Friday, November 12, 2010

The Most Difficult Book I Punched in the Face

Oh, the hard ones (snicker). Those books that are so terribly difficult to get through that at the end, you either feel a little Rocky-on-the-steps jubilant, or Rocky-in-the-ring-with-Apollo exhausted. Maybe both.

Honestly, I don't think I've had this experience with anyone other than Virginia Woolf. Her books are very dense, sorta non-linear, and not heavy on the narrative, so skimming or lightly reading are not possible. BUT I wouldn't say they're the hardest book I've ever read, and here's why: the hardest books are the most boring or gross books, and hers aren't either.

SO. What are the two hardest books I've ever read? It's a two way tie, and up first is Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. This book was the scourge of my high school reading experience. It was the thing that most singlehandedly scarred my innocent brain for life. It was both the grossest and most boring and pointless thing I had ever read up to that point...and may still be. For those of you who are unfamiliar, GOOD FOR YOU IT'S AWFUL, and also, here's what it's about: drugs, having sex while on drugs, maybe dying while having sex while on drugs, and doing more drugs while dying while maybe having sex while on drugs. I'm sure there are people out there who find this book "important" and I have a feeling they're the same people who think those elephants who paint pictures with their trunks are artistic visionaries. Doing a bunch of heroin and then writing about your fantasies about autoerotic asphyxiation= not important, and also, you need therapy.

The second hardest book I've ever read was hard because it was so effing boring, and that would be The Sorrows of Young Werther by Geothe. Essentially, boy loves girl, girl marries someone else because boy is annoying. Boy WHINES FOR A MILLENIA, then (spoiler) kills himself. And the audience says: GOOD RIDDANCE. I later learned that Goethe himself disliked the book intensely in his later life, and tried to distance himself from it. It's histrionic and melodramatic, but not in a fun, Real Housewives of New Jersey way. More in like a watching Heidi cry on The Hills way. Shiver.

Note: Never actually seen either of those shows and am basing opinion purely on commercials.

Note 2: I have a problem with having to spend an entire book with nasty protagonists, and of that I am not ashamed.

To see what other tomes the literary blogosphere finds difficult to wade through, check out this week's literary blog hop at The Blue Bookcase where the topic is: what I just said.

So what's the hardest thing you've ever read? Seems like most people automatically go to the LONGEST thing they've ever read. Is that true in your case?

30 comments:

  1. I hated Wuthering Heights, so it was the hardest book I've ever had to read. I've read it twice for classes and I do not feel like a better person for it.

    In fact, I'm still mad at those instructors for having me work through that crap! If they weren't awesome otherwise, I'd probably want to punch them in the face.

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    1. Totally agree, didn't read in school but tried a few years ago. UGH who the hell cares about Cathy, after the one line that I think explained that she died, I gave up, because I just didn't care. It is crap.

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  2. *bangs head on desk*

    I swear, if you bash ONE MORE of my favorites... *points finger threateningly*. lol

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  3. I didn't go for the longest--long doesn't bother me. I went with Woolf's Orlando, because the whole thing felt like a giant in joke, and I didn't get it.

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  4. HA!

    I remember your disgust for The Sorrows of Young Werther and my surprise at your disgust and your dismissal of my surprise at your disgust and my insistence despite your dismissal of my surprise...

    Where was I? Yes, The Sorrows of Young Werther is Awesome :)

    I'm going to have to check out Naked Lunch...seems like it would make me blush lol.

    Great post.

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  5. Philip Roth's American Pastoral. Because it was so effing depressing. For me, Depressing = Difficult. Close runner up would be Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, for the same reason. I need a little hope in my books. Just a teeny tiny bit to get me through.

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  6. TopherGL- Oh man, I hated that one too! But I didn't find it boring, so that was a plus. Just..irritating beyond belief.

    Roof Beam- Uhh...see what had happened was...sorry :)

    Amy- Yeah, I feel that. I heard there's a movie starring Tilda Swinton made from that book. Seems fitting- she's fairly gender neutral.

    Mayowa- it WILL make you blush, especially if you read it in public. Like, outside a church. Or INSIDE a church (funnier).

    Catherine- I've been avoiding that one for JUST that reason. It's also the reason I'm avoiding Tess of the Whatevervilles.

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  7. Your posts always make me laugh! I love your description of Naked Lunch.
    My hardest book actually wasn't that long. I chose Beloved by Toni Morrison. It was really hard to get through, but it was absolutely worth it and I'm very glad I read it.

    - Emily @ Reading While Female

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  8. Naked Lunch is, indeed, horrendous. I tried it once because a famous person I admire said it was his favorite book of all time. Whoops. Admiration severely diminished. Guh.

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  9. I opened Naked Lunch a few years ago to see what it was about and the first random page I read was some sick disgusting thing. I don't remember what it was, I just remember being revolted.

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  10. Naked Lunch shows up on some book list I'm working on, so it's been on my TBR shelf for the last 10 years. But it has zero appeal.

    My pick was Finnegans Wake. I could have gone with anything by Henry James, but Wakes tops them all for me.

    Rose City Reader

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  11. your description of the sorrows of young werther reminds me of what i thought the whole time i was reading "clarissa": WHEN IS SHE GOING TO GET IT OVER WITH AND DIE? I thought that Clarissa had to be the longest & dullest book available in english, but 'werther' sounds like solid competition.

    why didn't i think of that one when i wrote my post? it's a long book, so it would have fit with the general theme of long books being hard books (if only because they are so difficult to read while lying down).

