Every Tuesday, The Broke and the Bookish blog posts a new Top Ten list and invites its users to participate. This week’s Top Ten is “Top Ten Most Intimidating Books.”
1. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is arguably the most challenging, erudite book ever written in the English language with no clear sense of plot and a perplexing, dreamlike, stream-of-conscious writing style that is as beautiful and poetic as it is impenetrable. Here is a short excerpt to give you a sense of the writing and why I consistent place Finnegans Wake at the top of most intimidating books: “What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishygods! Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh! Where the Baddelaries partisans are still out to mathmaster Malachus Micgranes and the Verdons catapelting the camibalistics out of the Whoyteboyce of Hoodie Head. Assiegates and boomeringstroms. Sod’s brood, be me fear! Sanglorians, save! Arms apeal with larms, appalling. Killykillkilly: a toll, a toll.”
2. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
Also known as In Search of Lost Time, Proust’s seven-volume novel about memory, society, and sexual jealousy is renowned for being the longest novel ever written, totaling over 4,000 pages and 1.2 million words. In addition to being long, Proust’s masterpiece is not a particularly light, easy read, as the writing is obsessively detailed.
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Although much easier to read than the previous two titles, War and Peace is intimidating primarily because of its length, which is nearly 1,500 pages.
4. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow is one of two books on this list that I’ve actually had a chance to read, and having read it, I must say that I am still intimidated by it. Pynchon’s books are known for being difficult, with Gravity’s Rainbow easily being the most challenging work in his oeuvre.
5. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Like Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace is known for writing intimidating, difficult, and nearly incomprehensible books that really challenge readers. Infinite Jest is especially intimidating; not only is it a massive 1,104 page paperback book that is capable of braining a small human being, but its nonlinear plot and lengthy end notes tend to scare even the most seasoned readers.
6. Building Stories by Chris Ware
If you are wondering why I included a graphic novel on a list of most intimidating books, it is entirely possible that you haven’t seen Chris Ware’s Building Stories. This “graphic novel” comes packaged in a whopping six pound box and consists of 14 works that can be read in any order, so the burden of figuring out how to read Building Stories largely rests on the shoulders of each individual reader.
7. Miss MacIntosh, My Darling by Marguerite Young
Yet another giant of a novel makes the list, this one being nearly 1,200 pages long and typically presented in a two-volume format. Although perhaps not as well known as the other titles on this list, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling has been compared favorably to such modernist masterpieces as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. In Young’s own words, the novel is, “an exploration of the illusions, hallucinations, errors of judgement in individual lives, the central scene in the novel being an opium addict’s paradise.”
8. Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes
Terra Nostra is perhaps Carlos Fuentes’s most ambitious (and thickest) novel, as it unpredictably shifts back and forth through time to explore the entire history of Hispanic civilization.
9. Rising Up and Rising Down by William T. Vollmann
Just to be clear, I do not mean the significantly abridged, 752-page edition, but the complete 3,298-page, seven-volume set. Rising Up and Rising Down is Vollmann’s unflinching and painstakingly comprehensive exploration of violence. Not for the faint of heart.
10. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Foucault’s Pendulum is the second book on the list that I have read, and while it may be one of the shorter books listed, it is a labyrinthine novel with more conspiracies, secret societies, and esoteric references than you could ever hope to find in a Dan Brown thriller.