These are some famous Virgo authors…part 1!
As a former English major, I’ve had the
misfortune pleasure of coming across some of the most intellectually challenging literary works. Believe me, I love to read and I enjoy challenging myself but when it’s Friday night a week from finals and you’re assigned to read Paradise Lost, no one should fault you for turning to SparkNotes. It just so happens that a lot of literary titles that are put on the pedestal of the best literature in history happen to be complicated AF (though very much worth reading). Yes, no one can deny that Moby-Dick is an American classic, but if you’re telling me you’ve never once yawned or snoozed when you read it, I don’t quite know if I can trust you.
From puzzling allusions (including religious references easily missed by people unfamiliar with religious texts) to drawn out plots to overly complicated language, here are 12 literary works that readers have struggled with finishing (let alone understanding).
1. The Canterbury Tales | Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales are a collection of the funniest, most complex, and most awarding tales. Chaucer’s use of Middle English language, however, make them hard AF to understand.
2. Moby-Dick | Herman Mellville
Through the plot of Moby Dick is pretty forward, the actual story, comprised of overly-described prose and complex biblical and mythological references set in a slow pace of it can be particularly hard to grasp. By the last page, you may not understand what just happened.
3. King Henry IV | Shakespeare
While Shakespeare’s witty works comprised of Early Modern English have proven to be difficult for many bookworms to get through, King Henry IV is particularly challenging. There is a lot going on, schemes from left and right, and (in my opinion) it’s not quite exciting enough to be a page turner. Titus Andronicus, on the other hand, is definitely filled with a ton of shocking action to carry you to the finish line.
4. Paradise Lost | John Milton
This epic poem is naturally long enough to keep you reading for weeks, but throw in Milton’s obscure language, endless biblical references, and run-on sentences and you may give up half way in.
5. Infinite Jest | David Foster Wallace
With a whopping 1, 079 pages, Infinite Jest is among the longest novels ever written. Known for its unconventional narrative style, this experimental book is filled with complex ideas and language, immense detail, and endless footnotes which will keep you busy for awhile.
6. War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace is brilliant. It’s also really long. Period.
7. Atlas Shrugged | Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged can be eye-opening, but its philosophical and political ideas presented in lengthy monologues can be tough to grasp. The novel use of elements from multiple genres – mystery, romance, and sci-fi – may further confuse readers.
8. Ulysses | James Joyce
The most experienced, intellectual, and seasoned reader can come to a crossroads when they pick up this book. It’s widely known as one of the most difficult novels due to Joyce’s layered allusions, stream-of-consciousness technique, and rich vocabulary. Ironically enough, those same qualities have made it one of the most revered book in history, and many readers who have managed to finish it have argued that the struggle is worth it.
9. Finnegans Wake | James Joyce
Like Ulysses, Joyce’s experimental attitude reflects on the pages of Finnegans Wake. Written over the course of seventeen years, it experiments with the English language, incorporates stream-of-consiouness technique, and has a lack of structure that can take readers just as long to finish as the author did writing it.
10. Gravity’s Rainbow | Thomas Pynchon
Named by Time Magazine as one of the all-time American novels, Gravity’s Rainbow has managed to dazzle and complex readers since 1923. Its 700-plus pages introduces readers to over 400 characters amidst a backdrop of World War 2 action giving readers a lot to deal with before they reach the last page.
11. The Brothers Karamazov | Fyodor Dostoyevsky
If you’ve noticed a theme on this list, it appears that many readers often struggle with literary works containing religious and/or philosophical ideas. The Brothers Karamazov has both. The novel deals with complex ideas, such as right vs wrong, human conscience, moral responsibility and other religious matters written over the course of 700-plus pages, enough the challenge many readers.
12. The Bible
One of the most widely read books, The Bible contains a series of complex stories written in intricate language whose meanings have lead to various interpretations and debate around the world. Given that stories from the Bible were originally passed along orally, its no wonder that that it can be more challenging for people to read it on paper versus hearing it aloud.
Let us know if you’ve managed to finish any of these titles and which you’d highly recommend to your fellow readers!
Featured image shows illustration from The Canterbury Tales via Three Gold Bees
The opening sentence of a book can determine a lot of things (including whether or not you decide to keep going with said book). It’s the author’s first invitation into a world of their own creation. They can be long, descriptive, run-on sentences that prepare you for everything you’re about to see; laying it all out on the table. Or, they can be short, concise, small, quiet yet poetic sentences; not revealing much, but urging you to read more. Opening sentences stick with you in a way unlike any other quotes because they are forever the first words you associate with reading that specific work. They’re the first things you see when you open the pages to chapter one. (Bonus points: they’re also the sentences you’ve read more than any other sentences if you’re at all like me and like to start re-reading books you love a lot, but never quite get around to finishing your re-reads because there are too many books and so little time.)