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  12. Note to Self: No need to read Naked Lunch. Just go out, do some drugs, and have some sex.... Noted.

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  13. To answer this, I have to quote Grosse Pointe Blank, where John Cusack's character is talking to his high school English teacher: "You still inflicting all that Ethan Frome damage?"

    It's like Anna Karenina except worse, because in the end, the whiny protagonist and his lover are incapable of killing themselves, and only succeed in being bed ridden the rest of their lives. I will never look at pickle dishes the same way.

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  14. Hysterical.

    But I still plan on reading Naked Lunch. And On the Road. It's just this inner beatnik self that says I should.

    Now as for the most difficult book that I've ever read it would have to be toss of of Middlesex and Huckleberry Finn. I hated both and finished neither. And maybe I hated them more because I expected to love them the most.

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  15. The hardest thing I ever read was also one of the shortest, actually-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I had to read it for my English class senior year of high school, but I don't think that it was my youth that was the problem. I didn't then, and still don't, understand why the almost incoherent ramblings of a narcissistic alcoholic are supposed to be great literature. Blech!

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  16. I have read a lot of classics in my school and college years. And some still remain my favorites. However, there are a few I could never get into..

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

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  17. I tried reading Naked Lunch when I was in high school and couldn't make it past ten pages. I absolutely loved your description of it, because that's what I took out of it.

    Sarah @ Loving Books

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  18. Had to read Naked Lunch for grad school class. Had continuous feeling of wanting to take a shower. Totally agree with you that my response to this book was a gigantic UGH.

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  19. lol! I found Sorrows of Young Werther hilarious, but I totally read it as a spoof. So in my head, it was kind of like tragic German youth a la Monty Python. ;)

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  20. I don't think LONG means hard to read. I've been pondering this. Thinking the hardest I read was PILGRIM'S PROGRESS because it was this nasty copy with weird spacing. Add to that it just dragged on and on and I thought the writing was horrible. But maybe I need to try again in a prettier copy. It's one of those "first" novels.

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  21. Naked Lunch is earning the distinction of being the only book I can't read while eating. That's right, I said "earning" because I'm wending my way through it right now. See, this thing was thrust into my hands by a friend. I'm tempted to just give it back and tell him, "I really liked the part when he was maybe dying while having sex while on drugs."

    Sorrows of Young Werther sounds like a Hardy novel from Hell.

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  22. Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson. 200+ pages of repetitive, stream of conscious, non-sense ramblings of an unreliable narrator who may or may not be the last person on earth.

    I'm glad this book isn't as "influential" as I've heard it said to be. If it's influence was wide, I'd have to give up reading and take up watching cock-fighting as a more redeeming hobby.

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  23. I don't think I got beyond the first 20 pages of On The Road, although I haven't given up. My most recent hard book was If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. Total mind f*ck. It's postmodern (whatever that means), meta and messes with your brain. Brilliant in some ways and very clever but not sure how I feel about it.

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  24. I totally agree about Naked Lunch! I generally have a rule that I finish every book I start but that one remains unfinshed. I have rationalised this on the basis that I actually don't think it should be classed as a "book" but rather an incoherent ramble that somehow found its way into written form.

    The book I have found the hardest to get through is often others' favourite - The Grapes of Wrath. Was forced to read it during school break for an assignment so I took it on holidays with me and more than once considered it "accidentally" leaving it in the hotel/on the beach/at the service station etc. i just found it infinitely boring. Surprisingly, I loved Steinbeck's East of Eden, however!

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  25. I read the Sorrows of Young Werther for a German lit class once (in *German*, which I think made it even more painful-all those verbs stacked together at the end of subordinate clauses). I was glad I read it though - I learned that you can, apparently, shoot yourself in the head and not die right away, even in the 18th century.

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  26. I know I am extremely late to this post, but it had to be Wolf Hall. I wanted to punch Hilary Mantle in the face. This type of historical fiction I do enjoy reading but she did it SO poorly. Her writing was difficult to read; all the long,long sentences, with endless punctuation, like she just wanted to show up Lynne Truss, (maybe since they are both British.) UGH! And then she seemed to have these private little jokes with her characters. It drove me MAD! I had to keep re-reading to know who was talking. because she just didn't make it clear, so much back and forth with dialogue. I did plod thru,(which practically killed me) and went on to read Bring Up the Bodies, which was MUCH better.

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  27. I'm reading 'Naked Lunch' now and I'm finding it difficult, not because of how gross it is (I've actually read worse; ever hear of a novel called 'Hogg'?) but because of it's mere incoherency; it just kind of rambles on about god knows what and it seems to have been written by just throwing together a bunch of words completly at random, like it was written by Happy Noodle Boy.

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  28. I'm reading 'Naked Lunch' now and I'm finding it difficult, not because of how gross it is (I've actually read worse; ever hear of a novel called 'Hogg'?) but because of it's mere incoherency; it just kind of rambles on about god knows what and it seems to have been written by just throwing together a bunch of words completly at random, like it was written by Happy Noodle Boy.

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  29. And of course the unpublished Chiliad by Simon Otius at unhappened [dot] com.

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