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Intimidating Authors

Recently in a reading meme I mentioned one of the most intimidating books to be read is, out of its sheer size, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. At 1488 pages in soft cover, the book is longer than War and Peace and Gone with the Wind. I have no doubt that I will enjoy the book after skimming through the first 30 some pages—I just have to prepare my mind for it, waiting for that moment. The same meme also addresses most intimidating authors, William Faulkner and James Joyce were my answers. Ulysses would have scared me away were it not for the class to have required it. The combination of kaleidoscopic writing with an extreme formal schematic structure renders the book a major contribution to the development of 20th-century modernist literature—but also renders it one of the most challenging literary work to be read.

Another author whose works also impose similar awe and intimidation in me is Thomas Pynchon, whose The Crying of Lot 49 I read in college and has remained the only work I have read. Known for his avoidance of personal publicity, very little of pictures can be found. Biographical information is omitted in most of the books I have found. Poet L. E. Sissman wrote from The New Yorker: “He is almost a mathematician of prose, who calculates the least and the greatest stress each word and line, each pun and ambiguity, can bear, and applies his knowledge accordingly and virtually without lapses, though he takes many scary, bracing linguistic risks. Thus his remarkably supple diction can first treat of a painful and delicate love scene and then roar, without pause, into the sounds and echoes of a drudged and drunken orgy.” Investigations and digressions into the realms of human sexuality, psychology, sociology, mathematics, science, and technology recur throughout Pynchon’s works. Given the unique literary style and the wide range of topics that breathes into his work, I stand intimidated reading his work. I am going to change this by reading either V. or Gravity’s Rainbow, which I have finally acquired.

Which author’s works intimidate you?

28 Responses

  1. For me it is James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. I have tried a couple of time to read Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse and have had to stop, realizing I had no idea what was happening. And Ulysses, just scares me. I think I need a class to guide me.

    Also, after, reading Anna Karenina and Dr. Zhivago I am intimidated by all Russian authors. And I really do want to read War and Peace.

    • Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse has to be read slowly. The main plot is not obviously through the thick and dense prose. As for Dr. Zhivago, I’m reading the manuscripts for a new translation, which also calls for time.

  2. I was pretty intimidated by the size of Gone with the Wind, but I found it to be a really enjoyable read. I’ve yet to try War and Peace though. And, I really want to read Ulysses, but I think I need the structure of a good class or guided readalong to get me through it. Two of my own personal intimidators are The Iliad and The Odyssey.

    • Gone with the Wind is an easy read despite the stupendous size. War and Peace just drags on for a bit. What really got me was Ulysses, which I didn’t finish in college before the paper’s deadline but I did manage to finish afterwards.

  3. How funny that you write this post now. I am actually currently reading A Suitable Boy!

    It is definitely worth reading. The stories are all authentic and I am learning so much about India and enjoying getting to know the characters – the book is so real – I think it is one of the most accurate reflections of daily life that I have ever read.

    It has taken me 2 weeks to get half way through. I have been reading it a lot slower than I would normally read because it is hard to read the same book for so long, but it is definitely worth it.

    I hope you enjoy it 🙂

    PS. Everyone says that Gone With The Wind is really long, but it is a lot shorter than it seems, I read it in a few days and I only read on the train to and from work – so I think its one of those books that looks thicker than it actually is

  4. Oh, I also wrote a post about intimidating authors last week – here is a link to it if you are interested

  5. Faulkner and Joyce intimidate me too! I read Sanctuary, by Faulkner, in college and really did not like it, so I have been nervous to read any of his other books.

    • I give up on Faulkner after college. I probably won’t read him at my liberty unless I have guidance. I re-read Ulysses again recently and found myself enjoying and understanding it more than when I had to read it for a class in college.

  6. I just wanted to say that A Suitable Boy is worth the time, I read it ten years ago over three months and it remains my all time favourite book. Don’t be intimidated, it is a lovely book. Lata and her various suitors are funny and memorable characters.

  7. Joyce intimidates me. Gone With the Wind doesn’t intimidate me but similar to the book you mentioned I have to mentally prepare for the length of the book. I adore George Eliot, but she is difficult and requires some mental preparation as well.

  8. I’m interested to hear what you think about the Vikram Seth book since I have avoided it for the same reasons. Ulysses is the really scary one for me.

    • Have you ever finished Middlemarch? Maybe we should do a read along for Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy?

      Years after reading Ulysses (in college) the book still haunted me!

  9. I am right there with you regarding Pynchon: I will read The Crying of Lot 49 at some point since it is so short, but am terrified to try anything else by him. Same goes for James Joyce – I want to try something by him so badly, but I worry it will all go over my head!

    • I still think I’ll go for Pynchon, whom I haven’t read since The Crying of Lot 49. James Joyce is worth the time but I have to make sure I am locked into a routine. I recently re-read Ulysses and enjoyed it so much more than I first read it.

  10. You have just said it, A Suitable Boy (which I have in my pile), Tolstoy and another author’s work worth mentioning that have daunted me so far, until I conquer my fear by taking the first step, is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children. Dickens’ Bleak House is heralded to be his finest, but the sheer size of it daunted me as well.

    I hope to receive some sort of a push or encouragement before I read any of these work! 😉

    • Salman Rushdie is intimidating not because of the size of his books but the subject. I don’t know if I even understand the gist of Satanic Verses. After that book I am losing my morale to peruse him further. Midnight’s Children is put on hold. I’m truly, honestly scared by him!

  11. For me it’s Russian classics in general, then also Ulysses and
    Moby Dick.

    Extra long novels definitely need the right moment. I have not read Suitable Boy but have heard good things about it.


  12. Faulkner has definitely been one of those authors I shy away from. Another one that comes to mind is Doris Lessing. I really want to read some of their works but I’ve had some false starts and it gets harder to pick up one of their books.

    • Faulkner’s Sound and Fury was a very difficult book for me, especially when I had to read it under a time constraint for a class. I won’t read him at my own liberty unless I can read along with other people. Doris Lessing is another author whose works don’t seem to interest me.

  13. To your list I would add Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I have the book on my shelves glaring at me and daring me to read it!

  14. Heinrich Boll: ‘Billiards at Half-past Nine’ , a short, but very difficult book. Started “The Clown”, but never finished it.

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