(original feature of The Broke and the Bookish)
There are a number of reasons we’re afraid to approach certain books.
- The movie was so awesome, will the book hold up (Book lover rule #1- the book is always better).
- My friend loved it there’s no way it’s as good as he says and then I'll have to uncomfortably pretend I love it as well in order to spare his delicate feelings
- The title literally translates to “Miserable People.”
- 1500 pages?? So this is what people did before Netflix...
Of course, intimidating books have their benefits
- You look smart reading it in public
- You build up your arm muscles toting around those heavy tomes
- These are classics for a reason; they are enduring stories of humanity
- In more cases than not, it’s not intimidating once you get reading
Here are some of my favorite books that I was once too intimidated to read:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin- The Book that Sparked a War
My first intimidating read- put on the list when I was 12. I finally got around to it 10 years later and was surprised at how accessible it was. Although rife with condescension and backhanded racism, the little glimpses into minor characters’ lives were the parts that really hit me hard (I’m looking at you, Hagar and Emmeline).
Tess of the D’Urbervilles- A girl on her own & doing her best
Don’t read this book for the plot, because I will tell you now that nothing good happens to Tess. Read it for the poetic descriptions of the pastoral landscapes, the chilling thoughts Hardy puts into Tess’s head, and Hardy’s surprisingly refreshing and advanced viewpoint on women and sex.
Anna Karenina- People are people, not perfect
All Russian novels are intimidating to me. Too many names, too many subplots, and a history that I don’t have much knowledge about outside of the animated Anastasia movie (you know you love it, too). I’m glad I read this one, though I might not read it again. Unfortunately I liked Anna less and less as the novel went on.
Count of Monte Cristo- Revenge never tasted so sweet- or required so much patience.
I adore this movie. It might have something to do with my attraction to Jim Caviezel and his ice blue eyes. This is a book of epic proportions- sword fights! Thieves! Stolen love! Mistaken identity! God complex! And more twists and relationships than you can chart (I know, I tried). If you like back stories and tangents, this is the book for you!
Gone With the Wind- Haters Gonna Hate
My name is Kate and I was a Scarlett O’Hara hater. I saw the movie when I was in junior high and I could not stand Scarlett. So selfish, so disingenuous. I just finished the book this week and let me tell you- this is not a book, this is an experience, and it is fantastic. Scarlett is not a “good person” but by golly I can respect her gumption. She is a survivor. She is unapologetic about doing what she’s got to do. I respect that. Marketed as a romance, I was most moved by the love story at the heart of this novel: the tumultuous friendship between Melanie and Scarlett.
Les Miserables- French Revolution, But not the big famous one, a little later one you thought you didn't know anything about
Before the movie, before the musical, we had this big ass book. A surprisingly humorous story, despite the title. If you had a minor (okay, major) crush on Marius the way I did, this book will only magnify those feelings. Also, a thorough history of the Paris sewer system. Thanks for that, Victor.
*A note on abridgment: In my opinion, don’t do it. Read the book the way it was written to be read! If I read the abridgment, I would never have met my favorite character- the Bishop who barely is mentioned in the edited version.
** P.S. For you Eponine sympathizers, you come to know in the novel that she’s only 13. No wonder it didn't work out with her and Marius.
Great Expectations- The danger of assumptions
Dickens was paid by the word. This explains a lot. He can’t be beat by his vibrant personalities, though, and the perfectly crafted character names. I neglected this book for so long because despite the title, I didn't have high expectations. It sounded dry. It was finally the most recent BBC adaptation that inspired me to give it a read. I really liked how they tackled Estella and why she was the way she was- as someone who rejected Pip as a way to protect him from her, not from heartlessness. My expectations were surpassed. And as usual, the minor old man character became my favorite character (this character’s The Aged One).
Catch-22- First 453 pages: None of this makes sense Last 10 pages: OMG IT ALL MAKES SENSE
This is in my top 5 favorite books of all time and the most well-crafted book I have ever read. I don’t even know how to describe it, I love it so much. Here’s my attempt: Following a WWII pilot, Yossarian during his stationing in Italy, this is an irreverent look at war and the military. If you tried to give this novel a go but dropped it because it was just too confusing, don’t give up hope. The story line is a-linear, which is the beauty of Heller's writing. A plot point that makes no sense on page 5 is explained on page 105 and by the end, in a sudden burst, it all makes sense. The sanity in insanity, and the insanity of sanity.
Grapes of Wrath- Wherever there’s a book to read, I’ll be there
So many books with so many unhappy titles. My problem with Steinbeck is that I love his stories, but I don’t love his storytelling. This is the story of the Joad family as they travel across the country during the depression to become migrant farmers. It’s gritty, it’s heartbreaking, it’s real. That’s what I like about Steinbeck.
The Inferno- The original burn book
Dante makes so many references to the pop culture of his day, it’s best to read annotated so you can appreciate how clever he is. He is known for putting his personal enemies in Hell, for caling out politicians and celebrities of the day and punishing them- in his writings at least- for their sins, seeing that the punishment always fits the crime.
I've got a lot of “read it so you can brag about it” intimidating books left on my shelf. Upcoming for me: East of Eden, War and Peace, Brothers Karamazov, Dracula, Crime and Punishment, The Trial, and The Plague. Anyone read these? Are they worth the effort? What’s on your list of intimidating reads you have either conquered or are waiting for you on your shelf?