Tag: Ulysses

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

Book days around the world

Literary Holidays From Around The World

Most readers are familiar with World Book Day, Library Week, and National Poetry Month, but most aren’t as familiar with lesser known holidays like Jolabokaflod, Burns Supper, or Bloomsday. These literary holidays from around the world keep readers looking forward to book-centric gatherings all year round.

 

1. Jólabókaflóð – December 24

 

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Image via Read It Forward

 

With Iceland publishing more books per capita than any other country with 5 titles per every 1,000 Icelanders, it’s no wonder that one of their most anticipated holidays is commonly known as the “Christmas Book Flood.” Kristjan B. Jonasson, President of the Iceland Publishers Association, said, “The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted…we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading.” Books are mostly purchased from late September to early November, thus the name of the “book flood” when the books purchased are given as gifts. 

 

2. Burns Supper – January 25

 

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Image via Pluckemin Inn

 

This annual celebration of the life and work of Scottish poet Robert Burns brings not only Scots, but also Scots-at-heart together to celebrate his literary contributions. Most commonly celebrated with dinner and drinks, the holiday not only celebrates Burns, but also Scottish culture as a whole. Dinner usually consists of Haggis, a dish made of oats, spices, and sheep offal alongside potatoes and all topped off with a whiskey sauce. 

 

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Image via The Telegraph

 

3. Bloomsday – June 16

 

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Image via NPR

 

One of the most recognized literary holidays, Bloomsday celebrates the events portrayed in James Joyce’s famous Dublin-based novel, Ulysses, along with the author himself. The day is celebrated with an assortment of activities ranging from walking tours to public readings across Dublin and around the world. On the Sunday before the 100th anniversary of the fiction events, 10,000 people in Dublin were treated to a free full Irish breakfast consisting of sausages, rashers, toast, beans, and puddings. 

 

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Image via Falvey Memorial Library Blog

 

4. National Tom Sawyer Days – July 4, 5, and 6

 

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Image via Hearld Whig

 

The National Tom Sawyer Days take place in Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri with activities offered for all ages and all interested. It is celebrated every year with with a parade float, flea market, and carnival for children. Celebrated simultaneously with the Fourth of July, celebratory fireworks are set off over the Mississippi River. 

 

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Image via Visit Hannibal

 

5. Hemingway Days – July 16-21

 

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Image via Opal Unpacked 

 

Hemingway Days are celebrated every year to revel in the legacy of Ernest Hemingway, his work, and his lifestyle. Celebrated with literary readings, theatrical premiers, short story competition, fishing tournament, 5K Run, the Running of the Bulls, Paddle board race, and rounding it all out with a birthday “party” to celebrate Hemingway’s birthday on the 21st. Hemingway Days are celebrated yearly in Key West, Florida, where Hemingway wrote some of his best-known works.. 

 

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Image via Clarín

 

Featured image via Claddagh Design.

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

 

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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 

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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!

 

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Feature Image Via Amazon

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James Joyce’s Steamy Love Letters Are Better Than ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

Irish writer James Joyce may best be remembered as a literary icon whose written work, Ulysses, cemented his image as a wise and intelligent mind hiding behind a soft and innocent-looking face.

 

Don’t be fooled, however. Yes, he is in fact intelligent, but he’s certainty not soft (in more ways than one). Behind those puppy dog eyes, thick mustache, and posh bowtie happens to be a dirty old man. Seriously dirty, dirty man.

 

The same passion and experimental attitude this linguistic mastermind brought to his stories and poetry he also translated to other avenues of his personal life. For those unfamiliar with Joyce, he had a passionate relationship with Nora Barnacle, whom he met in 1904 (the same date he later chose as the setting of Ulysses).

 

Their enduring love was filled with children, a marriage, and a great deal of passion. The sensual bond between the pair was evident throughout their public relationship. However, it became much more evident following their deaths when, in 1975, a book containing Joyce’s side of their written correspondence was published. The book, appropriately titled, Selected Letters of James Joyce (which you can buy here), brought to light their very personal and steamy love affair that rivaled anything E. L. James ever wrote. 

 

Don’t believe it? Take a peek for yourself. Just a warning, however, they are absolutely NSFW! You’ve been warned.

