What Book Is The Hardest To Get Into But Worth The Effort?
Posted on 16th of August, 2018


One book I originally found hard to get into was E. R. Eddison's "The Worm Ouroboros" (available here as https://manybooks.net/titles/eddisoneother060602051.html)

Rucker was a Victorian who wrote Elizabethan prose. I found it hard to approach. I discovered that what I had to do was stop trying to actively read the book, and sit back and let the book read itself to me. Once I did, the prose went down like fine cognac, and it's become one of my favorite volumes. I understood why Ursula Le Guin praised it in her books "The Languages of the Night" where she discussed the use of language in fantasy, and was put off by some works because the prose simply didn't fit the story or the setting.

Another I'm reading at the moment is James Joyce's Ulysses, which can also be found on Manybooks.

One suggestion I found helpful was to read Joyce *aloud*. His primary sense was hearing, and he was trying to reproduce what he heard on his legendary walks through Dublin. Reading his work aloud helps to get the rythym and cadence of his prose.
1. The Republic By Plato - This is probably bending the rules a bit, but The Republic is one of the best known works by Plato and it has been incredibly influential, so most people will be familiar with it. However, I honestly wonder how many people have actually read it and how many of them truly understood it. It is all about the meaning of justice and other similar topics, which can be hard to follow if you are not a student of philosophy.

2. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi - This book won a ton of awards when it was released in 2009, but it is not very easy to follow. I like the unique setting for the story as instead of taking place in America it is set in Thailand during the 23rd century. The world is in quite a state, but Thailand fared better than most. The Windup Girl is a very good book, but the incredibly amount of jargon that the author uses gave me a lot of trouble. The second time I read it, I had a much easier time following the story and could better appreciate what the author was trying to say. Some people have also said that the author intentionally wrote the book this way in order for readers to feel like outsiders in the world of the story.

3. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. I might catch some flak for this one, but I absolutely hated The Naked Lunch the first time that I read it. It wasn't until after I watched the David Cronenberg film that I had the compulsion to read The Naked Lunch again and could actually appreciate it a little more. What drove me up the wall with this book is the lack of discernible plot. The book starts simple enough with Lee the Agent evading the police and encountering various people as he looks for his next fix of drugs. Unfortunately, to say that things become somewhat disjointed as the story progresses would be a huge understatement. All I can say is that the book becomes more enjoyable once you abandon any attempt to extract meaning from it.

4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace is another book that gave me a really hard time for obvious reasons. I have actually lost count of the amount of times that I have tried to start reading it only to give up when I become lost. What I eventually discovered is that the start of the book is the most intimidating due to the large number of characters, but after a while things settle down a bit and it becomes somewhat easier to follow. Unfortunately, towards the end the story starts to meander too much for my liking, but at that point you are so far in the book that you just push through to get it done. One thing about War and Peace that I cannot deny is that the good parts of the book are some of the best I have ever read, but getting to them can feel like scaling mount Everest at times.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It's not often that a book has me on the verge of throwing in the towel, but Atlas Shrugged did this almost every other page. In all honesty it was my first Ayn Rand novel, which in hindsight could have been a mistake, but I had heard so much about it that I know that I had to read it. The book felt very contrived to me and I had a really hard time to empathize with any of the characters. I also disagree with the political and philosophical ideas of the author on a fundamental level, which obviously makes it even harder to read the book. However, I still feel that it is a very important book if for no other reason than the fact that even now people are arguing about it and you can hardly mention the book without people having an opinion about how good or bad it is. In the end, I am glad that I read it, but it is not one for the "easy reading" list.
Cormac McCarthy's book, Blood Meridian, is about the only novel that has ever given me a really hard time. It was published in 1985 and I believe it is his fifth novel. What got me interested is Time magazine, who included it in their list of top 100 English-language books. The book is often described as an anti-Western, so I thought that I would give it a shot even if it is not my preferred genre. Now I know that many people consider it as one of the greatest American novels of all time, but more than once I considered putting it down and just giving up.

The protagonist of Blood Meridian is "the kid" who, after various misadventures, ends up joining a depraved gang that thrives on violence and bloodshed. Initially their purpose is to kill only Apaches, but their enjoyment of killing leads them to murder pretty much anyone who they encounter.

