Should I wait until I’m smarter to read difficult novels?

100 Replies to “Should I wait until I’m smarter to read difficult novels?

  1. Hey man just subscribed. Found your channel after reading Blood Meridian for about the 50th time and deciding to do exactly what you suggest here, having a look for references, other opinion. I found out some cool things – the whole reference to Paradise Lost in the ex-Priest's story, for example, that being a book I have never read. There's an entire University course out there discussing this and other "allusions" in the work. I went to school for ages but never took an English course so at the very least it was interesting to see what those nuts were up to while I was doing my thing. But I would echo the comment below from Mariella (I actually just noticed it; really) that I've always felt the same way – the books that have truly appealed to and inspired me have done that regardless of whether I "got them" on some other level. Good lord I've read and re-read passages in Blood Meridian countless times, including the gunpowder story and had to put the book down because it hit me so hard; knowing that he was inspired by or is alluding to something else is interesting, but I wonder if knowing that will make it even harder hitting the next time I read it? I remember putting The History of the Siege of Lisbon down 100 pages in the first time, I was so frustrated; then picking it up 5 or 10, I don't know, years later and reading it to the end in a few days and "what was I thinking?!?" So I agree with you, the important thing is to just read, don't NOT read something because you think it's "beyond" you. Unfortunately if I take my own advice that means I'll have to try Pynchon again and I have no idea what the hell that sh*t is all about.

    Anyway, I love to read and often have a hard time deciding what to read next so I look forward to trying out some of the other stuff you've reviewed which I am not familiar with (before watching your reviews of course). If I can make a suggestion – The War of the End of the World, it's a big big awesome book. Thanks.

  2. I watched this video atleast 3 times to gain confidence at tackling difficult books and gain courage to face my own stupidity and beat it. Or reassure myself that even if I fathomed less than half of the content of one book, it's fine. Merci beaucoup, tu es une source de support très bénéfique pour tout aspirants intellectuels, je souhaite seulement que ta chaine grandit d'avantage. 🙂

  3. Another thing about reading books you don't fully understand: You can go back and re-read them at a later point of you feel you missed out on anything.

  4. Hi there, I have a question and would love to hear what your thoughts are – have you read any of the Robert Pirsig books (or any of the two books that he wrote), and if so, what is your opinion about his writing and views? I hope you find the time to answer my question 🙂

  5. YES! I LIVE for annotations and critical analysis. They are my friends. We have coffee. And they don't talk about how stupid I really am behind my back.

  6. >Finished Infinite Jest
    >self-esteem destroyed
    >30 pages into Gravity's Rainbow
    >feels like an utter idiot that isn't ready for postmodern shit

    Thank you for this video

  7. The most difficult work I've read so far would definitely fall to either Suttree or Blood Meridian. When I'm sitting there getting rock-hard admiring the language of some beautiful passage, I can never help but wonder what I might be missing.

    But that is certainly what has scared me away from Joyce. Thanks for pointing us toward Re:joyce, I'll be looking into that particular podcast.

  8. Gravity's Rainbow kicked my ass the first time I read it, and yet so far it has been the ONLY book that seriously tempted me to start re-reading it right after I finished the last page.

  9. I find it to be comparable with learning a New language. The more of the language you learn, the more you understand. I experienced the same with arthouse films. they are really hard to read until you have watched a lot of them, but then the intruguing part becomes films you still cant understand.

  10. I've had that experience a few times, with two of Nabokov's novels and recently with Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon). All three books were totally unenjoyable because I was so lost and confused. I even had a guidebook with a summary and list of character. It still wasn't enjoyable. 🙁 I've seen people raving about it on the internet, but certainly didn't have that experience myself. But now I am reading a Pynchon book, Bleeding Edge. It's good so far. Before this I was reading a lot of Delillo, and I noticed the two authors are often mentioned together, so that's why I wanted to go for Pynchon. I have The Crying of Lot 49 and also Inherent Jest, hopefully they're good.

  11. I like you but im not sure why people would read Hegel. I mean i like philosophy (specially analitical stuff) but for average people in Phenomenology of Spirit there are not so many pages that anyone could understand it. If you really like philosophy and you want to know more about existencial, ontology and logic i will rather recommend Diogenes Laertios book. This will be great start for people who want to know more.

