The ten most boring books

Posted: February 21, 2011 in Lists, Lists and More Lists, Reading Habits
Tags: , ,

According to a columnist for the Guardian U.K., these are the ten most boring books ever written:

1. Robert Burton: The Anatomy of Melancholy

2. Robert Musil: The Man Without Qualities

3. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled

4. Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano

5. Virginia Woolf: The Waves

6. James Joyce: Finnegans Wake

7. Thomas Wolfe: Look Homeward, Angel

8. William Thackeray: Pendennis

9. Karl Marx: Capital

10. James Woodforde: The Diary of A Country Parson

The only two I’ve read from this list are Woolf’s The Waves and Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. While I’ll admit The Waves pushed me to my intellectual reading limit, I blamed myself more than the book. After all, This is Virginia Woolf! She was smart! She’s one of my most adored writers! She committed suicide on my birth date (the month/day, not the year, to clarify)! Surely it must be me, and not her.

The Waves is extraordinarily confusing. I had no idea what was going on 3/4 of the time. Then again, I felt the same way the first time I read Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, but after two subsequent reads I ultimately saw its beauty. And, Faulkner’s another of my triad of worshipped writers, Dickens being the other.

Both books are written in stream-of-consciousness style, that is, the writer basically spews forth whatever they’re thinking with no thought as to a coherent plot. So, yeah, what’s in one person’s head will never be the same as what’s in another’s. However, I doubt either wrote with the thought, “HAHA, suckers! Just try to figure this one out!”

Then again, I can’t rule that out completely. Write a few brilliant books, establish a reputation for superior intellect, then throw in something in that’s incomprehensible just to see what critics say, if they continue falling all over themselves praising you or muse whether you’ve had a head injury lately. Now that’s entertainment!

Then, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. I read this in high school, on my own time since I was just that much a nerd. It never occurred to me it could be boring. I thought it was lovely. Of all the books on the list, this is the one I feel most compelled to challenge. I’ll let The Waves slide, since it was about 80 % incomprehensible the whole way through. But no way will I agree about Thomas Wolfe.

Maybe it’s because it’s such a southern U.S. book the average British reader can’t quite get a handle on it? I dunno. I only know I thought it was wonderful. The last scene left me weepy, it was so beautiful. Boring my @$$!

Which books would I consider the most boring in publishing history? Hmm. That’s a tough one.

Maybe:

1. Ulysses: James Joyce

2. The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway

3. Pamela: Samuel Richardson

 4. The Golden Notebook : Doris Lessing

5. Portnoy’s Complaint: Philip Roth

6.  Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan

7. The Book of the Courtier by Baldesar Castiglione

8. Lives: Plutarch

9. The Vicar of Wakefied: Oliver Goldsmith

10.  Sentimental Education: Flaubert

I’ve attempted or actually read all of these, and in most cases have been unable to due to extreme boredom. I’m willing to allow I could have read them at the wrong times, though. Could be I was too busy to fully concentrate, or I just wasn’t in the mood for the subject matter. But most of these were impossible for me to get through.

In one case, Richardson’s Pamela, familiarity bred contempt. I’ve read it at least three times, with different online book groups, and I’m so sick of it I can’t stand the thought of ever reading it again. Ditto The Vicar of Wakefield. Both are 18th century novels, and so over-wrought it takes extreme patience getting through them. Patience I’ve since lost.

Ulysses is the one I’ve vowed I will read one day, when I work up the nerve. I think it would best be read alone, with no other books going simultaneously, but that’s just not how I read. I would get far too impatient having no variety to console me in my misery. What I can give it is undivided attention when I am reading it, extreme concentration, plus having a notebook handy to jot down things to look up in various volumes explaining obscure references, etc.

The time I tried to read it I also bought a sort of guidebook to get the reader through, chapter by chapter. What alarmed me was that book was longer than Ulysses itself!

The Old Man and the Sea I read in high school. We also watched the film, which consists largely of a man in a boat pulling on a fishing line. Dear God.

Portnoy wasn’t challenging from a literary standpoint, it was just disgusting to me. It’s supposed to be funny, but if that’s the case I didn’t get it. A young man dealing with rampaging hormones isn’t my thing. Neither do I want to read about his methods of “relieving” his sexual frustrations. Yuck. It’s the one gross out on the list.

I am game to give almost any book a try, and in many cases more than once. I firmly believe there’s a time and place for reading every specific book. Some books need to be read when you’re young (The Catcher in the Rye), and some when you have more years behind you (Death Comes for the Archbishop). Some are seasonal, and some depend on what else is going on in your life, and I’m willing to allow for that. But after two or three attempts that’s usually it.

At mid-life, I’ve also thrown in the towel as far as reading classical literature, i.e., the Greeks and Romans. If I feel so inclined, in old age I’ll turn back to them, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. More likely I’ll want to revisit favorite books one more time, reliving fond memories.

Right now I’m still reading very widely, tossing out that drag-net in most every genre. Nonfiction has become an unexpected favorite, so now that wide world is open before me. My reading list is so full when I finish one book I immediately pick up another. Though I hardly watched before, I’ve cut out 95 % of TV viewing in favor of reading. I even schedule my housework to alternate with reading a set number of pages in between tasks. That helps alleviate the guilt, so I don’t let the house completely slide while I indulge my passion.

It’s safe to say I’m a pretty big reader, and unwilling to suffer badly written books that waste precious reading time. With so much out there I can never hope to get through it’s necessary to be discriminating in my tastes.

Do you have a list of “boring” or simply impossible-to-read books? If so, send them to me! I’d love to see what you think.

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