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The Top 17 Books That Make You Feel Dumb

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Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

Rioter Swapna struck a nerve last month when she wrote about the perils of feeling dumb while reading, and we decided to find out which titles really left you scratching your head. It’s a phenomenon every reader has experienced at some point–maybe you read something everyone else loves and you just don’t see the appeal; maybe you read something everyone else loves and they actively make you feel like you’re dumb for not loving it; and maybe you read something that’s supposed to rock your world and you just plain don’t get it.

463 Riot readers completed our latest survey, sharing 406 unique titles that made them feel dumb (each respondent could provide up to three answers). We didn’t ask for specifics, so we’re not going to speculate about how these titles ended up on the list. But we’re sure interested in your take! Here are the top 17 titles, and here’s the full data set for your perusal.

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce (71 votes)
  2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (43)
  3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (22)
  4. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (18)
  5. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (17)
  6. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (15)
  7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (15)
  8. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (14)
  9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (14)
  10. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (14)
  11. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (13)
  12. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (13)
  13. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (12)
  14. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (11)
  15. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole (10)
  16. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (10)
  17. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (10)

What do you make of this list? Have you tried these titles and also felt dumb for some reason?


Check out other Riot polls:

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The 25 Most-Hated Books (by Book Riot Readers)

19 Books You’ve Been Meaning to Read FOREVER

20 Books You Pretend to Have Read

Top 10 Books You’re Embarrassed to Admit You’ve Read

20 Most-Loved Literary Characters

Are These the 13 Most Underrated Books?

20 Books You Love to Give as Gifts

Your 25 Favorite Authors of Color

The Book Riot 2013 Reading Habits Survey

The Great TBR Poll: Results