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 5: Ten 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.
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.
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.
American 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.
To 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.
Catch-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.
A 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.
A 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.
King 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.
The 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.
Les 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!