Monday, July 29, 2013

Top Ten Books That Scare Me The Most



So, I'm about a third of the way through one of the biggest, fattest books on my TBR Challenge List, The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek.  Quite frankly, I'm pretty pleased with myself for tackling it, because it's long, and it's about war, and it's in translation from a former Communist country.  And the coolest thing is that I'm actually enjoying it.  Earlier this year, I made a list of 20 books for a Classics Spin, and one of the categories was "Five Books That Scare Me."  So far this summer, I've read three of the five on the list, and I've actually enjoyed all of them!  (The other two were Lady Chatterley's Lover and Giants in the Earth.)

So it got me thinking that hey, maybe I could work up the nerve to read something that really scares me.  Not books that are scary, necessarily, like horror.  Really, what I mean are books that intimidate me, that I'm afraid to tackle, because they're really long, or sound really depressing, or, quite frankly, I'm afraid I'm not smart enough to understand or appreciate.  Basically, pushing myself.  I'm not a total idiot -- I read Dickens and Zola and Edith Wharton, though I have no desire to ever tackle Ulysses.

So here is a list of books, mostly from my own shelves, which I have not read and which I've been putting off.  Am I right to be scared, or should I put them in the library donation box?

1.  Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.  It's 600 pages of men chasing a whale. Rumor has it the whale doesn't show up for 100 chapters, and it's full of allegory which is not my strong point.  But I have a beautiful Penguin Deluxe Classics copy which was free, so I feel that I should try it sometime.  Plus I like books about sailing, since I live miles from any ocean.

2.  The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  Another Penguin Deluxe Classic that I own.  The cover of this particular edition gives me nightmares.  I'm told by a good friend that it isn't any more gruesome than Germinal, which I loved.

3.  Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  It's 1,232 pages, and there are entire chapters about the Paris sewer system.  I know many people love this book but I find the length daunting.  I bought the Penguin clothbound classic edition because the cover was really pretty.

4.  Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo.  I have a Wordsworth Classic edition which I actually bought at the Notre Dame gift shop. (It still has the price tag on it, in Euros which I find really cool).  Bought after I walked halfway up the 20 gazillion steps and desperately needed a break, because there are no elevators.  The people who work there must have awesome thigh muscles.

5.  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  Bought at a library sale for $1, so if I never read it, I won't feel the loss too badly.  Stream-of-consciousness is not my thing, so I don't know if I'll ever actually read it.

6.  The Invention of Curried Sausage by Uwe Timm.  A very short book, a novella really, but I started reading it and it's set in Germany after WWII, which sounds really depressing.  I bought it at Half-Price Books because it was on that 1000 Books to Read Before You Die list.  I'd never heard of it before that and the title really intrigued me.

7.  The Canterbury Tales by Peter Ackroyd (retold).  Another Penguin Deluxe Classic.  They've been retold into modern English, but anything written before 1800 makes me nervous.

8.  The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.  A guy wakes up and he's turned into a giant bug.  I know it's an allegory, but I really hate bugs.

9.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  (Also The Brothers Karamazov). A long Russian novel about crime.  And punishment.  Seriously, Russian novels scare me.  My last was Doctor Zhivago, not a great experience.

10.  Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.   It's long, it's picaresque, which means it has sort of a meandering plot, and it was published in 1605.  That's enough to scare anybody.

So -- those are the books that scare me the most, at the moment -- this list could change.  Are my fears well founded?  Are these actually awesome books that I will grow to love, and kick myself for waiting so long?  Or should I run screaming in the other direction before I read them?

Inquiring minds want to know.

22 comments:

  1. I think the idea of making a list of intimidating books is great! If I were to make one, Joyce's 'Ulysses' would inevitably be at the top.
    I think by stalling 'To The Lighthouse' you're missing out on a piece of gem. I read the book first as a precocious kid in school, and then returned to it time and again through the five years of university. Virginia Woolf's impressionistic style is, as usual, quite some thing. Besides that, the affairs of the Ramsay family as time passes makes for a beautiful read.
    I hate bugs too. And the exoskeleton of Kafka's bug haunted me for quite some time after reading it, but it's worth a try. It's so slim any way, and you can always abandon it after the first few pages.
    I took a test on 'Moby Dick'! But I will never ever return to that book again. I'd much rather watch Gregory Peck as Ahab.
    And I completely agree with your view on 'Doctor Zhivago'. I had curled up with the book and some chocolates on a winter afternoon while in college, but I couldn't go beyond the first fifteen pages. I don't know what went wrong, especially considering that I love the film with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. I think I ought to give Pasternak another try.

