Top 5 Wednesday – Books that Intimidate Me

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme hosted by @ThoughtsOnTomes; the related GR group may be found here: Goodreads T5W

A close friend suggested yesterday that perhaps the books that are hardest to read are most worth it to try… And this got me thinking perhaps I can find the courage this summer to tackleworks I’ve carried with me for ages. In the very least, naming the problem/challenge seems to be Step 1 in any program, and declaring such things in public spaces creates some aura of accountability, so with a goal of (hopefully) having reviews of these by end-August, here’s the top 5 books that scare me witless:

In a very particular order

#5) Anannakna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

This is a weird one for my list, because I loooooove Russian literature (just yesterday I wrote about one of my favorites of all time, The Master & Margarita by Bulgakov). The problem stems perhaps from my dislike of Dostoevsky, and my association of Tolstoy with D. And the source of that is probably high school (thanks, English class) – it seems like I have an aversion to everything I was force-fed back then. There is hope, however: recently, a GR friend wrote a brilliant review addressing most of my concerns (such that AK is a sappy love story).

#4) Name of the Rose by Umberto Econamerose

I have probably owned this book for decades (since early HS); it sounds like everything I’ve ever wanted of an immersive and enjoyable reading experience: a mystery, a medieval historical setting, philosophizing monks, brilliant wit and humor. But it’s also 536 pages. Which, come to think of it, is about half of the size of Anna Karenina, so it could be a lot worse. But if I remember correctly, I’ve attempted reading this book at least a few times to no avail, which probably has also imprinted memories in me of failure and made me want to avoid this book even more. Still, I couldn’t have given it much of a chance, as I don’t remember ever getting past the first few pages. So: hope!

#3blindness) Blindness by José Saramago

My cousin, a Belgian and a translator for the European Union, is one of those people that speaks something like 20 languages. In the early 2000s, she was located in Lisbon, where I was lucky to visit her one summer. At the time, she was becoming fluent in Portuguese (it took her a few months…) – not only by speaking, but by reading José Saramago, which she could not stop talking about and recommending. I came home, bought almost all of his books, started on Blindness, and gave up quickly, never to take him up again. It’s a testament to my cousin’s genius that she was learning Portuguese with the aid of this book – I could barely follow it in what is now my first language (English). It’s incredibly hard to read because there is absolutely NO formatting (no punctuation, no capital letter, no paragraphs, just one long running stream of words). Maybe when I try it this time, I’ll turn reading it into a game and put in my own punctuation. Why not, I mean reading is interpretation and I mark up my books all the time…

#2) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewskhouseleavesi

Postmodern genius is perhaps what intimidates me the most re: books.  I have no idea if House of Leaves falls into this genre, because I’ve read both adoring, doting House-groupie reviews as well as many that claim this book is pretentious nonsense. Like Saramago, the formatting makes House of Leaves especially challenging – there are various fonts and colors and footnotes that refer to nonexistent sources and a plethora of other devices that lend an aura of density and profundity (or perhaps, just of intellectual pretension). Also, it’s 700 pages. Perhaps I’ll do the same with this as my plans for Saramago: bring out the box of markers and scissors and tape for a postmodern reading experience.


#1) Jorge Luis Borges

Ok, so Borges is not a book. He is a postmodern genius – no pretensions, no senseless experimentation, just pure, unadulterated poetic visionary. This was my reaction to the one book I’ve read by him, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings:

“The BBC, in declaring Borges the most important writer of the 20th century, declares “reading the work of Jorge Luis Borges for the first time is like discovering a new letter in the alphabet, or a new note in the musical scale.” That is a vast understatement. Reading Borges is like discovering an entirely new dimension of experience, it is like having all of your neurons plucked out and rearranged in unfamiliar configurations, it is like attuning to a new form of perception, it is like being suspended between a dream and consciousness, it is like having your mind exploded to the extent you begin questioning the most basic aspects of existence that you never once thought to question. Reading Borges is a magical, surreal, psychedelic, intellectually-erotic, twisted, world-shattering, intense literary-orgasmic experience.”

Someday I hope to have the stamina and courage to make it through all of his works; ideally, I’d love to be able to read fluently in Spanish so that I can partake of them without the intervention of a translator.


