Hard Books Worth Reading

There are some books that grab your attention from page one.  Others make you work to get fully absorbed in the stories they contain.  While some of the books in the latter category end up unfinished and gathering dust on our shelves, others are worth the effort.

We asked our staff what book or books they’ve read that were difficult to get through but totally worth it in the end. Whether it was an unusual writing style or point of view, a plot that didn’t exist, or written at a Lexile level beyond categorization, these are the ones that kept us thinking long after we’ve finished them.

Do you have a book that you worked to finish but felt rewarded for your efforts? 



2666: A Novel Cover Image
By Roberto Bolaño, Natasha Wimmer (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780312429218
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - September 1st, 2009

Bolaño’s epic, sprawling masterpiece takes on the true horror of the femicides in Santa Theresa (a stand-in for Ciudad Juárez, Mexico) with hundreds of middle pages detailing the murders. But it also revolves around the life of an elusive German author and four of his most dedicated and avid academic followers. Both real and literary detectives attempt to solve mysteries that may or may not lead them to madness in what feels like the graveyard of the future. Stark and dangerous yet thrilling, it’s hard to consume but you can’t help but seek out the end.   


Água Viva Cover Image
By Clarice Lispector, Stefan Tobler (Translated by), Benjamin Moser (Preface by)
ISBN: 9780811219907
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: New Directions - June 13th, 2012

An 88 page fiery, meditative exploration where one paragraph feels like 5 pages, Lispector ruminates on finding the “it” in life by searching for the essence of the present moment by surrendering completely to her inner monologue. She is talking to you, she is talking to the Void, and she is speaking to herself in celebration of her own unique voice. Not an easy feat and not an easy read but you will be dazzled by Lispector’s “ravings” which “suffocate me with so much beauty” yet is an “act in the core of the instant.” 


Life of Pi Cover Image
ISBN: 9780156027328
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - May 1st, 2003

Life of Pi took me two tries to read, and after the second, full read, I can't for the life of me understand why.  It's phenomenal.


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781635576726
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing - August 11th, 2020

It's incredibly dense and heavily footnoted--if Tolkien had set his books in Napoleonic Europe, the effect might have been similar.  But it's an absolutely glorious book to wade through and an incredible window into the world Susanna Clarke created.


House of Leaves: The Remastered Full-Color Edition Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375703768
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Pantheon - March 7th, 2000

Famous for being printed in such a way as to emulate the apparent dimensional elasticity of the eponymous house, it also contains footnotes within footnotes referencing fictional books and films. The text is arrayed to mirror the events in the story: text is sometimes upside down, diagonal across the page, or limited to a word or two a page. The overall effect is claustrophobic and slightly nauseating, but in a good way. House of Leaves also has the distinction of having multiple narrators who all interact with each other and each other’s version of events. At 736 pages and 2 1/2 lb, many do find it too daunting, but it is ultimately a worthwhile commitment.


Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Series #2) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250313225
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tordotcom - August 4th, 2020

The second book in a series whose first book I absolutely loved, Harrow the Ninth is written in second person, a highly unusual style, which I initially struggled to process. However, I’m so glad I pressed forward despite any confusion I had because it was completely rewarding. An incredible series!


Wizard of the Pigeons: The 35th Anniversary Illustrated Edition Cover Image
ISBN: 9781944145590
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Grim Oak Press - December 8th, 2020

The focus on a hard topic - veteran homelessness - and the response to the way we treat them when they come back from war was both eye-opening and upsetting: We sell joining the military to young boys, ask them to do horrible things, then offer them no services to help them deal with the trauma. But it’s a fantastic novel.  Tthe main character has no idea who he is until he starts to dig in, but then he starts to unravel, which made the journey riveting and vivid for me.  


The Starless Sea: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101971383
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor - August 4th, 2020

With so much description and multiple plot lines, it took a while to get into but was totally worth it.


Piranesi Cover Image
ISBN: 9781635575637
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing - September 15th, 2020

The writing in Piranesi is really descriptive and at first there’s one character and not a lot of dialogue/interaction. It’s also done in a “journal entry” style so the first couple chapters were a process for me to adjust to Clarke’s style. But the writing was super beautiful and the story was unexpected—not going the way I thought it would go—which I appreciated. 


Fall On Your Knees Cover Image
ISBN: 9780743237185
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Scribner - January 24th, 2002

I stumbled across this book some years ago, not really knowing much about it, but intrigued by the Nova Scotian setting and dove in. It was gorgeous, moody and dark like the Atlantic and super compelling - a layered family saga about four sisters, their flawed father and his child bride on Cape Breton Island. As I neared the book’s conclusion, a devastating and uncomfortable family secret was revealed that has stuck with me in it’s vivid description and the pain it created for this family. It was one of those of course moments, hauntingly present throughout the book, but just below the surface until it’s reveal at the end. Heartbreaking and disturbing, but totally worth the read.