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lunababymoonchild

Books That Are Too Intellectual?

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Have any BGOers considered that an author or a book was just too intellectual for them and decided to just not try and read said author/book?

 

I spent many years under the apprehension that I didn't have the intellectual ability to read John Le Carre (and comprehend it) and here I am belting through The Spy Who Came in From The Cold with no trouble at all. I have absolutely no idea where I got the impression from. Thomas Hardy is another author I'm assuming, with no evidence whatsoever, that is too intellectual for me but having managed Le Carre I'm now encouraged to 'have a go' with Hardy (I have Jude the Obscure on my shelf). Then there's Proust. Hemingway is another, although I did read The Old Man and The Sea when I was at school and just didn't see the significance of it.

 

It's really odd because I have no trouble at all with Shakespeare and Burns and I was doing alright with the Original Spelling Edition of The New Testament: Tyndale Bible, 1526 (until I got bored with it actually)

 

Anybody else consider books/authors too intellectual for them, and if so do you refuse to read them or do you abandon them part of the way through?

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Interesting subject luna. I read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in the 1960s and thoroughly enjoyed it but I have found any other Le Carre works extremely difficult indeed and have given up trying to understand them or finish them.

 

Hardy on the other hand I love. Have just finished reading Far from the Madding Crowd. Why not read (if you have not already done so) some of the BGO reviews - I've just added mine - they might seem more accessible then.

 

I always thought Joyce was a bit obscure, especially with Ulysses, until I had to read it at Uni and it was 'explained' to me. The Dubliners and A Portrait... are very accessible but after Ulysses he seemed to get even more obscure in his writing - to say the least. Having said that I now find Ulysses a great read when seen merely as one man's mental ruminations as he perambulates round Dublin.

 

Russian writers have always scared the pants off me - until I listened to them read on CD. I reckon it's the size of most of them that's off-putting more than anything else.

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I'm a bit shy of the russians myself, although I do possess Dostoevsky - how's that for an intellectual author? - and the usual Tolstoys, never read them though. The length of the book doesn't put me off it's just the apparent intellectualism required to read them.

 

I saw your review of Hardy Barblue and it spurred me on to create this thread actually. That and DBC Pierre's choice of bedtime reading on The Book Show - Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (anybody actually ever read that?), Extraordinary Popular Delusions And the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay - and naturally, the only way to find out is to pick one up and read it (I have Jude the Obscure) and reading the thread, I'm sure will help.

 

My mother was a big fan of Le Carre and read pretty much all of them. Every time I picked one up I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. Then there was Arthur Koestler, too.

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Will Self was a massive stumbling block - but I don't know if he's too intellectual for me or if I just couldn't be bothered with his ridiculous sentance structure and his nonsense determination to be postmodern.

 

I struggled with all the naval terms in Tom Clancy - but find that If I've seen the films that go with the book I mostly understand the acronyms (? - sorry my spelling is all over the place at the moment).

 

I have two books on my TBR that I am nervous about the first is Foucaults Pendulum which I know will require concentration to keep up with the story and the other is Richard Dawkins the God delusion and in this instance I think I might get frustrated with the arguements and give up. So I will keep thinking about it. By that same notion I am wary of Science books, I want to understand more, but I don't want to be put to sleep each night because the telling of the theory was less riveting that watching paint dry.

 

In fact if anyone knows some good, interesting and though provoking science to read that would really make my day... I like Marcus du Sautoy's Mathematics books if that helps guide you to my kind of writing.

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I think I have a problem with the phrase "too intellectual". It makes it sound as if these books are somehow above you or better than you, as if you are a lesser person because you can't or won't tackle them. Yes, there are books that intimidate you, books that you may have to read with a dictionary at hand - but none that are out of your league. For me it comes down to interest. If you are interested enough in the book, you will make the effort to read it, comprehend it, and break through the 'wall' that you perceive it puts up. It's not above you or "too intellectual" - it's just that it requires more work than other books you might have read.

 

If you are interested enough, you will be motivated to invest the time and effort into tackling the troublesome books. And you'll probably find that they aren't so intimidating after all.

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I also find the phrase "too intellectual" puzzling... and tend to agree with Hazel's interpretation of it.

