Poll: Most Boring Books?

by Josh Hanagarne on January 10, 2011

middlemarch

Looking for some boring books to read? Probably not. But just in case, read on.

Nancy Pearl, author of the Book Lust (my review) series and all-around librarian extraordinaire, was just awarded Library Journal’s “Librarian of The Year Award.” Well-deserved, and frankly, I have no idea how it has taken this long for it to happen.

She’s highly skilled at talking books, which should come as no surprise. But there is one thing I have heard Nancy say that sums up how I feel about “good” vs “bad” books that describes how I feel better than anything else I can think of:

“By good, I don’t mean any literary canon, but just books that you might enjoy. A good book is a book someone likes and a bad book is one they don’t like. When someone doesn’t like a book, it doesn’t mean they will never like it. They don’t like it for that moment…” (from the Library Journal article)

After I read that, I took a look at my bookshelves and tried to recreate the first time I read each one. Some had been good experiences, some had been bad. Some I reread later and loved, some I returned to and hated the second time around.

There was one word tied into all this: boring. The ones I would call “good” according to Pearl’s definition were not boring while I was reading them. The ones that were “bad,” at least at the time, bored me to death. I’m no longer in the habit of finishing boring books out of some sense of obligation, but I used to take pride in grinding it out.

One book I have tried and tried to read and just never made it through was Middlemarch by George Elliot. There are plenty of people out there to tell you that Middlemarch is either a classic or a boring brick. I’m not saying either group is right, only that I was too bored to get through the book each time I tried it.

I believe that says more about me than the book. Maybe the time will come when it will be a good book for me, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Your turn: what is the most boring book you have ever read? Is there such a thing as a boring book, or just boring readers? Do you believe that there are “best” books, or only best for each of us?

Josh

 

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather January 10, 2011 at 11:26 am

Ibid on Middlemarch. Andy Warhol’s From A to B and Back Again did it for me. I wasn’t ever too fond of Faulkner’s Absolom, Absolom! either. I’d like to vote for Finnegan’s Wake, too, which I’ve tried seveeral times to read. And it’s just unreadable. Can’t do it. But that’s also how I feel about my other 2 choices. I had to start Absolom, Absolom! three times before I even got past the first PARAGRAPH. If you’ve ever read it, then you know how bloody long-winded and obtuse that first paragraph is. I’ll also vote for Milton’s Paradise Lost. Dante’s Inferno is a way more fun version of hell, but his version of Heaven–The Paradisio–is a MAJOR YAWN.

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Heather January 10, 2011 at 11:27 am

I also fogot to mention–I met Nancy Pearl at the WVLA Fall Conference several years ago in Huntington. Funny lady, very sweet, darned good librarian. AND I have not only the Nancy Pearl Librarian Action Figure, I also have. . . THE PLAYSET! :-)

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Josh Hanagarne January 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm

What is in the playset?

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Heather January 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm

The playset comes with a library background, a laptop computer, a book cart, and various “stacked” and individual books you can “play” with. Sadly, however, no barcode reader. But it’s still AWESOME!

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Heather January 10, 2011 at 5:03 pm
Allison Reynolds January 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Oh god…we had to read Washington Square (Henry James) in High School. As an avid reader I had never come up against a book that I could not read. This one bored me into submission.

It burns in my memory and now, 30 years later, I am smart enough not to be tricked into wasting my time trying to rectify my failure. Henry James be damned, your book was dreary!

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Josh Hanagarne January 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm

That’s one of the James books I never tried. Don’t think I will.

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Courtney January 11, 2011 at 9:42 am

I was going to vote for Washington Square as well! I have memories of literallly banging my head against the wall out of frustration for that book. I felt like there was something wrong with me; surely my teachers couldn’t have selected a book so hideously boring! All the other ones I read in high school were at least marginally interesting! It must have some redeeming value! Some twist at the end that made it all worthwhile! But no. It felt like it took sixteen months to read that book, but it was probably only a week or two. I later threw it into the fireplace with aplomb.

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frank roberts January 10, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown. I ad 50 pages to go, and got so disgusted I threw it across the room then dumped it in the trash.

