Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Top Ten Most Intimidating Books

My favorite intimidating character,
Miranda, from The Devil Wears Prada
 (which isn't intimidating to read
at all, by the way)
I broke this list up into books I managed to read, even though they were intimidating, and books I haven't got around to trying yet, because I'm still too intimidated. I read mostly middle grade and young adult books, so intimidation isn't something I usually need to worry about. Especially since modern books are geared fast and sweetly balance details and action and tension to keep our attention.

This week's Top Ten topic made me appreciate all the required reading in high school and college though. I used to grumble that teachers make you read such painful books, but if they hadn't I'd have missed out on a lot of worthwhile literature simply because, on my own, it's too intimidating.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here).

Top 5 Most Intimidating Books I've Read

1.  Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
I put off reading this book (and the rest of its trilogy) for decades, because I'd sampled it briefly while in college and was deeply troubled (being a huge fan of science fiction) that I couldn't wade my way into these books.... yet. I love C.S. Lewis. I admire him even more than Tolkien, and I fully intend to read all of his books (I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the list).  These are really amazing books (the ideas and imagery are mindbending), but they aren't light reading, that's for sure. 

2. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy 
Not nearly as intimidating as War and Peace, but I hesitated to read this one, intimidated by its length. But I loved the 1997 movie version so much, I finally broke down and started reading it, and was actually surprised by how fast moving it was (yes, there were some slow spots), but an absolutely fantastic book. 

3. The Sun Also Rises,  Ernest Hemingway
A few years after Hemingway's the Old Man and the Sea made me all kinds of impressed and sad at the same time, I tried my hand at another Hemingway, and this book seriously intimidated me. I was probably too young to get the characters or the story, kind of like I was with the Great Gatsby in high school. But I muddled my way through it. 

4. The Stranger, Albert Camus
This isn't a long book, but it was intimidating because the main character is so... unrelatable. The book is famous for being such a vivid and harsh example of existentialism; it was required reading but worthwhile because it is such a landmark in literature. 

5. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
I actually picked this one up of my own free will, but after the first chapter I mostly skimmed it, and as a result I don't think I got anything useful out of it at all, which is a shame. Still, not enough of a shame that I've ever been tempted to try to read it again. This is one of those rare cases where Cliff Notes are truly worthwhile.

Top 5 Most intimidating books I haven't read

1. Anything by Charles Dickens
I started  to read a Tale of Two Cities once upon a time, and quickly gave up. I know I should try again, and I feel like a total wus for being so intimidated by Dickens, but I am. I just am. It's not entirely rational. 

2.  Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Another one I tried to read once, a long, long time ago and my failure was huge that I've never been brave enough to try again.  [later edit: seeing that I adored Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, I might someday give this one a try again. Might.]

3. Anything by Shakespeare
Before you leap across the internet and strangle me, let me defend myself: I did read MacBeth and King Lear in high school, and parts of Romeo and Juliet, and I do love so many quotes from Shakespeare. I could quote him endlessly.  I admire him, absolutely. But his work intimidates me, for all of my admiration. I think it's because I've always struggled to read plays. 

4. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevksy
I really want to read this book. Seriously, if I die not having read this book, I will be ashamed of myself. I will be a sorry excuse for a human being. But I am so intimidated, and for no good reason. It might be just like Anna Karenina: once I finally open the pages, I'll be swept away. But I haven't been brave enough to open the pages yet. 

5. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
I do feel  at times I can't call myself a real reader, a serious reader, not having read any Steinbeck other than Of Mice and Men.  I'm not sure why, but I'd rather read Edward Gibbon's the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and the collected works of Aristotle and Socrates before this one. It's just that intimidating. Someone tell me just to get over myself and read it. 

What's your most intimidating read? 


  1. I had similar issues with Moby Dick, but found listening to an audiobook version enabled me to get through it. A bit of a cop out, and obviously it's someone else's interpretation to a certain degree, but I don't think I would have been able to do it otherwise.

    The problem is a lot of the books mentioned really are as difficult as they seem. They have lots of good qualities, obviously, but the slow and convoluted bits can be mind numbing.


  2. I described The Space Trilogy to my husband as "thick" - not meaning that the physical books were thick, but the writing itself. "Like reading molasses," I told him. "Only not as sweet."

    Shakespeare was never meant to be read like a book. Watch his plays! Even the movie versions will give you a better sense for his work than just reading them will.

