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...

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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

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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 ...

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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.)

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite TV Shows

The good folks at The Broke and the Bookish have a weekly meme post called Top Ten Tuesday. This week’s topic is favorite movies or TV shows. So here are ten TV series I’ve seen every episode of. These may be the only ten shows I’ve seen the entire run of. I go through phases where I watch very little television, and it was tough to come up with ten of these.

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1. The X Files (1993-2002). Possibly my favorite television show ever, and notable for its long run. I watched it religiously back in the day, but it makes this list because my wife and I watched every episode in syndication the first few years we were married. My favorite episode is the one where we see that the Smoking Man had a hand in the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are awesome, of course. Mitch Pileggi is just as good, and this is the first show I remember seeing him in.

2. The Shield (2002-2008). This one is a close second for “best ever” in my mind. I can’t think of a better police drama. The cast is stellar, the writing is good, and the camera work was exceptional for a basic-cable original series at the time. The best part about it: it put Walton Goggins on the map. It’s one of those rare shows that manages to pull off an anti-climactic, unsatisfying ending but still gives the characters exactly what they deserve.

3. Copper (2012-). A BBC show about New York policemen in the Five Points during the decade after the Civil War. New York’s never looked so much like London on the screen. This is one of my favorite currently-running shows. I’ve never regretted following it for one minute, and I am eager to see how it ends.

4. Justified (2010 – ). Another gem, this one an Elmore Leonard story translated into 5 seasons of awesome television. Set in Harlan County, Kentucky, it’s all about the relationship between U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens and his childhood frenemy Boyd Crowder, a cunning and thoroughly ruthless professional criminal. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are phenomenal together. The acting and the dialogue are so good, it’s easy to forgive the uneven quality of the long story arcs from season to season. And it has a theme by Gangstagrass:

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5 Ways to Find New Music

I’ve been recommending music so far here and it’s been a lot of fun to talk to people about music. And while some people have known some of my recommendations, not everyone knows all of them, which is good! I hope that keeps up in a good way. I know I have already made music purchases based on recommendations I’ve gotten from others!

So of course from the title you know, I’d like to suggest a few of the places where I’ve found new music over the years. All of this excludes the most obvious ones, I suppose, which are recommendations from friends or, say, bloggers!

I’d love to know some of your recommended places or ways to find new music as well, so make sure to add to the conversation in the comments below!

The Radio

Yes, yes, that’s what it’s for. Music radio is there to sell you music, at least in part. This is one of the most direct ways to find music, but not necessarily the best way to find the best music.

I say that because the radio tends to only play singles. And while many singles are great, often, other songs on albums are a lot musicnotebetter. And, many albums are best listened to whole – hearing one song just doesn’t give you a good sense of it. Also, focusing on singles might have you looking at singles only when you buy music – something iTunes lets you do, fair enough, but that doesn’t help you find very much music, or at least not very quickly!

However, I feel the need to mention this method, because it is on the radio that I heard “Two Against One” from the album Rome, sung by Jack White (which caught my interest) and produced by Danger Mouse – which, finding this out led me down a road which has led to many of my favorite music purchases – certainly my favorites of the last several years!

So some of the secret is finding a radio station you really like, or that does a good job of playing a lot of music. For instance, in Denver I listened to channel 93.3, and it’s great. Oh, and thanks to the Internet age, and services like iHeartRadio, you can listen to channels like this anywhere! Which I do.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band!

I don’t think they’re making these games as much as they were for a period of time, but there are others like them as well – dance ones or whatever. I found a lot of bands I didn’t know about, or had missed, through Guitar Hero. Rather than just focusing on singles, they were focused also on songs that had good music, good solos or skillful playing. 

That means it was great for finding what a band sounds like, what they are aiming for with their sound. It’s also a way to find a variety of music, by artists you may never have heard of. I think also that “playing” the songs is a good way to connect with them, guitarheroto enjoy them more. I have a soft spot for many songs from those games, and when I hear them play, it reminds me of good times, spent with friends.

One trap they laid with some of the later games was the ability to buy more songs, individually or in packages of, say, songs by an artist. Some of the problem with this is that if you’re spending more and extra money on the content, you’re likely only going to get music you know and know you’ll like – so it doesn’t help you learn new music! Just an observation!

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Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Blogging Confessions

The good folks at The Broke and the Bookish have a weekly meme post called Top Ten Tuesday. This week’s topic is blogging confessions, so I really must join in. Here are ten confessions from me.

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1. I need absolute silence to write. I can tolerate a low level of white noise such as an aquarium pump. Music, never. If there’s noise around and I must write, I tune it out and write more slowly.

2. Sometimes I blog about political things. I am always conflicted about that, right up to the moment I press the publish button. I have a strict rule (80/20 max) about the ratio of pop culture and social media content to political content here. I don’t want to be a political blogger. Usually, when I write about political stuff, it’s because I’m looking at something that I view as either too ugly to let pass or patently ridiculous.

3. I’m not really a social media wizard, despite the persona. I’m a speed-reader, I’m good at research, and I have a talent for figuring out what works and sticking with it until it doesn’t. I also have a talent for letting things go when they don’t work.

4. I’m always stressing out about not reading and commenting on other blogs more. The kind of social media network I want is one that runs on interaction and reciprocity. I often feel like I am not holding up my end.

5. I blogged at Blogspot, years ago, under a pseudonym. Later I had a WordPress blog for a few years that I’ve since deleted. During that first WordPress phase, I was experimenting with cross-network engagement, but the tools weren’t there to make it workable for a guy with a full-time job to manage.

6. Diana, my sister, credits me with the idea for these blogs. I suppose that’s fair enough. I never would have jumped back into blogging, though, if I hadn’t had contributors offering to pitch in and if Diana hadn’t pushed me along. When she called me last October and told me she’d started blogging, I kicked my own plans into high gear.

7. I wish we’d blogged for the first month, but not published anything. We’d likely still be a couple of weeks ahead and the last 8 months would have gone much more smoothly. I also wish I’d taken the number of photos I’ve taken this summer last summer before we started. An archive of original images is a real asset.

8. My goal from the beginning has been to get three blogs posting every day, keep them posting every day, and answer comments. Aside from a couple of hiccups, I’ve managed to do that with the help of contributors and by virtue of the fact that one of those blogs is Diana’s responsibility. I’m proud of this accomplishment.

9. I just love Twitter. If I suddenly found myself the sole content producer for all the blogs I contribute to, I’d keep one going, post every couple of days, Tweet like a madman on the days I wasn’t posting, and grow my Twitter following to 100k.

10. I am amazed at the awesomeness of the bloggers I’ve met since I started. Absolutely amazed. The conviviality and the conversations on the threads are my favorite part of blogging.