Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Were Hard for You to Read

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Were Hard for You to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a book meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish. This week’s topic: Top Ten Books That Were Hard for You to Read. I decided to poll some of our English majors and students in my British Literature survey class to find out what books they’ve found hard to read. Surprise: Twilight made the list–twice!

english major

Melissa‘s choice: The English Major by Jim Harrison.

Since I’m a not a conventional, or very good, English major, I would count most of the traditional assigned canon as difficult books to read, but the books I’ve had the hardest time finishing are novels that include incorrect details about things or places I have experience with.
Jim Harrison’s book The English Major took a road trip through north central Nebraska where I live and got details wrong about places and used language that didn’t ring true about ranching and farm equipment. I finished the book because I love Jim Harrison’s work but threw the book down in disgust more than once.
The late Stephen J Connell, the television producer, wrote a series of detective stories that weren’t great works of literature but were fun to read. Until one including a lengthy chase scene through a dairy farm that was so unbelievable that I didn’t finish that book or read another. I can live with unrealistic car chases and shoot outs or ridiculous sex scene language, but anatomically impossible cows standing placidly in the pasture while three guys belly crawl under them and then shoot at the bad guys was a book-thrower.
Tristen has some strong words about Twilight:
The hardest book I ever read was Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight. Everyone else was reading it saying it had a strong female character and I didn’t want to be that guy who wouldn’t read it just because it was cool. Turns out it was 300 pages of a girl whining because she couldn’t date a vampire. I got through it, and now I feel justified in saying that it’s terrible.
Twilight was Amanda‘s hardest book too:
Oh my goodness, I felt like my brain was dying with every word and each scene made me splutter in female outrage.  I wanted to punch the people who had recommended that trash to me really hard in the throat.  This book encourages young women to not only enter into risky relationships, but that their existence is only validated when they have multiple guys chasing after them.  Granted this is not a new literary concept, but the least she could have done was write it with more style than a melodramatic seventh grader!  I swallowed my pride and hazarded reading the next two sequels in the hopes that it would improve.  Needless to say, IT DID NOT!!!  I absolutely refuse to pick up the final installment in her incredibly awful series, and I can say with certainty that I am neither Team Edward nor Team Jacob.  Frankly, I’m team I Don’t Understand Why This Was Ever a Bestseller.
Zach nominates Dune:
The hardest book I think I’ve read is Dune by Frank Herbert. What made Dune so difficult was the number of new terms and phrases that the author did not define until later in the book. It was like reading a book with two different languages and not being able to read one of them.
varieties of disturbance
Holly selects a book that I assigned in Contemporary Literature last year (Sorry, Holly, and I’m kind of right there with you on this one!):
The first thing that popped into my mind was Lydia Davis’s short story collection Varieties of Disturbances. I get frustrated just thinking about it. The writing isn’t poor, but the content is. It’s dry, it’s pretentious, and overall I didn’t see the point. I’ve never been more relieved to put a book down after I finished reading (most of) it.
great expectations
Jeff decides that Great Expectations is the hardest book he’s read:
Describing a book as “hard” is pretty multi-faceted, but the hardest one I’ve had to read to date has probably been Great Expectations. The thing is so draconian in length that keeping track of all of the characters and their changes, the thematic material, and even the plot can become a chore after awhile. But, that’s just me!
waiting for godot
Christian targets Waiting for Godot:
I have a great play! It’s about two people, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait for a man named Godot, who (spoiler!) never shows up. Tragicomedy in two acts!? I don’t know what was so funny about wasting my time, but it sure was tragic!
heart of darkness
Analise has bad memories of studying Heart of Darkness in school:
The story didn’t appeal to me, but we were forced to read and analyze the story. It was a terrible book that had me wanting to chuck it out the window.
divine comedy
Clint had to read the Divine Comedy in school! That’s one ambitious classroom!
The hardest book that I’ve ever read was The Divine Comedy because it was originally written in Italian and later translated to English, and when something old like that is translated into English it tends to be hard to read.
Maggie chooses Civilization and Its Discontents:
I had a lot of trouble tracking what Freud was trying to say. It became too lofty at times for me to understand as easily as I normally do. Freud also has a really challenging writing style that is hard for me to get into.
around the world
Kelsey struggled with Around the World in Eighty Days:
The hardest book I’ve ever read was Around The World in Eighty Days, recommended to me by my younger brother. I didn’t find the characters or plotline relatable but I still finished the book just to say I finished it. Although the end of the book was significantly better than the beginning, I finished the book widely disappointed.
What book has been the hardest for you to read?
My Name Is Elisabeth and I’m a Book-Startaholic

My Name Is Elisabeth and I’m a Book-Startaholic

I will be the first to admit I have a problem: I’m a book-startaholic.

