Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

More Conversation about Reading Challenging Books . . .

We began this conversation on September 12th… Challenging books

And, I’m quite happy because it takes at least one comment to continue a discussion and we have four :-)

I feel the best approach today is to share the comments all in a row, then I’ll attempt a bit of commentary…

From Julie:

“I find books where I don’t like the main character challenging and books with loads of blood and gore; but, the most impossible books were by Proust. Good job I didn’t study literature at University. His were bound to be set books! I did read a translation of some works by Dostoevsky a long time ago. I think my tastes have changed. I can’t cope with fantasy books any longer, although I used to enjoy Science Fiction. I can still admire sophisticated language but hate a lot of swearing. When I read a book I want to become involved. Is that too much to ask?

“PS I certainly couldn’t read anything in another language!”

From CarolinaC:

“There are definitely some types of content that I find to be too much of a challenge – too much violence, strong language, or explicit sexuality, for instance.

“I’ve also tried reading Cherryh and never gotten very far, alas.

“Maybe I’m just not destined to read challenging writing?”

From Martina:

“Challenging topics for me are violence and explicit sexuality when I don’t see what the author wants to achieve with them. When I read “The Woman in White” for the first time, I simply couldn’t understand why the protagonist kept up his love for the – in my eyes – wrong woman.

“And, I made at least two attempts to read a book by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. I found the German translation so French that I simply couldn’t understand anything.”

From Jessica:

“I find works that play too strongly to cliches and tropes challenging to read. I think a lot of people gobble them up, but if I’ve seen it done before and the writer isn’t bringing something new to the table, I’m left staring at their work wondering why I’m bothering.

“I read “Cards of Chaos” by A. D. Jansen recently and it was a challenging read because the prose was very tight and technical, it covered a lot of philosophy; and, because it descended into a stream of consciousness narrative for a bit. I loved the book and the very things that make it challenging are some of it’s best features.

“It’s interesting to me that challenges can be both good and bad for readers. Sometimes it drives us forward and other times it has us walking away in disgust.”

As far as Julie not liking Proust, the link I gave to his name takes you to an article, by Germaine Greer, in The Guardian entitled, Why do people gush over Proust? I’d rather visit a demented relative.

I barely know anything about Greer and I’ve never read Proust; but, I also didn’t study literature at University—I hated school; but, have read a huge amount of books; but then, I am an old guy…

I’ve read and re-read a few books by Dostoevsky—he was a bit of a challenge though it may have been the particular translations

I wholeheartedly agree with Julie on this: “When I read a book I want to become involved. Is that too much to ask?”

And, even though CarolinaC had difficulty with my favorite author, Cherryh, and went on to say,”Maybe I’m just not destined to read challenging writing?“, I told her:

Or, you haven’t found *Your* proper Challenge :-)

Martina‘s comment sent me on a merry search spree—found out they made a serialized TV show about The Woman in White—pondered on folks’ love of the “sensationalist” nature of the book—never read it but, after all the searching to find something decent to link to about it, I don’t think I’ll be facing its particular challenges…

And, coincident with Jessica, books that are mostly cliches and tropes give me indigestion… Plus, she summed up why my favorite fiction writer, C. J. Cherryh—a definite Challengeis my Fav, with this, “…the very things that make it challenging are some of it’s best features”…


It may be fitting to repeat the questions from the first post, as, hopefully, a stimulus to further conversation :-)

What are some of Your reading challenges…?

What are some challenges you enjoy dealing with…?

What are some challenges that drive you crazy…?

How about reading challenges your friends or acquaintances reveal…?

Perhaps you’ll share challenges you used to have but have overcome…?

Reminderit only takes one comment to keep this discussion going………
If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…
Our Blog Conversations are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—the rest of the week, I share valuable posts from other blogs

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

15 responses to “More Conversation about Reading Challenging Books . . .

  1. micqu September 14, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    For me, bad story telling is always a challenge. Clichés has been mentioned before. In certain genres different stories are written with the same words… It makes every story the same.
    As for a book that was emotionally really challenging for me to read was “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara. The most challenging about this book was the fact that it was about subjects I struggled with myself.
    Poetry is challenging too. The one that is written too laborious. I can’t relate if I have to look up the words in a dictionary. (Keep in mind that my first language is not Luxembourgish).

    But I also think that books I may find challenging could be favourites for others.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali Noel Vyain September 15, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Reading The Canterbury Tales in Middle English was challenging…as was all the American and British Victorian literature I’ve read over the years. Even though my first language is English, those books were challenging because they were written in older forms of English. Phillip K. Dick’s works are challenging because he shortens and combines words and if you’re not paying attention, you’d miss what he meant. I’ve read Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained by John Milton and was able to follow both long poems. But when I had to read his non-fiction, I couldn’t understand it. I find it interesting that I could follow the fiction, but non-fiction written in a similar style threw me off so much.

    In case you’re wondering, I did enjoy much of the harder stuff I’ve read. I didn’t care for Milton’s non-fiction…but his poetry was full of imagery.

    I haven’t tried to read much in other languages, but if I were to try, I’d start with some books which were originally written in French. Perhaps Jules Verne, Georges Sand, the Marquis de Sade, etc…


  3. CarolinaC September 16, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Regarding the Dostoevsky translations, when we read “Crime and Punishment” in high school we read a ’90s translation – I am not sure which one, but knowing my teacher at the time it was very likely the much-lauded Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. I found it painfully unreadable.

    About six months later, the bookstore where I worked part time got in some copies of the Constance Garnett translation, and I decided to try the book again, as I had basically enjoyed the story even though I’d found the prose extremely difficult. This time, the reading experience was complete different. This translation read rather “Victorian”, but that was more natural, at least for me, than the other translation had been, and I found it an easy, engrossing, thought-provoking read read. I bought a copy and reread it regularly; I now consider it one of my favourite books, which I never would have using that other translation.

    And I’m always surprised, when I see these Dostoevsky translation threads, that everybody lauds the translations I found unreadable and knocks the one I found extremely enjoyable. I very much agree with the comment that “it comes down to what you subjectively prefer as a clear, enjoyable reading experience, with no seriously objective “best” among the major translations.”


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