Test Your Literary Toughness


Reading Flavorwire’s “50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers” challenged my literary fortitude. I found myself wanting to buy a bunch of new books, then take kickboxing lessons, hit the gym, or maybe dive of a cliff.

I applaud the effort to compile a list of fifty tough books. Even putting this list together required its own toughness and determination. I would have agonized over leaving off Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and struggled with including Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. It’s a great collection, but tough or extreme? I don’t see it.

The guidelines for this list were clear. The books included some that were “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.”

Here are a few highlights from the list.

  1. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  2. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  4. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  5. JR by William Gaddis
  6. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  7. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  8. Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
  9. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  10. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  11. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  12. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
  13. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
  14. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  15. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  16. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  17. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  18. Tampa by Alissa Nutting
  19. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
  20. The Tunnel by William Gass

Check the Flavorwire post for the complete list and reasons for each novel’s inclusion.


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