That’s different than being a bookaholic. I’m one of those too. And I know I find myself in good company in an English department, working with English majors as colleagues and teaching English majors as students.

But I’m not sure that too many other people suffer from book-startaholism, which I define as the compulsive need to start new books even when you’re reading five (or ten or twenty) perfectly good books that you’re enjoying and actually want to finish.

Right now, I’m reading these books:

photo (29)

And these books:

photo (27)

Oh yeah, and these books too:

photo (28)

And these stacks don’t include what I’m reading on my Kindle or for my classes.

I’ve always read more than one book at a time, but lately the compulsion to start new books seems to have gotten much worse.

Partly it’s the classic problem of the bookaholic: so many books, so little time. Despite research that proves the contrary, I want to believe that multi-tasking really works, so surely I can finish more books if I read more books at the same time.

Partly it’s “grass is greener” syndrome. I’m reading a lot of books I like right now, but not one of them is changing my life. So I keep searching until I find that life-changing book that I have to stop everything to finish.

Often, it feels like it takes less mental effort to start a new book than to try to re-immerse myself in a book I’ve already started.

And certainly my condition is exacerbated by my apparent inability to stop buying books. The arrival of a box of books from Amazon almost guarantees that I will start two or three new books before bedtime. And don’t even get me started on library hauls.

I have every intention of finishing at least one of the books in those stacks tonight. But those books have a lot of competition. The six new middle-grade novels I just got from the library beckon. The stack of new picture books that are already getting Caldecott buzz. The clinical textbook on attachment that I’m pretty sure contains just the nugget I need. The volume of Mary Oliver’s poetry I unearthed this afternoon. The graphic novel I borrowed from a student. Any one (or more) of those books may prove more alluring than the couple of dozen books I’m currently in the middle of reading.

Is it just me? Or do other readers also have a habit of starting far more books than they finish?


Featured Photo CC-BY Silke Gerstenkorn

What are you writing?

by B. Lee Miller


I teach writing and the teaching of writing. And one of the things I often talk about with students who will one day teaching writing is the importance of their having their own writing life if they are to ask, or invite, students to do the same. What sense does it make, I will suggest, for someone who doesn’t write to teach writing? And I’m not suggesting that a person has to publish, or even be a very good writer, to teach writing and to teach it well (conversely, just because someone writes well doesn’t mean they can teach it well). But I do wonder how well a person can comment on students’ struggles with writing when they do not themselves know those struggles personally. That I write – a fair amount – and may even someday have a few publications to my name (I’m working on that one…submitting stuff for publication is time-consuming and boring…I’d rather just start writing something else), allows me to talk with my writing students about the processes and road blocks and strategies that are involved in writing. So, with this blog post, I share what I, a writing teacher, am working on, right now (which is to say, I’ll leave off the projects that I’ve just begun, or that have a long way to go, focusing only on those that I am close to sending out for rejection, er, possible publication).

Black Belt. A little under five years ago, I began to study Tang Soo Do, a South Korean martial art. A requirement for the advanced belts (green and brown series), at least in my school, is a series of papers in response to prompts – one for each belt level. As I approached the time when I would test for my black belt (last December) I began to read back through those papers and consider whether I could pull them together (including the paper for my black belt test), shape them into a unified essay, and submit them somewhere for publication. It’s an English-professor-gets-a-black-belt essay entitled “Black Belt” and awaits my taking the time to send it out somewhere.

A Time to Gather Stones. The first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I drafted a novel that had been knocking around in my head for several years. I wanted to transplant plot lines from the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob narratives in the biblical book of Genesis to the mid-to-late 20th-Century American South, the narrative infused, or informed, by some ideas found in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, but also in Buddhism. I titled the resulting draft, A Time to Gather Stones. I still have a couple of chapters (the opening and closing) to draft, and a third major round of revisions, but I hope to float some sections for publication soon. An excerpt:

From “Spring, 1946; Habersham, Georgia”

Ka-thunk, pf. Ka-thunk, pf. There was a certain rhythm to the hard thud of the small round ball bouncing off the wall. Isaac threw the ball with his right hand, caught it with his left. The sound echoed through the empty corridor. It would be some time, he knew, before another student showed up for school. Most kids, he figured, were still sitting at the kitchen table eating eggs and bacon and toast with jam. These days, Isaac got to school early. As early as possible. Not that he liked school. He didn’t. Too many people telling him what to do. He got enough of that at home. But at least at school, if he stayed out of the way, he was mostly left alone. He liked that.

