Books Too Difficult? Why You Should Read Them Anyway!

I read this article and my brain flopped out of my gaping mouth.

The article picks apart some recent statements by bestselling novelist Nick Hornby, and his suggestion that readers should not force themselves to read difficult books. Hornby says, “Novels should be like TV. It shouldn’t be hard work and we should do ourselves a favour.”

OK, before I get passionate and start ranting, I want to say this: TV can be thought-provoking, immersive and emotionally powerful. TV can be fantastic.

And there is nothing wrong with authors writing easy-to-read books; sometimes you just want to curl up after a long, hard day and relax.

But to prescribe that all books should be easy, that all books should be nothing but popcorn entertainment — this is evil.

 

Reading is work. It has always been work. But it’s rewarding; it can challenge your reality and bring you to new levels of understanding, on almost any subject.

If I had stopped reading the first time I found a book ‘too difficult’ I would never have learned how to read. I’d probably sit around all day watching TV (and not necessarily the good kind). I believe I am a superior human being because I stuck with many books when they were too long, or confusing, or just too damn hard.

What’s a hard book anyway? Read this list from goodreads! Plenty of these are famous (or infamous, depending on your educational history) for being difficult to get through.

Look, I understand. Sometimes, you’re not interested in reading a dense, thousand-page novel where half the words might as well be in another language. But every time you sit down to read, you have the opportunity to push yourself, to improve your knowledge or to break emotional walls.

Reading should be enjoyable, not trivial. Someone has poured their heart and soul into that book lying on your desk and something earnest between those pages that to be understood. You should have a better reason for not finishing a book other than ‘I thought it was too difficult.’

If you’re having trouble reading difficult works, make a plan, figure out what you want to gain from that book and have at it.  Once you climb the ladder once, you’ll never have to climb it again.

And please, please don’t give up just because it’s ‘too hard’.

Fight me! Tell me I’m wrong (or right!) in the comments below. Don’t forget to like or follow the blog. 


Photo by Jens Schott Knudsen

 

29 thoughts on “Books Too Difficult? Why You Should Read Them Anyway!

  1. I understand that research has shown higher levels of empathy or emotional intelligence in readers of more literary (as opposed to light) fiction. So maybe trickier reading heavier books might make you a nicer person too.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, any kind of evidence that tells me to read more is good enough for-

        No, that’s dangerous. But yes, let’s take what we can get. Thanks for digging this up Hilary (and of course, thanks for stopping by).

        Like

  2. I have to disagree, for me writing has never been work, it has always been a pleasure. Even from a young age I always loved school books and I loved to study. If I didn’t understand a book, I’d research about the subject matter until I did, that is, if it truly interested me. I’ve read everything from Kierkegaard, Nietzsche to psychology and ancient history. Nothing is ‘hard’ as long as we enjoy discovering what it means.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Nothing is ‘hard’ as long as we enjoy discovering what it means.”

      This is beautiful. Thank you for teaching me something today! I feel the need to save this, and ponder on it for a while.

      Like

  3. As a voracious reader (when not writing, or having to plow through boring text books for school) I remember my first books, and how they actually convinced me reading was a good thing. In grade school, I was one of the worst readers in the class. I couldn’t spell, had a tiny vocabulary, and poor comprehension of what I did read. Being an audio learner didn’t help – tell me once, and I’ve usually got it. Write it down, and expect me to remember it? You might as well expect the sun to rise in the west!

    Then, I encountered Terry Brooks. Open the doors, get out of my way or I will run you over as I break in. A whole world of possibility opened for me. The next book, Watership Down, I had seen the movie, so had an idea what I was in for. These two books took me all of 21 days to gulp. I was in third or fourth grade.

    From that day on, I have devoured just about any book that comes my way. There are a few genres I don’t particularly like, but once I start on a book, I’ll chew through it anyway. Even if it is a Harlequin Romance, or an autobiography of someone I could care less about. I think I can remember two books out of the (literally) thousand or so I’ve read which I just could NOT finish. One was because it belonged to someone at work who quit, and took it with them. The second was so poorly written, I have no idea to this day what it was about, much less how it got passed a publisher. (I mean, really, when I can spot grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and SPELLING errors, you know it’s bad! My editor cries when I tell them I’ve got a manuscript coming their way just because of the amount of red they see before they are off the first page.)

    Are there books I’ll avoid? Yup. If it’s not in my preferred genre, I’ll stay away. Unless I have nothing else – and I mean NOTHING else – to read. Then, I’ll go ahead and open on up. I may not enjoy the story, but I’ll wade through it. Heck, I might actually learn something.

    Now, I do come from a family of educators, readers, and generally people who believe the day you quit learning is the day you die. So, there is nothing around here considered “too hard”, just things we don’t like to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “The second was so poorly written, I have no idea to this day what it was about” – You know, I’m starting to think that everyone has read this book. And nobody knows what it’s called, because nobody ever finishes it.

