The Hardest Books To Scale

I was musing on bookish topics to write about today, and decided to go see what other clever people have come up with!  By which I mean that I went to look at the list of past Top Ten Tuesday topics on The Broke and the Bookish.  Bringing me today’s topic…my personal list of most intimidating books!

I have already conquered…

1) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – In page count, this is the longest book I’ve ever read (though I would imagine that it runs neck-and-neck with Les Mis, depending on the edition).  I managed to read it when I was about twelve or so.  It was my second attempt on the book, and when I began again I thought I’d just try to read farther than I had before…and then, having already seen and loved the movie, I thought I’d just try to read to this plot point, or that plot point…and I got to the end that way!  Now I’ve been meaning to reread it for quite a while…

2) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Technically I skipped the parts that wandered off into historical background–but I read most of it.  It’s just that when Hugo is good, he’s very good–but then other times he wants to spend thirty pages on the history of Parisian sewers.

3) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien – I attempted Fellowship twice, never got farther than Tom Bombadil, and spent the following ten years convinced these were impossible to wade through.  I finally read them during my Chunkster Challenge last year, and found out they weren’t nearly as slow or dense as I feared.  Although I do think it helped watching Jackson’s trilogy, so at least I knew where we were going all the time.

4) Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – This was an assigned book the summer before I went into freshman year of high school.  They assigned the same summer books to all the grades, and because I was an incoming freshman I was both too young for the book, and unaware that it didn’t really matter if we read the assigned reading!  Unlike the previous three on the list, this one was not worth the effort…and among my high school friends, we still speak of it with dread!

I may read some day…

5) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – This is probably just silly, because after all, it’s a fantasy and I have no reason to expect the writing to be especially difficult.  It’s just so thick though!  And I made the mistake of getting it from the library during a particularly intense semester at college, returned it unread, and that set up bad resonances around the title for me.

6) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon – A massive, multi-volume history text, this is far outside my normal reading.  But I do like Roman history quite a bit, and L. M. Montgomery read it twice and commented very favorably in her journal and…well, for me, that feels rather like having a very close, very well-read friend recommend something.

7) Vanity Fair by W. M. Thackeray – This is one of the Big Classics I don’t have a burning desire to read, but I would like to have read.  There are lots of Classics I’m comfortable not reading, but this particular one L. M. Montgomery especially liked, and…see above.

8) A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill – Another multi-volume history text…but I enjoy British history immensely, and there are few historical figures I like better than Winston Churchill.  And while I’ve never read any of his history writing, he wrote the loveliest letters to his wife!  I read a collection of their letters and…yeah, his history books are probably not remotely the same thing. 🙂

So much for my book confessions!  What intimidating books have you successfully overcome?  Do you have any you still may attempt one day?

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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24 Responses to The Hardest Books To Scale

  1. Wayne says:

    At Home by Bill Bryson. The book is heavy. The text is dense. The content is rambling. The digressions digress. Still love it though!

    • So now I have to ask…what DO you love about it that outweighs heavy, dense, rambling digressions? 🙂

      • Wayne says:

        Bryson is a superb humorist and he has a keen eye for the absurd, that’s what endeared me to it. Beyond that, the actual content of At Home is a sort of broad landscape of the makings of the modern household as we see it today. As a premise, I think that’s a phenomenal idea, and he accomplishes it, but we’re looking at a spectrum of information that ranges from lobsters to Lancashire. I remember keenly enjoying it but I confess my retention of it is now pretty low.

  2. Vishy says:

    Interesting list, Cheryl! I have read ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘Tess’ and ‘Jonathan Strange. I would like to read ‘Les Mis’ one day. I started it last year but gave up after one part. The longest book I have read is, I think, ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth. I have Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. My father has been raving about it ever since I got to the age when we could have bookish conversations. So the first chance I got, I went and got it. But it is too big and I don’t know whether and when I will read it. Maybe one day….The intimidating books that I would like to read are ‘Les Mis’, ‘War and Peace’, ‘In Search of Lost Time’. I hope I can read one of them this year.

    • Les Mis starts rather slowly with 30 pages or so on the history of the bishop…it gets MUCH better when Jean Valjean comes into the story! If you give it another try, I’d just skip to that part if you’re struggling 🙂

      • Vishy says:

        Thanks Cheryl 🙂 I will remember your suggestion when I give it a try again. Hope to start again from where I left off sometime later this year.

  3. Jemima Pett says:

    I know what you mean about LOTR. The first time I read it I loved it all the way through, but I often skipped The Shire and started in The Prancing Pony on my numerous later reads. Or just read Strider’s part… 😀
    Of the rest of your list, I’ve only read Vanity Fair – at school, and we didn’t finish it in class, so I don’t remember whether I finished it or not!
    I’d add War and Peace to your list – daunting, but surprisingly readable and a lovely entwined love story – except for the treatises on war… which like your Les Mis experience, I skipped (which leaves out the last 40 pages, too!)
    Stopping by from the #KidLitGH – and attracted by the Wanderer’s cover!

