which books make you feel stupid?



Bookmad tumblr:books make us stupid

“ … sometimes i have to wonder if i’m reading the same book as everyone else when they rant and rave about it and i’m practically falling asleep.”


“It made me feel like a bad English major, and reader, and writer.

I’m a music lover, and my failure to adore Ulysses nagged at me in the same way that I feel like a fraud when I can’t muster up much reverence for The Beatles.

I had gained nothing except the checked box, a mild, fleeting sense of accomplishment, and relief.”

On Learning to Love Ulysses, Finally



“Buying a book is not about obtaining a possession, but about securing a portal.”


Laura Miller


“Then I let the stories live
inside my head, again and again
until the real world fades back
into cricket lullabies
and my own dreams.”


Jacqueline Woodson


“And you can’t help but ask yourself,

‘Is it me?

Am I just not smart enough for this book?'”





Ok <part 1>.

old book pages


I am a book lover, a voracious reader and a lover of words.




Ok <part2>.



Some books make me feel stupid.



And having thought about this a lot <far far too often I have stared at the titles of books I know I am supposed to adore … but do not> and I imagine I can summarize my stupid in one of two ways:





I just don’t get it.



I pick up a book … read it … and regardless of whether it is popular or not … I just don’t seem to grasp what the hell it is about.


Inevitably I feel stupid because someone somewhere had to believe it would have some redeeming value … but I don’t get the book … I see no value.






A lot of other people get it and I get it … but don’t like it.




It is popular, or famous, or is considered ‘great literature’ … and I think it is something other than great.




In fact.



I think its shit.


I don’t get it’s popularity or fame.



Now … because I understand the book a portion of me may not feel completely stupid … but a portion of me does because I believe I must be missing something.perception books



Regardless … as I sat there thinking about all the books I was supposed to savor and adore … and just feeling stupid for myself … I found something called “the Hawking Index.”



Basically this index is supposed to measure how far people get into a book before giving up.


The index was flippantly proposed by Jordan Ellenberg, an American mathematician, in a blog for the Wall Street Journal. He named it after Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time <… a book I have never read nor envision ever reading and apparently one of the least-finished books according to this measure>.



Just to be clear.


It’s statistically flawed index model <print readers aren’t counted nor are Kindle-readers who don’t use the highlighting feature>. But I don’t really care about its accuracy because I was hoping it would not only make me feel less stupid but also it sounded interesting to think about.





The standard is about 50%. This means about 50% of books picked up <with an intent to read and not used for some other purpose> are actually completely read.


For example … Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games novel, scores 43.4%.



By comparison, the average reader of Fifty Shades of Grey made it only 25.9% of the way through it.



The best news for me?


I felt slightly less stupid because apparently many of the more prestigious pieces of literature have a really low Hawking Index.



But really … feeling stupid about a book has nothing to do with whether you are ‘in the average’ with regard to how many people make it thru some book … it really has to do with whether you ‘get’ a book that somehow has attained ‘great literature’ status.



And this thought led me to an awesome blog in The Guardian on books that make you feel stupid:






The blog post, “On the Perils of Feeling Dumb While Reading”, struck a thoughts none blankshame-inducing chord with me this morning.



The author, Swapna Krishna, talks about how “you pick up a book you’ve been looking forward to, a ‘smart’ book that everyone and their mother has loved, settle down with it, start reading, and … You hate it.



Or maybe you don’t hate it, but you certainly don’t love it like everyone else seems to.



question faceAnd you can’t help but ask yourself, ‘Is it me?



Am I just not smart enough for this book?'”










The whole ‘books that make me feel stupid’ really struck a chord with me too.



Mostly because I know I have found myself talking to people <as a voracious reader> and they talk enthusiastically about ‘their favorite book’ … often what could be referred to as ‘great literature.’


And my head begins to hurt.



And I have to decide whether I want to tell them:



<a> I couldn’t get past the first 25 pages, or

<b> I didn’t get what made it ‘great’ … or

<c> I think I wasn’t smart enough for that book.



For example.



I can only really enjoy Dickens in chapters.


I dislike propagating false hope <much of his stuff just isn’t that realistic>.



And then there is Tolstoy’s War and Peace.


I should have loved it <because I love the topic and Russian history>.


This novel of the French invasion of Russia is considered one of the greatest literary works of all time weaving its way through the economic, emotional, and philosophical effects of societal shifts from one regime to another.



To me?





Maybe even more surprisingly?



I could possibly include most of the famous Russian writers as unreadable.


