The World’s Most Difficult Books

So we all love lists, right? And especially lists of books, yes? Now, the Guardian has published a list of the 10 most difficult books and asks, how many have you read? Here’s the list:

  • Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  • A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
  • The Phenomenology of Spirit by G.F. Hegel
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
  • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  • The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein
  • Women and Men by Joseph McElroy

The list has been put together by Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg from the Millions, apparently after researching it for three years. As always with such lists, they immediately open up for debate and so the writer of the article, Alison Flood, speculates that she would probably have included Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and maybe The Waves by Virginia Woolf instead of To the Lighthouse.

It seems that every author is only allowed one book on the list – otherwise I think Ulysses by James Joyce also would qualify.

Now, I’ve read two of these (To the Lighthouse and Being and Time) and 70% of Clarissa as well as parts of The Phenomenology of Spirit. Most of the others I haven’t even heard of (except of course Finnegans Wake). Being and Time is definitely difficult – Heidegger talks about being and ontology and when he runs out of words, he invents them himself. It requires multiple readings and lots of thinking to get this book. The Phenomenology of Spirit is also a difficult book.

When I think of To the Lighthouse, I recall it as being very difficult and as a book I didn’t particularly like. However, when I go back and read my review, I can see I gave it 4 stars and were very impressed with the way she crafted the book – and that it made me think of Hegel! I think a lot of people find stream of consciousness difficult and that’s probably why this book is on the list, however, sometimes I think you just have to go with the flow and let the words wash over you … if that makes sense. I can see that I was very impressed with Woolf when reading this and wanted to read more books by her – and somehow I have forgotten this and have just been very intimidated by her. I need to read Woolf soon!

I don’t find Clarissa difficult – just very, very, very long, repetitive and boring at times. But not difficult.

A book I found difficult is Will Self’s How the Dead Live. I can see my review is only about 15 lines long and for everyone following this blog, you know that I don’t write short reviews! It confused me – but some parts of it has stayed with me and pop up in my thoughts from time to time so maybe I need to tackle Will Self again. His newest, Umbrella, is longlisted for the Booker so maybe now is a good time?

Now, how many of these have you read?

On a Desert Island …

So what if you had been Robinson Crusoe and was stranded on that island – or any island (not the one from Lost though) – which books would you bring? If you should choose a small number of books and those were the only books you had to read for maybe the rest of your life or at least for a very, very long time.

You have food enough and enough to drink, there’s a comfy chair as well as a comfy beach chair, but your only company is your books. So which books would you choose? Don’t choose lightly – this is your only chance.

I really wanted to limit myself to 5 titles but when I first got started, I couldn’t limit myself to just 5. I figure, I’m a fast reader – I need more than 5 books to sustain myself on on this beautiful island. So there – my list of 10 books to bring on a desert island.

  1. John Irving: The World According to Garp. This is my favorite, favorite book. I love this book. Even though I’ve already read it a lot of times, I still want to read it again. And again.
  2. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace. Well, one thing this has going for it, is it’s length. I’ve already read it once and I will really much like to read it again. And since there’s so much going on in it, I will most likely need to read it several times.
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings.  I’ve only read it once but I loved it and I loved the movies. So definitely want to spend some time reading this.
  4. Georges Perec: Life – A User’s Manual. I don’t think many know about this book and it’s a shame. It’s a weird book – all about the people living in the same apartment building. It’s amazing and I loved it.
  5. Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past. I’ve read Swann’s Way 1 and liked it. I think if I was stranded on a island for a long time, I would get the whole thing read.
  6. Joyce Carol Oates: Blonde. Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors and this was the first book I read by her. And I loved it. I really want to re-read it and a desert island is perfect place to spend reading about the life of Marilyn Monroe.
  7. James Joyce: Ulysses. Oh yeah, I’m serious. I want to read this. I have never read it but what better thing to do on an island than to try and tackle Joyce? And on that note …
  8. James Joyce: Finnegan’s Wake.  Yeah, I’m still serious. I want to read Joyce!
  9. Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore. Another spot taken by one of my favorite authors. I loved this novel and so far, it’s my favorite book by Murakami.
  10. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I read this once, loved it. I really want to read it again – great book with awesome footnotes.

The easy, the good – and the downright scary. 3 new books.

Well, despite having more than enough books on my shelves I haven’t read yet, I’ve just acquired three more.

Yesterday, I was looking for some books for my daughter in the best book store in town (got 4 for her – we read them all when she got home yesterday) and I bought Inkheart by Cornelia Funke for myself. I love the idea of the book about a person being able to read characters from books alive – it kind of sounds like a ya version of Thursday Next so even though it has gotten some mixed reviews, I’ll give it a go.

Then today in the mail, I got two classics. I’ve been wanting to read Orlando by Virginia Woolf for ages – or at least since 1992 when the movie (with Tilda Swinton) came out and I first heard of the novel. Looking forward to this one!

And also in the package was Ulysses by James Joyce. 1195 pages long (not counting the introduction and a short history of the text). I got an Annotated Student Edition (wasn’t what I ordered but an annotated version of this book is probably not the worst thing in the world). I did sign up for the Jousting with Joyce challenge at Fizzy Thoughts so I had to get the book – and now I have to read it as well! Should be interesting!