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    1. I read Doctor Zhivago a few years ago for a real-life classics book group, and I did finish the whole thing. Not much payoff, however. Maybe this is one of those books best read in a class, because I just didn't get how great it was supposed to be.

      Maybe I should watch the Gregory Peck version of Moby Dick --I've never seen any of the movies based on Moby Dick. Also Patrick Stewart played Ahab, so that's worth looking for.

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  2. I'm about 350 pages into Les Miserables and it's a lot more interesting than I expected! One bonus is that the chapters are really short, so it's an easy book to read for a few minutes before bed. That way, you make daily progress without feeling overwhelmed by the length. Yes, there are long digressions, but those are easy to skim, and surprisingly, I found myself actually enjoying the 50 page or so digression about the battle of Waterloo.

    I admire your willingness to push yourself! Some of these books are also on my to-read shelf (Moby Dick and To the Lighthouse) and I too have been avoiding them! Perhaps you'll give me the push I need to give them a try.

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    1. I've met many people who love Les Miserables, I think it's just the length. Short chapters do make it easier to digest. Of course reading it in bed could be dangerous, I might fall asleep and hit myself on the head with it!

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    2. I actually did fall asleep reading it once! Didn't hit myself though; I often lay sideways and prop the book on something because I dislike holding books with two hands, and this one is hefty enough that I'd have to. Have you ever actually fallen asleep while reading and hit your head with your book? Pity osmosis doesn't really work!

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    3. I haven't hit myself on the head with a book, but they've dropped to the floor and the covers have gotten all bent up, which I hate. My copy is a really nice Penguin Clothbound and I'm almost afraid to read it, since I might mess it up!

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  3. I can't say if you'll like Metamorphosis, but it really doesn't spend much time talking about the bug-ness of it. He really still feels, thinks, and acts like a man throughout. It's a short read, and very engaging, and interesting.

    As for Les Mis - I just listened to the Julie Rose audio version of it over two months, and it was fantastic, one of the best books I've read this year. I don't know if I would have made it through in print, and there were definitely sections that bored me (though they weren't the tangents about nunneries and sewers - those were fascinating in a way I wouldn't have expected - the parts that bored me were the parts dealing with the idealist kids that want to start the next revolution - politics bore me most of the time). I do think you'd like the book, and the audio production of the Julie Rose translation is fantastic. Jason has read multiple translations and says that one is by far the best, and I know reviewers familiar with the original French say the same thing.

    I haven't read much else from your list. Don Quixote made me want to strangle someone, and I read To the Lighthouse when I was way too young to understand it, so I want to revisit one day. That's about it...

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    1. I remember Don Quixote was not a hit with the book group! I've heard the second half is better. I do think audiobooks make some books easier -- I've read several Dickens works that I would never have tried that way -- Barnaby Rudge sounded really dire but the audiobook reader was fantastic and I got really hooked on the story, despite the fact that it is probably Dickens' least popular work.

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  4. Good for you for facing your fears. I tend to hide books that scare me on my read shelves as opposed to my TBR shelves...which is where The Jungle sits. However, I often find, as you are with The Good Soldier Svejik, that these books are actually quite enjoyable. That said, I read To the Lighthouse and am convinced the Woolf and I will never be good friends.

    I tried Don Quixote earlier this year, and couldn't get past the first couple of chapters. Moby Dick, I liked!

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    1. I've only read two books so far by Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway which I found really slow, and Flush which is about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her cocker spaniel. It was okay. I saw the movie version of Orlando and loved it, so I'm tempted to read that someday.

      People seem to either love or hate Moby Dick, so I'm tentatively putting it on my TBR Pile Challenge list for next year!

