Monday, 06 August 2012

The world's most difficult books? The Guardian responds to the Million's list of the most difficult books, and to be frank, the results are underwhelming. Here is what the Millions managed: Nightwood, Djuna Barnes A Tale of a Tub, Jonathan Swift The Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf Clarissa, Samuel Richardson Finnegans Wake, James Joyce Being and Time, Martin Heidegger The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser The Making of Americans, Gertrude Stein Women and Men, Joseph McElroy Granted, like all lists, this one is shit. Its flaws include, but aren't limited to the fact that it has a size fetish, the fictional works are entirely in English, and the philosophical works are philosophical works and so why should they count? I'd scratch Being and Time and The Phenomenology of the Spirit off on that account, and add The Guardian's suggested amendments: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. But the amended list is still problematic, because I'm not sure anyone finds To The Lighthouse a difficult read, and Women and Men is only difficult inasmuch as it's been out-of-print for so long a paperback copy will cost you $180. McElroy's Plus is a far more difficult novel, because it's narrated from the perspective of an ornery satellite. (And it'll only run you $187.90.) Maybe it's because of my unusual graduate school career path, but of the novels listed only The Making of Americans, Nightwood, Finnegans Wake and Gravity's Rainbow seem to me to be genuinely difficult novels. Except they're not really that difficult for the people who read them, because the people who read densely poetic world-building novels do so because enjoy doing so. I know that Gravity's Rainbow isn't for everyone, but there's a subset of the reading population for whom it's very much for. I'd have no qualms, for example, recommending it to someone who's obsessed over Infinite Jest. A better list of the world's most difficult books would expand its purview to "the world," and it would be comprised of books that people who love difficult books find difficult, instead of ones that people who don't do. I'd suggest adding: Appleseed, John Clute Dhalgren, Samuel Delany JR, William Gaddis The Tunnel, William Gass Anything in German or Chinese, Because SEK Can't Read German or Chinese My list isn't exhaustive, either, but at least it suggests that The Glass Bead Game might be tremendously complex or The Man Without Qualities can match Clarissa page-for-page. Since my list is a list and, as stated above, all lists are shit, I invite you to give me the what-for in the comments.

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