Thursday, November 11, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: Hard Times?

It's time for another Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase. If your blog features book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion, go ahead and answer the question, grab the button, and hop along!

This week's question:
What is the most difficult literary work you've ever read? What made it so difficult?

My most 'difficult' literary works have been read on my own (too much chemistry and not enough lit in college) and by choice.  I won't shy away from reading a 'difficult' book but, if it doesn't offer a sense of personal satisfaction or enjoyment, I won't hesitate to put it aside either.

What might make a book 'difficult' for me?  Several ideas came to mind:
  • length... can be daunting, but doesn't mean difficult (Bleak House)
  • long, convoluted sentences (Henry James)
  • flowery, long-winded description (Dickens, again)
  • historical setting where my knowledge is a little thin (Les Miserables)
  • language or dialect
  • obscure symbolism
  • novels of 'ideas'
  • magical realism
  • extended passages in verse

Finally, it hit me - stream of consciousness. Novels featuring stream of consciousness have always been difficult for me to follow.  They seem to demand more from the reader.

Earlier this year, as part of Woolf in Winter, I decided to give Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf one more try.  After two previous failures, not only did I make it to the end, but I enjoyed every page! It has even given me the courage to attempt To The Lighthouse this winter.

 My thoughts on reading Mrs. Dalloway are posted here.

Visit The Blue Bookcase for links to other Literary Blog Hop posts.


  1. I'm the opposite. I find it easier to read stream of consciousness. I remember the first time I read Mrs. Dalloway. I fell in love with the writing style.

  2. Mrs. Dalloway. Yes. That's one book, widely considered difficult, that I have read.

    The truth is, though, that I had read The Hours first.

    And saw the Mrs. Dalloway movie.

    Here's my post:

  3. You'll find Mrs. Dalloway easier on a repeated reading, too. Oh, I love To The Lighthouse!

  4. I read Mrs. Dalloway for a college course and, though I found it difficult, I did enjoy it. It's one I'd like to revisit.

    I just finished listening to To the Lighthouse on audio. Listening certainly made it easier for me to follow the stream of consciousness, which I agree can be challenging. I ended up being disappointed with the book, though...go figure!

  5. I just read another blogger's post about Mrs. Dalloway being really difficult! I'm intrigued now and really want to give this one a try.

  6. Very astute list. I'm not too big a fan of flowery description or magical realism, I'd say they make a book difficult for me as well.

  7. Great that you made it through Mrs Dalloway this time. I only tried Jacobs Ladder about a hundred years ago but couldn't get through it at all.

    After that, Woolf was a write-off for me. But reading what you say, maybe I should just try again. I may have quite a different experience this time.

  8. I find stream of consciousness really difficult as well. Same goes for outdated language, that sometimes can be really difficult.

  9. I have read a lot of classics in my school and college years. And some still remain my favorites. However, there are a few I could never get into..

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

  10. I've read a bunch of Woolf's work and I'd like to re-read all of them. I found Mrs. Dalloway difficult, but To The Lighthouse more so. I liked your list and description about what makes a book difficult for you.

  11. *claps hands* I love your list of what makes books hard to read. I agree with all of them. Especially the 'Les Mis'. It's got so much history in it that I had to skip an entire section about Bonaparte (as beautifully written as it was).

    Great to see you've chosen Dalloway too. That makes two of us so far. SoC rocks, but it's hard work. I've got 'To The Lighthouse' but can't seem to get past the first 20 pages.

  12. I find stream of consciousness hard too. I once tried to read "The Golden Notebook" by Doris Lessing, but it was just too much for me. I will try it again one day..

  13. Charlie - I'm a little jealous! Stream of consciousness requires every ounce of brain power I can muster... feels like I can't look away for even a second or I miss something important.

    Readerbuzz - You know, I've never seen the Mrs. Dalloway movie, but I loved The Hours.

    Amy - I do plan to read Mrs. Dalloway again, but after To the Lighthouse.

    Erin - That's a great idea! I'll bet stream of consciousness works well on audio... will give this some serious consideration for To the Lighthouse. Thanks.

    Kelly - When you do try it, choose your time wisely. If you're relaxed and undistracted, it can only help.

    IngridLola - I've pretty much given up on magical realism. Tried twice to get through One Hundred Years of Solitude, but just can't.

  14. Leeswammes - Definitely give Woolf another try. I've heard some people say it might be best to start with A Room of One's Own.

    Willa - Stream of consciousness has always been tough for me. Sometimes it helps to read out loud.

    Gautami - It seems like I'm reading more classics now than I ever did in school... and enjoying them more, too!

    Loni - I've heard that To the Lighthouse is even more difficult than Mrs. Dalloway. Hopefully it won't take me three tries to get through that one!

    Mywordlyobsessions - I almost chose Le Mis as my most difficult book. That took a lot of work for me to get through, too! Glad you enjoyed my list... it helped my thought process to write it all down.

    Sam - I'll admit to being afraid to even try The Golden Notebook!

