Tag: JamesJoyce

the canterbury tales

12 Challenging Books Readers Struggle to Finish

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

dr seuss

5 Literary Locations to Give You the Travel Bug

If you’re anything like me then you might think to yourself, “There are so many things to do and places in the world to see, how will I ever get around to it all?” Luckily for us, we have books to help ease our wallets and escape to new places without the pressure of leaving our responsibilities behind.

 

Of course, in an effort to help us escape our droll lives, I find that it simultaneously makes me eager to visit these far-off lands. The map I’ve marked, mentally, is filled with different literary pins of locations I dream of seeing one day. Here are my top five literary dream destinations.

 

1. Paris

 

via GIPHY

 

I am a huge fan of French literature in particular, and one of my all-time favorite novels is the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris (more commonly known to English-speaking readers as The Hunchback of Notre Dame). I dream of one day approaching that beautiful and ancient cathedral, caressing its stonework with my unworthy hand, and hearing Hugo’s prose ring through my head as I say a silent “thank you” to one of my literary heroes. On top of my own personal love for Victor Hugo and for Hunchback, I also want to visit the city where so many Modernist writers took refuge away from their native lands.

 

2. Rome 

 

via GIPHY

 

As a Shakespeare enthusiast, there is nothing I would enjoy more than having the opportunity to tour the country where countless of his plays were set. Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrewhave all found homes within the Italian landscape. Although I would be eager to tour the entire peninsula, if I had to pick one location based upon one of Shakespeare’s plays, I would have to go with Rome because of how much I thoroughly enjoyed reading Julius Caesar, as well as being incredibly fascinated by Roman history. To see the ruins of a world that was already ancient when Shakespeare was writing would be to stand in the glory of what humans are capable of accomplishing. 

 

3. Dublin

 

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I could very well be one of the few people alive that will genuinely tell you that I love James Joyce. I loved DublinersI loved Portrait of the Artist as a Young Manand I even loved UlyssesJoyce left Dublin when he was still a young man, and he spent the rest of his life touring Europe before settling in Paris as an ex-patriate of Ireland. Dublin was still his home, however, and all of his literature is set in the city regardless of how long it might have been since he had last inhabited it. Today, Dublin pays massive tribute to Joyce, and I wish for the chance to walk the streets and see the sites that he so vividly recalled in Ulysses. 

 

4. Salem

 

via GIPHY

 

As someone who delights in horror and Halloween, I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to Salem, Massachusetts. On top of being a haven of history, it’s also been the setting for so many books, movies, and plays. One of the first stories that comes to mind is Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. The story itself is an allegory for the American fascination with catching Communists during the 50s, but uses the Salem Witch Trial to exemplify this point. Aside from actual literature, though, is the simple fact that so many stories concerning these witch trials and the horrible ways witches were…dealt with have been passed down, orally, through the years. I imagine visiting the New England town during a crisp autumn weekend in October, right before all of the leaves have changed and fallen to the ground. 

 

5. Oxford

 

via GIPHY

 

I must say that I am a humongous fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and have always envisioned visiting the place that he called “home” for a large portion of his life. Oxford is the place where he wrote The Lord of the Ringsand it’s also the place where he eventually died. Although Tolkien was actually born in South Africa, he was raised and lived his entire life in England. The small cottage he inhabited is apparently marked by a simple plaque, but regardless, 20 Northmoor Road is a location that I would be more than honored to visit. In addition to his famous trilogy and The Hobbit, Tolkien also translated various early Anglo-Saxon texts such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and his translations rank amongst my favorites. 

 

Perhaps one day I will stop spending all of my money on books and food, and actually have the opportunity to save up and visit all of these places rather than simply read about them!

 

via GIPHY

 

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marilyn monroe reading

Follow James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ With This Interactive Map of Dublin

Today marks a very important day in literary history for two separate, but wildly related reasons: February 2nd is both Irish author James Joyce’s 136th birthday and the 96th anniversary of the publication of Joyce’s magnum opus, Ulysses

 

Ulysses was published on February 2, 1922 and was received with very mixed reviews. Some hailed the book as being a sheer masterpiece, while many others found it to be lewd, crude, and pornographic, going so far as to have the book banned until a trial entitled The United States v. One Book Called Ulysses lifted said ban in 1934. Today, it continues to top the charts as being one of the most important novels of the 20th century, and possibly of all time. 