 

1. 2 December 1909, Dublin

 

My love for you allows me to pray to the spirit of eternal beauty and tenderness mirrored in your eyes or fling you down under me on that softy belly of yours and fuck you up behind, like a hog riding a sow, glorying in the very stink and sweat that rises from your arse, glorying in the open shape of your upturned dress and white girlish drawers and in the confusion of your flushed cheeks and tangled hair. It allows me to burst into tears of pity and love at some slight word, to tremble with love for you at the sounding of some chord or cadence of music or to lie heads and tails with you feeling your fingers fondling and tickling my ballocks or stuck up in me behind and your hot lips sucking off my cock while my head is wedged in between your fat thighs, my hands clutching the round cushions of your bum and my tongue licking ravenously up your rank red cunt. I have taught you almost to swoon at the hearing of my voice singing or murmuring to your soul the passion and sorrow and mystery of life and at the same time have taught you to make filthy signs to me with your lips and tongue, to provoke me by obscene touches and noises, and even to do in my presence the most shameful and filthy act of the body. You remember the day you pulled up your clothes and let me lie under you looking up at you while you did it? Then you were ashamed even to meet my eyes.

 

You are mine, darling, mine! I love you. All I have written above is only a moment or two of brutal madness. The last drop of seed has hardly been squirted up your cunt before it is over and my true love for you, the love of my verses, the love of my eyes for your strange luring eyes, comes blowing over my soul like a wind of spices. My prick is still hot and stiff and quivering from the last brutal drive it has given you when a faint hymn is heard rising in tender pitiful worship of you from the dim cloisters of my heart.

 

Nora, my faithful darling, my seet-eyed blackguard schoolgirl, be my whore, my mistress, as much as you like (my little frigging mistress! My little fucking whore!) you are always my beautiful wild flower of the hedges, my dark-blue rain-drenched flower.

 

JIM

 

2. 3 December 1909, Dublin.

 

As you know, dearest, I never use obscene phrases in speaking. You have never heard me, have you, utter an unfit word before others. When men tell in my presence here filthy or lecherous stories I hardly smile. Yet you seem to turn me into a beast. It was you yourself, you naughty shameless girl who first led the way. It was not I who first touched you long ago down at Ringsend. It was you who slid your hand down inside my trousers and pulled my shirt softly aside and touched my prick with your long tickling fingers, and gradually took it all, fat and stiff as it was, into your hand and frigged me slowly until I came off through your fingers, all the time bending over me and gazing at me out of your quiet saintlike eyes. It was your lips too which first uttered an obscene word. I remember well that night in bed in Pola. Tired of lying under a man one night you tore off your chemise violently and began to ride me up and down. Perhaps the horn I had was not big enough for you for I remember that you bent down to my face and murmured tenderly ‘Fuck up, love! fuck up, love!’

 

JIM

 

 

3. 8 December 1909, Dublin.

 

My sweet little whorish Nora,

 

I did as you told me, you dirty little girl, and pulled myself off twice when I read your letter. I am delighted to see that you do like being fucked arseways. Yes, now I can remember that night when I fucked you for so long backwards. It was the dirtiest fucking I ever gave you, darling. My prick was stuck up in you for hours, fucking in and out under your upturned rump. I felt your fat sweaty buttocks under my belly and saw your flushed face and mad eyes. At every fuck I gave you your shameless tongue come bursting out through your lips and if I gave you a bigger stronger fuck than usual fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to fuck a farting woman when every fuck drives one out of her. I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have. It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night. I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.

 

You say when I go back you will suck me off and you want me to lick your cunt, you little depraved blackguard. I hope you will surprise me some time when I am asleep dressed, steal over me with a whore’s glow in your slumbrous eyes, gently undo button after button in the fly of my trousers and gently take out your lover’s fat mickey, lap it up in your moist mouth and suck away at it till it gets fatter and stiffer and comes off in your mouth. Sometime too I shall surprise you asleep, lift up your skirts and open your hot drawers gently, then lie down gently by you and begin to lick lazily round your bush. You will begin to stir uneasily then I will lick the lips of my darling’s cunt. You will begin to groan and grunt and sigh and fart with lust in your sleep. Then I will lick up faster and faster like a ravenous dog until your cunt is a mass of slime and your body wriggling wildly.

 

Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty little fuckbird! There is one lovely word, darling, you have underlined to make me pull myself off better. Write me more about that and yourself, sweetly, dirtier, dirtier.

 

JIM

 

If you can’t get enough, the great news is, there’s more. You can read more of James Joyce’s letters by clicking on the link here.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of The Irish Times and Her Campus

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