  12. I actually found Ulysses (incomprehensible references and occasional overlong chapters aside) to be surprisingly entertaining. I'm certainly not incredibly well-read, and I did use an additional text which I used pretty religiously. In general though I found it to be an incredibly awesome and rewarding experience and I look forward to returning to it again later in my life and experiencing it again as at least a somewhat better-read individual. Great video, I'd love to see some Joyce reviews in the future!

  13. I agree, throw yourself in at the deep end, and you will learn to swim for fear of death. Great books rearrange your brain as you read 'em. Great channel BTW. Keep up the good work man.

  14. I found when reading philosophy at University – primarily Kant, & Delueze – that the art of reading this stuff involved reading three or more pages of it, and then going back and read them again. To read a book such as 'Critique of Pure Reason', you essentially need to read it three or more times. So for this reason, I don't think I'll ever get around to reading Hegel. I'll leave Hegel for someone else.

  15. I really always ask myself this! How long do I wait? Lolz. But I started anyway. One life and lot of books to read. Am not wasting anymore time thinking…

  16. Sometimes having something like York Notes is good to supplement one's reading. Of course, these help books are limited in what they offer but they can sometimes launch one into deeper inquiries. They also offer alternative follow up reading resources ir critiques.

  17. I never shamed myself for it…but I do get frustrated, it just makes reading less enjoyable atleast for me. I one day hope to be able to read Being and Time from Heidegger and Nietzsche's books. 18 years old now.

  18. Don't wait, try. Great novels pull you in, keep your mind captivated and makes your mind go places you've never been before.

  19. With every book I read, I have aged 100 more years in my small eternity of a life. Ever since I graduated college I have been reading non-stop the greatest classics and have tried to understand every single piece to the fullest of my ability. I hope I will continue to read as much as I have as of late! Thank you for an excellent video, sir!

  20. I loved the Ninth Gate (movie) and got The Dumas key (book) – that was a mistake. Soooo much talk about the 3 musketeer; it went over my head and soon after the book went over the table.

  21. I'm a big fan of these book reviews. I think more people should make the connection between reading books and thinking clearly. I have my own book review channel on youtube but it's still in it's infancy. Hey, if you want to check out BRAIN FOOD BOOKS you can have a look and give me some feedback on my videos. Love your work, I just subscribed to your channel!

  22. Joyce made no sense to me until I went to Ireland and heard Ulysses being read aloud. Suddenly it made sense.

    Also, I would suggest asking how do you get smarter if you avoid reading challenging texts? You'll get there Justin. Or, at worse, you will experience the awe of being exposed to minds much greater than ours, being mere mortals.

  23. So true! I like reading books on physics and am soooo not a scientific thinker, but I like my small moments of clarity that I get when something clicks.

  24. When in doubt hit up a philosophy student or grand. They will thank you. Their friends and family will thank you. The people at their minimum wage job will thank you and who knows, it might keep them from wanting to end it all for a good hour.

  25. I️ think you should just go at your pace, I️ always like to think about how as a kid I️ read ‘Hooked on Phonics,’ and that pretty much taught me to read in the first place.

    I️ think what changes the more you read is that you become aware of tropes, structures, and vocabulary that you’ve never really heard, or is being used very differently from the norm.

    I️ wanna read Heidegger, but honestly I’m reading more of the foundational texts like The Social Contract, and Thucydides’s historical account of The Peloponnesian War.

  26. That's one of those questions that one would already know the answer to even before deciding whether to be asking it…

  27. When you put the cover of Phenomenology of Spirit on screen I had a brief moment of PTSD.

  28. It's a simple reality that you don't get better by doing something without actually practicing it. There will never come a point by just waiting where you'll feel assured in your intelligence and ready to tackle the classics. You have to just jump in. Reading the classics is what makes you intelligent enough to read the classics.

    However, you can be smart about it. Works of art build off of and respond to each other. They form a dialogue across the centuries, and jumping right into the middle of it is a good way to become lost. Start at the beginning with the Ancient Greeks and work your way through the centuries.