 

Throughout the novel, our two main characters: Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, find themselves exploring the city of Dublin throughout the course of a single day. Each chapter of the book recalls a new hour of the day (paralleling and retelling Homer’s The Odyssey, of course), and also takes us to a new section of the city.

 

Joyce had been living in Paris for years during the writing of this novel, and his ability to recount specific details of his home city (right down to street intersections!) is beyond impressive, because each location mentioned actually exists within the city. June 16th, known as “Bloomsday,” is the day our characters find themselves venturing out. On that same day, all of these years later, Joyce lovers flock to Dublin and tour the famous locations seen in Ulysses.

 

You too can visit Dublin with or without a tour guide, and follow Dedalus and Bloom’s odyssey by following this comprehensive map! Each location is marked with a helpful pin, and provides details on the novel’s chapters that correspond to said pins.

 

 

So grab yourself a Guinness, and celebrate the birth of James Joyce coupled with the anniversary of Ulysses in a way that might make even the most cantankerous of literary geniuses proud!

 

Feature Image Via Open Culture

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Top 10 Classical Novels That Received Dreadful Reviews

 

Most of us have grown so accustomed to classical works of novelists being regarded as the epitome of literary excellence that we become unaware of the problematic aspects of these stories. Even the most beautifully written and well-arranged prose can suffer under the bitter scrutiny of critical minds. For these enduring works of literature that have lasted decades or even centuries, their initial response were not always positive. 

 

Here is a collection of some of the harshest and most scathing commentaries well-known authors have received. The titles mentioned are not listed in any particular order.

 

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

 

Via Amazon

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Catch-22 has much passion, comic and fervent, but it gasps for want of craft and sensibility… Its author, Joseph Heller, is like a brilliant painter who decides to throw all the ideas in his sketchbooks onto one canvas, relying on their charm and shock to compensate for the lack of design… The book is an emotional hodgepodge; no mood is sustained long enough to register for more than a chapter.” — Richard G. Stern, The New York Times Book Review, 1961

 

2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

 

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“But the most conspicuous lack, in comparison with the classics of the fearsome-future genre, is the inability to imagine a language to match the changed face of common life. No newspeak. And nothing like the linguistic tour de force of A Clockwork Orange – the brutal melting-down of current English and Slavic words that in itself tells the story of the dread new breed. The writing of The Handmaid’s Tale is undistinguished in a double sense, ordinary if not glaringly so, but also indistinguishable from what one supposes would be Margaret Atwood’s normal way of expressing herself in the circumstances. This is a serious defect, unpardonable maybe for the genre: a future that has no language invented for it lacks a personality. That must be why, collectively, it is powerless to scare.” — Mary McCarthy, The New York Times, February 9, 1986

 

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

 

Via Goodreads

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“At a conservative estimate, one million dollars will be spent by American readers for this book. They will get for their money 34 pages of permanent value. These 34 pages tell of a massacre happening in a little Spanish town in the early days of the Civil War…Mr. Hemingway: please publish the massacre scene separately, and then forget For Whom the Bell Tolls; please leave stories of the Spanish Civil War to Malraux…” — Commonweal, 1940

 

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

 

Via Amazon

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“This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me.” — James Stern, The New York Times, 1951

 

5. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

 

Via Goodreads

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“The short, flat sentences of which the novel is composed convey shock and despair better than an array of facts or effusive mourning. Still, deliberate simplicity is as hazardous as the grand style, and Vonnegut occasionally skids into fatuousness…” — Susan Lardner, The New Yorker, May 17, 1969 Issue

 

6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

 

Via Goodreads

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Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive… 

Past the artistic danger line of madness is another even more fatal. It is where the particular mania is a perversion like Humbert’s. To describe such a perversion with the pervert’s enthusiasm without being disgusting is impossible. If Mr. Nabokov tried to do so he failed.”  — Orville Prescott, The New York Times, August 18, 1958

 

7. Ulysses by James Joyce

 

Via Literary Hub

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Ulysses appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine… I have no stomach for Ulysses… James Joyce is a writer of talent, but in Ulysses he has ruled out all the elementary decencies of life and dwells appreciatively on things that sniggering louts of schoolboys guffaw about. In addition to this stupid glorification of mere filth, the book suffers from being written in the manner of a demented George Meredith. There are whole chapters of it without any punctuation or other guide to what the writer is really getting at. Two-thirds of it is incoherent, and the passages that are plainly written are devoid of wit, displaying only a coarse salacrity [sic] intended for humour.” — Aramis, The Scandal of Ulysses in The Sporting Times, April 1, 1922

 

