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lunababymoonchild

Books That Are Too Intellectual?

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I try not to think that books can be too intellectual for me, rather that the writer is not interesting enough for me to want to concentrate. I have read many classics, many so-called 'challenging' novels, and I've come to the realisation that life is too short to waste time on anything I struggle to engage with.

 

Is it wrong to assume that people have different intellectual abilities? I'm a teacher, so have to aim my teaching to suit diff ability levels every day. Some kids will get A*s, some will struggle to get a grade F in the GCSEs.

 

It's a concept I am uncomfortable with - labelling anyone with a certain 'level' of intelligence. Yet I know that a kid from a 'low' ability group would not be able to cope with the work I would set for a 'top' ability level group.

 

Maybe I'm in the wrong job.

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I agree that the term 'too intellectual' is really meaningless. What is probably meant is simply 'too boring' or 'not my style,' or perhaps 'too cerebral' (I'm thinking of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake rather than Ulysees)

 

I can understand readers finding the Russians heavy-going, especially those like Tolstoy who like to lecture through their characters. Then there's all those appallingly long names, not to mention nicknames, short forms, patronymics etc. It's bad enough having a cast of a hundred to keep an eye on. Still, I do love Crime and Punishment despite the sentimental Christian message that seeps through, and of course Anna Karenina, one of the world's great books - in both senses.

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Some interesting views being expressed here. Great thread luna.
There are and thank you

 

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.
This is what I'm trying to express.

 

I understand Hazel's viewpoint too, but not sure how to practically go about putting more effort into understanding Wolf Hall for example. Although, perhaps upon a second attempt it may well become crystal clear from the start and as Hazel has already pointed out, I was just not in the right mood for it at the time. I certainly had no trouble understanding The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, after years of assuming that Le Carre was beyond me, so there is that.

 

I've come to the realisation that life is too short to waste time on anything I struggle to engage with.
There is that. But once in a while, when I've got the energy, the challenge could be welcome, too.

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MrHG - I don't understand maths either but I will freely admit that as soon as hubby tries to explain something to me, I shut down, lose interest and walk away. I have no doubt if I actually made the effort to understand then I would. I am just not interested and will not make the effort.

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I think 'intellectual' and 'cerebral' are sufficiently similar for both to be applied to the OP, but I don't think we should confuse 'intellect' with 'intelligence'.

 

I suspect that I rarely use my intellect when reading fiction (as can be seen in many of my comments in the book threads), as I much prefer novels that engage me emotionally. However, I still think that I am able to acquire knowledge, of a sort, from my reading

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I found "Fury" by Salman Rushdie too "intellectual" but couldn't decide whether it was just pretentious. Either way it has put me off reading anything else by him!

 

There are certainly authors that I assume I would find intellectually challenging, and I'm not always sure I'm up for it - but I love it when I have to read something that I would otherwise give up on, for instance for a book group. I read "Love in the Time of Cholera" for a book group - would definitely have given up on it otherwise, and got to the end feeling all the better for having experienced such amazing writing.

 

I think Grammath is right when he says that if a book really feels "too intellectual" then it is a flaw of the book, not the reader. One of the reasons I love Ishiguro is that he can explore the full range of human experience with language that is instantly accessible - I never need a dictionary by my side. Will Self and Rushdie on the other hand - I just can't be bothered.

 

Interesting thread lunababy!

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I think Grammath is right when he says that if a book really feels "too intellectual" then it is a flaw of the book, not the reader. One of the reasons I love Ishiguro is that he can explore the full range of human experience with language that is instantly accessible - I never need a dictionary by my side. Will Self and Rushdie on the other hand - I just can't be bothered.
Never thought of it quite that way. I do remember reading an Ian Rankin Rebus novel - can't remember which one - and reaching for a dictionary a few times then declaring that he was getting above himself!

 

Interesting thread lunababy!

:D

 

Thanks everybody!

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Interesting thread!

 

I don't think I've - consciously, anyway - considered reading a book based on it's intellectuality (that doesn't appear to be a real word ... oh, well ...) I picked up War and Peace out of a mixture of curiosity and the idea that I "really should" read it. I got within 20 pages of the end and I simply couldn't do it. I ran out of the will to read. I had other books screaming "READ ME". I have never regretted my decision.

 

However, I read 1984 probably every year at which time it leaps to the top of my Favourite Book of All Time list because I love it. And I shot through Brave New World, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies and other "must-reads" because they are brilliantly written and the story in them is compelling. I've read The Trial by Kafka, which was hard-going but I'm glad I read it.

 

I'm assuming the books I've mentioned pass as "intellectual". Would the huge "Dune" saga count in this category as well? I find bits of it fiendishly difficult to get my head around but I suppose that to be my own fault because I haven't taken the time to research all the references in it. And yet I read those 6 books (by F Herbert only) over and over again.

 

And the Lord of the Rings, et al? The author was a professor of Philology and wrote his Mediaeval Romance to fit around his invented languages. That seems pretty intellectual to me, but the work is often decried as too popular or something.

 

On the other side, I love the Harry Potter books, Jasper Fforde, John Wyndham and Georgette Heyer, but can't get on with A S Byatt, Margaret Atwood or James Joyce. I did start reading Finnegan's Wake in a moment of sheer bravado but went back to simply singing Nuvoletta by Samuel Barber.

