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You tried, you did not conquer: When a book becomes unreadable

Stacks of books from the floor raised a few feet in the air in a book shop in Paris.
Helena de la Guardia / Getty Images
Moment RF
Book shop in Paris.

Most of us have books that we just can’t finish, no matter how many times we try. This hour is all about those books that we find unreadable, whether they’re too long, too difficult, too confusing, or too dated. We ask: what makes a book unreadable? Plus, we’ll learn about the Voynich Manuscript, an unreadable and undeciphered book, housed at Yale University’s Beinecke Library.

We asked our listeners for their list of unreadable books. Here are those responses:

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Dubliners and Ulysses by James Joyce
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • Anything by William Faulkner
  • S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst
  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  • How to Write by Gertrude Stein
  • Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  • Collapse by Jared Diamond
  • The Bible
  • A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking 
  • The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  • The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins
  • Faithful by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Rim by Alexander Besher
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen 
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole


Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

The Colin McEnroe Show is available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe and never miss an episode!

Colin McEnroe and Cat Pastor contributed to this show.

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Lily is the senior producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show'. She first worked at Connecticut Public as an intern, in 2014. She has previously worked for WBUR, KUNC, and as a producer for the New England News Collaborative's weekly show 'Next.'
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