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  5. I wasn't keen on To the Lighthouse either and it has put me off reading any more by Woolf for a while. On the other hand - I found Don Quixote to be a laugh! Moby Dick I dread though, maybe I should give it a go.

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    1. Some people say that Don Quixote is really funny, and I've enjoyed Svejk so far (in small doses). I may yet read it someday, who knows?

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  6. I can heartily recommend The Canterbury Tales, and if you're planning on doing a read along, I'm in! I would love to read it again as an adult.

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    1. Hmmm, a Canterbury Tales readalong. . . that has possibilities. I still have to read an 18th Century (or earlier) book for the Back to the Classics Challenge (and a Russian!). I was thinking about Les Liaisons Dangereuses but maybe I should try the Canterbury Tales since I own a copy.

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  7. You have my favorite books on this list! I love Crime and Punishment. I really enjoyed Les Mis, and I've read Moby Dick twice now. They are work but so worth it. Others aren't so scary. Hunchback of Notre-Dame is blah but not a hard read. Same with Metamorphosis -- it's nice and short too! I will say that I also am afraid of the Jungle. I do hope you try some of these, as they are well worth the effort required. Best of luck!

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    1. I think it's really the cover of The Jungle that scares me the most. I just finished a really disturbing nonfiction book about women in WWII concentration camps -- can't think of anything worse than Auschwitz. But I think I may actually tackle Moby Dick or Les Mis next year, or maybe even this year -- I'm doing really well on all my challenges.

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  8. Don Quixote scares me too! Moby Dick was actually doable.

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    1. I keep hearing good things about Moby Dick so I should really just get over it and read a few chapters. There's also a couple of audiobook versions at my library which might help.

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  9. I haven't read anything on your list, but when I saw the title of your post, Moby Dick was the first book that came to mind. And I've had a copy of The Canterbury Tales on my TBR shelves for years.

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    1. I'm starting to get tempted by The Canterbury Tales now -- I still need a pre-19 century book for my Back to the Classics Challenge. And if I hate it I can just read a play by Shakespeare instead.

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  10. I love the idea of this list. You have a few on here that "scare" me too, e.g. Crime and Punishment. But there are a few here that I have read, and here's my input on those books.

    Moby Dick: Okay, I haven't finished this book but I do intend to finish it at some point (I got bogged down with reading it around the same time that my job situation changed and the stress was too much). I was only about 30 chapters into it but what I read, I did enjoy. The thing no one ever talks about which would make this book more bearable (if it's carried all the way through) is that certain parts - the situations the narrator gets himself into, the commentary, etc. - are actually quite humorous. One resource I found helpful (and which I plan on picking up again when I return to the book) is the Moby Dick Big Read project/podcast (http://www.mobydickbigread.com/). It's nice to hear the difficult chapters read out loud, particularly with different voices. I also found a blogger's daily thoughts on the chapters helpful (start here: http://ahistoryofnewyork.com/tag/moby-dick/page/10/).

    Les Miserables: I really liked this book but you're right, Hugo *loves* tangents. I seem to recall him spending 70+ pages describing the Battle of Waterloo with no relation whatsoever to any of his storylines. That was a slog. But I think chapters like that you can safely skip. Also, maybe I'm a glutton for long books, but it's kind of fun to tell people that you read a book that's over 1,000 pages. The respect you gain is immeasurable. ;)

    The Metamorphosis: I read this in high school for fun. I hate large bugs too, and that part did creep me out. But if I recall correctly, most of the buggy descriptions are in the beginning. I'm not sure if I would recommend this now. I haven't reread it but a friend of mine did and she said that with the added perspective of adulthood, it's really depressing.

    The Jungle: I haven't read Germinal, though it's on my TBR shelf. But the most gruesome descriptions in Sinclair's book are those about the meatpacking industry. I had to read this in high school, and I think most of my friends became vegetarians for a few months while we were discussing it. If you can stomach descriptions about the lack of standards as to butchering and the factories, you should be okay.

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  11. I feel the same thing about Woolf's To the Lighthouse. A few months ago, when I know of some friends reading Woolf, I thought I committed a crime not reading her works. Stream of consciousness is not just my kind of thing. Thanks for sharing.

    Nancy (www.nancycudis.com)

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