    • Hmm, I may have to consider starting at The Prancing Pony when I eventually reread Fellowship! I haven’t really thought much about War and Peace…oddly enough, it’s one I’ve always heard the title of, but know very little about!
      And thanks for visiting from the Kid Lit event–and for the good words on my cover. 🙂

  4. That’s an interesting list, Cheryl.
    I’ve read your no 1-5 and enjoyed them all, even Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell which I read this year – lovely book, thick though, and those footnotes…I read every single one of them. I didn’t love the book but I liked it, especially the convoluted language, as I’m a fan of Victorian novels.

    I gave up on Don Quixote halfway through, just couldn’t take it anymore. This is one of those books I would like to have read. Others include Moby Dick, Tristram Shandy and and Dante’s Paradise Lost along with Shakespeare. I suppose I might get to the last two, eventually, since they are mentioned quite often in books I want to read.
    I’d like to read Vanity Fair one day.

    • I’ve read a fair bit of Shakespeare (mostly in classes, but some on my own) and once you get into his language he’s pretty readable. Although good footnotes help (I like the Folgers’ Shakespeare Library). If you want to tackle Shakespeare, start with a comedy–they’re friendlier for a starting experience! Not quite so many long monologues…

  5. dianem57 says:

    I didn’t find Gone With The Wind intimidating, but I read it as an adult and I felt the plot kept moving along. The backstory about Scarlett’s parents, which was completely cut from the movie, was interesting, too.

    The most intimidating book I ever read – twice! (both times for classes) – was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It was not worth the effort either time.

    • Moby Dick would fall into the category of books I plan never to read…I’m not sure I’ve ever heard good things about it!

      • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

        I was taking American Lit and 18th Century Lit during one semester in college and I had to read Tristram Shandy and Moby Dick at the same time…. in comparison to T.S., M.D. seemed like a breeze!

  6. lynnsbooks says:

    Les Mis for me – it’s on my classics list – and really, I don’t know what I was thinking. I will be unable to do this. I’ve read you nos 1, 3, 5 and 7. Definitely recommend Jonathan Strange – I really liked it.
    Lynn 😀

    • Les Mis surprised me with how good and readable and action-packed it actually is…for about 80% of the book! And really, if you allow yourself to skip, Hugo does all of his background/history in distinct sections.

  7. This is probably just silly, because after all, it’s a fantasy and I have no reason to expect the writing to be especially difficult.

    As I remember it, Clarke’s style in this book is very much a love/hate kind of thing. She really tries to capture that Victorianesque narrative quality, but with added footnotes that sometimes take up (almost) the entire page. The writing itself may or may not be especially difficult, I don’t remember, but the narrative style definitely takes some getting used to. I hope you’ll enjoy it if you ever decide to read it, though! ^_^ I hope the books on your maybe list will all pleasantly surprise you. ^_^

  8. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

    Put aside some solid time for it, and I bet you will love Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell! I’m due for a reread very soon now. Vanity Fair, on the other hand, is one that I have no desire to read again; yet I’m glad that I read it. I think once you get into it you won’t find it so difficult.

    I’ve put some of my hard-to-scale books on my Classics Club list: Anna Karenina, Mrs. Dalloway, Love in the Time of Cholera. They just do not sound enjoyable to me, but I hope I’ll be proven wrong.

    • With long books, I just need to get my head around the idea that that’s ALL I’m going to read for a while…and then I can usually manage! The trouble is that there are so many other books…

      • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

        I had a very strong experience when I was in France during college of desperately needing to read English books, and the longest ones I could get my hands on, partly for reasons of economy…I would go to the English section of bookstores and get the longest Victorian novels I could find. JS&MN would have been perfect for that.

        • I can see how a book deficit would make long books appealing! And economically-sound 🙂 I’ve thought about that in the hypothetical “stranded on a desert island” situation, about having long books that will last when I don’t have many. Fortunately, my actual situation is that I have access to mountains of free books from the library…though that makes it hard to choose!

  9. Dennis says:

    Books that I found intimidating include the three great epics from ancient times: the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid. They can be off-putting at first because the style of writing is so different that what we’re accustomed to in modern novels. But if you can get past that and wade in, they tell of the most exciting adventures in history.

    • I read The Odyssey and The Aeneid in college–I’ve yet to tackle The Illiad! I suspect these are books that benefit from a good translation, to maybe address some of the archaic nature of the writing.

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