Top Ten Tuesday – Books that are hard to read

top ten tuesday
This week’s Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish is books that are hard to read. At first I tried to think of books I was unable to finish, but then I realised that some books I really, really love are hard to read, so this list is a mix of the two!

1. 2666 by Roberto Bolano
So, you’ve just given birth to twins. You’re looking for something to read between the endless feeds and nappy changes. What better than 2666, a 900 page monster of a novel about the rape and murder of women in Mexico, involving multiple plot digressions, stories within stories, and multiple characters? Was it hard because the book was hard to read? Or was it hard because I was a sleep-deprived, hormone-filled mess while reading it? Who knows? But I’m proud I got through it!

2. Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Anyone who remembers my review of Tampa will know that I am most certainly not a fan of this cold, badly written sensationalist story of a female paedophile. The click bait of books, it was all hype and no substance with sex scenes that were horrible to read. Plus, that cover……

3. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Anyone that can get through this elegant meditation on love, grief and survival without having to take a cry break (that’s an official term) every few pages is a stronger reader than me.

4. Happy Like Murderers by Gordon Burn
Gordon Burn is a great journalist/ author and I had loved some of his other work. I am still amazed that I managed to get through this incredibly detailed account of the lives of Fred & Rosemary West and there are some things I read in this book that I wish I could forget. It is not for the faint hearted, but is a true and necessary work for the victims and for an understanding of how monsters are made.

5. Rabbit Run by John Updike
Oh how I had been looking forward to reading John Updike and his classic Rabbit books. I imagined myself reading and loving the whole series, but after ploughing my way through this dull and meandering tale of ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom and his self-obsessed, juvenile inability to commit to his wife and daughter, I’d had enough. A book that I finished but wish I hadn’t.

6. House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
First there is the form of this brilliant and frightening book – multiple typefaces, footnotes, collage, the insertion of photographs, sketches, a page of Braille, an index, hell at one point you need a mirror to read parts of the text. Then there is the story – essentially a haunted house story but unlike anything you have ever imagined. Reading this book takes serious effort, but it is worth it. And oh my, is it scary.

7. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
I got a lot of things out of my degree in English Literature, but a love for Middle English was not one of them. This was a set text in first year and almost made me question my choice of degree. Maybe I should try the translation by Simon Armitage to see if I can salvage something from this dull, incomprehensible poem.

8. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I haven’t read it yet. That’s how hard it is. I’ve started it countless times. I’ve read those first 50 pages over and over, each time thinking, ‘yes, this time I’ll make it through’. But no. Infinite Jest is an elusive epic. I’ll have to try again as it is in the 746, so if anyone out there has made it through and can give me some pointers I will be eternally grateful.

9. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
I read this when I was 24. I really don’t think there is any other time to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Essentially the tale of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book turns in to a philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to be. I read about half of it in complete bafflement, then finally it all clicked and fell in to place for me. I can’t remember what clicked, or what fell in to place, but I loved it at the time.

10. It by Stephen King
I was 11. My Mum, Dad and I were going to Dublin for the weekend and staying in a B&B. I had insisted I was old enough for my own room. I brought ‘It’ to read. I ended up sleeping between my parents in their room due to the sheer terror that damn clown induced. I never did finish it and my parents never let me live that down!

So there we have it, my Top Ten books that were hard to read for one reason or another.

Have you read any of these? Loved or hated them more than me?

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60 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday – Books that are hard to read

  1. House of Leaves sounds really interesting!
    The cover of Tampa is awful! I’ve never heard of it before but just looking at the cover made me squirm.
    I had to laugh at your It experience! We’ve all been there!

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    • I might actually try reading IT again sometime, I was just WAY too young for it. House of Leaves is one of my favourite books of all time, although I do seem to shoehorn it into nearly every TTT that I do 🙂

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  2. House of Leaves sounds so good! But, I am also scared to read it. Maybe someday…
    Your experience with ‘It’ made me laugh, and the fact that you read 2666 right after having babies is just impressive!
    The book that comes to mind for me is The Hour I First Believed. Her PTSD symptoms were causing me to have panic attacks as I read the book. But I finished.

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    • I think I tried to read The Hour I First Believed but gave up. Is it the one based on Columbine? I had starting reading 2666 and then the babies came early, but why I kept going, I have no idea. It was certainly a break from all the ‘How To Get Your Baby to Sleep’ books that I was reading as well!

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      • Yes, it was based on Columbine. Boy, it was rough.

