I ran across this list of 50 incredibly tough books for extreme readers on the Internet the other day. I’ve only read two of them all the way through but we own 15 of them here the MoHi library. If you’re up for a challenge, try one of these tricky tomes (book description are from the website noted above):
The gulag archipelago by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (365.45 Sol) — Oof. This novel is based on the author’s own experiences as a prisoner in a gulag labor camp. You may think the reading is tough, but you probably shouldn’t be complaining.
The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (821 Chaucer; 821.17 C496c) — You know who was a pretty tough, kick-ass broad? The Wife of Bath. You know who else? Anybody who reads her tale, particularly in the original Middle English.
The divine comedy by Dante Alighieri (851 Dante) — Well, clearly this list couldn’t end without at least one more epic poem in there, this one written sometime in the early 1300s. If you’re reading this famous journey through the circles of hell just for funsies, you’re probably pretty much a badass.
Heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad (FIC Conrad) — Unlike many others on this list, Heart of Darkness is slim enough to fit in your coat pocket. But it’s dense, and as thick and sticky as the jungle, and many describe it as being nigh impenetrable without a knife to hack with. If you can do it with your bare hands, that’s when you know you’re tough. If not, well… The horror! The horror!
The sound and the fury by William Faulkner (FIC Faulkner) — Yes, it’s a classic, but it’s also a confusing one, packed with stream-of-consciousness narration that keeps changing place, time, and narrators on you. Fun fact: originally, Faulkner intended to use different-colored inks to signify the different temporal spaces, so readers armed only with the black-and-white paperback (i.e., everyone) are attempting a complex trip without the map.
A shorter Finnegans wake by James Joyce (FIC Joyce) — If you can make sense out of Joyce’s famously incomprehensible novel, you must have a reading mind of steel. If you can get through it without making sense of it, that’s a whole different kind of tough altogether.
The castle by Franz Kafka (FIC Kafka) — It takes a tough reader to deal with the endless alienation and isolation that is Kafka, and his final, unfinished novel is possibly the
most alienating and isolating of all his works. That said, it’s pretty wonderful. Also of note and not heralded often enough: his short story “In the Penal Colony,” this writer’s favorite. Check it out.
Pet sematary by Stephen King (FIC King) — Dead things should usually stay dead. For those too tough to hide their books in the freezer before they go to sleep (or tough enough to admit to doing it).
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (FIC Melville) — There’s only so much discussion of whaling techniques and classifications that most readers can take. To those who sail through these chapters, the rest of the reading world salutes you.
Sophie’s choice by William Styron (FIC Styron) — Do you know what’s tough? Choices. Also, reading this book without crying.
Battle royale by Koushun Takami (FIC Takami) — You need to be almost as tough to finish this book as you would have had to be to get out of its twisted battle arena alive. Almost. No points for watching the movie.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (FIC Tolkien) — For those who thought The Lord of the Rings was too short and didn’t have enough background into the world, we salute you.
War and peace by Leo Tolstoy (FIC Tolstoy) — The gold standard in long, dense, and Russian.
Johnny got his gun by Dalton Trumbo (FIC Trumbo) — A World War I soldier wakes up in a hospital bed having lost all of his limbs and facial features, trapped in what’s left of his body, unable to move or, at first, communicate, or even kill himself. If you can live with him for 250 pages, and then the rest of your life, which is how long you’ll spend thinking about this book, you deserve a medal.
by Virginia Woolf (FIC Woolf) — Another notoriously difficult classic, Woolf’s landmark of modernism and stream-of-consciousness not only examines the world but the way in which we perceive the world. And only the tough examine their own consciousness.