      I’m with you too on ‘preferred genres’. I am so scared of picking up a book in a genre that I usually don’t enjoy, because it would be a book I HAVE to finish, and I hate taking forever to read a book.

      Thank you for the detailed comment K, I always look forward to your input!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Blame my upbringing. When ever I asked a question, the answer was an encyclopedia. So, now, when I answer in turn, I don’t know how to answer with anything les. ::Grins::

        Like

  4. For me, there is a distinction between “difficult” books, and ones I just don’t enjoy. If I’m one third through a book, and I’m not enjoying it, it’s highly unlikely that I will find any pleasure in the rest of it. And even though great books can be hard work to read, you should have some sense of pleasure before you get to the end and pat yourself on the back. My list of books to read is longer than my lifespan will accommodate, so I’d rather cut ties with a book that doesn’t provide me with satisfaction than try to slog through it with hopes that I’ll learn something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When you drop a book, is it usually because it’s ‘too hard’ or some other reason?

      I drop more than a few books because of how confusing they are, but I tend to blame that on the writer (too many characters, characters without unique personalities, poorly described settings, etc.).

      I have no problem quitting on a book if it’s bad!

      Oh, and thank you for stopping by the blog!

      Like

      1. Generally I drop a book out of boredom., not confusion. But I’ll admit, that I’m not one to tackle books that are very challenging.
        And I enjoy the blog!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah, you’ve got me there. People will sit through and watch a whole season of a show on Netflix. Shorter chapters might work? Possibly, with the use of Kindle, or whatever tablet people read on, there could be some kind of interactivity built into reading. But, then you get into having to have a whole team of people working on a book.

    I think I’m a bit backwards than most people. I quit playing video games because of how much time I was wasting (I spent well over 200 hours playing Skyrim).

    It may be that some people were just turned off by reading at a young age. Maybe Nick Hornby was in a way right. Maybe forcing a kid (while in school) to read a big thick book, about something they couldn’t care less about, full of big words, has made them associate reading with work. Who wants to sit down and work, after you’ve just gotten off work?

    I love to read, but I only read what I want to read. If I was forced to say, read a romance novel. I wouldn’t be so excited about reading. So, maybe it’s the subject matter of the book and not how many big words, or how long the sentences are, or even how complex the plot is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, you have a point. I think most of the people I know as readers will read ANYTHING so long as they love the subject matter.

      Some of them don’t seem to care how poorly the book was written. Look at Twilight! Look at 50 Shades of Grey! Not literary masterpieces, but romance lovers everywhere swallowed those by the chapter.

      So I guess you should just write what you love, and probably someone else will to! Hopefully…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never felt a book was too difficult to read. When I was a younger man I just didn’t like to read at all. As I grew older I began to read more and more. I found out that I just get more from a book. I get emotionally involved with the characters, and my imagination can come up with a more fantastic backdrop than any movie ever could.

    I don’t think people aren’t reading because books are hard. They’re not reading because of the way the world is. We’re working more hours and books take a long time to get through. In an age of internet, video games, and Netflix it’s just easier to get an entertainment quick fix. Everyone needs to just slow down a little bit. That’s what reading does for me. I feel really relaxed after a couple hours of reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually compare video games and books because they both have relatively high levels of interactivity (compared to movies/TV/other entertainment). Most video games take much longer to complete than your average book, but its how they have built in addicting elements AND they’re created by entire teams of people.

      In my opinion (and I would LOVE to be proven wrong) Video Games are more for entertainment, and less for higher thinking. They turn the player into a machine, rather than a thoughtful entity.

      As for movies and TV, I love them just as much as I love video games (and I do love video games). They’re just so easy to fall into after a stressful day — but again, I’ve seen people watch Netflix for hours and hours, people who would balk at the idea of reading a book in a day.

      What I’m saying is that the world HAS changed, and slowing down isn’t really an option for most people. But that doesn’t mean they can’t read. Maybe we just need to write shorter chapters?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The only thing I care about when reading a book is the authors voice. If I don’t like it I won’t waste my time reading it. Life is too short to waste it on reading a book that you hate spending time with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Usually when I have a problem with an author, it’s not that their voice turns me off – it’s their lack of voice, or that they’re forcing their voice (inexperienced writers do this far too frequently).

      Sometimes I wonder how they were published! But yes, that is a much better reason for putting down a book than ‘it’s too hard’.

      Like

  8. Them’s fightin’ words! Have at you!
    *starts flailing arms pathetically whilst turning my face away*

    Actually I sit with Sarah above – I don’t completely agree or disagree with Nick . I know too many friends, relatives who don’t read much, after being put off by being forced to read dry, difficult, dusty, books in school. The damage forcing someone young to read a book they don’t enjoy can be a lifelong hatred of the written word, a belief that this is an esoteric and unpleasant practice for ‘others’.

