There are books that make us laugh, cry, or dream about fantastical worlds where anything is possible.

And then there are those books that force us to think way deeper about ourselves and the world we live in. Reading difficult books is always a challenge, but it’s one where you get to reap valuable benefits from.

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Sometimes we just love to settle into a book that is an easy read and greatly enjoyable. It’s super relaxing, we leave all our worries behind as we drift into a different, magical place.

However, from time to time, we stumble upon books that capture the truth perfectly and we marvel at the intelligence and beauty of the text, but despite their charm, they’re hard to get through. Reading difficult books may seem like a lot of work.

So are they worth reading? We say, unequivocally, yes. It may feel like mining your way through huge blocks of rock, digging through words to find the most precious of gems in the world. Even if these books seem impenetrable, challenging, and brain-kneading at first, we find ourselves astonished by their brilliance throughout. 

The only books worth reading are those that bite and kick…happy books we could write ourselves

FRANZ KAFKA

Some people like to read for pure escapism, and do not want to have their world view altered, but some do. Life is complex, so in theory, fiction should be too, right?

Here are some difficult books we think are definitely worth reading:

1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

This novel tells the story of a man who is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, Dolores, as it explores the moral and psychological difficulties that come with his predatory desires. Humbert finds himself unable to live a life without the girl, and he takes abnormality to a new level as the reader follows his obsession.

It’s a difficult read for two reasons — the subject matter is disturbing, for one, and the book itself is also very dense and lyrical. It’s told through the first person in a monologue narration which forces the reader to get inside Humbert’s head and silences the victim, Dolores.

Despite its difficulty, the book is indeed thought-provoking and unsettling by nature. Very well written, Lolita poses all sorts of moral and ethical questions you need to confront while reading it.

2. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Dickens tells a tale of the stark repression and injustice at the heart of the period of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror that follows, being set in between Paris and London.

The book documents the brutality of the guillotine, mostly used by the oppressive French state, and tells the stories of the ordinary people that it affected. Charles Darnay, the lover of Lucie Manette, is wrongly imprisoned in the Bastille and the story follows the fight to get him released.

This book is definitely hard to read, being dense with words and without much dialogue. Instead, the story feels more like a commentary on the society it depicts. Even so, there is always a sense of suspense throughout the book, as you really want to know whether justice is restored. 

3. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

Fun fact: the book is based on the real travels of the author himself and the experiences he had. It was one of the first novels of its kind at the time, featuring openly the use of drugs and alcohol dependency. On the Road tells the story of two Americans fed up with their lives who decide to go on a road trip across Northern America. 

The language itself is poetic and incoherent, making it a challenging read. But at its heart, it’s an exploration of what it is to be human, the limits of freedom, and the failed expectations of the beloved American dream. 

Kerouac writes how he thinks and is known for never revising his work, in this way, sentences often don’t make sense. But that’s exactly what he intended – to go against all norms, literary ones too.

4. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

This book, with its 1,000+ pages, new vocabulary and 388 endnotes – some of which also have footnotes, is largely referenced as a “hard book”. Even if it seems like an impossible task, it’s one of those books you just have to read.

It features an alternate timeline, more than 200 (yup, that’s right, two hundred) characters, a fragmented, nonlinear structure – it just doesn’t cut us any slack. All in all, this book is truly magical. It is super complex but definitely worth the work to read.

5. Ulysses, James Joyce

Ah… Ulysses. So-called the greatest novel of all time, it contains a staggering 30,030 different words, with endless puns, allusions, and stylistic curiosities. Inspired by The Odyssey, the book offers a brilliant panorama of all life in a unique artistic style.

Joyce set out to create life in all its fullness without heroic scenes or gestures or declamations but through a fully realized expression of a city and its people on one typical day—and through ironic puncturing of human pomposity and pretense.

Full of allusions, parodies, and riddles, the uniqueness it’s what gives this novel its “immortality.” 

These books may be deemed as ‘difficult’ because they are not your typical happy go lucky read, but they always offer us something to takeaway, long after finishing the final pages.

And if you want to track your progress in reading some of these difficult books, get Bookly to help you out! 🤓

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