  15. I totally forgot about stream of consciousness!

    new follower, looking forward to reading more from you :p

  16. I totally avoid these types of books as I feel stupid trying to read them because I get lost easily!

  17. I'm so glad to hear Mrs. Dalloway ended up good. I look forward to reading it, too! :-)

  18. Ye Gods! Personally, I think Mrs. Dalloway is the most accessible of Woolf's fiction; but I struggle mightily with stream-of-consciousness writing. Call me old-fashioned, and I guess I really am, but I need a plot. I beg for a plot. All things being equal, I did enjoy Mrs. Dalloway, but was mystified by To The Lighthouse; just as I am by Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, or the fiction of Thomas Pynchon. It took me a few years, but I am very okay with that. There is so much for me to read outside of that genre.

    Wonderful and provocative posting. Cheers! Chris

  19. It really helps to stick with and repeatedly attempt to read the difficult books. Eventually one makes headway and finds that the book is a joy. Which, of course, Mrs Dalloway is. Loved your response. I also talk about discovering the delights of Beloved after many failed attempts.

  20. Toni - I'm surprised I didn't think of stream of consciousness first. It's definitely my biggest 'difficulty'. Happy to have you as a follower!

    Staci - Mrs. Dalloway made me feel stupid for years. I think finally getting through it was a matter of perfect timing. I found I can deal with stream of consciousness better when I'm stress-free and relaxed (but how often does that happen??)

    Jilian - Good luck with Mrs. Dalloway. Hope you won't need three attempts!

    Christopher - I've heard that Mrs. D is her most accessible novel, and that leaves me even more intimidated by To the Lighthouse. It is on the shelf though, so I'll give it a chance. Like I told Staci, timing seems to be everything with books like this. Pynchon is definitely beyond me! Thanks for your comment.

    Kinna - Maybe there is still hope for me with Beloved... I'll be right over to read your post!

  21. the stream of consciousness novels I love, so will be reading some Woolf in the near future' thanks for the heads up

  22. When you wrote, "too much chemistry, not enough lit" you echoed my sentiments exactly. I love working towards a science degree but sometimes I wish I had taken a few more literature classes!

    I haven't read much stream of consciousness but the little I have attempted was pretty rough. Way to keep trying with Mrs. Dalloway.

    Thank you for stopping by on the hop!

  23. I tried reading Mrs Dalloway once and gave up. I know so many bloggers love it, so I think I might try again. But yes, stream of consciousness novels are hard for me as well!

  24. I'm glad to see that you persevered with Woolf and Mrs Dalloway and got there in the end. I don't think that I'll ever be able to replicate your success. I'm willing to persevere with some authors, Dickens for example. And I have read most of Austen, which I didn't love at first, although I probably do almost love Pride and Prejudice now. I think it's the Stream of Consciousness that's the deal breaker for me. That and Magical Realism. I never do well with that either. And I guess for me, those styles that are so far beyond my comfort zones aren't worth it for me- for the time, the energy, the other books I could be enjoying more instead of pushing on with styles or books that I can't enjoy.

  25. Poor Virginia sure is taking a "shellacking" on this hop! But I'm glad you persevered and ending up loving Mrs. Dalloway. For whatever reason, I've always loved stream-of-consciousness writing, and Faulkner, Morrison and Woolf are three of my favorite writers. I agree with what you say about Henry James--his sentences are so long and snaky! I believe he is a writer worth reading, but his prose can require effort!

  26. Parrish lantern - If you love stream of consciousness, then Woolf will be perfect for you. I'm planing to read To the Lighthouse over the winter.

    Lorren Lemmons - My degree is in pharmacy and I like to say I've taken every chemistry known to man. I suppose I'm trying to make up for lost time now :-)

    Iris - I really think reading Woolf is all about timing. This last time I was finally relaxed, stress-free, and able to let the words just carry me away.

    Rose City Reader - Maybe we should start a SoC support group ;-) I know I'll never read Finnegan's Wake!

    Louise - Stream of consciousness and magical realism are my two biggest struggles. At this point, I need to have a pressing reason for subjecting myself to them - personal goal, book group, etc.... or else it's not worth it.

    Bibliopliliac - LOL, poor Virginia Woolf has had a tough time of it on this hop. Wish I had your appreciation for stream of consciousness. Henry James sentences do require some effort, but I've always found it well spent!

  27. Woolf is hard. I love her, but I can really only read about one book by her per year.

  28. Yes, absolutely agree about stream of consciousness. Glad you were able to prevail on this one--it is such a beautiful book. Have you read The Hours by Michael Cunningham? It's a wonderful modern "companion" novel to Mrs. Dalloway.

  29. Amanda - I think one Woolf book a year is about right. Next year, mine will be To The Lighthouse.

    Trish - I LOVED The Hours and reread it as soon as I finished Mrs. D. Really loved the movie, too!

  30. I like Woolf and enjoyed Mrs Dalloway, but I found The Waves very difficult to read although utterly enjoyable!

  31. Em - I think I'm going to have to work up to The Waves. To the Lighthouse will be the next Woolf novel I attempt.

  32. I agree with all your points -- I couldn't get very far with Mrs. Dalloway either, still sitting on the shelf for another day and time. Les Mis was one of my challenges, but too much a chunkster to fit it in now.

  33. Kim - It's good to see you! Hope all is well. You may get through Mrs. D. at some point but, as I learned, timing seems to be everything. I read Les Mis almost 25 years ago... don't think I could do it again.


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