What made this novel very difficult for me to read is that the protagonist is not a very likeable character and enjoys the violence of the rest of the gang. He does eventually begin to see the errors of his ways, but still. In contrast, Judge Holden, the antagonist is so evil that it is almost over the top. I didn't have much of an issue with the violence, although it is very frequent and very vivid, so some readers might find it very upsetting. The author also has a habit of describing certain things in way too much detail or resorting to run on sentences. I'm not sure if it is an issue with the copy of the book I read, but there were instances with Spanish text that is never translated. This is not an issue if you can read Spanish, but I was somewhat out of luck in this regard.

Ultimately though I don't regret reading the book and I can't disagree with people who call it great. It just takes a while to get used to the style of the author. After reading Blood Meridian I also checked out the other books by McCarthy and I'm glad to say that most of them are more plot driven and somewhat easier to follow. For anyone who does want to read Blood Meridian the best way to approach it is to take your time and really digest the dense prose before moving on. This is the only way to really appreciate the story without getting burned out by it. I also later found at that the Spanish bits in the book are not really that important, so you can either ignore them or check out the translations online if you are really curious. If you really struggle with this book I can also recommend trying out the audio book instead as it makes things a tad easier.
My answer is a bit of an odd one as the books that I have struggled to "get into" hasn't really been because of the quality of the writing or even the complexity of the prose. What really made it a struggle for me was the subject matter and tone of the books. The books are actually beautifully written and the stories very good, but a combination of factors has kept me from really enjoying or appreciating them the fullest.

1. Watership Down by Richard Adams. Most people will know Watership Down from the animated movie, which is where I also saw it for the first time. It was Adams' first novel, but still one of his best. Adams claimed that the book was a result of the stories that he told his daughters when they went on long car journeys and all I can say is that I am thankful that he is not my dad because it has to be one of the most depressing books ever written. I will say that it is very imaginative and stars a sort of psychic rabbit who has a premonition that his warren will be destroyed sometime in the near future. He does not manage to convince a lot of other rabbits that his vision is authentic, but in the end manages to set out with a group of those who do believe him. Some of the hardships they endure along the way is almost too much to bear and Adams himself admitted in later years that he perhaps made the story too dark. For people who grew up on books filled with blood and violence Watership Down may seem rather tame, but if you are sensitive and love animals, it can be a grueling read.

2. The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams. I should have learned my lesson with Watership Down, but no, I had to go and try and read his other novel The Plague Dogs too. Fluffy, cuddly bunnies are one thing, but I honestly didn't expect to care so much about the plight of mangy dogs. Turns out I was very wrong as this story about two mistreated dogs that escape from a government research institute still manages to tug very hard on the heartstrings. The poor creatures just can't catch a break and soon find themselves being hunted down by just about everyone and accused of everything from being monsters to plague carriers.

3. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter. Just to prove that it's not just books about rabbits and dogs that can completely wreck me emotionally, there is also this story about a cat. What makes this one worse than the other ones is the fact that it is not fiction, but really happened. It is about a cat who was only a few weeks old when he was cruelly jammed through the return book slot of a library in Iowa. That poor kitten not only survived the bitter cold, but went on to live at the library for almost twenty years afterwards, touching the lives of everyone there. Just typing this description has made me tear up again, so read this one at your own risk.
This is really going to depend on your level of reading comprehension as well as the type of books that you typically read. For example, someone who only reads romance novels will probably have a hard time getting into a hardcore science fiction novel. For me personally, the book that I started and stopped the most times is actually a fairly well-known one, namely Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It is not that I don't understand what the author is trying to say, but I just couldn't muster up the same appreciation for it that people like Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Vladimir Nabokov had. Even William Faulkner was enamored by it, which places a lot of pressure on readers who might not be as well read. It is actually a great novel, but I found that it is not the best place to get started with Tolstoy as it takes a while to adjust to his style. What helped for me was to take a step back and familiarize myself with some of his other work first. His shorter works in particular are somewhat easier and will help you to appreciate Anna Karenina more. Someone recommended The Death of Ivan Illich to me, but there are a couple of other good ones as well. Being familiar with Russian literature in particular will also make things much easier. I'm not sure what translation of Anna Karenina I ended up reading, but I have heard that this is also a factor in whether people are able to fully appreciate the book.

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