top 10 tuesday: Worth the Effort?

Hey guys!  I just got back from a fantastic Labor Day weekend in NYC, where I didn’t spend much time online (though if you’d like to see some of my US Open pictures, you can check out my Instagram).  I did a quick scan of my dashboard on here this morning, but if I missed any posts you’d like me to see, let me know!

Now let’s get to it.

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish – to join in the fun, check out their blog here!

September 5Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Loving or Ten Books That Were A Chore To Get Through or Ten Books I’ve Most Recently Put Down (the theme is…books you had a hard time with…tweak it how ever you need)

I’m going to interpret this prompt as asking the question ‘Is this book worth the effort?’  We’ve got a few different answers.

NO:

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  I had to read this book for my eleventh grade American literature class.  Maybe I’d get more out of it if I read it now… but I don’t know.  The symbolism didn’t go over my head – I ‘got it,’ but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s like seven hundred pages of a dude following a whale around in a boat.

 

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Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  Maybe I just don’t like books set on boats.  Hmm.  There’s probably something to that.  Anyway, I found this book insufferable.  I read this for my twelfth grade AP Lit class, which is a shame because I loved every other book I had to read for that course.  Another one that I ‘got’ but hated every minute of reading.  I found it pretty pretentious and impenetrable… and I am a self-proclaimed lover of all things pretentious, so if that’s a criticism coming from me, you know it’s probably pretty extreme.

32283423American War by Omar El Akkad.  This is one of those books that I had to really push myself through, and when I finished it, I felt nothing but relief that it was finally over.  I wanted to love it because the premise is fascinating and seems relevant, but I struggled with El Akkad’s world building and narrative structure.  It wasn’t compelling, it didn’t feel half as tragic as he meant for it to be, it was just an overwhelmingly bland reading experience.  Some people love this book, so if it hooks you from the onset, you are probably good to go.  But if you struggle with the beginning, you should probably just put it down, because it doesn’t get any better.

59716To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  Okay, I’ll admit it.  I didn’t get it.  And it’s not a case of me reading the book when I was too young, I don’t think, seeing as I read it last year when I was 24.  It still completely went over my head.  This is I think the first and only book I’ve read in my adult life where I’ve needed to consult Sparknotes to make sense of what the heck I was reading.  The Sparknotes analyses made it sound interesting… but I would be lying if I said I got any of that from the text itself.  Another one that I’d suggest putting down if you’re struggling early on.  I may give Woolf another try at some point, but I have to admit, this one was pretty rough going for me.

MAYBE:

168668Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  I never know how to explain my experience with this book.  It was… difficult.  It’s a very, very, very, very long-winded satire about the American military during WWII, and while I found some of the humor absolutely hilarious, a lot of it totally missed the mark.  Basically, here’s the bottom line with Catch-22: if you’ve started it and you’re finding it challenging but rewarding, keep going.  If you’re hating every second of it, put it down immediately, because it’s just going to be more of the same.  But I can never decide which of those sides I’m on.  Maybe a bit of both.

10664113A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin.  I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I’m very invested in these characters and this narrative.  But this book… while I devoured the first four books in this series in a matter of days or weeks, I was slogging through ADWD for months.  The fourth and fifth books were initially meant to be one massive novel which GRRM’s editors suggested splitting into two books along geographical regions, and it just so happened that all of my favorite POV characters ended up in A Feast For Crows and all of my least favorites ended up in A Dance With Dragons.  Is it worth it to push through this book?  I don’t know.  The next book in the series famously has not been published yet, so it’s hard to say if the struggle with ADWD was worth it.  It entirely depends on the direction that the series takes from here.  But I’m crossing my fingers.  I want to continue loving these books.  I’m hoping this was a random blip.

YES:

227463A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.  I know I keep talking about this one lately, but that’s only because it’s so good.  There’s no denying that this is a difficult book to read, but it is 100% worth the effort to persevere.  This book is a fascinating look at youth violence, toxic masculinity, the relationship between the state and the individual, and ultimately, the question of whether it’s better to choose to be evil or to be forced to be good.  My advice is to just stick it out, and don’t look up literally every single Nadsat word in the glossary, because that will start to drive you insane – just hone in on the ones you see the most often, and it will all start to make sense sooner than you think.

12938King Lear by William Shakespeare.  I’m not a Shakespeare expert by any means, but I think this is one of his more difficult plays, both in terms of accessibility of language and depth of themes.  But it is one of the most fascinating and tragic things I’ve ever read.  Advice: just take it slow, get an edition like Folger (pictured here) that translates some of the trickier phrases on the opposite side of the page, read it aloud when you need to, and just enjoy it.