So, each morning, as soon as the rooster crowed, Isaac would throw on his jacket and run out to the chicken coop and the barn. By the time he returned with eggs and milk, oatmeal would be on the table. It would be dry and salty, but he wouldn’t say anything about it. He said nothing to his father that he didn’t have to. He just poured warm milk on it and ate. He then grabbed the lunch he had made the night before – always a sandwich and a piece of fruit – and darted out the door, running until he was off his father’s farm. It would not be until he slowed to a walk that he would notice the sun just beginning to emerge from the horizon, just beginning to shed much welcomed warmth across his body.

40. I wrote a lot of really bad poetry in my late teens and early 20s. A comment from an English Professor where I went for my undergraduate convinced me to stop writing poetry. I’ve long told students that I really don’t get poetry. Regardless, as I approached 40, I found all the poetry I had written during that period (and a few poems since) and began to transcribe it for posterity’s sake (why, I don’t know…partly because my daughter was learning to write). I got the idea, at one point, to see if I could find any snippets – lines, phrases, stanzas, perhaps even an occasional poem – that I could revise into a series, or book, of 40 poems in which I would examine my own growth as a human, a writer, and a man, in particular, a man staring 40 in the face. I’m ready to send out several series of poems, and one long poem, for possible publication. Whether anyone will ever want the book I have imagined, I don’t know, but if not, I’ll self-publish. An excerpt:


Stop shouting at me, and

        let’s pour a drink.

Let’s mix up our words until they

                                                     fall to the floor

        and whimper

                       their fear of absence and forgetting,

        and the moon slips away

                       into a thousand still moments.

Let’s feel the waves of molecules

                                                     pushing and pulling,

        demanding, flowing,

                       our drink slipping us into

        the rippling water

                       as it reflects

                                      a watchful moon.

And let us be careful —

        if we dare —

        lest we reach for the moon

        and fall in.

With Woman. My wife and I have for several years involved ourselves in the world of birthing rights and midwifery advocacy. I’ve long wanted to write something about it, so, in addition to one long poem, I am now writing an essay that I have titled “With Woman” that will examine birth, as well as stages in women’s lives, but from the perspective of a husband and father – me – as I continue my long examination of masculinity, or how I understand what it means to be male (as social gender). My hope is to finish a first draft by the end of this semester and then revise and submit it somewhere by next summer.

Something Like Winter. Finally, several years ago, I began drafting what I think will end up being a novella. I began writing this only to have something to offer at our Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society writing workshops and open-mics. The surface story is of a mixed-race couple, with the woman’s young son (from a previous relationship), who is obsessed with the movie “Snow White,” hitting the road to go visit the man’s parents in a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Christmas. Along the way they pick up the man’s best friend, who is studying English literature in grad school, and the woman’s grandmother, who raised her. The provisional title is “Something Like Winter.” It needs another major revision pass and then I’d like to send it out this winter for possible publication in a print or online magazine that accepts long fiction.

How classes taught me that I don’t know anything

by Hannah Clark

Required reading lists: as an English major, these are my bread and butter. Now that I’ve passed the core survey classes, I find my syllabuses populated with more and more old friends. Maybe you know how I feel: that elation when I’ve read three quarters of the reading list, or the sinking feeling I experience when I think, aren’t we going to study anything new?

Due to the liberal arts nature of my education, many of my classes repeat texts. I’ve studied The Great Gatsby three times. The idea is that, thanks to repetition, students who haven’t taken all the English courses can still sample the most “important” texts in the English language. But who picks what’s important?

I’m currently taking a Gender and Literature course at CSC. My professor, Dr. Lee, asked us a simple question: who are the most important authors in the English language? This required both an opinion and a recitation of the Western canon. All the big names made an appearance: from Wordworth to Shakespeare, and Chaucer to Dickens. I guessed at his game and made sure to mention female authors. But after Austen and Eliot, Bronte and Woolf appeared on the board, he still made a point.

