The martyrdom of Thomas Becket might have been passed down in lineage of Archbishops through a "certain little book."
While we wait for the robots to take over most cumbersome tasks, a brave few still take it upon themselves to tackle books that defy easy absorption or explanation. These classic works of literature are no walk-in-the-park. You may even find your self questioning your sanity. But if you stick it out, you may just end up with a truly transformative experience. Might be best to put a ‘no entry’ side on the door, ’cause you’re gonna be out of commission for the next few days/weeks/months…
- ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ by James Joyce
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Joyce’s final novel, ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ is also the Irish modernist’s most complex work. The narrative tools Joyce had been finessing for years, from stream-of-consciousness to sudden changes in perspective, all culminate in a work so dense that there is still no absolute consensus on what the plot even is. Enter this mad house if you dare…
- ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer
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Back when Chaucer wrote ‘Tales’ way back in the 1390’s, Middle English was the common language of the English people. Things have changed a bit since then. Though modern readers attempting to absorb the text in it’s original vernacular must confront a bizarre sense of simultaneous recognition and alienation while parsing out expired words and spellings, modern English translations still present their own challenges when it comes to understanding syntax and the social mores of Chaucer’s day.
- ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ by Ishmael Reed
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In 1972, Ishmael Reed cut mainstream American society–and its appropriation of black culture–down to size with this epic work about an “epidemic” of blackness called “Jes Grew” spreading into white America. Reed takes his world building to the extreme, incorporating a jam-packed cast of historical figures and nobody misfits, and entire sections that veer completely away from the main plot. It’s crazy, it’s frightening, it’s mesmerizing—just like America, it seems.
- ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf
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Woolf, one of the early twentieth century modernists who helped changed the way novels are written, aims to explore nothing less than the very nature of human consciousness in this expressionist take on the journey of one large English family over a tumultuous period of personal and political history. The lighthouse is the least of our worries…or is it?
- ‘Nightwood’ by Djuna Barnes
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Though praised for its frank exploration of homosexuality when such depictions were extremely hard to come by, this very autobiographical 1936 novel’s gothic prose style makes it yet another modernist masterpiece with capacity to slowly melt your brain.
- ‘In Search of Lost Time’ by Marcel Proust
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And to think it all started with a madeleine cake! One taste of the dessert is all it takes for The Narrator (heavily based on Proust himself) to descend into a spiraling rabbit hole of emotions, regrets, and involuntary childhood memories of life in the prosperous but repressed wealthy French milieu. At 4,125 pages, this probably isn’t the kind of book you should tote to the beach.
- The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
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For Tolkien-ites, ‘The Silmarillion’ is where it all begins: it is the story of how Middle-Earth itself came to be, and it was the first LOTR-related writing Tolkien—who started work on the project while recuperating from injuries sustained in WWI—ever did. Those who thought the LOTR trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’ contained more than enough background information and weird fantasy names would be best to avoid this book. If that isn’t you, happy reading!
- ‘Making of Americans’ by Gertrude Stein
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In the tradition of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, Stein crafts a multi-generational epic about the fortunes and failures of two prominent American families. Though she doesn’t include maddeningly tedious-to-translate French like Tolstoy does, Stein does make a specific choice to repeat certain phrases over and over that makes it quite easy to totally lose your bearings in the already-dense universe of the Hersland and Dehning clans.
- ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell
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What to the nineteenth century South Pacific, 1970’s California, and the post-apocalyptic future have in common? You tell us! Mitchell’s foray into re-incarnation and the unchangeable components of human nature is at turns exhilarating and, well, exhausting. Take snack breaks.
- ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert
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Paul Atreides is your average 15-year old boy. He likes swords. He is the heir to a Dukedom. He lives in space—specifically, on a desolate desert planet where giant worms roam and the locals take drugs that turn their eyes blue. Oh, and he’s probably the intergalactic messiah. Sorry, did we say he was average? What we meant was “balls-to-the-wall insane and profoundly complicated.” Dune offers much to those who accept its challenges, but do not expect a story that one can just consume without quite a bit of digestion afterwards.
- ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez
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Whimsical magic and brutal historical realities make strange bedfellows in this look at one very messed up Colombian family’s experience of love, violence and colonialism in a small backwater town. If nothing else, Márquez makes abundantly clear that “the truth”—or the rationalizations and pat stories we convince ourselves are the truth—are not what he’s aiming for here. And we are (mostly) grateful for it.
Featured image courtesy of The A.V. Club.