1371The Iliad by Homer.  While it’s often overlooked for its more accessible peer, The Odyssey, I prefer The Iliad a thousand times over.  I don’t even know how to explain what it is about this book… the epic scope of it and the larger than life characters and the tragic and fascinating conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans – everything about this story is gorgeous and cinematic and compelling.  My advice: SKIM (OR JUST SKIP) THE ‘CATALOG OF SHIPS’ CHAPTER.  As we all know, The Iliad started out as an oral poem, and the infamous ‘Catalog of ships’ was basically the Homeric equivalent of being at a rock concert and the band going ‘any fans from Toronto?  from Los Angeles?  from Boston?’ and the crowd cheers in response.  Don’t read through it and try to memorize names or places, because you will lose your mind and they ultimately don’t matter very much to the narrative.  But once you’re through this chapter, it’s smooth sailing.

24280Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  This book isn’t difficult to read, at all, it’s just long.  My advice is to choose an accessible translation (my favorite is the Signet classics Fahenstock & McAfee translation, pictured here, which is also the most famous and easiest to find) and just go for it.  This is my favorite book of all time – the story is gorgeous and heartbreaking and immersive and wonderful and I guarantee that you will not regret the time you put into this incredible book.

What are some books that were worth the effort for you guys?  And what about the ones that weren’t?  What do you think of my choices?  Tell me in the comments!

21 thoughts on “top 10 tuesday: Worth the Effort?

  1. Pillars of the Earth by Ket Follett, Perfume by Patrick Süskind and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo are among my favorites books of all time. I have lots of other but they are in French only. Like your blog. Been reading you for a while now but I don’t usually comment because it takes me forever to write in English. Keep up the good work. -Dominique

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are three of my favorite books as well! We have similar tastes 🙂

      And thanks so much, that’s so nice! Si tu préfères écrire en français je peux comprendre, mais je ne peux pas écrire très bien! (J’habite près de Montréal et j’ai étudié un peu le français à l’école)

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      • Ah, quelle surprise! J’aime bien écrire en anglais mais cela me prend un temps fou à répondre aux commentaires. Je vais parfois donc échanger avec toi en français; les jours où je me sens un peu paresseuse! Comme aujourd’hui… Take care and let’s keep in touch. Dominique

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      • Mais ton français est très bien Rachel. I have to keep practicing too so I will make an effort to reply in English most of the time. Take care.

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  2. To the Lighthouse was SUCH a struggle for me, but I did enjoy A Room of One’s Own, so I’d suggest that to you! I remember starting Catch-22 about 8 years ago and struggling with it, but I’m wondering if it’s worth giving it a shot again now. I don’t even remember what I didn’t like about it. And I am sooo intimidated by Les Mis, but it’s good to know that it’s not a difficult read!

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    • Oh cool that’s good to know! I’d heard that To The Lighthouse was one of her more difficult books, but had no idea which other one(s) to try. I’ll keep that in mind.

      Catch-22 is definitely not easy reading, the prose is actually quite dense for a humorous book. If you give it a try again, my advice is to decide early on whether that style of humor is up your alley. If it is, you’ll probably enjoy the book even with the effort it takes to get through it, but if you aren’t finding it funny, bail out immediately.

      Les Mis is not a difficult read at all! I cannot recommend it highly enough. I think I was able to read it in a month, which really isn’t bad given the length.

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  3. I love the way you’ve structured this into yes, no, and maybe! Obviously I’m with you on To The Lighthouse, the book that cures my insomnia, and on American War. I actually really liked A Dance With Dragons and enjoyed it more than Feast, but I think besides Sansa we may have different ASoIaF favourite characters, It’ll be interesting to come back to whenever TWoW finally comes out to see how the show has influenced any of my perceptions of the characters.

    On Virgina Woolf, I read Mrs. Dalloway for an undergrad class, and I don’t think I had a strong opinion one way or another, but I know I finished it and I didn’t fall asleep, so that’s an improvement!

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    • With ASOIAF I feel like I always need to make the distinction that my favorite characters and my favorite POV characters don’t always line up? e.g., Arya may be my favorite POV character especially because Braavos is my favorite setting and I love her narrative, but she wouldn’t make my top 5 favorite characters based on personality. Likewise, I find Dany and Tyrion really intriguing as characters, but their narratives especially in ADWD bore me to tears, so I hate reading their POVs. And I know you hate Cersei, but I can’t help but to love her as a villain, and her POV chapters in AFFC are some of my faves. I don’t know what it was about ADWD, it’s just like GRRM managed to take all the elements and narratives that I find boring in this series and showcase them all together. I don’t think our opinions on characters themselves differ too much (except with Cersei) – I think it’s probably the storylines that we disagree on?

      I’ve had Mrs. Dalloway recommended to me, I’ll have to look into that! I feel like it’s unfair to Ms. Woolf to struggle with her most difficult book and then just call it a day, but at the same time, my motivation to give her another try isn’t terribly strong….. I’ll have to wait until the right mood strikes.

