’m hoping to get caught up on the series this fall.

8. Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

I discovered this one by googling a list of Gaiman’s books and browsing the titles I’ve not read until I found the one I like most.

9. The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

To my knowledge, this is the only piece of King’s Dark Tower lore I haven’t read. I wasn’t even aware of its existence until yesterday, and the blurb is quite intriguing.

10. To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History by Edmund Wilson

Since no reading list of mine can be complete without at least one serious piece of nonfiction, and I’ve been putting this one off for 20 years.

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I own the most books from.

Each week the good folks at The Broke and The Bookish host a meme post called Top Ten Tuesday. This week, we’re listing the top ten authors we own the most books from. Here are mine:

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1. Stephen King tops the list because, when I was a senior in high school, someone I knew was cleaning out her library and sold me first edition hardbacks of most of his early work (Carrie through It) for $0.50 apiece. I’ve added to the collection since then. I also have the illustrated Plume Book Club editions of the first four volumes of the Dark Tower series. He’s the only author who rates two complete bookshelves in my very small apartment library.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien is second because I just have a lot of his work. I have two copies of LOTR: The groovy 1970s boxed set that was read to me as a child, and which no one is allowed to touch; and an indexed hardback version I use for reading. I also have The Silmarillion, The 2-volume Book of Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales, and The Tolkien Reader, a collection of his poems and essays.

3. Ernest Hemingway, surprisingly, is third. I have a ton of his novels. The Hemingway books I go back to are For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Moveable Feast, a series of vignettes about his life in Paris in the 20s. For Whom the Bell Tolls contains perhaps the greatest single chapter of fiction in all of 20th Century American literature, and I consider A Moveable Feast to be Hemingway’s finest work.

4. Neil Gaiman may actually be third. I didn’t really count, but I know some of these books are actually Diana’s, so I just put him in as #4. I have both of his short story collections, Coraline, electronic versions of the entire Sandman Series, both American Gods novels, and Stardust. I’ve read Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which I recommend), but don’t own them at the moment.

5. Jasper Fforde makes the list because I fell in love with his Thursday Next series a couple of years ago and either bought or downloaded them all. I enjoy his brand of humor and his meta-fictional approach to these novels. They’re quick reads, and they are worth it.

6. Roger Zelazny‘s Chronicles of Amber and Second Chronicles of Amber are important reads if you want to understand the fantasy genre — especially the development of low fantasy. I have both in two hardbound editions, and it adds up to 9 or 10 novels, all told. I’m counting each novel separately, just to get him on the list.

7. Fritz Leiber is just as important as Zelazny, but in a different way. I have all his Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser novels in hardback, as well. If I ever find time to write more about books, I’ll certainly dive into them for some blog posts. They are extremely problematic, and ahead of their time. Popular fantasy would be entirely different if not for these books.

8. C.S. Lewis should probably rank higher. I have his Narnia series and several of his more overt tracts. I’ve read all of his fiction and most of his Christian apologetics. I ended up with copies of many of them, though I haven’t actually turned a page of Lewis’ work in more than a decade.

9. Flannery O’Connor is here because I am sure I have all her short stories and both her novels. She’s the best writer on the list, in my mind. She’d be #1 if her work didn’t fit into so few volumes. I consciously collected every word she ever published when I was in my late 20s.

10. Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman are the co-authors of the first few novels in the Dragonlance series.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the first two Dragonlance Trilogies (Chronicles and Legends), despite the fact that they are some of the most poorly-edited published novels I’ve ever encountered. They’re just what you want in pulp fantasy. TSR turned the franchise into a money pump, and it really went downhill when they did, but Weiss and Hickman have a fantastic command of basic storytelling. The characters in the first six novels have real relationships, and when Dragonlance characters die, it actually makes you sad.

Honorable Mentions:

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Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d want with me on a Deserted Island

The good folks at The Broke and the Bookish have a weekly meme post called Top Ten Tuesday.

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This week, we’re listing the 10 characters we’d most want with us if we were stranded on a deserted island. This one was a LOT of fun to write.

1. Arya Stark from Game of Thrones. Because when Chuck Norris has a problem, and no one else can help, he doesn’t hire the A-Team. He hires Arya Stark.

2. Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings. He can cook a meal out of almost anything. He’s honest to a fault. He’s tougher than he looks. And you know it’s good luck to have a hobbit around.

3. R2D2 from Star Wars. Even though we think of him as a movie character, he’s been in plenty of books. He has an electric prod to keep agressive monkeys at bay, reconnaissance capabilities, and tons of valuable knowledge stored in his memory bank. He handled himself very well on Dagobah and doesn’t need food to function. Plus, just think how cool it would be, if you were stranded on a desert island, to have a DROID for a companion.

4. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next. She’s a brilliant detective who can travel into fictional stories, and she has a fun sense of humor. Like Master Samwise, she is tougher than she looks. I would pray she could manage to rescue a copy of Robinson Crusoe from the shipwreck.

5. Scheherazade from 1,001 Nights. Life on a desert island would just be  more pleasant with a master storyteller who also happens to be a beautiful and crafty genius.

6. DC Comics’ Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow. He’s a helluva lot more amiable than Bruce Wayne and he has experience with desert islands. He’s also a keen-eyed archer and a master bowyer. If I managed to bond with him or save him from dying while we were stranded, I’d be set for life once we were rescued, because he’s also a billionaire.

Oliver Queen from The Dark Knight Returns.

Here’s a one-armed Oliver nocking a kryptonite arrow with his teeth to fire it at Superman in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (long story). Oliver and Green Arrow are © DC Comics. Fair use applies.

7. Gideon from the Bible. The advantage of having a mighty warrior with a humble background who’s good at thinking on his feet and has a direct line to a divine being should be obvious.

8. Orpheus of Greek myth. I just couldn’t do without some music. Since I must have a fictional musician on this list, I’d just as soon have him be a demi-god who can charm the very rocks with his songs.

9. Breehny-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah, aka Bree, the talking horse from C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, my favorite of the Narnia books. This list wouldn’t be complete without a talking animal and kid’s lit/YA character, so this is a twofer.

10. Iorek Byrnison, the armored talking bear from Pullman’s His Dark Materials. If I’m going to have a Lewis character on this list, I have to add a Pullman character. And you must admit, having an armored bear as a companion is a real asset when you’re in a survivalist mode.