  3. Ok, so, I still haven't read Out of the Silent Planet yet... I keep looking at it and thinking I probably should...

    Anna Karenina was delightful, at least the translation I read made sense to me and I was so attached to the characters. Did you see the new version of AK that came out with Kiera Knightly? I thought it was a beautiful art piece. Just my personal opinion, there.

    I recommend Great Expectations rather than A Tale of Two Cities for your first Dickens experience. It's slightly less intimidating, perhaps? And I love the Bronte sisters with all my heart, so please try them again. Shakespeare... is meant to be read aloud, if that will help you at all... I've read a fair amount for school, and some for my own pleasure, but it's always more comprehensible when spoken versus just read silently.

    Ok, now you have my ten cents. :)

  4. Yar! I shoulda looked at your comment before I posted mine. Exactly what I said about Shakespeare. Read aloud or watch! It makes MUCH more sense.

  5. Oh and I'm not even going to get STARTED on Moby Dick. Suffice it to say that Melville and I have a blood feud.

  6. I'll be curious to hear what you think of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I've tried over and over to read that book and like it, but I just haven't been able to... I'm wayyy in the minority though.

  7. Whoops - posted too soon - just read that you WON'T be trying it again! Haha! I think you should, though. I read it in high school and hated it, tried it again in college to give it a chance, hated it again, and then once more as an adult. I think I've given it enough chances!

  8. Anna Karenina is my choice too. I've started it at least 3 times. A blogger I know online is doing a read a chapter from a classic challenge for herself. That seems manageable. Or maybe read a chapter a week ;) Kind of a good way to break down an intimidating book.

  9. I love Anne Karenina. I was very nervous about starting it, and if it hadn't been slow at work I probably never would have. Charles Dickens is definitely worth revisiting. I hated him after reading Great Expectations in high school, but gave him a second chance, just starting with A Christmas Carol. He is phenomenal. Wuthering Heights was all right, though I prefer Charlotte's work, and I loved Crime and Punishment. Great top 10!

  10. What a great post and I couldn't agree with your list more! I still find myself intimidated by books, especially when they seem to be the "it" book. I tried getting through A Visit from the Goon Squad and found it a little dull ;(. Hope you are well, Margo! And I love the picture you paired with this post, haha.

  11. James Joyce without a doubt for me. I get the shakes and have a panic attack when I think of Ulysses. LOL! take care


  12. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. A lot going on, a lot of characters, and some really heavy story telling. But I'm glad I finished it.

  13. I remember needing to read CRIME AND PUNISHMENT for high school and thought it was amazing. I hope you finally manage to read it someday!

    I also had to read THE GRAPES OF WRATH for high school, and...well...didn't care for it at all. But that may be just me.

  14. Hum. Thank you for what you have shared, it is a combination that is quite useful for many people. I will share it with your friends.

  15. Jack Lewis BaillotJuly 3, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    I'm like you with Dickens. His books I can never seem to get into. I made it a ways into Oliver Twist but then gave up on it and haven't had the courage to pick it up since. I sometimes feel uncultured to admit I've never completed a Dickens book, but never enough to sit down and read one.

  16. I love C.S. Lewis' Ransom trilogy!! I definitely have to give them a re-read. Anna Karenina is on my to-read list this summer, it consistently tops the all-time best written books lists, so it's high time I read it!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  17. M. K. TheodoratusJuly 3, 2013 at 8:23 PM

    If the story and/or characters capture me ... I read it. I tend to like complicated books with lots of texture.

    That said. G. R. R. Martin defeated me. I watch the TV adaptions. But then I'm addicted to the medieval setting.

  18. I consider Crime & Punishment to be one of my most intimidating non-reads; I tried starting a few years ago and felt too overwhelmed after the first several pages. Hoping to pick it back sometime...in the near future...

    I did, however, read The Grapes of Wrath in high school and loved it! Unlike most books we had to read for school, The Grapes of Wrath seemed less like a requirement and more like a book I was reading out of enjoyment. Recommended!

    Also, my boyfriend just finished reading Moby Dick, and he said Melville kept going on whale tangents. =P

  19. Ooh, there's a great idea for a blog post! I'll have to come up with my own...
    I've actually got Grapes of Wrath in my TBR pile at the moment. We'll see.
    I once read Ulysses, though! But I've never even looked at a copy of Finnegan's Wake...

  20. Interesting what you said about Great Expectations since another commenter said to start with this one! I have heard Dickens does really great characters. And yes I definitely prefer Charlotte, too!



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