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Topic: "Challenging" Reads

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Subject: "Challenging" Reads
Date Posted: 6/9/2014 10:27 AM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2010
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Thought this was an interesting headline: “The 25 Most Challenging Books You Will Ever Read.” It seems to me that many of these books are considered classics, which is why I posted in this forum. I have to confess I haven’t read most of them, but I’m up for the challenge. Any suggestions which one I should try first?

 

 

 

http://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/the-25-most-challenging-books-you-will-ever-read

 

Date Posted: 6/9/2014 2:50 PM ET
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In my opinion Finnegan's Wake is unreadable. I have also given myself permission to avoid Ulysses after starting it 2 times and bogging down in the same place each time.

The Sound and the Fury is not that difficult once you get the hang of what is going on. I think Blood Meridian is not hard either. I have tried a little of Thomas Mann but I don't like his style. I think his book Death in Venice would be an easier book by him to start with maybe.

Moby Dick is not so much difficult as it is boring to many people. I've read it twice with a 40 year interval between the first and second reading. If you can read a little about the book before you read it I think that would help a lot.

I tried some of Virginia Woolf and I am reconciled to the fact that I will never read anything by her.

I read most of The Name of the Rose but the constant digressions wore me out. I started skipping those later in the novel.

I am interested the The Female Man by J Russ. I may look for that one.

Date Posted: 6/10/2014 11:19 AM ET
Member Since: 9/25/2006
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The one to try first is Moby Dick - but skim the chapters devoted to the ins and outs of whaling. I mean, everybody should take a whack at the American classic.

I think the only reason I finished The Name of the Rose is that I was on a trans-Pacific flight for hours and hours and hours.

I think the only reason I finished Gravity's Rainbow is that I was unemployed. I broke down very badly on the first few pages of  Pynchon's Mason & Dixon. It just made my brain hurt........

Virginia Woolf's fiction seems gossamer light and fluttery to me, but her criticism is really fine.
 

 

Date Posted: 6/11/2014 2:40 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Anita K. dear, sweet, normal, wholesome, warm, intelligent, book-reading Anita:   I was very surprised to learn from your post that you might be a literate masochist.   To your altogether misguided query, "Which one should I try first?", I suggest "None of them!"

Why would you punish yourself that way?  I mean, by reading the ego trips, the contorted musings of twisted minds, or the deliberate attempts to buffalo "readers" by making them feel intellectually inferior to the "authors" with their meandering sentences, obscure references, intricate privately-fantasized mythologies, and other 'tricks' designed to get us (the readers of the world) to be overwhelmingly impressed with these authors.

Phooey . . . .

Date Posted: 6/11/2014 6:18 PM ET
Member Since: 9/14/2009
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For the most part I agree with Bonnie, as I've either read or attempted to read many of the books on the list. The only books I finished completely and didn't hate  were The Sound & the Fury by Faulkner, Moby Dick by Melville, Atlas Shrugged by Rand, and To the Lighthouse  by V.Woolf.  Even these four annoyed me in some way...but I'm glad I finished them. After partial readings of the rest, I adopted a new policy where I don't beat myself up for calling it quits when a book is crap. I say there are too many books, and too little time. Even if you only ever read books you loved, you'd still never be able to finish but a fraction of all that are available. There is no time to waste!!

Date Posted: 6/12/2014 12:23 AM ET
Member Since: 6/8/2013
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The only book on that list that I've attempted to read was Atlas Shrugged and didn't finish it. I haven't read Blood Meridian but I can't imagine any Mccarthy novel is "difficult". I'd like to read the Gaddis book mentioned in the article. 

Date Posted: 6/12/2014 11:03 AM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2010
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Bonnie,  I am always fascinated when I read "best" and "worst" lists.  Not only do I want to make my own decisions, but i want to agree or disagree with the list maker. smiley

Date Posted: 6/14/2014 4:17 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
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I am with Bonnie.  NONE of 'em.
 

Date Posted: 6/15/2014 11:33 PM ET
Member Since: 1/8/2009
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I've read two of them: The Corrections and The Name of the Rose. 

I didn't find the Corrections to be that challenging, but the Name of the Rose did require more attention. I thought it was worth it, though. 

 

Date Posted: 6/16/2014 8:45 AM ET
Member Since: 11/18/2009
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I belong to an organization called OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) that provides classes, trips, and lectures for those over 50.

I have been very fortunate that one of our members has led classes on several of the books listed (Ulysses, The Name of the Rose, Moby Dick, and Canterbury Tales). So I had guidance, which greatly enhanced my appreciation.

When our Moby Dick class ended, our instructor gave us bumper stickers that proclaimed, "I actually read Moby Dick!"

