50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers

Maybe it’s a Pavlovian response to years of schooling, or that the brisk weather affords more hours inside, or something else entirely, but the fact is this: November seems like the time to take on the heftiest reading on your list. And let’s face the facts: some books are only for the toughest readers on the block, your Sylvester Stallones of literature, as it were. So for those of you who count yourself tough, here’s a list of books for you: some absurdly long, some notoriously difficult, some with intense or upsetting subject matter but blindingly brilliant prose, some packed into formations that require extra effort or mind expansion, and some that fit into none of those categories, but are definitely for tough girls (or guys) only. This list is limited to works of fiction, so straightforward philosophy is out, and a single book per author, so you’ll see Finnegans Wake (obviously) but not Ulysses. Don’t worry, the Ulysses is implied. Check out the list after the jump, and tell everyone just how tough you really are, you bookworm you, in the comments.


Nightwood, Djuna Barnes

Frequently cited as one of the most difficult novels of all time, Barnes’ 1936 roman à clef broke barriers with its frank depictions of homosexuality. But that’s not what makes its 2013 reader tough — that’d be the prose, dense and intense, of which T.S. Eliot sniffed in the book’s introduction, “only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it.” And we all know poets are the toughest of all.