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As a former English major, I’ve had the misfortune pleasure of coming across some of the most intellectually challenging literary works. Believe me, I love to read and I enjoy challenging myself but when it’s Friday night a week from finals and you’re assigned to read Paradise Lost, no one should fault you for turning to SparkNotes. It just so happens that a lot of literary titles that are put on the pedestal of the best literature in history happen to be complicated AF (though very much worth reading). Yes, no one can deny that Moby-Dick is an American classic, but if you’re telling me you’ve never once yawned or snoozed when you read it, I don’t quite know if I can trust you.
From puzzling allusions (including religious references easily missed by people unfamiliar with religious texts) to drawn out plots to overly complicated language, here are 12 literary works that readers have struggled with finishing (let alone understanding).
1. The Canterbury Tales | Geoffrey ChaucerBuy It From Amazon
The Canterbury Tales are a collection of the funniest, most complex, and most awarding tales. Chaucer’s use of Middle English language, however, make them hard AF to understand.
2. Moby-Dick | Herman MellvilleBuy It From Amazon
Through the plot of Moby Dick is pretty forward, the actual story, comprised of overly-described prose and complex biblical and mythological references set in a slow pace of it can be particularly hard to grasp. By the last page, you may not understand what just happened.
3. King Henry IV| ShakespeareBuy It From Amazon
While Shakespeare’s witty works comprised of Early Modern English have proven to be difficult for many bookworms to get through, King Henry IV is particularly challenging. There is a lot going on, schemes from left and right, and (in my opinion) it’s not quite exciting enough to be a page turner. Titus Andronicus, on the other hand, is definitely filled with a ton of shocking action to carry you to the finish line.
4. Paradise Lost | John MiltonBuy It From Amazon
This epic poem is naturally long enough to keep you reading for weeks, but throw in Milton’s obscure language, endless biblical references, and run-on sentences and you may give up half way in.
5. Infinite Jest | David Foster WallaceBuy It From Amazon
With a whopping 1, 079 pages, Infinite Jest is among the longest novels ever written. Known for its unconventional narrative style, this experimental book is filled with complex ideas and language, immense detail, and endless footnotes which will keep you busy for awhile.
6. War and Peace | Leo TolstoyBuy It From Amazon
War and Peace is brilliant. It’s also really long. Period.