        Haha! I just could not read those baby books. Too boring. Somehow, I made it through without them. I think I just asked for advice from my friends who had read them. 🙂 Not fair, I know.

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  3. I tried reading Infinite Jest, but I quit shortly after the first chapter I think. “2666” on the other hand, I really enjoyed, which I found surprisingly readable. Maybe you should try it again when your twins are older and less demanding (if that time ever comes….I know how you feel, by the way, since I also had a son fairly recently, though just one. I feel you).

    House of Leaves I also enjoyed, though there were parts that kind of drove me crazy, specifically the academic-sounding chapters on technical discussions on architecture and things like echo…. Also, Johnny Truant’s ramblings annoyed me most of the time.

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  4. How can you love a book that is hard to read? I give those away and don’t finish them unless I find it important to witness the reality of the message in the story. Is a story too gory too read? Or boring? Too technical? Those are the reasons I set a book aside.

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    • I think you can appreciate a book that’s hard to read, House of Leaves is ‘hard’ in terms of the form it takes, but not the story. Some were hard for me because of my emotional reactions to them, but that didn’t stop me appreciating them. I also don’t like not finishing a book, so that’s why I’ve finished some that I didn’t like.

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  5. Kudos for persevering with 2666! I haven’t tried that one, but my unread copy of The Savage Detectives is staring at me from the bookshelf. The Year of Magical Thinking is in my tbr pile, too, and I’m expecting it to be a heartbreaker…I might have to choose the right moment to start it.

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  6. Tampa was a hard book to get through, for sure. Disturbing couldn’t even come close to describing my feelings about it. I had to distance my true feelings about the subject in order to give the book an unbiased opinion.

    I’ve been trying to read House of Leaves forever, but the unconventional writing is driving me crazy!

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  7. I read Motorcycle Maintenance when I was a senior in HS and it was one of those life-changing books for me. I still have my old paperback copy with all my notes and underlinings.

    I just could not read Tampa–too much of an ick factor for me!

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  8. I read House of Leaves and I agree – you have to do some serious work to read that book, but it’s worth it! I also loved IT … one of my favorite Stephen King books! You should give it another try now that you’re older. One book I found very hard to read was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It was just so incredibly wordy – and this comment comes from a gal who loves Dickens!

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  9. The Year of Magical Thinking was one of the saddest books I’ve ever read… I struggled with “Zen” too, and I’m still not sure I got it!

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    • See, I love One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I totally get that it’s not for everyone. I’ve got to the point with Infinite Jest that each time I start I don’t believe I’m going to get much further than before, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe I need to go on holiday with that book and nothing else so that I’ll have no choice but to finish it!!

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  10. I loved Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but to be fair, I read it in reasonably contemporary language (I’m currently struggling through Le Morte Arthur, and share your antipathy for middle English).

    I really want to read The Year of Magical Thinking, but I don’t feel up to it at the moment–I’ve read lots of grim books recently and need something light. I’ve heard only good (albeit emotional) things about it, though.

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  11. Ha! Glad to see ‘Rabbit Run’ on there – confirms it isn’t just me after all! And I remember having a similar experience with ‘Zen and…’ in my early twenties – but it’s all connected up with memories of a rather strange boyfriend I had at the time so mercifully my subconscious seems to have erased all traces of it now… 😉

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  12. Well… the only one I’ve read here is IT.. and that scared the daylights out of me. I didn’t think it wrapped up well, but the build-up was terrifying!

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  13. Haha, I LOVED Sir Gawain and the Green Knight! I had to read it for one of my courses as well, and really enjoyed it 🙂 I’m a huge fan of Arthurian legendry though, so that might be it.

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  14. I found Sir Gawain to be an easy read, perhaps that is because I did enjoy that sort of early British literature. (: The others one do look sort of hard. I have the House of Leaves but the size is daunting. 🙂

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  15. Oh, It. I remember that book. I probably read it about the same time you tried to. That was my first adult scary book too. I loved and hated it. Probably for the same reasons as all other tweens that read it. Great writing. Scary as hell. Clowns. Need I say more.

    Sir Gawain – yuck yuck yuck. I had to read that crap myself for Brit Lit. It should have stayed in middle England..

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  16. I was fairly disgusted with Updike’s Rabbit books as well–depravity is not my fave choice of read; therefore, James Joyce, Lolita, and the like aren’t going to be in my bookbag anytime soon.
    Couldn’t finish The Goldfinch–right about in Las Vegas I saw it was going to be a long ride. House of Leaves was recommended by a student. If an AP senior liked it, I should at least give it a try.

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