Ever decided to read a book belonging to the hall of fame of literature, ordered it in a jiffy, opened it and then, well, sighed? We know the feeling of reading tough books. So does Parth Khare, our guest blogger for today:
While there might be plenty of Twilight and such stories catering to the those with simpler tastes, there are books for the connoisseurs, for the hardcore, for those erudite enough to fathom its prolixity and obfuscation (see what I did there?). Here are the literature hall of famers who make your science major paper seem easier than Archies.
Finnegans Wake – James JoycE
James Joyce, take a bow. No book in the history of English literature has exacted a consensus out of scholars and people, except probably Finnegans Wake. It is hard. Hard in the way that comprehending the entirety of the universe is, and you are more likely to do that than to get through the labyrinth that this book represents. A strange style, stranger language, Irish babble, portmanteau words, neological puns and onomatopoeia of the toughest kind (use of sounds in words), here’s a quote that sums everything up: ‘The gracehopper was always jigging ajog, hoppy on akkant of his joyicity.‘ No joy there, Joyce.
Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
T.S Eliot wrote some knotty, tough books himself (more on that later) but he described this one as ‘altogether alive but demanding something of a reader that an ordinary novel reader isn’t prepared to give.’ High praise indeed from the father of modern English poetry, but here’s the catch, we can’t give what we don’t have, we just can’t. This book is awash with prose that is both torturous and tortuous to the untrained (sometimes even trained) mind with its Gothic prose style, its discursive and rambling nature and philosophical musings by a character who in his spare time likes to dress himself up in nighties and curls of blonde hair (why didn’t our philosophy teacher try that in those boring classes?). It is essentially a collection of monologues and ideas from the different characters which make you want to say, ‘Mate, you’ve got some unresolved issues there’. From the book itself, ‘you pound the liver out of a goose to get a pate, you pound the muscles of a man’s cardia to get a philosopher.‘ And you pound your mind out to understand this book, despite its greatness.
The Wasteland – T. S. Eliot
Go ahead, say it out loud. You have heard of this book. There are a lot of allusions to this book abound in popular culture (ever heard of ‘death by water’, or ‘dead man’s alley’? Yes, right). Released in 1922, this book encompasses the apprehensions of one of the most respected poet, critic and dramatist, Thomas Stearns Eliot. He was worried about the degradation of culture in the world and that the younger generation no longer pays due importance to the classics and old school greatness. He believed that modern poetry should come from reading old legendary books, and boy, did the wasteland come from them and smack you right in your (progressive) head. Here’s something unique. The lines in this poem change languages. That’s right, you heard me. So one time you are skiing in some mountains and next, you have a German line on your hands, followed by French and even (yes!) Sanskrit. It is chock full of allusions and it is a deliberate attempt to make you go back and read proper literature. A collection of 5 poems, it is sure to make you cry out your eyes. In Eliot’s own learned words “I will show you fear in a handful of dust”. Quiver.
The Critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant
The old fox of Konigsberg as Kant was known in his hey days, comes the book of all philosophy books. The Critique of Pure Reason did many things in the philosophical world. It solved metaphysical riddles, it aligned God with reason (yes, strange as it sounds), it answered or attempted to answer the mind vs. body debate; but mostly, it increased the already alarming levels of confusion in philosophy. It is full of specific terminology being originally in German, and even after you seem to have understood it, you can never be sure that’s what Kant wanted to tell you. However, it is one of the most respected books in philosophy and its theories like priory knowledge, transcendence, et al actually answered age old questions. Also known as the grand old man of philosophy he wrote, ‘thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.’ You without Kant are ignorant (and happy).
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
And you will shrug too when you see the size of this one. Atlas Shrugged is big. Like, Charles Dickens level big and can be categorised as philosophic fiction. It is the story of a dystopian world in which government tries to control all the business and trade of America and the entrepreneurs who struggle against the order and then simply disappear into hiding. It has larger than life characters like a playboy billionaire who destroys his own business to prevent government seizing it, a genius who is a philosopher during the day, a pirate at night, and a guy whose name everyone keeps asking and we come to know about halfway in the book. With its immortal query (Who is John Galt?), it asks questions from everyone and is deeply philosophical at many levels. Full of flashbacks, parallel story lines and other worlds created by perfect individuals, it aims to contradict the futility of dystopia by creating a utopian society under its nose. It makes you feel the world’s weight on your shoulders when you sift through its monologues and doesn’t want you to shrug.
Being and Time – Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher and one of the most influential ones of this century. His Magnum Opus ‘Being and Time’ is one of the hardest books I have ever encountered, because of innate difficulties pervading it. The first is that literary meaning and philosophical meaning are very distinct and Heidegger really flirts with that line in it. It does not induce a dream like stupor with its obtrusiveness, like Finnegans Wake, rather, it is like getting punched in the face. It has intentionally added difficulty in the form of new words and old words turned new. It is philosophical, but propounds a way of thinking, questioning and tries to give a basic premise for a new science. Phew! Here’s a quote to make you understand (and confuse): ‘Temporality temporalizes future which makes present in the process of having been.‘
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
With attributes that make its introduction as a professional wrestler feasible, in this corner comes the book that most people lie about reading, and those that have actually read it, did so to impress others. That’s sad because Tolstoy was a brilliant writer. However, the book borders on whimsy as its plot meanders through different sub plots and at the end makes us realize that there was no central plot. To be taken only by prescription, not more than 100 pages a day, under supervision. As suggested by the author himself ‘The strongest of all warriors are these two – time and patience.‘ Yes, you will need a lot of both in this battle.
About the guest blogger: Parth Khare is an electronics undergrad and an avid reader. Apart from dealing with circuits and turning pages, he’s a die hard soccer fan with a great sense of humor.
Featured Image Courtesy: Robert Berry