Too long; didn't read

William Lou
February 26, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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No matter how diligent we may be at tackling literature’s harder titles for study or for pleasure, there are a few biggies that just about dare us to fully read them in their entirety but ultimately remain perplexing.

The following is a list of four behemoths that deter anyone with even a remotely wandering attention span from ever attempting to finish. If by chance you have the discipline to somehow get all the way through any of these, consider yourself among the one percent of snobby intellectuals.

4. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, from what a professor tells me, is a rambling soap opera that becomes even worse to continue with if you take the normally easy way out and take up the audiobook. From its abridged version entitled The Grand Inquisitor, the novel reveals itself to be a complex treatise on the existence of God, among other familial dramas. Prepare yourself for nights absorbed in existential depths. While you just might be able to finish this tome if you don’t much give a crap who is talking and what exactly they are referring to, you’d be better off tackling some of Dostoyevsky’s shorter works instead. Also try Crime and Punishment, or what might really be his masterpiece, The Idiot.

3. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Next we get to Ayn Rand’s defining novel Atlas Shrugged. A huge brick of a book, we could just as easily have put in her other 1,000+ page effort, The Fountainhead. Either way you are spending 50 hours of your life slogging through intricate narratives, endless details, and intricate accounts of the book’s minutia. But the real bulk of this text comes from Rand’s philosophizing, with the plot being just the framework. Skip it if 20 pages an hour turns into only 10 as you try to keep it all together. My recommendation?  Pick up The Anthem, which is as short as these are long. Along the lines of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, it’s a good primer of Rand’s work you can read in a weekend.

2. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

The runner-up is a thick non-fiction monstrosity of the philosophical variety. It isn’t by our beloved Nietzsche, easy-to-read Plato, or the Early Moderns who questioned the very existence of matter. It’s Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, whose length and complexity render it mind-numbing. What makes this especially uninviting to read beyond a few selected parts is the fact that it begins with one thread, keeps it going until the end, all the while having opened up several other ones, which each have their own seemingly endless subsections. Trying to understand what the hell Kant is saying will either give you a nervous breakdown, or a guaranteed professorship should you ever figure it out. A shorter Kant read to start with is Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, a shorter and more accessible option.

1. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace

But aside from all these, number one goes to the epitome of literature, the gold standard of novels, the highest manifested aspiration, we are told, that a writer has ever achieved: Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The Russian writer’s seminal work takes the prize for several reasons – its obscene length, expansive narrative structure, as well as the ridiculous number of characters that span a decade. Page to page it may not seem daunting, but without a working knowledge of the war it describes and its context in world history, little of anything will be gained from plodding through. If you are looking for a cool doorstop, however, picking up a copy might be cheaper, and more solid than one at the store. Even reading the Sparknotes could kill you. Save yourself and read The Death of Ivan Ilych.

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