Wow, just listing these books induced a good amount of anxiety. Time for some light reading for the night – currently enjoying a romp through the gilded age with A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock…





  1. Ok, I read AK a million and a half years ago (in HS, in the late 1970s, so really, in the dark ages) and I loved it. Same for The Name of the Rose (though that was in college) and I loved it even more. Both are on the tbrr (to be re-read pile which is far more curated than the TBR). The rest on this list — I am totally in the same situation as you. Too intimidated and don’t know if or when I’ll get there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thank you so much for your comment! I think that’s one of the intimidating aspects of ‘classics’ or ‘must-reads’ – there is so much hype, and books on those lists are quite loved, but it doesn’t always work out that I love them back…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anannakna Karenina has been on my TBR list FOREVER too. I’m thinking about listening to it via audiobook…

    I haven’t heard of any of the other books on your list…. Obviously I need to step up my game.

    I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty jealous of your cousin’s mad language skills…. That is impressive!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw that! (AK on your list I mean :)). It was actually on so many lists this week I had to stand in solidarity and put it on mine too!

      So, yeah, my cousin – I have no idea how she does this. I’ve known a few people who can pick up languages effortlessly like that, and I’m in complete awe. I for one studied French for at least 6 years in school and still can barely order a coffee in the language! You’re not alone, at least 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Other than wanting to slap half the characters and failing to muster enthusiasm for ruminations about serfs, AK was alright. But let’s be Name of the Rose buddies! It’s been on my list forever too – let’s do it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, yes on AK! I feel like in a way it’s the Russian version of… Theodore Dreiser or maybe even Dickens (???) – basically sprawling sagas about the plight of the ‘common people’? I used to LOVE that genre (Grapes of Wrath on your list!!) – but I rarely (never) read those types of books anymore.

      And YES! Let’s do Name of the Rose & Cryptonomicon this summer!!


  4. Those are indeed scary books, I’ve heard amazing by House of Leaves from authors I love so I will probaly attempt to read it one day.
    The Name of the Rose is also a book I would like to try, I don’t read a lot of historical fiction but it sounds like something I may enjoy.
    As for Anna Karenina, the fact that it’s Russian literature intimidates me a lot. I don’t know why since I never try to read a Russian translation of anything and I should probably try one. If you have any recommendation of Russian lit for a noob like me, I would appreciate 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Maryam, thanks for stopping by 🙂 I bought House of Leaves a year ago but it’s definitely just as intimidating in person as it sounds in its description, so as of right now it remains unread. I feel like it’s going to take so much commitment and time (who has that, nowdays?)… Still, it seems to creatively done, so definitely agree: someday!

      Hm, as for the Russians… I’m not sure about the appeal of their ‘classics’. I would say as a first recommendation, perhaps something more modern, like a book by Victor Pelevin (his work is somewhere between sci-fi, fantasy, and dystopian – and it’s very satirical). Another excellent satirist is Yuri Olesha; he is not contemporary, but his book, “Envy” is only a 150 or so page commitment so it may be worth it to see if you would like to read more in the genre.


    1. Hi Lola, thank you so much for stopping by 🙂 Ooooh, I did not know there was a movie of the Name of the Rose! I actually like knowing ‘what happens’ before tackling books I’m intimidated by so I may have to watch that before reading.


  5. I haven’t read any of these books but I do own Anna Karenina.
    I do admit to being intimidated by because after all these years I have put it off so many times that I’m not sure I will ever read it :/

    I do want to read The Master and the Margarita, though. I gave it to a coworker as a birthday gift and he LOVED it. Said it was one of the best books he’s ever read. That kind of praise intimidates me, now that I think about it..:p

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You sum up exactly my experience with AK. It’s been around for *so* long, that in itself has become a deterrent.

      M&M is one of my favorite books ever too – not to pile on 😉 But I can very much see why the appeal may not be universal. I have several friends (who are still my friends!) who did not enjoy it at all.. honestly I don’t know if *I* would have, if I wasn’t Romanian and if it wasn’t personal for me. If you end up not liking it – no worries – you wouldn’t be the first intelligent person to feel this way 🙂


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