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Five ‘Potentially’ Brilliant Books that Defeated Me

You’ve seen those lists haven’t you? The 100 books you should read in your lifetime, books for the bucket list and the rest. We’ve put a fair few of these lists together for our polls section, and so through my work with this site I hear about a lot of books that I really ‘should’ read.

However, life isn’t always that simple, and a review of a book doesn’t always translate to how the book appears in print. Whether it’s writing style, or subject matter, the pace of the story or simply the opening chapters, there are always those books that we just can’t seem to get through even when we really wanted to enjoy them.

With that in mind, I started thinking about the books that are my nemesis, the books I really wanted to read and enjoy but failed to get along with. This is my shame list, my list of defeat. I’ll go back and finish them all one day, I promise!

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

I am a big pacifist, so when about ten people told me that Catch 22 is the greatest anti-war novel ever written, I had to go out and buy myself a really posh copy with a beautiful cover. I’ve started it four times, and the furthest I have got is page 118. I don’t think I will ever pick it up again. It’s beaten me. I admit defeat gracefully.

Catch 22 US
Catch 22 UK

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Beloved – Toni Morrison

Beloved gets such rave reviews and so it was one of the books I added to my ‘read more diverse literature TBR’. Set after the American Civil War, a time I’m interested in learning about, I was sure it would be an excellent read. Even while I was struggling with it, I was forcing myself on, wanting so badly to like it. The bookmark sits at page 143, I intend on trying again in the future, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

Beloved US
Beloved UK

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A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

I love dystopia, and I love Kubrick’s fantastic vision in the movie adaptation, so this was one of those books I couldn’t wait to get a copy of! I was so excited to see how the events were portrayed in the book and how Kubrick had translated that to the screen. This is probably my biggest failure, I threw it at the wall at about page 20 and have never picked it back up (it’s not literally sitting in the corner, creased up and covered in dust, I did put it back on the shelf at least).

A Clockwork Orange US
A Clockwork Orange UK

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Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Snoreeeeeeeeeeeeee… Oh I’m sorry, I just nodded off there for a moment. This is one I will never be revisiting.

Pride and Prejudice US
Pride and Prejudice UK

A nicer review than mine

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

When I was a kid this was such a cult book, anyone who was anyone had read it and people used to quote great swathes of it at school. I’ve avoided a lot of similar books thanks to failing with H2G, including Pratchett

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy US
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy UK

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That’s just five, but I could throw some authors on the pile too, and it would be a pile with Pratchett and King at the very top! Sorry, I really wanted to like you. And that’s the thing about the entire situation, these are all great books and great authors, many of them considered classics but I just couldn’t love them no matter how many times I tried.

What are your nemesis books? The books you thought you would like but just didn’t. Let us know in the comments.

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  • Jo says:

    One Hundred Years of Solitude did me in. I’ll go back and try again someday.

    • Hannah says:

      Oh thank GAWD I’m not the only one! 100 Years of Solitude? More like 100 Years of My Life I’ll Never Get Back!

    • Jane says:

      I got through to the end, and my final thought was, ‘What a total waste of my time’.

    • Jude Smith says:

      I read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ one night, 30 years ago sitting in the doorway of a bank, having missed the last train from town. I’d tried and failed to get into it before but as it was the only book I had with me, I had no choice other than to give it another go. Fantastic book however, although I have tried many times, I have never been able to reread it.

    • Shakeh says:

      Im reading 100 years of solitude now. I don’t think it’s so bad but I’m only half way through. I like it so far.

  • Nicole says:

    Pride and Prejudice of all books! Now that is shameful!

    I generally read a book all the way through, though it takes immense willpower to keep going sometimes. The only book I haven’t finished is Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton – it was rather depressing and it had to go back to the library. I have read one Terry Pratchett book that did not impress so I haven’t gone there again. But in general my forays into the classics section of the book store have surprised and delighted.

    • Lindsey says:

      I have to say that I don’t think it’s ever shameful to stop reading something. No reading shame, ever – just do what’s best for you. There are too many things we could do with our lives to waste time on things we aren’t connecting with. I used to grit my teeth and force myself through but am a happy convert to the ‘cut your losses’ philosophy. There are soooo many good books out there we will never run out, even if we bail on a few along the way.