I gave Doctor Zhivago several tries … and Anna Karenina also … but just couldn’t make it through another Russian winter.


<yet … Russka by Rutherford and almost all of Michener’s books I couldn’t put down>.





Maybe the worst book I have ever picked up?

me right now


Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ is a nightmare. One of the most painful reads I have ever attempted.



More heresy?


Lots of Shakespeare … wow … someone shoot me.

And yet … I love aspects of his sonnets.



I could take bits & pieces … but any whole?


Shoot me.



Joyce’s Ulysses? Yikes. Wanted to gouge an eye out.


I tried reading “Atlas Shrugged” and wanted to gouge the other eye out.








Wading thru quicksand. One grain at a time.




Modern authors? The guy who wrote The Shack. Or was it The Road?



I just don’t get it.




Herman Wouk?


I struggled to make my way through his two most ambitious novels, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. And yet … Don’t Stop the Carnival was a delightful comedy about escaping middle-age crisis in the Caribbean.



Something else I’m somewhat ashamed of never having finished?







For gods sake … that shit bored me.







It helps me that I do like books that can be long like War of the Rats <maybe 500 pages> and I felt it could have been longer.



It helps me that I do like books that can be short like The Old Man and the Sea <maybe 99 pages>.

get like this I



I do know what I like … stories that tap into the human spirit & soul & mind … and inspire readers to dream big despite the cruel indifference of Life, the cruelty of human to each other … and the challenges and everything else that can stand in the way of hope.



All that said … I admit … I can feel incredibly stupid when it comes to books.



While loving books in general … not liking a book someone else loves … does make me feel kind of stupid <which even as I type sounds stupid>. I feel like I am just not ‘getting’ something.



And maybe I am just not smart enough … or at least as smart as the person who does get it.



Maybe worse?



I tend to feel more embarrassed about liking a book that is fashionable to trash.



Interestingly … while I feel stupid I often find intelligence has little to do with what you like or don’t like about a book.



Reading is very personal and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that it might not be the right time, place or chemistry for a positive experience to occur between you, the reader, and the book in your hands.



In fact.



A book may work for you at another time.



This last thought is important because I found that nearly 30% of men have not read a book since school, according to a survey commissioned for World Book Night. The reasons men don’t read are varied, but ‘not really wanting to’ is the main one.



To me?

That means someone just has not met the right book.



I am not asking anyone to spending six weeks slogging through some interminable Shakespeare … like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Macbeth … and test themselves with those ‘educational’ supplemental reading questions or even write some thoughtful critical analysis <as many people expect students do at school>.



All of that sounds mind-numbingly boring.


And reading should be anything but boring.



And reading shouldn’t make you feel stupid <but it will more often than you care to admit>.



In the end.



I imagine I take solace in the fact I always do have another book to read … and an endless supply of books that I have put down in the past as unreadable that I will attempt to read again at some point.



I imagine I take solace in the fact that my <admittedly subjective> experience of reading the final chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird is the closest version to heaven I have possibly attained … so I know it is there somewhere else in some other book yet to be read.



I imagine I take solace in the fact that it really isn’t stupidity … it just personal.



Pick a book.


Any book.


You are entitled to be a Roman emperor, thumbing up or thumbing down a book … destining one for greatness or destroying one.



You are entitled to love some weird, scattered, slightly ludicrous metaphor driven  novel and bring it to people expecting to be credited with the literary find of their life … and hear they hated it <all of them>.


No literary work is greatness to everybody.


But the sense that we could find something peerless, or literary greatness, is what tends to keep us death-marching through books that are wrong for us.



It is hope that keeps us trying and that occasional glimpse of literary brilliance and the ‘once in a lifetime read’ that makes us pick up the next book … and the old book we just didn’t ‘get’ the last time we picked it up.






Someone <no idea who it was> once said that no two people ever read the exact same book.



Everyone brings their own history, personality, and feelings to the experience of reading a story, and because they are different, they react differently.



This is why Baskin Robbins stores sell 31 <actually more> flavors of ice cream.


Nothing is universally loved … not even chocolate <or vanilla>.



All that said.




friendlybookworm tumblr:

I formally refuse the idea that a book is just a book.



A book is rarely ever “just a book.”



I still feel stupid when I don’t like some book someone else gushes over.



I still feel stupid when I don’t like some book of ‘literary fame.’stupid boy slap



I still feel stupid when a book makes me feel stupid.



But at least I am comfortable in my stupidness … and keep reading.

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Written by Bruce