For this Read Harder challenge, choose a book that you have been intimidated to read. I don’t know about you, but nothing feels quite as satisfying to me as finishing a book that I didn’t think I could finish. It’s like summiting a mountain. And if you’re feeling down on yourself, finishing an intimidating book can give you the confidence of knowing that you can do tough things.
Need help picking a book that’s daunting enough to make this challenge interesting? I’ve rounded up eight novels that can all be intimidating in different ways—from doorstoppers to tearjerkers and more.
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
I could pretty much put any stream-of-consciousness book here, as the writing style itself is a little intimidating to read. But this book is especially challenging in that the whole story is told in one sentence—a sentence that spans over a thousand pages.
The story depicts the thoughts of an Ohio housewife, capturing both her personal worries and her concerns about the world as a whole. It ruminates on the brutality of human history with an anxious eye on Earth’s environmental future.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book’s difficulty lies not in how long it is but in the emotional turmoil it can cause to read. There’s a reason Never Let Me Go is often featured in “saddest books of all time” lists.
Set in near-future England, this novel focuses on Kathy as she recollects her life in a mysterious boarding school called Halisham. As she grows older, she discovers the startling purpose of Halisham and the implications that has for herself and her friends.
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
You might be thinking, “What is The Color of Magic doing on here? It’s only a few hundred pages long and isn’t particularly complicated.”
Ah, but it’s the first book in the 41-part Discworld series. This installment is told from the perspective of a neurotic “wizzard” named Rincewind who guides the first ever tourist to his hometown Ankh-Morpork. If you love it and want to keep reading, it could take you at least a year or more to finish them all. It’s a journey that I highly recommend, but definitely a daunting one.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Because of the sheer length of time they cover, generational sagas can feel daunting. But they’re also often worth it because of the powerful stories they tell.
Homegoing begins with two half-sisters: Effia and Esi, who live in 18th century Ghana. It follows their lives and the lives of their descendants through slavery, British colonization, the Civil War, 20th century Harlem, and the present day.
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
This seven-volume novel clocks in at over 4,000 pages, making it one of the longest books ever written. That’s like four Les Miserables, and that one’s already a brick (a good brick, but a brick nonetheless). It recounts the early life of an unnamed narrator as he reflects on how quickly time passes and whether there is meaning to his life. If you’re looking to set this challenge to extremely-hard mode, here’s your chance.
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, Translated by Royall Tyler
Often considered the first ever novel, The Tale of Genji can be difficult to follow in that all characters are called not by their name but their title—and these titles sometimes change. It follows the story of Hikaru Genji, an emperor’s son born during the Heian period. Written by a lady-in-waiting, this novel is a vivid portrayal of Japanese court life.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
This one is on the TBR of many a Lord of the Rings fan. If you want to immerse yourself in Middle Earth lore, you’ll find an entire mythology that spans millennia here.
If you decide to read The Silmarillion this year, I’d recommend listening to a recap podcast that analyzes it chapter-by-chapter. That way, you’re less likely to get lost. One that helped me through this journey is The Prancing Pony Podcast, but there are plenty of others out there, too.
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Any book that can be described as “metafiction” is bound to be a challenging read. Possession follows two young scholars who are researching the fictional Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. Their interest in the poets’ lives and letters take them on a journey from London to Yorkshire as they explore the passionate and possessive nature of love.