My More Difficult Reads – To Date

The other day, with my post on The Brothers Karamazov being a difficult but satisfying read, it got me to thinking about some of the more difficult books I’ve read over the course of the last couple of years.  So this wonderful Sunday morning, I thought I’d go ahead and discuss further some of my more difficult reads.

The first question being, why read difficult books?  I know I’ve addressed it a little bit in two different posts in January, Does Reading Marx Make One A Marxist?, and My Marx Reading Project – Why? Which, if you haven’t taken a look at, please do!

I find myself reading these books because I enjoy really having to think at times when I’m reading.  And partly, it’s because some of the books published these days are so skin deep and don’t require much thinking at all.  Some Tom Clancy and John Grisham titles come to mind immediately when I’m thinking of those types of books.  That’s not to say these books aren’t fun to read, or aren’t good, they just don’t stretch the limits of plot, character, and substance.

So without further adieu, here are, in no particular order, a selection of some of the more difficult books I’ve read in the past few years…

  • The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.  When I really started getting into the classics a little more than two and a half years ago, I picked this particular book up because I love history, and I didn’t know very much about ancient Greek history.  That changed with me reading this book.  There are two reasons why I found this book to be difficult to read.  The first being, the writing style/translation.  That took quite a bit of time to get used to, almost half the book to be exact.  I had to go back and read numerous passages again to ensure that I was getting exactly what was being said.  The second factor was being unfamiliar with some of the key people and prior events that caused the beginning of the war.  Something tells me I should’ve read Histories by Herodotus.  However, I did learn a lot from reading this book, and it is quite difficult to read.
  • Grundrisse by Karl Marx.  I don’t think I really need to go into too much detail here.  I’ve made numerous posts here about the book.  However, you can read my thoughts here.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  I read this book shortly after completing The History of the Peloponnesian War.  Part of the reason this book was difficult was trying to keep all the family names straight.  Especially after various women in the book got married.  Also, there were times where it was difficult to keep up with the plot.  But once I got the names all figured out, I came to find out how wonderful a story War and Peace truly is.  Yes, it’s one of the more difficult books I’ve ever read, but I’ve also found it to be the most enjoyable.  War and Peace is one of those difficult reads that I would definitely pick up again and read critically with a book group.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I spoke about this book in my post here.
  • Last, but not least, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.  I completed The Inferno before I started Beltwayliterature in January 2010.  It is, by far, probably more difficult to read than War and Peace.  It’s more difficult because of references to ancient Greek literature and characters.  It’s also very difficult because you need to have a strong understanding of Italian history, especially during Dante’s time.  Is The Divine Comedy religious, you bet it is.  Is The Inferno the most difficult of the canticles?  I’m torn between that one and The ParadisoThe Purgatorio was definitely the easiest to understand, but not by very much.  Beltwayliterature started with me writing about The Purgatorio and The Paradiso.  Most of the posts deal with The Purgatorio, but you can find my final thoughts on that canticle here.  You should also be able to easily find the multitude of other posts on this canticle using the search feature, or by taking a look at my archives from January and February 2010.  You can find my final thoughts on The Paradiso here.

Have you read any of my difficult reads?  Do you like to read difficult books?  Please leave me a note.  I’d love to discuss some of them with you!


About Jeremy

Husband, book lover, Civil War Buff. If I could read for a living I would, but unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills!

11 Responses to “My More Difficult Reads – To Date”

  1. I’m tempted to answer no and no, and leave at that, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll say no and yes. I actually want to read The Brothers Karamazov, but just haven’t found the time to really settle in and read it. Up until recently, I had a copy of The Divine Comedy on my shelf, but then I realized I’m probably not going to get to it so I gave it to our local library for its book sale. Maybe someone else will get something out of it.

    • I’ve read quite a few difficult books in the last several years. I’ve pretty much decided that once I finish Capital, that I’m going to do my best to take a break from some of the more difficult tomes I’ve been reading. Read some easier stuff and all that.

      The Brothers Karamazov is really good. There’s some philosophy mixed in with it, but deep down, as is most Dostoevsky, it’s pretty dark. The Grand Inquisitor and The Devil chapters are probably the best chapters to read in the book; and they do make you think and wonder.

      Regarding The Divine Comedy, you definitely need to be in the mood to read that particular epic. To this day, I still can’t believe I read it, as I really despise reading poetry. It has never caught my interest, nor do I think it ever will.

  2. I picked up Paradise Lost last year because I thought, this is just something I really should have read. But I just couldn’t do it. Kudos for the Marx project. I had to slog through Capital in graduate school.

    • When I was at GW working on my bachelor’s, we read some selections of Paradise Lost in my British literature course. I found what we read to be quite difficult to get through. Not quite sure if that was a combination of having hundreds of other pages to read at the same time (being a history major and all), or it truly was difficult.

      I’ve been debating over the last year or so whether I should pick it up and read it. Every time I’m at Barnes and Noble thumbing through their classics, for some reason or another, I come across it, pick it up, read the back of the book, and then put it back down, tempted, but ultimately deciding not to get it.

      Eventually, I know I’m going to want to tackle it, just don’t know if I have the motivation to tackle it.

      I’ve reached kind of a rut with Capital. I definitely want to get through it, and I’m hoping to get back on track with it this weekend, especially with tomorrow being an off day for me.

  3. I do enjoy stretching a bit…but I like to mix things up, with light ones in between.

    I’ve read both The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace, but it’s been awhile. Nowadays, my stretched reading are books by Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, etc.


  4. I haven’t read any of your difficult reads — have attempted WAR AND PEACE twice, but have yet to complete it. I really think I need a class/group to read along with some of these chunksters.

    • I can definitely see why War and Peace would be difficult to sit through. There were parts of it that I found difficult to trudge through. Yeah, I’d like to see more in person book groups than a lot of the online ones on sites such as Shelfari. I’m more of the type of person that would like to talk in person, as opposed on a message board, especially for books such as these.

      Unfortunately, I don’t see too many reading groups around here that don’t meet during the workday.

  5. Have you read The Sound and the Fury yet? Difficult!! But very, very good.

    I haven’t read Joyce’s Ulysses, but I’m thinking that one will be my most difficult read. Maybe Chaucer and Sophocles and Plato, too, and Faust?

    • No, I haven’t read The Sound of Fury yet, nor Ulysses. Ulysses is definitely on my list to read at some point. I haven’t read any Chaucer or Sophocles, but I have read Plato’s Republic. If you’re looking at reading Homer, I really did enjoy The Iliad. I couldn’t bring myself to task to read Odyssey though. Had to stop after about 20 pages. I hope to pick it up again at some point in the future.


  1. Feburary 2011 In Review | Beltwayliterature - February 28, 2011

    […] Aside from my writing on Capital, I’ve also managed to write about many other reading related items.  I talked about social networking and books, the fascination with vampire books, and my more difficult reads to date. […]

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