  29. It's a great question. In my early 20s I decided I wanted to read "serious" books, and really delved into literature. In high school I was a straight F student in all my English classes, and most others for that matter. I just couldn't give a fuck, was not motivated in any way to care about books. I can't even blame the teachers for being uninspiring, I was just 100% resistant. But as I got older I started to feel sort of guilty, if that's the right word, and wanted to right some of the wrongs of my youth. I realized that I was growing up to be stupid and began to be appalled at my own ignorance., so naturally I felt like reading novels would be the way to turn it around. I had heard of Virginia Woolf and thought I should start there. So I went and checked out The Voyage Out from the library. It was like water in the desert for me. I soaked it in, reveled in it, fell in love with it. I had to keep a post-it note with a list of all the characters and their relations to each other because it was too much to keep straight in my head. But it set me on the path. So here I was thinking I had this Woolf down, I'm going to read The Waves. Yeah, no. But here's the thing, I could not tell you anything about what happens in The Waves, except for what I have read in other books about it, but I did read it. I slogged through, start to finish, I made it, despite not understanding most of it. Now it's been 25 years since then, I am much more well-read and still I'm not sure if I could "get" it the way it's meant to be "gotten." I guess my point is there's benefit from reading, even if you think you're not getting it. After that Mrs. Dalloway was a breeze by comparison.

  30. Also for anyone reading, you shouldn't feel obligated or pressured or that you deserve to be looked upon with contempt for simply not liking some classic books. You read enough it's guaranteed you will simply not like some classics at all, and there's some strength in saying "Yeah I don't like it, it doesn't work for me." You don't have to necessarily shit on it, but don't pretend to like it to not make waves, stand up for your existence. I tried Nabokov, a few of his books, and it just doesn't click. Obivously he is incredibly intelligent and sharp and such. But it just seems like clever whimsy, that knows it's clever whimsy so tries to bring the magic out from sheer word and imagery performance. Either way I don't enjoy it, but there's plenty of classics I love love love!

  31. RIP War and Peace for me, It's just too hard and I'm 17 😣.
    Even with supplementary material, I'm too dumb.

  32. I followed Frank Delaney and his ReJoyce PodCast till he died, February, three/four years ago … we only got to 9 out of the 18 episodes … really miss Mr. Delaney. Great man.

  33. Modern man in search of soul is currently being covered in dust on my shelf…
    The book is too damn hard at the moment.

  34. English is not my native language, therefore reading the lord of the rings is not easy for me, but I will not give up since I wanna improve my English and I love the story.

  35. No. One of the great boons afforded by reading difficult books is that they make us smarter. They build vocabulary and wisdom. They pave the way to coping with life's great struggles with wit and grace, and bless us replies to the mysteries that seemingly have no answer.

  36. These are EXACTLY the books I read. And Pynchon. The_BookChemist is doing a read thru of Gravity's Rainbow this month. Join us! Thx, Cliff.

  37. The late Frank Delaney, yes … We only made it to the middle of Episode 10 Wandering Rocks, 20 February 2017.

  38. "Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle reviewed? For some reason this New Agey book had a major impact even as a "atheist skeptic"…still a top 20 bestseller on today it came out in like 2006? Also Will Durant books "On the Meaning of Life" and "Lessons of History" both under hundred pages packed a punch of wisdom and good prose…

  39. At 16 I read Infinite Jest. Afterward I felt I could conquer any book in the world. The next book was Gravity's Rainbow, which put me in my fucking place.

  40. Embraced the reading life Sept 2017 and recently tried To the Lighthouse as my first Woolf. Lol. That was tough! I wrung my brain for a good 25 pages til I gave up. Still, of what I finished, it was pretty fvcking satisfying. Picked up Mrs. Dalloway at the used bookstore, I heard that was a better starting point. Hope I do good.

  41. Thanks for the heads up on Frank Delaney's Ulysses podcast. I like to follow along on Genius while listening to Delaney!

  42. Guys the author spent months and months writing that book so we can't just think that we can understand it in one go. It needs attention and it'll be reward the time spent reading it.

  43. Just wanted to say that I first watched this video when it came out in 2015. Upon first hearing of your Heidegger challenge I was instantly intrigued. I ordered a copy of the book and could not get through the first paragraph. I had no knowledge of philosophy at the time so I committed myself to learning its history.
    Two weeks ago I opened up my old, unread copy of Being and Time and began to read. I am proud to say that I have made it through the first 150 pages without undergoing psychosis. Thanks for the inspiration, Cliff. I've been a viewer since the beginning.

