When I look back over my reading history, there are always some books that stand out as having been difficult – usually because of the length, but sometimes because of the content (or a combo of both) – and that I’m particularly proud to have completed. Often these books are also ones that have had a deep impact on my view of the world or have stood out as having been particularly well written and affecting. Here are some of the ones that come most quickly to mind:
A Little Princess was the very first chapter book I ever read. I struggled a lot to get through it and would have given up several times if it weren’t for school, but near the end I finally found my stride and was able to be taken over by the story rather than struggling with the words. And so began a lifelong love affair.
When I was around 11 or so my parents wanted me to read more variety, so they had me pick a book a month that was outside of my normal reading that I had to finish. I picked The Edible Woman. In retrospect I was far too young for it, so that in conjunction with the writing style being intended for adult audiences just made it a slog. I am interested to read this again now, however, because I think I’m now at the stage of life where I’d actually be able to relate to the main character and get the humour and content.
I picked up A Prayer for Owen Meany when I was about 16, during my first year at boarding school. It was really hard to get through – it’s quite long and not the fastest-paced book – but again, by the time I got to the end of this I was completely hooked, and I went on to read The World According to Garp, A Son of the Circus and Cider House Rules in quick succession. I don’t remember this book well, but I remember it having a huge impact on my worldview, and I have fond memories of the context in which I read it, so thinking of it always evokes those memories as well. Definitely an all-time favourite.
The Lord of the Rings is just LONG. The world building is fantastic, the characters are wonderful and the overarching plot is great, but man does it drag in places. It took me a few tries to finally get through it, which I did on a trip to England when I was about 22, and in the end I was glad I had managed to get through it.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is another book it took me a few tries to get through. I originally bought it when I was in Germany because it was one of the only books I found in English. But it took me several years to finally read it. In no small part because there are so many characters, and so many of them have similar (or the same) names. Seriously, there are 17+ Aurelianos if memory serves. And I think they’re siblings. Or half siblings. I don’t really remember, but trust me, it’s very confusing. I also hadn’t read magical realism before, so it took some mental effort to get into it. But when I finally did it was amazing and brilliant and beautiful and colourful. Another author I went on to devour multiple books by.
Cunt is the first book on my list that was hard for me because of the content. I read this when I was in university on the recommendation of one of my Women’s Studies teachers. It was the perfect book at the perfect time. I loved it, but it also opened up an awareness of the world around me that I knew was there, but hadn’t really considered too closely. It’s raw, challenging and full of moments young women will relate to and be angered by. There were moments I had to put the book down because I just couldn’t handle any more. And yet, it stands out as a thoroughly cathartic reading experience, and it’s one I would recommend to any young woman – or any woman – or just any human being.
I was kindly sent a proof of Purity by Random House and was very excited because it was one of the biggest titles of the year. I proceeded to dive into it, and spent what felt like a couple of weeks working my way through it. It wasn’t particularly difficult, but it took mental effort and was very long. It was my first Franzen and in the end I was really glad that I had been given the opportunity to give it a try.
Another book that challenged me in terms of content, God Help the Child was my first Toni Morrison, and I haven’t read another one since. Which sounds like a bad thing, but it’s actually the opposite. Her writing was unlike any I’ve ever read before and packed a very intense emotional wallop. It was an uncomfortable book to read, but also beautiful, fierce and incredibly poignant. It’s one I’d definitely recommend, and when I finally recover (I suspect at least a few more years from now), I will try more of her.
All My Puny Sorrows is by a Canadian author, and is about the relationship between two sisters, one of whom no longer wishes to be alive. So it is obviously not a happy book. But it is beautifully written, and contains moments of lightness and humour even in the midst of very dark circumstances. Toews drew on her own life to some extent in creating this story, which I think is a large part of why it feels so real and true. It’s very hard to read, but at the same time not as hard as it should be. It’s one I still think of often and recommend at any opportunity.
And finally, Americanah. This is the most recent book on the list – I just finished it this summer. I’ve been meaning to read it for years, and was intimidated by its size and that the topic and settings were so far from my own experience (which is, of course, completely ridiculous as that is the very point of reading – to experience things you never will in your own life). But I’d read her two small books on feminism and been so impressed that I finally thought it was time to give it a try. It isn’t my all-time favourite book, but it is one that I learned a lot from, enjoyed, and am very glad to have finally read. It also opened up a wider range of books that I was previously intimidated by but that now feel more approachable. It’s a great read – not perfect, but great. Highly recommend it.
So that’s it for Top Ten Tuesday this week! I’d love to hear which books you struggled with but were glad you stuck with, and if you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share in the comments!
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly link-up feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week TTT has a different topic, and everyone who links up has to create a link of ten items that fit that topic. To see past and upcoming topics, go here.