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TW April 13, 2011 at 5:12 am

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Not Angels and Demons!! What was wrong with it may I ask? Well, of Dan Brown’s stuff, I’ve only read this and Da Vinci Code (I thought A&D was much better) and I’ve heard that the basic plot gets a little repetitive but boring? I dont think so.

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Josh Hanagarne April 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I didn’t think A&D was boring.

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Keith Slade January 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I couldn’t read Pilgrim’s Progress because it was sooo boring.

But I thought Pride & Prejudice would be the same, but I loved it.

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Elisabeth Eilir Rowan January 10, 2011 at 8:22 pm

I absolutely despised The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway when I was in high school. I haven’t tried to re-read it yet. I just remember ‘He looked at his hand. He looked at the fish.’ Over, and over.

I do believe there are good (and bad) books, but of course individual tastes and where you are in life when you read them matter immensely, too.

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Boris January 10, 2011 at 8:50 pm

I loved The Old Man and the Sea! I just reread it a few weeks ago!

Beowulf was one of those I just couldn’t get through even though I really wanted to…

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Mich January 10, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Any Canadian author I was forced to read in high school automatically made it into the “boring” category. Haven’t touched a Margaret Atwood novel since. (The only exception to this rule was Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley.)

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cinderkeys January 10, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Walden. I expected to like it when my Literature of Introspection teacher assigned it in high school. I ended up reading only the assigned bits, despite my intentions to read the whole thing. A few amazing quotes surrounded by pages and pages of dreary description.

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delta waters January 11, 2011 at 7:09 am

The Dark Tower by Stephen King…recommended by a friend as his fave book…always a delicate situation. I tried, really.

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Heather January 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

The guy was being stalked by Johnny Cash (The Man in Black). There. I just saved you about 6 hours. :-) YES I’M JOKING! But yeah, this one was hard for me, too. I never did get past the third chapter. Our Host Josh, though, finished it. So he made it way further than either of us.

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mark March 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm

I 3rd this wholeheartedly! About 3 out of the 7 in the series are readable, but the last one is just plain awful.

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Jodi Kaplan January 11, 2011 at 7:44 am

Middlemarch for the “win” (loss?). Closely followed by Tristram Shandy. Ugh.

My book group gives books like those the “Dorothy Parker rating” (“this book should not be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force”).

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Jeanette Swalberg January 11, 2011 at 9:44 am

@frank: Angels and Demons was fine for me–The Lost Symbol was a huge yawn. I wanted to like it, I really did.

Thanks for the heads up on Middlemarch. I was thinking of reading it after seeing a trailer for the Masterpiece Theater version.

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Tammi Kibler January 11, 2011 at 11:05 am

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I feel like there must be something wrong with me for all the praise it gets, but despite many tries and several chapters read, I never care to finish.

Walden. It’s always there on the shelf, but I doubt I’ll ever read it.

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Josh Hanagarne January 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Wow, another vote for Henry James.

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Catherine January 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Tess of the D’Urbervilles – we studied this in high school, and I feel like I lost a good two weeks of my life I can never get back whilst attempting to read this book.

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Rhamantus January 12, 2011 at 12:54 pm

A great number of the books I had to read my senior year of high school were boring to me: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Heart of Darkness, and especially The Awakening. Urgh. I’ve wondered if I were to re-read these, if they would be more interesting, but I’m not sure I want to bother. Oh… I also thought Waiting for Godot, which I had to read in a class in college, was atrocious, but that was a play… a dull, dull play.

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Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers January 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

I’m currently finishing up Catcher in the Rye. If I didn’t know that it was a significant book, I’d have quit already. I wanted to like it, but I just don’t.

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mark March 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm

The MOST boring to me is Moby Dick. Hundreds of pages of whale descriptions, uughh.

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cinderkeys March 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t include Les Miserables. I got through a hundred pages, put it down, and couldn’t make myself pick it back up again.

Pretty much any book in the paid-by-the-word genre will have that effect on me.

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Brittany July 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

I absolutely loved Les Miserable! It was one of my favorites but I sadly didn’t get to finish reading it before the library took it again. Catcher in the Rye is a favorite too.
I have to say The Road and The Martian Chronicles. They were both for school and pure torture.
I recently read the Princess Bride and it was pretty decent… Except for the first 15% of the book being some guy talking about his life.
Another thing, I’ve always been a huge reader and my Kindle has actually bored me from reading books.

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