8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

 

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“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” — Graham’s Lady’s Magazine, July 1848

 

“We rise from the perusal of Wuthering Heights as if we had come fresh from a pest-house. Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights.” — Paterson’s Magazine, February 1848

 

“What may be the moral which the author wishes the reader to deduce from his work, it is difficult to say; and we refrain from assigning any, because to speak honestly, we have discovered none but mere glimpses of hidden morals or secondary meanings. In Wuthering Heights the reader is shocked, disgusted, almost sickened by details of cruelty, inhumanity, and the most diabolical hate and vengeance, and anon come passages of powerful testimony to the supreme power of love—even over demons in the human form. The women in the book are of a strange fiendish-angelic nature, tantalising, and terrible, and the men are indescribable out of the book itself.”  — Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper, January 15, 1848

 

9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

Via Vanity Fair

Image Courtesy of Vanity Fair

 

 

“Let us hope that One Hundred Years of Solitude will not generate one hundred years of overwritten, overlong, overrated novels.” — Jonathan Bate, The Telegraph,  Sep 25, 1999

 

10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

Via Vanity Fair

Image Courtesy of Vanity Fair

 

“Altogether is seems to us this book is a minor performance. At the moment, its author seems a bit bored and tired and cynical.  There is no ebullience here, nor is there any mellowness or profundity. For our part, The Great Gatsby might just as well be called Ten Nights on Long Island.” — Ralph Coghlan, St. Louis Dispatch, April 25, 1925

 

Despite the dissatisfaction as manifested in the bitter remarks of critics, these classical works survived through generations and earned a highly-esteemed ranking on modern readers’ minds. It is only normal that a piece of prose should elicit mixed responses and sometimes stir dissonance between reviewers and readers. Depending on social and cultural factors, even if certain artistic efforts are not entirely appreciated upon its initial release, they may still have a chance or success and see to the light of day in the future.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Amazon/Vanity Fair

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Sabrina Jeffries Graduating

How I Came to Be a Romance Novelist

By Sabrina Jeffries, NYT Bestselling Author of The Pleasures of Passion (On Sale June 20, 2017)

 

If you want to become a romance writer, here’s how not to do it.

 

Don’t be ashamed of having spent your early years reading them and dreaming of writing them. Don’t listen when teachers tell you that you need a “real” job to supplement your writing of what should be “real” books about the struggles of “real” life. And whatever you do, don’t pursue that job to its logical end before you acknowledge that your true love is genre fiction. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a Ph.D. in English literature, trying to turn a dissertation on James Joyce into a work of literary criticism so you can get a job as a professor, and sick to death of all of it.

 

Sabrina Ceremony

 

That’s where I was the summer I turned twenty-nine—tired of writing about an author I no longer cared about and wondering how I’d ended up there when all I wanted was to write books I enjoyed.

 

Then I snapped. I can’t remember why (except maybe that having a summer in which to write an “important” work about Joyce so I could get a tenure-track position as a professor made me insane). All I know is I started writing a novel. Not the Great American Novel, a tale of despair about a woman who discovers the deck is stacked against women and ends up dying for love or throwing herself in front of a train or walking into the ocean to die or . . . (Sorry, I read way too many of those tales of woe in grad school. Things always seem to end badly for women in “great literature.”)

 

No, I wrote a bonafide romance novel, with a hero and heroine and a happy ending. I recognized it because I’d read lots of them while growing up a missionary’s kid in Thailand. Also, I’d guiltily devoured them whenever I was tired of school, so yes, I read more than was considered healthy for a grad student. I read fat ones about love triumphing over war and destruction. Skinny ones with witty banter and ladies dressed in empire-waist gowns. Even Christian ones where the heroine beat out the “painted” lady to win the guy. By the way, those were given to me by my missionary mom who wanted me to read “wholesome” romances, which failed after I discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss at twenty. (Hot sex! Swashbuckling! Heroines who traveled!) But I digress.

 

Today

 

Anyway, at twenty-nine, I wrote a contemporary with a hero who ran a silk company in Thailand (gee, I wonder where I got that from) and a heroine who . . . actually, I don’t remember. There was something about her father wanting the hero to look after the heroine and her resenting it. I titled it Passion’s Protection, which my agent said made it sound like a condom. It was awful.

 

But I was hooked. I loved writing it. I wanted to write more. So I became a romance author and didn’t have to write about James Joyce anymore. I’d finally come back to the genre I loved. I haven’t left it since. Thank God.

 

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