 

In addition, I seriously don't think Thomas Hardy is as "difficult" as you seem to fear... I've always found all his fiction very easy to get involved in, and Hardy himself would not have been pleased to have been deemed "too intellectual"... Jude the Obscure is a particularly depressing read, on the other hand, luna: I would advise you to start with Far from the Madding Crowd, or perhaps the charming and underrated The Woodlanders, the first one I read.

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Richard Dawkins the God delusion
Gads. I read the first 150 pages of this book and would have destroyed it entirely had it not belonged to the library. I found it to be the most frustrating book I have ever attempted, not because I couldn't understand it but because he never once gave me the benefit of his opinion, which is why I was reading the book in the first place. He kept telling me what Einstein really meant when he was talking about God!

 

I think I have a problem with the phrase "too intellectual". It makes it sound as if these books are somehow above you or better than you, as if you are a lesser person because you can't or won't tackle them.
That's how it feels.

 

Yes, there are books that intimidate you, books that you may have to read with a dictionary at hand - but none that are out of your league. For me it comes down to interest. If you are interested enough in the book, you will make the effort to read it, comprehend it, and break through the 'wall' that you perceive it puts up. It's not above you or "too intellectual" - it's just that it requires more work than other books you might have read.

 

If you are interested enough, you will be motivated to invest the time and effort into tackling the troublesome books. And you'll probably find that they aren't so intimidating after all.

I did pursue Karen Armstrong's The Case for God: What religion really means, with said dictionary at hand and reading out loud (which I found to be most helpful) and got something out of it. I do intend to reread it and get more out of it. Interestingly, I bought it in hardback just as it came out and, having no preconceived notions about the author, carried on. So yes, it would seem to be more my perceptions than my intellect.

 

Jude the Obscure is a particularly depressing read, on the other hand, luna: I would advise you to start with Far from the Madding Crowd, or perhaps the charming and underrated The Woodlanders, the first one I read.

FftMC or Woodlanders it is. Knowing where to start is always a good thing, too.

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I'm not sure I've ever tackled a "Classic".

 

Not proud, not ashamed - somehow they just don't appeal. Or maybe it's a mental block. Actually it's probably a deep routed inferiority complex from school days that prevents me.

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I have also been struggling to understand what is meant by 'too intellectual', and found that Hazel's interpretation worked for me, too.

I struggle with authors that use foreign tags, and classical or literary allusions as I have not had a classical education - or any higher education at all.

When I first read Robertson Davies' book The Rebel Angels. I found much of it beyond my comprehension, set as it is in the field of academic research. However, as Hazel said:

If you are interested enough, you will be motivated to invest the time and effort into tackling the troublesome books. And you'll probably find that they aren't so intimidating after all.
.

The story itself was intriguing enough for me to want to persevere, and I found it intellectually stimulating and energizing.

 

That said, there are books/authors whose very names intimidate me - Gunter Grass being one. Younger Son read The Tin Drum last year and has been trying to get me to read it ever since, but I just can't bring myself to.

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I have two books on my TBR that I am nervous about the first is Foucaults Pendulum which I know will require concentration to keep up with the story...

A great novel. It's dense, make no mistake, but it has its thriller elements alongside its more erudite passages and ruminations. Of the five Eco novels it's my favourite - although I'll be interested to read The Cemetery Of Prague, or whatever it gets called, when it comes out in English.

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I suspect that plenty of books will be too difficult for some people to understand. For example, I failed to understand anything at all in Tom MacIntyre’s Story of a Girl. Perhaps, as Hazel says, with a damp towel over my head and a lot of willpower, I could have deciphered it – but I certainly couldn’t have done it through any normal reading process. Most of us probably have an ultimate intelligibility threshold and given the wide range of abilities in our society, these thresholds will be in different places for different people.

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Most of us probably have an ultimate intelligibility threshold and given the wide range of abilities in our society, these thresholds will be in different places for different people.
This is what I was thinking and what I meant by too intellectual.

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I have no problem tackling the Russians but have a mental block regarding the South Americans (except for Isabel Allende): perhaps it's the association with magical realism which isn't my genre of fiction. Rather off-topic as regards intellectualism, sorry!

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I'm in the Hazel/jfp camp on this question. I don't really understand the phrase "too intellectual", certainly in the case of fiction. If such books do exist, then I see it as a flaw of the writer, not mine.

