Five tough books on the TBR

I didn’t read War and Peace for the purpose of saying that I’ve read it. I read it because I fell in love with Anna Karenina. I’ve since read as much Tolstoy as I can get my hands on.

But there are books I want to read, if not because I think I “should” (though there are these, too), then because they intimidate and frustrate and confuse and disarm, and, and…and?

And allure me.

A peek at five of the books staring me down:



The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
H.P. Lovecraft

The closest I’ve gotten to science fiction is Kurt Vonnegut. I really liked Slaughterhouse-Five and Sirens of Titan amused me for a bit last summer.

But Vonnegut isn’t really science fiction. I’ve never touched Wells or Lovecraft or Asimov or even Bradbury. They’re supposed to be the real masters, aren’t they? I picked up this Lovecraft shortly after the New Year (I’m a sucker for the special Penguin editions), and maybe the fact that it’s a collection of short stories will make sci-fi more manageable.


The Gulag Archipelago
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

It’s very difficult to find the unabridged volumes of The Gulag Archipelago. I bought volumes 1 and 2 at two different Half-Price Books locations. I have one more to find. If the first two volumes are any indication then I might be getting myself into nearly 2,000 pages of Soviet prisons.

I give all my Russians their due, and I won’t short-change Solzhenitsyn.


A Perfect Spy
John LeCarré

We know John LeCarré for his espionage fiction.  His novels sound like a mix of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond with a more political bent to them. I picked this one up on impulse. Again, it was the Penguin that enticed me: half a shelf of books done up in Penguin’s deluxe edition? So who is this LeCarré? I brought him home knowing only that he was a former British agent during the Cold War.

I’m not sure what I’m getting into. From what I can tell, LeCarré is to thriller what Vonnegut is to sci-fi: tilting at its edges.


Absalom! Absalom!
William Faulkner

Absalom! Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury are in a lower corner of one of my shelves, about 4 inches from the floor – two slim volumes that are first in a full parade of Lost Generation writers. I’ve read the other authors. I’ve not read my Faulkners. Absalom! Absalom! is the one that most intrigues me of the two. I’ve read that first dark, hot, suffocating chapter three or four times. Well, that is what Faulkner even recommends, the bastard.


The Lord of the Rings trilogy
JRR Tolkien

I have yet to make it past the halfway mark in The Fellowship of the Ring, though I’ve read The Hobbit three times.

I struggle with sci-fi, fantasy and most other speculative fiction. Mostly I assume I’ll be disappointed, whether in the writer’s concept or in his ability to write it and make it as real to me as Harry Potter was (and is) to me. The covers of many fantasy novels tell me that the authors take themselves too seriously. I just know that I won’t find anything so humorously stupid as a flobberworm in them and that’s really disappointing.

But Tolkien is supposed to be different. Isn’t the Silmarillion proof of this? Isn’t Middle-earth supposed to be the most detailed, planned-out, thought-out, all-questions-answered, no-plot-holes, light-hearted, dark-souled, fantastical world a reader could have?

Hm. But man, I have a tough time with Tolkien. I think it’s the damn elves. They’re always singing. Twenty pages go by and still I meet with a page of verse. Regardless, I’ll read it – because I am curious.

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