A good opener embeds itself in your memory; arising to your conscious at the most obscure times. They are the lines we scribble in our journals, slur to strangers when we’re tipsy at the bar, recite to ourselves when we’re sleepy on our long commutes home, quote in our poems and wedding vows, tattoo onto our bodies to prove our love of literature, and share with those closest to us in the middle of the night while we bare our souls.
And, personally, if there’s one thing I love (almost) as much as some good quotes, it’s lists of good quotes. Yay, words! Yay, opening sentences! Yay, lists!
1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
2. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
“A screaming comes across the sky.”
3. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
“Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.”
4. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
“In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.”
5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
6. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
7. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
“Forty minutes later he was up in the sky.”
8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
10. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
“The sun had not yet risen.”
11. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
“The time traveler (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”
12. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”
13. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
“All this happened, more or less.”
14. Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs
“You exposed your penis on national television, Max.”
15. The Trial by Franz Kafka
“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”
16. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
17. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
“You’ve got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.”
Featured Image via The Reading Room
Overwhelmed by choice and unable to decide what books to ask Santa for this year? Let this strange assortment of famous people influence your decision. Derived from lists assembled by the likes of Ranker and Glamour, this ultimate celebrity book recommendation list is all you need this holiday season. Note, as I have, the amusing differences between the gushing comments of the likes of J. K. Rowling, and the concise statements of those like Kit Harington.
Daniel Radcliffe: “The Master and Margarita is now my favorite novel—it’s just the greatest explosion of imagination, craziness, satire, humor, and heart.” That sounds genuinely great. I hear it also features an excellent personified cat character. Definitely on my TBR pile.
Anna Kendrick: “All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque; Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut; and The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. They’re classics because they’re fucking great.” You tell ’em, Anna.
Zooey Deschanel: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, a book of essays by David Foster Wallace. One is about a cruise that turns out to be terrible. It’s delightfully astute.” Oh God, not a terrible cruise. SAY IT AIN’T SO, ZOOEY.
Bill Murray: “Well, my favorite author is Mark Twain. He’s smart, and funny. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, especially the chapter all the purists hate, in which Tom Sawyer stages an elaborate rescue of Jim, is a writer having as much fun as possible. But my favorite book is a two-parter by Laurens Van Der Post, A Story Like the Wind and A Far-Off Place. My favorite book used to be The Plague by Albert Camus.” A characteristically left-of-center list from Bill.
Rachel McAdams: “It’s not often that a writer makes me laugh out loud, but [David] Sedaris does. He brings me to tears. It’s to the point where I can’t read his writing in public because people think I’m having some kind of meltdown. In this collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames he has a way of finding humour in the strangest and most painful moments, like a week with a creepy baby-sitter, or the death of his mother.” This sounds great, I hear good things about David though I’ve never read him. Also a fan of his sister Amy. A good family, it seems.
Kerry Washington: “Shonda [Rhimes] is a rock star and a superhero, and if you have not read her book, it should be your New Year’s resolution. You should read Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. It is one of my most favorite books I have ever read—and I like books. It’s so good.” You heard her, folks. She likes books, and I like the title of this one as well.
Keira Knightley: “I’ve pretty much read every one of Somerset Maugham’s books. And I love everything by Jeanette Winterson—The Passion is my favorite.” Jeanette Winterson is great in fairness.
Lady Gaga: “I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet every day.” Nice.
J.K. Rowling: “The Woman Who Walked into Doors is the most remarkable book. Roddy Doyle gets inside the head of his character so utterly, so completely. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a believable, fully rounded female character from any other heterosexual male writer in any age. I should emphasize that I would feel the same way about the book if it had been written by a woman; I would still think it was the most remarkable achievement. But when I sit back and think, ‘A man wrote this?’—phenomenal. He has created a woman who, you imagine, will go to the bathroom and defecate. He also leaves her with her dignity, even though what she’s going through is a horrific thing. And he does it all in such a subtle way. I do think he’s a genius. His dialogue is irreproachable. And your heart…you’re totally drawn into his books. I’m very passionate about Roddy Doyle, and I’ve never met him, which is a frustration to me.” High praise indeed!
Kit Harington: “My favorite book is 1984 by George Orwell.” Cool!
Featured Image Via Gossip Bucket