 

It is offputting if a writer can't resist showing off in their writing just how smart or well educated they are and does so at the expense of telling the story they're trying to tell as if we readers are meant to admire the former rather than the latter, which is surely the reason fiction is written in the first place. Take Eco as an example: I'd accuse him of this if he didn't underpin his novels with good plotting (or at least this is true of the two I've read, "The Name of the Rose" and "Foucault's Pendulum").

 

Roberto Bolano's "The Savage Detectives" teetered on the brink for me too; a simultaneously enthralling and frustrating read if ever there was one.

 

Mr. HG does have a point about threshholds, but these are to some extent arbitrarily set by our educations and social backgrounds. If a book inspires by being engagingly enough written, readers will make the effort even if it wrestles with difficult concepts.

 

Then there's the assumption I think much of the English speaking world makes that if something was originally written in another language it will somehow pose more of an intellectual challenge. OK, the best selling fiction writer in the UK at the moment is Swedish, but Larsson and the Scandanavian crime writing posse seem to be the exception that proves the rule. Many fine writers must get overlooked, or sell poorly, simply because people perceive their foreignness as an intellectual challenge.

 

Might I dare to suggest this is why some have developed a mental block over reading Russian, French or south American classics? I've certainly found some - "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Anna Karenina" spring to mind - rewarding reads. I guess it just depends on picking the right book to find your way into these literatures and there are plenty at BGO willing to offer advice to neophytes.

 

I'll admit to some irrational prejudices - I've never read Hardy or Dostoyevsky either, and don't see myself doing so anytime soon - but I know they're that, irrational, and nothing to do with failings on my part. There's plenty out there which has pricked my interest to be getting on with.

 

Having said all that, don't get me started on some of the academic journal articles I've had to wade my way through in the past few weeks, where the accusation of being "too intellectual" would, IMHO, be more than justified!

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Mr. HG does have a point about threshholds, but these are to some extent arbitrarily set by our educations and social backgrounds.

These threshold are also ones that we may set ourselves and I would estimate that we set them low as a habit. I think we convince ourselves that we are less able than we are actually are. It's only when we challenge them that we grow in confidence and raise those thresholds. Little by little.

 

Then there's the assumption I think much of the English speaking world makes that if something was originally written in another language it will somehow pose more of an intellectual challenge.

I would agree with that to some extent too. Bad books, good books, mediocre books, small-minded books and bestsellers can be written in any language.

 

I'll admit to some irrational prejudices ... but I know they're that, irrational, and nothing to do with failings on my part.

I won't read books set in India - I have absolutely no idea why really, certainly no one reason I could pinpoint. I just have no interest/enthusiasm/motivation to read them. Are they too other-worldy? Too spiritual? Too far removed from life as I know it? I don't know. But I am not going to worry about it, I'll just continue reading the books that I want to read and hopefully enjoy reading.

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Yes, we do tend to underestimate ourselves and, of course, the only way to find out if a book is too intellectual, or not, is to pick it up. If the book in question doesn't suit there are plenty more that will. It is, after all, a hobby and a pleasure, I just wondered if I was the only one in the world that had the 'some books intimidate me for whatever reason' notion

 

I must admit that when I'm watching a film/TV I assume that the only reason that I have no idea what's going on is the fault of the director, given that it would be, imho, the director's job to get the story told clearly. So why not a book, I wonder?

 

The most confusing book that I have ever come across was Wolf Hall. Four hundred pages in and I had absolutely no idea what the story was let alone who the characters were. This was an award winning book - I think it's safe to say the merits/demerits of that have been discussed - and was highly recommended on this board. I was excited about it all by myself when it came out. So, given that I didn't follow it at all - and I do mean not at all - was that Hilary Mantel's fault for not making her storyline clear or my fault, for whatever reason? Never read Mantel before and not sure I want to try again. Then again, on the Wolf Hall thread other people have professed confusion with this book too so perhaps Mantel could have been clearer.

 

Interesting discussion though.

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Difficulty with a book may even just come down to the mood you are in at the time you pick it up. The first time I picked up Ian McEwan's Atonement, I didn't get on well. I found it laborious and I found it difficult to keep track of the characters and events. I didn't get very far in before I gave up. I even got rid of it, thinking I'd never read it again.

 

Then persuaded to try again, many months later, I raced through the book, was completely engaged and it is one of my most favourite reads.

 

Mood had a lot to do with it. Interest has a lot to do with it. But intellectual capacity? That's nonsense.