      Personally, The Catcher in the Rye did me in. Also, made it through The Grapes of Wrath, but only connected with the last couple of chapters. I have done much better with Toni Morrison novels.

  • Marilyn Sneddon says:

    Agree re Catch 22, Morrison, Pratchett etc but I did love Pride and Prejudice. Couldnt finish The Shipping News either

  • Maureen Hart says:

    Moby Dick. I’d rather drown.

  • Michelle Khusu says:

    The Great Gatsby…I really tried…truly!

  • Jeanne Saint says:

    Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

  • Ruby says:

    Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, despite it being the Booker of Bookers! Couldn’t stand it! Finished it with great disdain!

  • Sheryl Krug says:

    “Interview With the Vampire”, Anne Rice

    I just CANNOT do it. I’ve tried a half dozen times over the years. I finally admitted defeat and have let myself off the hook.

  • Roberta says:

    Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. I have started it and stopped it more times than I remember.

  • Erin Heffernan says:

    Lord of the rings …. shoot me!

    • Jane says:

      I could never get past p40. Decided that, as a good NZ citizen, I should try again after the first movie. Found myself thinking that the writing was turgid rubbish and when it got to a red star pulsing at dawn I almost shrieked my disdain over such a hackneyed phrase. Then it occurred to me that it may be hackneyed now, but it was fresh when Tolkien thought of it, and that a whole new genre had arisen as a result.

  • Adam says:

    You don’t really say why you didn’t like these books, though!

  • Ginger says:

    Pratchett is hard ro keep up with.. Once I got used to the way he writes I love him. Anyone out there tackle Middlemarch?

    • Susan Zinenr says:

      Yes, twice. Got further the 2nd time, but still couldn’t do. (And I have read other George Eliot novels…don’t know why this one defeats me!)

  • JazzyJake says:

    I am well-read in the classics, but:

    I’ve started Moby Dick several times, can confidently say that I will never finish it. I can only mechanically read words for so long before moving on to something interesting. Maybe I will skim read it sometime, ignoring the interminable chapters that don’t advance the plot.

    So too with The Scarlet Letter. There are only a few other books that achieve this level of total disinterest in me. I’ve enjoyed other Hawthorne, but not this snorefest.

  • Meesh says:

    The Silmarillion. Have tried to read is at least 10 times. But never get past the first 50 pages…this from the person who reads The Lord of the Rings at least once every year.

  • Jessica says:

    Totally agree with you. Except for P&P. I am absolutely defeated by Infinite Jest.

    • Michelle says:

      I feel like Infinite Jest is my greatest achievement… ever! It took me a while, but I got there. And it was worth it in the end. Give it another try!

  • Katrina Capella says:

    Off the top of my head, The Canterbury Tales, the only F I have ever received in a literature class. I just could not force myself to write the paper. A Beautiful Mind, tortured myself trying to read it because it “is such a great book.” Mostly I can get through a mildly boring book, but if I am on the same page for more than a week, yeah it gets sent to the library book sale.

    • mole says:

      Re Canterbury Tales, I would agree with you but I discovered a New Library unabridged modern translation (2008) by Burton Raffel, and it’s gloriously, wonderfully readable… Except for the very last tale, “The Parson’s Tale”, in which Chaucer lapses into prose. Big mistake, Geoffrey!

  • Crista says:

    Reading Lolita in Tehran

  • Sherry says:

    I feel so much better about myself after reading these comments! I have felt the same way about them all, but never said it out loud!

  • Merla says:

    The Underground – The only reason I can think of that made this book a Number 1 Seller is the fact it’s an Oprah recommendation. First, I think they should categorize it under fantasy; not historical fiction. I always thought historical fiction was a made up story set in some historical time. With that concept, some issues in the story are usually fact. Oh no, not so. The Underground Railroad in this book is an actual railroad running through tunnels. With the world we now live in, all that is printed seems to be truth to some generations. Depicting the Underground Railroad as a true railroad bothers me. I can just see Herman and Ethel heading south to go on a tour of these trains because they don’t know the actual history of the term. Also, one chapter included tubal ligation and the syphilis experiments on black men. This book is pre-Civil War (I think; I’m still not sure) and these experiments were conducted in Vermont in the 30s. The story itself was so convoluted, I had a seriously difficult time trying to follow it. Because of this convolution, I could never relate to any characters nor the story itself.