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      • Oh that’s really interesting, and I think I get what you mean about the POVs not always lining up with characters, Despite her mistakes, I still really love Dany, but she’s had so little to do, really since the first or second book. There was a bit of interest near the end of Dance where she goes for a dragon ride for the first time, but I definitely find her POVs are not very exciting even though I love her as a character. Tyrion’s plot in Dance was just BAD from start to finish. What was that whole other little person thing and self-pity ugh?! You might be right about being interested in different storylines. I know part of the reason I enjoyed Dance so much was the Theon redemption arc. Didn’t think much of him before, but I found it really heartbreaking and interesting to see him go from Reek to regaining his sense of self. Yeah, I can’t say I’m a Cersei fan. She’s just so batshit crazy! Interesting to read about, but not a character I like.

        I totally agree, there are authors I should really give another chance to, but when there are so many fabulous books out there it just seems like a waste to try something I’m less likely to enjoy.

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      • I feel the exact same way about Dany, I LOVE her character in the books, I think she’s so flawed and vulnerable and sympathetic. But her ADWD chapters are just so dull! And oh god, Tyrion… what even was that narrative?! Every time I had to read “where do whores go?” I felt like flinging my book across the room.

        Oooh that’s so interesting, I am actually very disinterested in Theon, even with his Reek redemption arc… he’s one of those characters who I feel some sort of vague, hypothetical sympathy toward, but I just can’t get invested in for some reason? His ADWD chapters were definitely my favorites from him in the whole series, but not enough to save that book for me.

        Also despite my love for the Starks I find Bran to be the most boring character of all time. And I do like Jon, but his narrative really does nothing for me…

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      • It was totally a Jaime Lannister situation for me – I went from having no regard for Theon at all and ughing through his POVs in the second book so being SO INVOLVED in the Reek and Theon POVs in ADWD, it was a little overwhelming to suddenly care so much about this character I’d never liked before.

        I am so with you on Bran. I like the Starks, in theory I like Bran but his chapters are always so dull!!! Jon’s kind of vary for me. I did really enjoy his relationship with Ygritte (books and show), so those parts were good, but in Dance and otherwise I didn’t really care about him very much.And Tyrion’s were probably the worst chapters in that book they were SO BAD.

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      • With Theon I actually think he may be one of the characters where the show kind of tainted him for me… I find Alfie Allen’s performance to be so boring and it’s not really fair to base my judgment of Theon on that when show-Theon really does not resemble book-Theon in any way, but I just have this “ugh, Theon” reaction that I struggle to get past. Which sucks because he’s such a well-written character!

        Ugh I so wish I liked Bran more than I do 😦 Toward the beginning I thought he was going to be one of my favorites, but I just really struggle to connect to him. I also loved Jon/Ygritte a lot and I miss them. I also loved Jon’s friendship with Sam, so when Sam went south I started losing interest in Jon’s narrative… And I TOTALLY AGREE about Tyrion’s chapters being the worst. Except maybe Victarion UGHHH.

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  4. I love the way you’ve set out this post! I read Moby Dick a few years ago and I totally agree, it was not worth the struggle, some bits literally felt like I had picked up a whaling manual which is not what I had intended to do! I haven’t finished any of the other books on your list, although I did start Les Mis a few years ago but am yet to reach the end! Since you say it’s worth it, I might try it again at some point! 🙂

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    • Ugh totally, even if we had taken out all the whaling manual parts of Moby Dick and been left with the actual narrative it still would have been boring, but the combination of the two was just insufferable. But yes, I absolutely recommend pushing through Les Mis!!! Tbh if you just skim the tangent sections (Waterloo, etc) it gets a lot easier. I hope you enjoy it!

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  5. That’s great news about Les Miserables! I’ve had it on my TBR for ages but the sheer size is intimidating. I’ll definitely look for the edition you recommended, thanks so much! Also I think I’ll just drop American War honestly. I haven’t started it but I just haven’t found motivation to pick it up for some reason. I also got it through Netgalley and personally it would have been easier for me to just start reading it if I had a physical copy.

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    • Oooh I think you will LOVE Les Miserables, it is such a gorgeous and fulfilling story.

      Ugh, that’s how I felt about American War…. I chose it for BOTM because I thought the summary sounded cool but then I didn’t have a lot of motivation to pick it up? But then my book club was reading it for August so I decided to go for it, and I was not rewarded for my efforts. I don’t think you’d like it very much – you don’t really get an emotional connection to the characters and the worldbuilding is full of holes, so it’s just a frustrating read.

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      • I’m sure you’re right, I love the musical and have always been curious about the book!

        Yeah, same, I thought it sounded cool too but I just never got around to reading it. I totally trust you on that! Sucks when a book has an interesting concept that is just executed poorly :/

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    • Aw, thanks so much! To be honest I have more fun picking and choosing which topics to do rather than forcing myself to do them every week. But for the most part the weekly lists are one of my favorite parts of blogging.

      Also, I just looked at your profile and saw that you went to Champlain College – that’s awesome, I live in Vermont!

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