Books that scare me

What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why?

That was the question posed as this month’s meme over on the Classics Club.  The fact it’s taken me practically all month to think of an answer is a clue to how much this question taxed my brain. My first answer was ‘nothing really’ on the basis that I’ll give anything a go (except maybe science fantasy). But as Lear told Cordelia “Nothing will come of nothing, speak again” so I pushed myself to give the question deeper consideration.

After much cogitation I decided that there were three categories or types of books which I would approach with a degree of trepidation:

English medieval literature. A friend at university took this as her degree subject so I got to see some of her books. Until then I thought Chaucer was hard enough to read. But then she introduced me to Piers the Ploughman and Beowulf. I decided on the spot that I really didn’t want to have to learn another language just to read literature.

Books in local dialect  This is in similar vein to my comment around medieval literature. Books that make very heavy use of dialect are hard to read and enjoy.  I have a copy of James Kelman’s ‘How late it was, How late‘ sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read along with all the other Booker prize winners I have challenged myself to read. It’s a classic in its own way – stream of consciousness novel written in working class Glaswegian accent (note of explanation for my non British readers – this accent comes from the city of Glasgow in Scotland and is a particularly difficult accent to understand). I suspect it will linger on the shelves until I have nothing else left on the list to read….

Scientific plots My final category are novels that contain a heavy emphasis on science. I was never much use at science at school. I have only the vaguest of notions of chemistry or physics. Quiz questions that ask for the names of elements, planets and stars, or the genus of various plants and animals have me baffled. So any novel that involves scientists or scientific theory would not be one I would open with glee. Hence why I have never read any of those science fiction classics by Asimov , H G Wells or Huxley.

I wouldn’t ignore any of these categories, they just wouldn’t be the ones I would open with relish.


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

7 thoughts on “Books that scare me

  • December 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I am dying to read Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu because it’s intimidating. Also, Finnegan’s wake because of the language (and corollary to that is Anthony Burgess and his Clockwork Orange). Aside from that, most (if not all) of the world’s poetry intimidate me just because I lack the insight to understand them.

    • December 4, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      Proust – now that really would be a challenge.I might have to fortify myself with a few glasses of wine before tackling that one. You’re not alone in finding poetry a little challenging. The more classic ones I find quite tough because they include so many learned references that I just don’t get (people like Pope and Dryden) but I enjoy the work of a trip from the 1960s in Liverpool, Uk who were influenced by the American beat poets. Have a go at some of them Kevin…they are Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten

  • December 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    I have struggled with novels that involve science too, especially novels that expect you to have some scientific knowledge. Had a really positive experience reading the cult classic Day of the Triffids though, so have decided to try some H G Wells as part of The Classics Club.

    • December 4, 2012 at 9:09 pm

      Ah yes the Triffids one was quite good and I think Wyndham also wrote the Midwitch Cuckoos which was similarly good and not too much science. I have one Wells on my Classics Club list – the Invisible Man. But I can’t remember now why I chose that particular novel.

      • December 5, 2012 at 9:19 am

        The Invisible Man does seem a more random choice. I have War of the Worlds and The Time Machine on my list.

  • November 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I think my response is your first response — but perhaps not for the same reason. Intimidated is just the wrong word for me now.
    As a young reader, I was intimidated by many classics and that worked to my advantage. I thought I should read them — and did. I plowed my way through many really tough books– sometimes with little comprehension, but because I was willing to tackle just about anything, I became a good reader, (taking notes, looking up all words I didn’t know, asking myself questions as I read, going back and re-reading) though a bit of a snob.
    Then I taught school for a bit and felt I needed to read what my students were reading and discovered genres I had never considered: horror, mystery, thrillers, scifi, fantasy — but never romance. I discovered new joy in reading. No more snobbery — just different preferences.
    As a middle-aged reader I read a mix –a lot of classics I thought I ought to read — to catch up and fill in the holes in my long list and I continued taking on books just outside my grasp as well as beloved mysteries I could fly through.
    Now, just over 60, I don’t care enough to be intimidated though I still have the ability to read to the end of books I feel less than enthusiastic about.
    What most interests me now is how it feels to read a book– classic or otherwise.
    That said I will tolerate local dialects but I’m not drawn to them. I spent a lot of time on Chaucer in my youth. Not likely to go back — or read others. But maybe. I like scientific plots.

    • December 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      Like you Barbara I read without much comprehension in my younger days but sadly wasn’t anywhere near as disciplined as you were in later years. Oddly enough, doing a university course on literature didn’t make as much difference as you would expect. The problem was that we had to read at such speed there was no time to really digest anything.
      Loved your comment that you don’t care enough to be intimidated – there has to be something said for maturity!


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