                                                                                                                                          Rose

Date Posted: 6/16/2014 10:13 AM ET
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I belong to an OLLI group, too.  I am going to suggest a class on these books.  What a great idea!  I do think a "challenging" book is much better with some guidance.  By the way, my OLLI group's slogan is "For Those 50 and Better." smiley

Date Posted: 6/16/2014 1:41 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Anita:  Now that approach might make some difference----but I still think that anyone selecting from that reading list had ought to exercise some genuine discretion.   I've read under supervision (in university classes) and independently.  When I've read independently, I have only infrequently turned to Sparks or Cliff Notes, since most of the time, a solid grounding in literature proves sufficient.   Sometimes, a "Forward" or "Preface" or some such addition to the edition one gets one's hands on contributes to the reading experience.  Especially is this the case when the writer of the introduction to the book is a perceptive person who includes some insights into or informative 'background' on the book.    Let us know which "challenging book" or "books" your OLLI  group takes up, please?

Date Posted: 6/16/2014 1:44 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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P. S.  I have never understood why those wise cracks about Moby Dick are made . . . .

Date Posted: 6/16/2014 4:19 PM ET
Member Since: 11/18/2009
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Anita, I'm on my OLLI group's advisory board and we've been taking a look at different organizations throughout the country. The last group we studied had that "For Those 50 and Better" line--we all loved it!

                                                                                                   Rose

Date Posted: 6/22/2014 10:51 AM ET
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Well, I decided to try No. 1 on the list--"Finnegan's Wake."  When I had to pull the dictionary out for words on the third line of the book, I decided I could not do this.  However, maybe with a Cliff notes, I could try again!  Thanks for the suggestion, Bonnie.

Date Posted: 7/2/2014 5:08 AM ET
Member Since: 11/18/2009
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I wanted to note that I'm teaching an OLLI class this summer ("Four Unique Authors"), and Thomas Mann's Death in Venice and Other Stories is going to be read in August. I love that book! It's much more readable than one might think, and very thought-provoking.

                                                                                                                                                             Rose

Date Posted: 7/2/2014 1:01 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Rose:  Are you saying that shorter pieces by Mann are more "accessible" (or "approachable") than a work of his such as The Magic Mountain?  (That's the one I once attempted.)   Does the literary form make a significant difference?



Last Edited on: 8/8/14 5:07 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 7/3/2014 10:04 AM ET
Member Since: 6/30/2008
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Well, I decided to try No. 1 on the list--"Finnegan's Wake."

Joseph Mitchell who was a writer on the New Yorker magazine claimed he read Finnegan's Wake once a year. He wrote a book called Up in the Old Hotel which was a collection of his feature pieces from the NYer. Mitchell said in his intro to his book that Joyce was addicted to puns and included many many of them in FW. I think he also mentioned that there are a lot of Gaelic words scattered throughout. You might be able to use a Gaelic to English dictionary.



Last Edited on: 7/3/14 10:05 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 7/3/2014 4:05 PM ET
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Charles K. , Your post made me think about how some authors are so very 'provincial' in their stories and novels.  I mean by that the way such a writer uses local dialectical speech in the dialogues of the characters, and even in the authorial writing, whether in the first or the third person.

Did Joyce give any thought to what  he is asking of his reader?  How are Canadians, Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders, and those for whom English is an acquired language, supposed to follow and understand a book full of Gaelic words and phrases?  And, how much workload can a author expect to put on his/her readers?  I very much appreciated certain novels I read that included glossaries to explain the unfamiliar words or usages.  An example is Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

It's bad enough, Charles, when I have to keep an English dictionary at elbow when reading a work in plain English, whether British, Canadian, Australian, or New Zealander . . . . or am I just revealing the lazy streak in me as a reader?



Last Edited on: 7/3/14 4:08 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 7/3/2014 4:22 PM ET
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From what I can tell Joyce was a thoroughly unpleasant person. It was really shameful the way he treated Sylvia Beach who was the first publisher of Ulysses and is responsible for the book  existing in the form it is in today. I suppose Joyce was probably told so many times in his life that he was a genius that he must have begun to believe it.

I think a difficult book may be easier for a young person to deal with. The older I get the less interested I get in something that requires a lot of work.

Date Posted: 7/8/2014 7:54 AM ET
Member Since: 9/25/2006
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RE Obsessed's "much more readable than one might think"

I found Thomas Mann's fictionalized autobiography "Buddenbrooks" and "Tonio Kruger to be much more accessible than I expected.

I was also pleasantly surprised by The Bros. Karamazov, Anna Karenin, and The First Circle and Cancer Ward (Solzhenitsyn) - those Russians can really write an engrossing story, can't stop reading and annoyed when something (like the rest of life!) takes you away from reading it.....

Date Posted: 7/8/2014 8:27 AM ET
Member Since: 6/30/2008
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speaking of Russians, have you read The Master and Margarita. I can't remember the correct spelling of the author's name. It's something like Bulgakov I think.

Date Posted: 7/8/2014 10:55 AM ET
Member Since: 9/14/2009
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Yes, Mikhail Bulgakov. It is a great book! I've got it listed on my profile page as one of my favorite books. It is definitely worth a read Charles!!

 

Date Posted: 7/8/2014 11:15 AM ET
Member Since: 6/30/2008
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I have to ask. Is your picture by Gustav Klimt?

Date Posted: 7/8/2014 5:37 PM ET
Member Since: 9/14/2009
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Nope. It is part of a champagne ad by Alphonse Mucha, a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist.  He is my personal favorite of all the Art Nouveau artists!

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