Great works of literature you just can't finish

What classic work of literature have you tried to read but simply couldn’t finish?

For me, it’s Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I have tried to make it through this book on at least four occasions but simply can’t make it to the end - I can’t make it to the fourth part for that matter.

I can go through the first part with Benji and I get all of the symbolism. Then comes the next part, with the second brother, and I find the stream of consciousness style very exhausting. When I get to the third brother, I have pretty much lost interest and usually put the book down for good.

I understand it’s one of our greatest pieces of literature but for me I just can’t cross the finish line.

How about you?

I had a whole thread devoted to my shortcomings with the Lord of The Rings triology. However, I am pleased to announce that I have finished Fellowship of The Ring and I’m now about 50 pages into The Two Towers.


Recently I got a copy of the “Sound and the Fury” and I very soon began to wish for one of those helpful lists of characters and names you get in Russian novels. And the leaping about stream of consciousness stuff is a bit too much like hard work. So, now if I don’t bother to finish it, I won’t feel that I am uniquely stupid! Happy, happy, joy, joy. How about Ben Okri’s “The Famished Road” - I gave up on that. And I started “The Satanic Verses” about twice before I did follow it through (did like it though.)

I have read half of Pride and Predjudice (sp?) at least 5 times. I find myself interested while I’m reading it, but after I put it down for the night, I can’t get back into it.

I have started Moby Dick at least the same number of times, same problem.

I couldn’t even get into Wuthering Heights enough to not find a reason to put it down.

Nowadays, I usually stick to non-fiction, and back issues of Astronomy magazine. I don’t have any problem finishing these.

I could not finish, no matter how much I tried “Hunchback of Notre Dame” I don’t know why, it just didn’t hold my interest.

Ditto for Moby Dick.

lolagranola - you read Astronomy magazine? Then have you read Cosmos by Carl Sagan? I highly recommend this book. Extremely interesting. Also “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking. I’m guessing anyone who reads Astronomy magazine has read these, but I’m mentioning them just in case they slipped your notice somehow.

I also recommend the documentary “A Brief History of Time” about Stephen Hawking if you haven’t seen it. I was able to rent it from Blockbuster in the Special Interests section.

For me, it’s Gravity’s Rainbow. It seems to keep getting interesting for a few pages, then wandering off into something that I just can’t follow. Have to give it another try, though.


I’ve been about 2/3 of the way through American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser for about a year now.

Funny you should mention that, BratMan. I’m in the middle of A Brief History of Time right now, and I love it. I can’t think of the last time I enjoyed a book quite as much. I didn’t realize that there was a documentary on it. I will check Blockbuster myself. Cosmos is next on my list. I’ve only rather recently started reading this kind of stuff, and I can’t get enough.

Any other suggestions?

I feel the same way about Pride and Prejudice. I HATED that book. I only managed to force my way through it because it was required reading for a course. Ditto for Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and The Beast in the Jungle.

I DID like Moby Dick, though. Read it all the way through without even the goad of a course behind me.

Sometimes I love Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol), and sometimes I loathe him (Hard Times, all the other “Christmas” books). I’ve finished everything of his I started, though.

I read the first third of Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse three or four times, in my youth. It was disturbing to me on a deep emotional level, and I would become very afraid reading it. I never went back to finish it. I enjoyed some of Hesse’s other works, and did not find them unwelcome in any emotional sense. But the story of a madman, written about his madness by another madman was too close to home. (Did I mention that I too was a madman?)

Now that I am no longer wandering in that world I left behind, I might well be able to finish it. But it stands as a fixture of the landscape of that time, to me. I never revisit those places. It is my loss, I suppose, but that is a price I willingly pay to be far from that place.


In college I took a course on the English novel. The class covered novels chronologically from Joseph Andrews to Mrs. Dalloway. Right before the midterm, I got behind and went into the test having read only half of Great Expectations.

Yes, I know. Most folks read that in high school. What can I say.

Anyway, I got behind and took the midterm having finished only half of the last book covered by the midterm. I stayed behind and didn’t read a single one of the books covered by the rest of the course. It took me nearly a year, but I did finally finish Great Expectations.

The butler did it.