“White male, white male,” he said, as he read down the list, “white female, white male…” and so it went. I realized that in my 18 years of formal education, I had never studied a female African American author. It was only as a junior, in an optional modern short-story class, I was assigned a female author who was not white.

This showed me that the composer of my curriculum is just as important as its composition. The two are directly related. I used to think the great English works were universally approved; I recognize now that they may just be university-approved. After reading Toni Morrison and Zora Neal Hurston, I now suspect that although Shakespeare and Wordsworth are very important, there are many other equally, if not more important authors to the English language.

This class also shook my belief that I can anticipate what I will learn. Classes like “British Literature from 1066” are self-explanatory. I know what I’m expected to learn. Then, as my critical education increased, class titles turned from categories to concepts. The greatest lesson I’ve learned from these classes, like Gender and Literature, is that I don’t know anything. I can read a classic like The Great Gatsby three times and still discover new significance in its weathered pages. I assumed I had the broad swath of English and American literature under my belt, but now I see I only learned one perspective. The traditional world of academia does not encompass the whole world. Required reading lists have taught me plenty about their suggested texts, but my classes have taught me that those texts are not the only things I should be reading.

The Bee and the Pear Tree

by B. Lee Miller

Below is an excerpt from Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Pp. 10-11 (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006). I share it because as I read the novel again for a class, recently, this particular passage struck me for its beauty in depicting the coming of age of a young woman.

“It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness.

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid.”

What are you reading?

by B. Lee Miller

I’ve been tasked with the first round of weekly departmental blogging and have settled on beginning with the meme, “What are you reading?” I’ve wondered, at times, whether students might be curious about what their professors choose to read and how they choose what they read. In fact, a student asked me those very questions just yesterday in class.

My own current list may seem lengthy. I don’t just read one or two things at a time, but typically have a running list of around a dozen books going at any one time. Some of these are for classes I’ve taught, am teaching, or will teach. Some are typical professional literature. Some are related to projects I’m working on, whether that involves research of some sort or another, or if I am reading in the kind of literature I’m trying to write.

So, for example, the books related to birth, post-partum, menopause, etc., relate to an essay I’m trying to write (emphasis on trying) that examines masculinity through my own experiences as a husband, present with my wife through pregnancy, birth, post-partum, and eventually menopause, and as a father of an eleven-year-old daughter just entering adolescence.

One other comment about the number of works on this list. I have trouble staying focused for very long. I know, an odd thing for a professor to say. It’s the rare work that will maintain my undivided interest for very long, if for no other reason than that I am usually hyper-aware of all that goes on around me, but also because I get bored easily (and because, with five children, I am usually sleep-deprived, which doesn’t help concentration). So, I constantly switch between books, reading a section of one book and then switching to another book, and so on. But I also constantly move from one book to another because it forces me to deal with the dialogue created by the constant switching of authors and their perspectives.

So, all that said, here is my current reading list (this is the order in which they appear on my iPhone list!):

  • Plato, Republic. (Books II, III, & VII)
  • For a class I am teaching called “Gender and Literature”
    • Rich, Adrienne. Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972.
    • Morrell, David. First Blood. (yes, that First Blood!)
    • Faludi, Susan. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. (Chapter 7 on David Morrell, First Blood – the book and the movie, Sylvester Stallone, and issues of fathers, sons, and masculinity)
  • Macrorie, Ken. Telling Writing, 4th
  • Hoover, Paul, ed. Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, 2nd
  • Kinzie, Mary. A Poet’s Guide to Poetry.
  • For the essay I’m working on that I have titled, “With Woman” (“Midwife” means “with woman”)
    • Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique.
    • Rimm, Sylvia. See Jane Win for Girls: A Smart Girl’s Guide to Success.
    • Wertz, Richard W., and Dorothy C. Wertz. Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America.
    • Dick-Read, Grantly. Childbirth without Fear.
    • Armstrong, Penny, and Sheryl Feldman. A Midwife’s Story.
    • Bennett, Shoshana S. Postpartum Depression for Dummies.
    • Jones, Marcia L., Theresa Eichenwald, and Nancy W. Hall. Menopause for Dummies.
  • Two holdovers from when I was teaching a course on the literature and practice of world religions:
    • 122 Zen Koans: Find Enlightenment.
    • Moran, Elizabeth, Master Joseph Yu, and Master Val Biktashev. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feng Shui.
  • Schwartz, Jason. “End Game” (In The Best American Sports Writing 2013).