On Hating Difficult Literature

I’ve published an essay at Entropy about my frustration with the idea of “difficult” literature.

I get it why this word is used so much. Some books can be read much more quickly than others, some require you to stretch the resources you’ve got or discover new ones. I understand all that, and there are many different kinds of reading experiences, but I really despise people calling books “difficult.” To me, that’s a very lazy shorthand for what they really want to say about these books, and I think it does everyone involved a disservice. It scares people away from great literature they should be reading, it creates dichotomies where none actually exist, and it’s just not an interesting way to talk about these books.

I should say that I’ve often been guilty of relying on this crutch, and I’ve started making a concerted effort to get this word out of my writing (that was part of the impetus for this piece). The essay deals with some other ways we might start talking about these books, plus why we’ve come to use this term and what we actually mean when we say “difficult.

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If we are all in search of “novelty,” as you put it in your essay, then why would people NOT want to read so-called difficult literature? Isn’t such literature innovative and, well, difficult exactly because it is something new?

Think you need to look larger @ this, Scott. Novelty is but a part of the whole. There are other factors at play.


Yes, that’s my point. Thank you.


But why would people NOT want to read “difficult” literature?

Time? Looking up words? Attention span? Personal investment? Capitalism (which this essay addresses a little)? It’s the big DFW-type question. I don’t think the essay as it stands really explores factors like this much.

The essay’s attempt seems more to be the deconstruction of “difficult.” A silver bullet solution. However, the social pieces of whatever makes it up–this reluctance and aversion toward challenging literature–may just need to lie there, bare, named, called out into the open of field of the essay for your reader to explore.

Maybe in part 2? Consider it anyway. Thanks for writing your blog. I read it all the time.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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