Friday 2 May 2008

Top 5 Books I've Struggled to Read

Friday comes around so quick and yet again I've not managed to get something written ahead of time. I have done a lot of thinking, usually in the shower (though that might be too much information for you) and I've realised that so far, some 46 Top Fives into this project, that I've not done a single book related topic. I read quite a bit, I really enjoy books, and I definitely expected to talk about books when I started this up. However, having decided it was time for me to attempt a book Top 5, I really struggled to come up with a subject I felt I could do justice. Too many authors I've enjoyed but not read enough of, too many books I've read but since forgotten all the details. As book titles flowed through my brain this topic came to the fore. Books I've struggled to finish. These aren't necessarily bad books, some of them I very much enjoyed, they're just stories I found really hard to read.

1. "Desolation Angels" Jack Kerouac - Possibly not the best Kerouac novel to start with I was in my mid-teens when I first attempted to read it. The book is in two quite distinct sections. The first part is based on diaries Kerouac kept as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington State. It's a discourse on his state of mind at the time but has very little action to grab hold of and keep your attention. Kerouac's stream of consciousness style takes some getting used to and, unlike "On The Road" where there is movement and characters to help you along, the first part of "Desolation Angels" just has Jack and the Mountain. This was the first book I had ever completely given up on. I made it about 50 pages in before having to admit defeat. I came back to it a few years ago and, although it still took me a good month to complete, I was determined to finish it. The second section "Passing Through" is more standard Kerouac fare and left me ready for more. A tough book to complete but worth the effort.

2. "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" Thomas Hardy - I can't think of a book that I have enjoyed less than this. Effectively it ended my chances of successfully passing (or even completing) my English A-Level. It was a story that said nothing to me and completely failed to fire my imagination in any direction. As I stumbled my way through the first few months of my course I got away with reading a chapter ahead of our class wherever I could, eventually, having been caught out by my teacher, I did sit down and read the whole book. It didn't help, I didn't understand it at all and was never going to be able to put enough effort into analysing a text I had no interest in. It's put me off Hardy for life though maybe at some point I should go back and try another book. For now that's still very unlikely.

3. "The Silmarillion" J.R.R. Tolkein - Without going into too much detail regarding my prog-loving past it's fairly obvious which band made me want to read this book. I'd read "The Lord of The Rings", which is a good story though one that could definitely benefit from a little editing, and was keen to read more of the same. "The Silmarillion" is a different kettle of Orcs however. A collection of Tolkein's draft narratives, compiled and completed by his son, explaining the pre-history of Middle-Earth building up to the time just before LOTR. I enjoyed it in the main but it's a complex book consisting of many characters with long names, many passages that list or explain family trees and other sections in elvish or rhyme.

4. "Scenes of Clerical Life" George Eliot - I picked this up in an attempt to expand my knowledge of classic literature. It was a random choice, Eliot was an author I'd not read before and this was her first published work. Maybe not the best reason to choose a book. With a little bit of thought I might have gone for "Middlemarch" or "Silas Marner" instead. With a bit more thought I might have skipped Elliot altogether and gone for an author I actually liked. I ploughed on regardless, it wasn't a difficult book to read per-say, just very very dull. I think I actually took longer to read this than I did to read "Lord of the Rings", which must make this the slowest book I've ever read.

5. "Catch 22" Joseph Heller - This is one of those books I feel I might not be clever enough to really appreciate. Having taped the film off the telly I decided I'd read the book first but found it hard going. It's not a book you can easily dip in and out of, with many narratives retold from different points of view, but I did eventually get into the flow. Having finished the novel I hoped the film might help pull together my understanding of the deeper themes. It turned out to be messier and more confusing than the book.


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