Top Ten Tuesday – Most Intimidating Novels

Hey, it’s Tuesday and you know what that means! The topic suggested by The Broke and Bookish today was supposed to be “Top Ten Books/Authors I’m Thankful For”, but I have a hunch that’s only because of American thanksgiving. Seeing as I’m a Canadian living in South Korea (meaning I’ve already celebrated thanksgiving twice this year), I’m gonna go ahead and skip the thankfulness thing. Enough of that! This post is all about my greatest literary fears and, as such, will be characterized by much whinging. Ladies and Gentlemen, my Ten Most Intimidating Novels (in no particular order, since they’re all equally terrifying):

This is gonna be good…

Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)

Kaite suggested this one and I have to agree. It’s one thing to watch a movie or a musical based on the book, but it’s quite another thing to read the book. It’s a real fatty! Plus, it’s all there in the title; the story may be beautiful and touching and have a kind of happy ending, but the bulk of it is pretty miserable.

Even Brad Pitt couldn’t save the epic flop “Troy”. But he sure is pretty.

The Iliad and The Odyssey (Homer)

Technically this is two separate works, and technically they are epic poems, not novels. Still, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” top the list of Things I Have No Desire To Read Whatsoever. This is based mostly on the fact that I like my Homers yellow and stupid, and Achilles doesn’t fit the bill on either account. Plus, poetry. Blech.

Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

“Call me Ishmael.” First sentence. Bam.

That is probably about as far as I’ll ever get in my acquaintance with this novel about a single-legged sea captain bent on avenging a ferocious white sperm whale. Why? Not only is this book huge, but to directly quote Kaite (as written in an email she sent to me months ago, and which I am now using without her permission), “This book is also boring. I have no idea why people like it so much.” The last I checked she was making her way through it little bits at a time. I’ll be the first to point out that Kaite and I don’t always agree on literature, but that’s testimony enough for me.

War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)

Now, my dad is a slow reader, but this took him about a year to get through. If that isn’t intimidating enough, it’s also got multiple volumes, endless aristocratic characters with long Russian names, and perhaps the broadest scope any novel in history has ever dared to take on. You have to applaud these crazy Russian novelists for their patience in writing these sagas, though. But maybe I’ll read it one day. Like, if I’m on my deathbed and there’s no one to talk to and nothing to do but die slowly, and the only thing around is a single copy of War and Peace. Then maybe.

Based on “Heart of Darkness” – the goriest movie ever?

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

This one is a novella, which proves that size isn’t everything when we’re talking intimidation. And actually, I already read Heart of Darkness back in eleventh grade. All I remember was that the frame narrative (story within a story) got me really confused, and I was barely able to understand what was happening the whole time. There was something about a boat, Africa, and a guy named Marlow. To make matters worse, I have the distinct feeling that it was an interesting story, and I missed out. All this adds up to my thinking I should give it another go. But I’m still scared! It’s not the violence, or the old language, or the narrative, or the fact that this remains one of the most dissected stories ever – it’s all those things together that make me nervous to reattempt it.

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)

I’ve already used this blog to lament my doomed relationship with this Gothic romance. Why do I keep believing I’ll love it? Because I love a little doom and gloom occasionally  and I love romance. But  somehow I’m just not loving Jane. I always end up walking away. Yes, I know the beginning sentence of this one quite well, too. “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” Three times and that still wasn’t an indication that it wouldn’t be any more riveting the next time…

The tagline for this 1939 adaptation is a real winner!

Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)

I am tackling this one just now. I’m telling you – it’s still intimidating even as I’m reading it. Old writing style, three generations of Heathcliffs, and all the general Brontë broodiness does not add up to light reading. But several trusted readers in my life have promised that it’s worth the initial slog, so I’m trusting them.

On another note, what’s with these Brontë girls and their fetish for jerky men? At least I’m not the only one who noticed a pattern here….

Paradife Loft! A Poem in Ten Bookf!

Paradise Lost (John Milton)

This poem goes on for about ten to twelve “books” or sections (depending on what edition you have), which explains why Old Milty went blind writing it. He wanted to “justify the ways of God to man” which, I bet, is no easy task. Again, this is something I’ve read excerpts from. While I admire the work as a whole, and the genius behind it, I could never have the patience to read the whole thing. My twelfth grade English teacher always said she would once she retired. I’d love to know if she has.

Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri)

I suppose when one sets off to write about Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, one can only do so in an epic poem. I’m sorry to put another one on this list, but Dante definitely deserves a spot. I don’t have much more to say except…poetry. Blech.

The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien)

I read The Hobbit and loved it. So why should the next (three) parts of a continuing story be so difficult for me? Maybe it’s because Tolkien suffers from the same wordiness I sometimes do, taking twenty pages to describe a single pine tree, or the eating and drinking habits of Harfoots. That aside, I’m determined to read these one day. They’re about the most respected and beloved fantasy novels of all time, so that’s gotta be a good thing.

Disclaimers and Endnotes (Because I’m Wordy and I Like Typing):

  1. I’m not against poetry. When I say “blech” it’s really just to illustrate my lack of patience with it. To be sure, I’m really quite fond of the Romantics, who only had to stand by a pond or notice a hangnail to appreciate the Sublime. (Shelley and Keats are my men!) All I’m saying is there’s a reason this site is called “A Novel Thing”.
  2. This post puts me in direct risk of comments like, “You’re wrong about War and Peace!” If that’s you, know that I realize you’re probably right. All the above books are called classics for a reason, and, as such, are probably all objectively good (one some level). Even so, “the classics” are not a homogeneous genre and still represent themes and writing styles as varied as those represented in today’s fiction. No one can be expected to like everything, so please, take what I say with a grain of salt.
  3. Kaite is the craziest reader I know. As of November 4th, she’d read 89 books this year (another fact I stole from an email without her permission). So don’t hold it against her that she finds Moby Dick boring. If you were aiming for ten books a month and only had so much time, you’d probably think the same thing!

4 responses

  1. The connection I see here is that these are books that are (generally) more famous for their historical importance than as “good reads.” And I’m not sure what it says about my reading habits, but I’ve finished 5 of them. While they were all challenging, Heart of Darkness and Paradise Lost I think were rewarding as well, and relatively brief. Lord of the Rings and The Odyssey are actually very good stories, just potentially too dense in their own mythologies to be fun. But Moby Dick I can’t recommend to anyone, and the rest of the list is pretty terrifying as well.

    And I know Kaite will disagree with at least one of these, but after reading exactly one book by each author my list would also include anything else by Ayn Rand or James Joyce. Maybe one day, but it will take a lot of psyching myself up for it.

  2. Hahaha! I flew right through Atlas Shrugged, but have to admit I was kind of amazed to do so. Really any book nearing 1000 pages has a rightful spot on this list. I totally agree about Heart of Darkness: I never saw the big deal about it. Jane Eyre, The Divine Comedy and LOTR were also great reads for me. Les Miserables is soon to be tackled, but I’m saving that big kahuna for the finale of 2012. And something about Wuthering Heights repels me from reading it! I almost just want to get it over and done with. Great post Barbara.

  3. Kaite, I bought “Life of Pi” after your review and I look forward to reading it soon (after I finish my 900 page Ken Follet novel). Also, I back you up – “The Maze Runner” isn’t as good as it thinks it should be. There are so many YA, post-apocolyptic books out now and that one isn’t really anything special in the whole scheme of things. ALSO – Les Mis – I agree with you as well. I have no clue if I’ll like the book as I have no idea what the story is even about but with Anne Hathaway being the main character – well, I’m not jumping up and down to watch the movie that’s for sure!

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