I made it through about 100 pages of Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” but I just didn’t see myself slogging through 700 more pages. Tough sledding, man. “Crime and Punishment” was very cool, though.

Let me name two great works of literature I did finish and wish I hadn’t done so. First, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair. It concerns a group of immigrants who can’t take two steps without suffering another soul-destroying tragedy. Jurgis Rudkus and friends feel more depression by 9 a.m. than most people do all day.

Next, “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis. Beware. Lewis’ intention in writing “Main Street” was to show how dull small-town life is. And, in 400 grinding, lifeless pages, he does an absolutely superb job. Too much so.

I second the mention of a couple of others here. Moby Dick can be the most boring book, especially in the mid-section. Dreary.

While I was forced to finish whatever Dickens “classic” was assigned in 9th grade, I still feel that it was akin to cruel and unusual punishment.

however, since leaving school, I have read several classics. I liked Wuthering Heights by the way, but then I generally like gothic/mystery genre.

Last of the Mohicans. gads. cure for insomnia. couldn’t do it. I didn’t have a problem with Pride & Prejudice or any of Jane Ausin’s other books, either, but JF Cooper and I are on the outs now.

I’m going to side with a number of people here: Moby Dick has got to be the most boring book, recognized as literature. What a load of garbage. I did finish it though (original English version), but that’s because my stubbornness is mightier than Melville’s endless tripe. :slight_smile:

I still have War and Peace standing on a shelf…

I was in high school and knew I would find all classics boring until I read The Scarlette Letter. Great! The Red Badge of Courage. Wonderful! The Stranger. Depressing, but good! The Pilgrims Progress. . . . . . .

Still don’t even care what happens to that damned pilgrim in the cursed woods.

I never finished Moby-Dick either (wrote a kick-ass paper about it anyway), and I never made it beyond the fourth chapter of Ulysses, although I passed an exam on it.

I hated Great Expectations the first time I read it, in ninth grade. Tried again when I was nineteen and thought it was pretty good, after all. Read it for the third time at twenty-two and realized it was bloody wonderful. I’ve come to the conclusion that Dickens is one of those authors you need to grow into; why our educational system persists in throwing him before high school students I’ll never know.

Pride and Prejudice was boring when I was twelve and hilarious when I was seventeen.

I suppose it’s remotely possible that I’ll be ready to understand Ulysses when I’m sixty-five or so, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m not sure this qualifies as “great literature” but after hearing such wonderful things about Infinite Jest how could I not rush out and buy it?

3 pages.
I made it through 3 pages out of like 800.

And this is speaking as someone who will read nearly ANYTHING!

Boy, Cal Meacham, did you ever get that right. A quote about Henry James says it all. “He chews more than he bites off.” I have never read such overblown nonsense in my entire life. The guy can take a page and a half to describe a character pondering one single sentence. What was I thinking?

Since James’ “The Golden Bowl” was one of the book spines that the camera pans past during the opening of “Masterpiece Theater”, I figured, “Hey, they do great shows, ‘The Golden Bowl’ must be good too.” WRONG!!! Pure drivel and physically painful to read. I actually put it down several times, only to force myself to pick it back up and tackle it again (one of the few times I have ever had to do this). About two-thirds of the way through it, in a rage, I finally took it to a book store and sold it. I refused to have the stinker in my house. That’s how bad it was, and I’m a book collector!

I suppose I should be the first to nominate Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” for this category as well. I could only read a chapter or two before that one hit the floor. But, hey, it’s incomprehensible lunacy to begin with. No pretenses there, at least.

Ah well, allow me to mention one tome that is absolutely fabulous. That would be, “The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes. This one is dry as a hay sandwich, but if you finish it you will never look upon history or thought in the same way ever again. I’ve read it three or four times now and it just gets better each time.

I’ve been trying to read Doctor Zhivago for almost a year now…I like it, and it’s my favorite movie, the book just moves slow.
Same with Anna Karenina…I get really into it, but it’s a HUGE book, and because I have to keep renewing at the library, it’s annoying.
I also have to finish Jane Eyre, which was pretty good.

ON the other hand, I’ve read Gone with the Wind five times.