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Most Difficult Book

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What’s the hardest/most challenging book you’ve ever read? Was it worth the effort? Did you read it by choice or was it an assignment/obligation?

Ulysses by James Joyce. It was required for a literature seminar during my junior year in college. That Ulysses was on the reading list actually made me muster up to sign up for the course. I had always felt intimidated by the book, partly because of its notoriety among both amateur readers and English majors. The book, and James Joyce himself, have such irresistible allure to me because it was Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris who published Ulysses in 1922, as a result of Joyce’s inability to get an edition out in English-speaking countries.

My experience with the novel, dictated by the professor’s schedule, was rather hasty. Despite the voluminous guides, maps, criticisms, and companion essays available, I read it without any references other than what was discussed in lectures. I decided I didn’t need them; in fact, they could easily weigh down what should be a fun reading experience. I jumped right into the text—even though I did not get all the allusions or unpack all the motifs. I found re-reading help when meanings didn’t seem clear to me the first time. I also realized skipping motifs and focusing instead on the main character’s story helps, at least for the moment to get a bearing on the story. The book generously overflows with insight into the human experience, and it’s very, very funny. And, most importantly, anyone can read it. I only wished to have more time to gravitate and to contemplate it. I’ll be re-reading this novel at my own pace soon.

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8 Responses

  1. The most difficult book for me was Moby Dick. Not because it was difficulty to understand, just because it was overly wordy and dense. I assigned it to myself when I hosted a read along.

  2. I have always wanted to read Ulysses but have been wary of it for the reasons you have mentioned. I find Joyce marvellous but also inaccessible.

    The most difficult book I have read is probably “Erewhon” by Samuel Butler when I studied dystopian fiction. So dense, but so rewarding.

  3. I’ve also felt intimidated by Ulysses, but would love to read it at some point. Glad to hear that most of the intimidation is unfounded!

  4. For me, the most difficult book to read was Three Lives by Gertrude Stein. I loathed that book.

  5. Hey, that was my pick, too! ;O)

  6. […] Guy’s Moleskine Notebook talks about the most challenging book he’s ever read: […]

  7. I’ll add another Gertrude Stein book – Tender Buttons. Has anyone ever attempted this one? You can’t really “read” it because it’s essentially all random words. It was assigned for a class I was in and billed as “experimental” and important. My opinion? It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes of books. Nobody gets it but you have to say that you do because otherwise the other intellectuals won’t think you’re one of them. Let’s be real, people, it’s gibberish. I haven’t tried Ulysses yet, but it’s on my bucket list.

  8. ‘Ulysses’ was one of the free books that came with my Kobo. I tried a couple of times to get into it, but just couldn’t. Maybe I’ll try again, who knows? My pick is here: http://wcs53.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/booking-through-thursday-oct-27/

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