  44. Do you still read these comments? You've mentioned Joyce a lot in this video so I was wondering if you've ever read anything by Flann O'brien? I strongly recommend At Swim Two-Birds! That is said to be the last book Joyce read and he loved it. Another great book from O'brien is The Third Policeman. I hope you get this.

  45. such a weird notion on face value. "books about other books". i get it dont get me wrong, it is a necessary thing, but still a bit silly when you think about it.

  46. I find that (usually after you’ve read the book to avoid spoilers) reading dissertations and thesis paper analyses of books can really deepen your understanding of them. There are also handy resources like LitCharts, of course, but there is often – depending on how obscure the book – a wealth of papers in the form of pdfs and etc. Take Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens for example; I only realised how clever the use of humour was and how Dickens uses it to contrast with dark and depressing moments to make them seem less severe after I read a paper on the topic. Especially for philosophical novels like Brothers Karamazov, there are great resources online.

  47. Hi, found this talk quite inspirational. I have a quick question and am curious as to your opinion on something. It is a bit off topic but I found myself asking this during your video and thought others may have wondered as well. As someone who is into literature but also into convenience (perhaps laziness), would you recommend audio books as a means for tapping into the wealth of knowledge that exists in literature? Or do you think there something about the act of reading itself that creates more opportunity to learn and grow through reading?

  48. You just go with the flow… read whatever you want, or can absorb, and you will "evolve" into higher and better reading (according to your abilities and understanding). Getting older helps — couldn't read Ulysses before I was 60… loved it so much that I took on Finnegans Wake — would not recommend that to anyone at any age, but I can say I did it (with a guidebook, or two, of course). Going back to Portrait with a new perspective (saw your review of it and got me to subscribe). Carry on, Sir!

  49. Dear Mr. Sargent, I am a High-School English teacher from Australia and would like to use your video in my classroom to show my students. Unfortunately, due to the 'colourful' language, I have had to make a censored version. I hope you do not mind. Please find the video here: credited to you. I hope to expose your lucid reasoning and wisdom with new listeners. I have made the video for educational purposes only. I hope you approve of this. If not, I am happy to take it down on your request. Kindly, David Norris

  50. Kind sir. I love what you are doing with your book reviews, however your use of profanity is not acceptable. You are obviously smart and articulate, why can you not forcibly express yourself without using profanity?

  51. I think your a cool dude! What are your thoughts on Jordan Peterson’s book? Awesome videos and helping us out👍

  52. This has been my problem for years. I dont have the courage to face my own stupidity. Ive been trying to read 'difficult-ish' books for years but cant seem to finish even one of them.

  53. We're not supposed to know all references in books, and novels. I'm reading Lonesome Dove by Larry Macmurtry at the moment. It's a great long book. But of all the western novels I could have chosen to read, I'm pleased I chose this epic tome. It's rich in character depiction especially, events, and behaviour that one doesn't really consider as usual for a western. So in these things I'm gaining lots from this fine detailed work. I usually avoid novels, and growing up in u.k you're encouraged to read the likes of the Brontes,Dickens and the likes. However not being able to relate to these books, my reading was stunted for ages. Yet through perseverance I've been able to catch up on my literary lack. So take your time and explore. There's always something for everyone to read that will move you off of that literary roadblock. We're not stupid just sometimes mislead.

  54. I tried reading "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" last year and at the beginning I was surprised because it went well but when the chapters really begin I was very frustrated haha I didn't have a clue about what he was talking about…I read 1/4 and just stopped because I didn't feel like I was learning anything except 1 or 2 phrases. But it was my mistake I should have studied Nietzsche thoughts and the context before, and watching some videos I learned that book should be the last one to be read so…I'm gonna try now "Twilight of the Idols" which I've heard it's supposed to be an introduction to his philosophy.

  55. I consider my English to be quite good at this point, I've been learning the language for 15 years and I've been living in the UK for 3 years. But I can not for the life of me make head nor tails of Finnegans Wake. I don't know whether to try again.

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