Books for the strong reader

bodyAre you a Rambo or a Mr Bean when it comes to reading? Looking at a list of 50 novels described as ‘tough’ because they are ultra long or intense or use a style that requires deep concentration, I realise I am very much in the Mr Bean camp.

The list has been developed by Flavourwire (who seem to specialise in creating lists) to suggest some of the ‘heftiest’ books around, books suitable only for readers with strong constitutions. Of the 50 they name, I’ve read precisely 4 so clearly I am a wimp.

Now some of these I have never even heard of (like the Tunnel by William Gass or Out by Natsuo Kirino) and one or two I started but gave up on (William Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury for example). Then there are others whose reputation for being ‘complex’ precedes them so much I have persuaded myself that I really don’t need to read them (Finnegan’s Wake, Moby Dick and The Faerie Queen are prime examples here). And some that I think I should read but need to build up my strength before tackling (like Robinson Crusoe).

Here’s what I’ve read:

  • To the Lighthouse – Virgina Woolf
  • Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  • War and Peace – Tolstoy
  • Sophie’s Choice – William Styron

The Tolstoy one was far and away the hardest because a) it’s incredibly long and b) I am not good at keeping track of characters at the best of times and this one had a very very long cast list. Not only that – but because in Russia, each individual has three variations of their names, I got hopelessly lost with who was who. And that was even with the aid of a list of people at the front of the book.

Sophie’s Choice was only ‘difficult’ in terms of its subject matter but I could say the same of many other books so I question why this one in particular was included. Heart of Darkness is so multilayered that it does sometimes make for puzzlement but the language is so wonderful. the opening passage where the narrator begins his story to the shipmates as they wait for the tide to take them down the Thames, is like an Impressionist painting. As for To the Lighthouse, hm, I did enjoy it, though I can’t actually say that I understood what it was about.

So are you all wimps like myself or are you more in the Rambo camp? Are there any titles you think missing from the list?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on November 23, 2013, in Book Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. I’ve read only five off the list, and worse I’ve started and given up on four or five others! So some of the choices I agree are tough books. But others I find strange. Out by Natsuo Kirino is great slasher horror but not at all a tough read, for me at least. There are books on that list I want to read and have been meaning to.

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  2. I consider myself in the Rambo camp even though I seem to have only read 8 books on the list. I own many more on the list but haven’t gotten to them yet. But I plan to so that counts right? 🙂

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  3. Definitely you are not alone. There are people like me who are still trying to figure out the layers of Heart of Darkness . One out of fifty is my score 😀 …

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  4. I am a wimp with you. I haven’t even read one of the books off this list. Some I’ve never heard of! I have thought for a long time that I should try reading The Silmarillion by Tolkien but was scared off by my father’s experience with it.

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  5. Out is the best thriller I’ve ever read. It is a dark (it’s about a woman murdering her husband and then asking her friends to help her hide the evidence!) but it is so thought provoking – what would I do if my best friend asked me to help her chop up her husband?! I highly recommend that you give it a try!

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  6. I’ve read four as well, but I wouldn’t think that I was a wimp. I just think that my heftier books are different to theirs.

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  7. It turns out I’ve read five – including Moby (which was actually good), and the Naked Lunch which I disliked a lot. War and Peace I read many years ago and would like to revisit, unlike the Silmarillion which bored me to death nearly. The quirkiest one on the list though for me is The House Of Leaves – which I adored – but is challenging in style and definitely an acquired taste. I don’t mind a challenging read if the book isn’t too long though – so I don’t expect I’ll be reading Infinite Jest any time soon 🙂

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    • I admire anyone who had the stamina to read Moby after I heard a radio program explain how so much of it came directly from natural history books

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      • Thanks – it was a book group choice – so I had to (try to) read it! However, I was glad I did, because there is so much in it that I recognised to have been referenced by other authors. The story was great – the whaling manual less interesting.

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  8. I loved that list, as well as similar lists form Flavorwire, a really cool site. I have read 6 of that list, and there are several more on my TBR

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  9. Well I’ve read 5 of these: War and Peace, Clarissa, Battle Royale, To the Lighthouse and Trainspotting. And a bit of Proust and Dante’s Hell. The worst of these for me was definitely Clarissa – sooooi long and so little going on…

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  10. I always kind of thought i was a heavy weight reader, but maybe it’s time to reconsider. I’ve read less than 10 on the list and only enjoyed maybe 2 of them. The rest i had to read for school. That being said, I feel that i do read challenging works and I’m not afraid of a long novel. It’s all terribly subjective.

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  11. I’ve read four from the list. The Sound and the Fury is incredibly difficult the first time through (until you figure out that the narrator is mentally ill and doesn’t have a perception of time). On a re-read though, it’s actually quite good and I can appreciate the rather unique writing style. My reaction on “To the Lighthouse” is similar to yours. I enjoyed it when I read it, but I don’t really remember it very well because I read it years ago.

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  12. I may be in the wimp corner too. From that list I have read War and Peace -when I was younger – and I hink had more time to read – I loved it. I also read Clarrissa again younger more time, loved it though would never read it again, too long for such an ending. I think I read Heart of Darkness – I remember nothing about it – but don’t think I liked it, and I also read To The Lighthouse which only served to put me off Virginia Woolfe. I think I read Kafka’s The Castle – but also don’t remember it at all – maybe because I read The Trial after it and remembered that better. I can’t imagine wanting to read most of that list though 🙂

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