    I’ve seen such a result in my family – my mother was a massive consumer of books – all enjoyable for her to read (pulp romances to deep historical dramas etc.). I don’t remember seeing my father read ever (nothing except technical car manuals or farmers almanacs etc.) – he read for information, never pleasure. I took an academic path through schooling & followed my mother’s approach to reading, my sisters were less scholastically inclined and tended to follow my fathers.

    *My* position is to consistently read what you love to read… BUT don’t be afraid to dabble outside your zone.

    I love my pulpy sci-fi – I have a largish and still increasing collection of Black Library Warhammer 40k Books. I love my S King Horrors. Easy reads. Quick reads. But, I also know that there are real gems outside this limited focus – if I’m willing to stretch myself and try them. Reading is like any other skill, and the more you do, the more you test yourself and extend yourself, the better at it you will be. And you’ll get better at a bunch of other things – comprehension, empathy, vocabulary, memory….

    I wrote about what I was personally trying to do with my reading in a post recently (http://uncertaintales.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/reading-with-intent-musing-on-writing/). I’m trying out different books because I want to broaden my experience for my writing, but I’m also discovering all new genres and authors that I also love. Finding a new author is like finding a new restaurant. Discovering a new genre that you enjoy – hell, that’s like finding a whole new cuisine!

    Don’t start to hate reading by forcing down books you dislike, and feel free to gorge on the fun books. But don’t miss out on great stuff by never expanding your interests, every now and then *TRY* a different book. A different genre. A classic, a brand new author, a poem, a play, a translation, a non-fiction, an author from a different culture, religion, gender.

    TL;DR – read to have fun, but occasionally give yourself a workout.

    Cheers
    KT

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellently stated, KT.

      “Finding a new author is like finding a new restaurant.” – An apt analogy, and this is part of the reason I try to read a new author every other book.

      Maybe I’m biased – I’ve never had a problem with being forced to read a book;. it was always my favorite homework. But I can see how it would damage others’ love of reading. I wonder if they would have grown into readers if they had not been forced? Or would they have never tried reading much at all?

      One more question: You said you knew people who were put off by books in school, and don’t read much now — do they still read things they enjoy? Have they read many of the super-huge novels like Harry Potter or Twilight or something like that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi mate – after being put off, I think individuals can become non-readers. People can view reading like maths (another thing that people convince themselves is too hard) – hard work with limited application.

        Speaking of one case – I don’t think she would even try a harry potter (but would happily watch them). I think she did give the 50 shades books a go.

        Reading, particularly in school should focus on enjoyment. Get a love for it first, don’t ask 14 year olds what hamlets problem was. I reckon the rougher lads at my high school would have been better served by reading the Watchmen graphic novel instead of the grapes of wrath.

        Once you have the taste, then try to mix it up.

        Like

      2. In response to KT, 14-15 is the ideal age range to expose high schoolers, all of them, to Shakespeare. The brutal truth is that most are not going to take to it, at any age, but a few will, and the sooner the “hard” finds them, the better. And for another few, it will plant a seed such that they may revisit those hard books when they are older.

        This of course applies to all things, not just books. You alluded to math. If kids are not pushed to learn pre-calc and then calculus, we are already disqualifying huge swaths of the population from science and engineering careers, a real problem in America. Having gotten my undergrad degree in engineering, I experienced this need firsthand.

        Maybe things have changed but I thought education was in part about showing what is possible when you stretch your limits, not settling for Easy. Young high schoolers should be treated as emerging adults and not old children, with respect to a standard curriculum.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t completely agree with Nick Hornby, but I don’t completely disagree with him either. If a book is way more difficult that anything you’ve ever read–so much so that you aren’t getting anything out of it–then yes, you should probably read something a little easier and work your way up to the really difficult books. But if your only problem with a book is that it sent you to the dictionary more than twice (or as Priceless Joy suggested, the dictionary app), you’re being a wuss. I’m all for reading for pleasure, but there ought to be a meal before the dessert, right? Especially for anyone who aspires to be a writer. For heaven’s sake, you can’t write like the masters if you can’t read them!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well said, I heartily agree!

      I think Nick Hornby probably had the best of intentions when he made these statements.

      I think he wants people to read, read, read and he’s worried that most people, as they grow older, stop reading so much because what they encounter is too difficult.

      I don’t believe that’s why most people ‘give up’ on reading.

      Like

    1. I don’t remember thinking a book was challenging because I didn’t understand a word in it (or even multiple words). But I’ve always felt comfortable projecting what the definition might be from contextual clues and being open to revision if I turn out to be mistaken. Challenging, for me, is more about the depth of the ideas involved rather than the words that make them up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When I think of challenging language, I think of James Joyce, or other authors who played around over often with language, but you’re right – most of the time, I don’t consider novels challenging because of their language (not anymore, at least!).

        For me, it’s usually when I realize I’ve lost the thread of the novel, and I have to go back and analyze what happened and why.

        But, now I’m curious: what kind of books do you find challenging? Do you have any specific titles?

        Like

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