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I have come across a few books where I felt like the first few pages were like wading in sticky toffee, by people like woolf,james,eliot, quite a few lit critics and believe it or not Dickens. But after about 50 pages the pace and language starts to make sense and then I feel like I am in the right sort of mind frame. I think if their language does not follow the same pattern or flow as mine then it's a challenge and it takes that many pages to start following them clearly.

 

It's worth persevering because once I have broken that barrier I can go on to read and enjoy their other works without that problem. Sometimes it means going back to the beginning again.

 

Other challenging works like those that use their own glossary for dialogue are slow work for a while as you keep checking the word meanings but after a while you don't need to check as often.

 

I've never let a work beat me although I have put books down because I'm not in the mood to give them the level of attention they demand.

 

I hated on a course I did when my tutor told me Henry james was difficult because he was intellectual. I was so cross because she was basically saying that I was not intelligent enough. Well actually after initial struggle it was fine and I even went through to read the whole book again with enjoyment.

 

 

Do some books daunt or intimidate me-yes. Do I think they are too intellectual for me?-no.

 

Certainly a book on brain science etc would be right over my head but that doesn't mean that I couldn't read other things to fill in my knowledge first.

 

Nobody writes a book hoping that people will be too thick to understand (at least I hope not) so I think there are ways to understanding everything.

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Interesting comments Diane and ennui.

 

Thing is :

Nobody writes a book hoping that people will be too thick to understand (at least I hope not) so I think there are ways to understanding everything.
I would hope not too but when I read Karen Armstrong's book The Case for God: What religion really means, I thought that she wrote that way just because she is intellectual. I found it very difficult indeed and took to reading out loud to get a sense of it, along with looking up words etc.. I did finish the book because I found it interesting as well as difficult but I'm not sure how much I got out of it in the end, a second read will ascertain that I'm sure. However, if I'd been as intellectual as KA then perhaps I would have understood it more quickly and more clearly.

 

And the Lord of the Rings, et al? The author was a professor of Philology and wrote his Mediaeval Romance to fit around his invented languages. That seems pretty intellectual to me, but the work is often decried as too popular or something.
I got halfway through that and couldn't be bothered reading another page. I just thought that it was boring, not too intellectual. Then again, I'd read The Hobbit so didn't consider JRR Tolkein an intellectual author, isn't that odd?

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Thing is : I would hope not too but when I read Karen Armstrong's book The Case for God: What religion really means, I thought that she wrote that way just because she is intellectual. I found it very difficult indeed and took to reading out loud to get a sense of it, along with looking up words etc.. I did finish the book because I found it interesting as well as difficult but I'm not sure how much I got out of it in the end, a second read will ascertain that I'm sure. However, if I'd been as intellectual as KA then perhaps I would have understood it more quickly and more clearly.
I've not read any of Armstrong's work so I'm not in a position to comment on her writing style in particular, but I am reading a lot of academic writing at the moment (in fact, I should be reading some right this minute but I'm here instead :o). One thing a lot of academics do, which I think isn't an error exclusive to them, is to forget that not everybody is as close to their subject as they are. They're paid to think about their subject(s) and consequently it is very easy for them to forget that not everybody is as well versed as they are in what they're writing about. The academics who enter the popular consciousness e.g. Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones, Marcus du Sautoy, are the ones who write about their subjects in an accessible way and don't talk down to or over the heads of their audiences. I imagine as someone who's written a book on the subject, Armstrong has mulled over the existence of God a lot more than you have, lbmc, but has perhaps neglected to take that into consideration.

 

Academics, like any other writers, should be conscious of who their audiences are likely to be. They can probably get away with writing in a less accessible style in a piece for an academic journal than they can in, say the New Scientist. However, I read a startling statistic this week that only something like 15% of papers published in medical journals are ever cited in other studies, which perhaps reflects the dangers of writing esoteric papers in journals; it won't enhance your reputation, in the same way as you won't sell copies of an impenetrable book.

 

I think for this discussion it is important to distinguish between fiction which is "too intellectual". It can be argued there is a place for this kind of writing in academia, although I personally disagree; it's just as important to be able to convey your scholarship clearly to professors as it is to the general public.

 

I still stick by my previous argument: if you weren't able to grasp Armstrong's arguments clearly first time around then it isn't necessarily your fault, lbmc, she is probably also guilty of not expressing herself clearly and forgetting you are not (* quickly consults Wikipedia *) a former nun with a first and a DPhil from Oxford.

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I still stick by my previous argument: if you weren't able to grasp Armstrong's arguments clearly first time around then it isn't necessarily your fault, lbmc, she is probably also guilty of not expressing herself clearly and forgetting you are not (* quickly consults Wikipedia *) a former nun with a first and a DPhil from Oxford.
*Laughs* true, I've never been a nun nor do I have a first or a DPhil from Oxford. Her prose is very dense and thickly populated with long words and complicated sentence structure - it was the complicated sentence structure that got me - and of course, she could make an effort to state her case a lot more simply.

 

Yes, fiction is very different to factual writing Grammath, and it's difficult to compare the two. I should stick to fiction for the purposes of this thread.

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