Last week, Emily Colette Wilkinson & Garth Risk Hallberg of the “Difficult Books” series over at The Millions selected ten of the hardest of the hard tomes for Publisher’s Weekly. Two were works of philosophy, but here are their picks for fiction:
1. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
I’d never heard of Djuna Barnes until earlier this week, when I read a piece over at BookRiot on women writers as bad ass or more so than Hemingway. According to Scott Beauchamp, “Nightwood, Barnes’ best novel, has the distinction of being the only lesbian-themed Modernist gem to garner praise, and an introduction, from arch-conservative T.S. Eliot. Before writing it, Barnes was born in a log cabin, raped as a teen, and lived as a Bohemian journalist in Greenwich Village. She was ahead of her time in just about every way possible, even pioneering the kind of New Journalism that wouldn’t catch fire until mid-century. A poet, novelist, playwright, and illustrator, Barnes exemplified both the glory and isolation that come with being a perpetual outsider. Hemingway wouldn’t have known what to make of her.” I’m intrigued!
2. Women and Men by Joseph McElroy
Apparently, this is a postmodern mega novel on par in terms of complexity with Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.
3. A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
A religious satire. Allegory. Written in the late 1600s. All things that scream “find a copy with an awesome introduction and some thorough footnotes!”
4. Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
According to Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt) this is the longest real novel in the English language. I still haven’t finished Infinite Jest and I LOVE me some DFW. So check in with me when I’m 40 and I’ll let you know my thoughts…
5. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I just finished Mrs. Dalloway, and I’ve really enjoyed my time with Woolf so far! This reminds me of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but was a far more enjoyable reading experience. Bring it on!
6. The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser
An incomplete epic poem? Sign me up?
7. The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein
An epic chronology of a two fictional families interspersed with insights on the writing process itself. Let’s do this.
8. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce
Oh Joyce. You are not my favorite. And he actually made up a language from other languages to write this book. Probably the only book on the list I can’t imagine every willfully picking up.
Now, I’m one of those really obnoxious people who takes pride in doing the intellectually challenging, and doing it well. Lists like these do nothing to deter me. In fact, I read them like personal challenges. So the gauntlet has been thrown down. To the Lighthouse and Nightwood are both now on my holds list.