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I certainly have books that I feel slightly intimidated by, but I think it has more to do with my mindset than my intellect. Sometimes its as simple as not being in the mood to tackle something a bit challenging. I'm not afraid to give up on a book, or think its pretentious twaddle even if the rest of the world seems to love it. Books are subjective, like art. It's up to the individual to take from it what they see/find.

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Being here certainly helps because I now have someone I can ask. That wasn't always the case - in the days before I had internet access - and if I got stuck with something then I stayed stuck.

 

But intellectual capacity? That's nonsense.
Thing is, it takes a lot more to understand what's going on in say, John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold than it does to understand Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, does it not (quality of the work not withstanding) ?

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Thing is, it takes a lot more to understand what's going on in say, John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold than it does to understand Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, does it not (quality of the work not withstanding) ?

But surely that's just level of effort/engagement?

 

I can watch Neighbours while cooking dinner, shouting at the boys, and tiding the house - all with one eye or ear on the telly. But if it's a documentary (for example), then I just pay more attention. I would think everyone does the same thing, not shouting at my kids though, and intellect has little to do with it.

 

I think you are comparing 'paying attention' with intellect - and I am not sure that's the same thing at all. Nothing is out of our intellectual capacity if we are given the tools to understand and have the impetus (and time) to understand, comprehend, digest.

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Roberto Bolano's "The Savage Detectives" teetered on the brink for me too; a simultaneously enthralling and frustrating read if ever there was one.

 

currently reading

 

at the start of the second part, i was lost for a little bit but got back in thankfully. the first part at times was frustrating

 

it now currently extremely good

 

I think I have a problem with the phrase "too intellectual". It makes it sound as if these books are somehow above you or better than you, as if you are a lesser person because you can't or won't tackle them.

 

when i saw the thread title, it reminded me of the quote from Peep Show on Channel 4 when one person describes her girlfriend as being smart as "she reads books for fun"

 

I have no problem tackling the Russians but have a mental block regarding the South Americans (except for Isabel Allende): perhaps it's the association with magical realism which isn't my genre of fiction. Rather off-topic as regards intellectualism, sorry!

 

 

odd i like the south americans (some of the stories of borges that i read were very tough going but mostly ok) but find russians tough due to tolstoy.

 

But surely that's just level of effort/engagement?

 

I can watch Neighbours while cooking dinner, shouting at the boys, and tiding the house - all with one eye or ear on the telly. But if it's a documentary (for example), then I just pay more attention. I would think everyone does the same thing, not shouting at my kids though, and intellect has little to do with it.

 

i pay attention to neighbours while sometimes playing tetris on my mobile (or my mother talking)

 

it just really depends on the person themselves

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Some interesting views being expressed here. Great thread luna.

 

I don't have a problem with the phrase "too intellectual." I recognise my limits be they concerned with intelligence or, more usually, cognitive ability. I think Grammath makes a good point that authors who show off at he expense of the story are at fault rather than the reader. But unlike him I didn't manage to get very far with either of the Umberto Eco novels. Too intellectual or too clever to me?

 

I agree that perceptions can be misleading. Personally I have never avoided an author because of what others might have said and have enjoyed books by Russian, South American and French and Victorian, Edwardian and earlier authors that I might have avoided had I been "afraid" to try them. However, I have failed to complete many books that are recognised as classics. For example James Joyce, Boris Pasternak, Peter Carey, Margaret Atwood and AS Byatt have all caused me problems.

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But surely that's just level of effort/engagement?
All my life, I have had work colleagues who cannot understand mathematics, probability and logic. As soon as a discussion veers into these areas, I find respected colleagues fail to grasp even the most elementary concepts. All the concentration in the world won't get them to understand. Similarly, I find colleagues who cannot understand legislation, particularly when it relies upon multiple negative clauses or cross referencing. I do think that the basic issue is intellectual capacity rather than effort. That is not meant to denigrate anyone, but rather to acknowledge that people do have limitations.

 

One of my limitations is chess. I cannot plan ahead despite having otherwise excellent spatial processing. I have tried and tried to "get" chess but I don't. I know how pieces move but that's about it.

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One of my limitations is chess. I cannot plan ahead despite having otherwise excellent spatial processing. I have tried and tried to "get" chess but I don't. I know how pieces move but that's about it.
Me too. My eight year old son beats me easily every time.

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