  • Jane says:

    I know. I know. People will find this impossible to believe. But all of Tolkein. Both our kids love his work so much, they have purchased special editions. Went to the first two films. I went back a second time. i tried. (Had excellent sleep in Harry Potter my daughter took me to and loved. I had an excellent sleep. So the book wouldn’t have been anymore enticing. But really enjoy Robert Galbraith). I’m such an exciting mother to have. Not.

  • Erika says:

    Atlas Shrugged. Supposedly contributed to my parents’ divorce. I couldn’t get beyond page 200. I hated the writing, hated ALL of the characters, couldn’t understand for the life of me how supposedly smart people couldn’t figure out who was working against them…

  • KD says:

    Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) and Atlas Shrugged (Rand).

  • LauLau says:

    Tale of two cities… just unbearable!

  • Francine says:

    The Clockwork orange did me in but I loved the other four!

  • David Peacock says:

    I love nearly all Kazuo Ishiguro’s other novels but have never completed “the Unconsoled” -i’ve tried three times now!!

  • Kate Michaels says:

    I cannot get through Great Expectations, despite several attempts. I read 3/4 of Dracula before giving up. (That one just got boring.)

  • Vanessa says:

    Shantaram. I soooo wanted to kove this but after 200 pages I just couldn’t care less about the characters 🙁

  • Aung Myin says:

    I’ve tried many times to read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace in
    English translated version.But in vain. I cannot recount the names of
    so many characters.Also a boring long long story for me.

  • D Ohnishi says:

    The Satanic Verses. Back when it was banned, I couldn’t wait to read it. A friend loaned me his copy with a very close return date. Summer vacation plans, etc. I started it and didnt even get to page 50 and was more than happy to return the book and do not think I shall ever try it again. Banning books are very good at piqueing interest, but I just did not see the hype.

  • Simon says:

    I’m probably going to upset a lot of folks but “The BORED of the Rings” trilogy really gets me snoozing.

  • Leviathan. Hobbe’s philosophy and thought have had a huge impact on me, but the language is so old it’s almost not English.

  • Sylvia Speas says:

    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I got as far as chapter 7. Then it did me in. She keeps repeating everything she believes in over and over again. Just got to be too much.
    The other one, sad to say, is the Bible. It gets too depressing for me to finish and God knows I have tried and tried but it does me in.

  • Cindy says:

    Last of the Mohicans. Love the movie but have tried and failed with the book 3 or 4 times.

  • Carole says:

    Wuthering Heights. Possibly the most depressing book ever. I never finished it, and I never will. Also couldn’t stomach The Three Musketeers. I never have figured out why these two appear on the “must read” lists.

    • Karry Gillespie says:

      Totally agree, I absolutely LOVE JANE Eyre and have read it at least 5 times but just can’t do Heathcliff and won’t try for the fourth time. I was so happy to see Catch 22 first on the list, was so shamed that I couldn’t get through it. I’d add Madame Bovary to the list of unreadable. What a fun list!!!

  • Wella Mae Morales says:

    Lolita. Im the most patient reader. Ive read many boring and disturbing books but this is just too disgusting for me

  • Pete says:

    Lord of the Rings did me. Tried 5 times never got past page 30.

  • Leslie says:

    My 11th grade teacher tried to make me read The Fountainhead for a book report. I don’t think I made it through the first chapter, and neither did my mother (a voracious reader) when she gave it a try. I did my book report on Gone with the Wind. 🙂

  • Jen says:

    Girl with a pearl earring. Just could not get past the first chapter without wanting to fall asleep!!

  • ‘La Comedia’ by Dante. I’ve heard it being referred to as the ‘great unread’. I finished the book, but oh my word, it won’t be picked up again. (I also kind of force myself to finish a book.)
    But not ‘Don Quixote’. Just couldn’t.

  • Nausea by Satre. Did manage to read it, but felt quite depressed and suicidal once finished. Had to read it for my son who was meant to be writing a paper on it the following week but did not have the time to read it himself. Will never pick it up again unless I actually want to go through with suicide but need the final push!

  • Nancy Hausladen says:

    A women in a book group I as in thought we should read Moby Dick. This is the first time I have only gotten to page 2 and decided I could not read this book

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