Difficult Books

June 29, 2010

Difficult Books: Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany 25

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Though Dhalgren sold a million copies as science-fiction, it seems at many points no more distant from our own reality than that other trippy whopper from the mid-’70s, Gravity’s Rainbow. For Bellona, read Detroit.

January 28, 2010

Difficult Books: Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov 15

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Ada is “about” incest only in the way that Lolita is “about” pedophilia, or Moby-Dick is “about” fishing. Which is to say, it isn’t.

December 29, 2009

Difficult Books: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf 5

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Woolf’s writing can feel disconcerting, confusing, and frustrating; It can also seem numinous, exquisite, utterly absorbing.

November 12, 2009

Difficult Books: The Cantos, The Dream Songs, The Sonnets 9

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Sometimes a Difficult Book is more swimming pool than jigsaw puzzle. Rather than trying to solve it, we do better just to jump in.

November 2, 2009

Difficult Books: Richardson, Sterne, Melville 15

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Clarissa‘s difficulty lies almost exclusively in its length. Tristram Shandy is a post-modern classic before there was any modernism to be post- about. In Moby Dick, a mix of novelistic narration and plot, reverie and essay, quasi-scientific treatise, monologues and dialogues, technical descriptions, a miscellany of quotations.

October 29, 2009

Difficult Books: Burton, Milton, Swift 4

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The Anatomy of Melancholy is “a rhapsody of rags.” Paradise Lost can be Yoda-ish, only more complex. With A Tale of a Tub, the reader is sucked down by the ferocious energy of the satire.

October 29, 2009

Introducing Difficult Books, A Descriptive List 65

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This post inaugurates a new Millions series devoted to identifying and describing these most difficult books: ones we’ve read/wrangled with ourselves, ones we’ve known students to struggle with time and again, ones that, more simply, “everyone knows” are hard to read.