How much are you willing to spend on the first edition of a book? Most would never go through the trouble to obtain original copies, especially when reprinted versions contain the same information. Amongst this list of expensive books, most are ancient texts that bear significant historical value and some are literature works by hugely celebrated authors.
12. The Tales of Beedle the Bard – $3.98 million
A collection of children’s stories by British author J.K. Rowling, The Tales of Beedle the Bard also appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a farewell gift from Dumbledore to Hermione Having grown up in a family of pure-blood wizards, Ron is familiar the book and its fairy tales of wizardry. Hermione and Harry had no idea since they both had non-magical upbringings. Most importantly, this book acts as a medium that facilitates Xenophilius Lovegood’s retelling of The Tale of Three Brothers.
During an interview, Rowling revealed that Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale acted as a source of inspiration for the her Tale of the Three Brothers and their grim fate.
This book was originally produced through handwritten notes and illustrations by Rowling herself, who intended to donate the profit to The Children’s Voice charity campaign. While six of them were bequeathed to those who were very involved in the Harry Potter series, one of them, referred to as as “The Moonstone Edition” was sold for auction at the Sotheby’s in 2007. Later in 2016, another copy was auctioned for £368,750.
11. Traite des arbres fruiiers (Treatise on Fruit Trees) – $4.5 million
By far the most expensive book on fruit trees, Traite des arbres fruiiers includes a five-volume set of illustrations and text by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau.
10. Gutenberg Bible – $4.9 million
This is the first ever book printed with the movable print in the West, this book symbolizes the commencement of print and a moment of revolutionary change in the history of communication. Despite its status as a literary icon, it only earned a 10th place on this list. However, the purchase occurred in 1987 and it is estimated to value at $25-35 million nowadays.
9. First Folio: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies – $6.16 million
This collection of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623 originally had 750 copies but fewer than one-third are believed to still exist. 82 of the copies can be found at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The most expensive one was sold at an auction in 2001 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
8. The Canterbury Tales – $7.5 million
Only 12 copies of the original draft of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales still exist and this one was purchased by London book dealers in 1998.
7. The Birds of America – $11.5 million
This is a book by naturalist and painter John James Audubon that includes a vast array of bird species, 6 of which have become extinct since the time of illustration. Amongst the 119 available copies throughout the world, three of the most expensive ones were sold at prices of $11.5 million, $8.8 million and $7.9 million.
6. Gospels of Henry the Lion – $11.7 million
Considered as a masterpiece of Romanesque book illumination, it has been the most expensive book in the world until Bill Gates purchased Codex Leicester in 1994. It is now kept at the Herzog August Bibliotek in Wolfenbuttel and for security purposes, its display is only available every two years.
5. Rothschild Prayer Book – $13.4 million
Via The New York Times
This is an important Flemish illuminated manuscript book of hours as compiled by a number of artists. Purchased by Australian businessman Kerry Stokes from Christie’s New York, it is now on display in the National Library of Australia.
4. Bay Psalm Book – $14.165 million
Via The New York Times
This is the first book ever printed in what is now known as the United States and it was created in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts twenty years after pilgrims had arrived. Nowadays, a total of 11 copies are believed to be distributed throughout the country in universities such as Harvard and Yale and libraries such as the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress. American financier David Rubenstein bought a copy of the printed book for $14.165 million from Boston’s Old South Church.
3. St Cuthbert Gospel – $14.3 million
Also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel or the St Cuthbert Gospel of St John, this is an early 8th-century pocket gospel written in Latin. It’s page size is only 138 by 92 millimeters (by 5.4 in x 3.6 in). Nevertheless, it is the most well-protected book of this age. Since 2012, it has officially become a property of the British Library.
2. Magna Carta – $21.2 million
Via Encyclopedia Brittanica
Magna Carta Libertatum, commonly referred to as Magna Carta, is a charter agreed to by King John of England on June 15th 1215. In an attempt to limit the King’s powers, the federal barons of England created this treaty to be signed by the royal highness himself. This agreement that promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice and many more eventually developed into the rule of constitutional law.
1. Codex Leicester – $30.8 million
In this 72-page long journal, scientific writings by Leonardo Da Vinci document ancient findings such as where to locate fossils and why the moon is luminous. Written single-handedly by the mathematician himself, this volume was sold at Christie’s auction house in 1994 and now belongs to Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He scanned numerous pages and created digital copies that later became screen savers for the Windows 95.
Featured Image Via Harry Potter Wikia