When A Book Makes You Feel Dumb

Maybe it’s just me but has any of you ever read a book that made you feel like a total idiot?  Being an avid reader I have read a lot of books, and there were some books that just left me scratching my head. Perhaps total idiot was taking it a bit too far but I am positive that I have read things that made me feel like I might be lacking in the intelligence department.  It really bothers me because I want to be able to comprehend what is going on (and not because it’s written in a foreign language).  Rather, I am curious as what the author is trying to say. Sometimes I somewhat feel a little bitter when other people “get” the book or at least claim they get it and I myself feel the exact opposite. Here’s just an example of a book that has made me feel dumb.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

No book has ever made me feel like I was lacking in intelligence than William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.  Yes Shakespeare was difficult, but that’s a different story. I knew what the book was about, but when I started to read it, I kept asking myself “What the heck is going on?” I had no idea what the whole purpose of the story was and that frustrated me.  I will admit I actually didn’t finish this book because after a hundred pages in I couldn’t muster to read the rest. I was so bored, confused, and upset because nothing made sense.  The writing style, grammar, and story line were so fragmented and chaotic that it was miserable to read it.   William Faulkner is obviously a brilliant writer but the whole time I was reading this, I felt like he was “trying” to mock his readers. Moreover, the fact that you have to result going to Sparknotes or even Wikipedia to know what is going in a book just takes the fun out of reading it and I do not like that. To top that, when I read reviews for this book praising it, and how great it was I just sit there and come up with this conclusion: I’m a complete idiot…Yea, I don’t want to feel that way.

What do you all think? Has there been a book that made you feel unintelligent? Or are you such a great reader than no book has ever made you feel “dumb”? And how do you feel when you don’t “get” a book that everyone seems to claim they “get”?

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29 thoughts on “When A Book Makes You Feel Dumb

  1. I’ve definitely read a few like this! Sometimes, though, I like stories that are a bit challenging because they’re open for interpretation. But, when it gets to the point you’ve found yourself at, like you said, it’s no longer fun. One book I couldn’t get past was Ulysses by James Joyce. I majored in English: Professional Writing and Publishing and minored in English Literature in college, so I find it pretty easy to read and attempt to interpret difficult books. But, Ulysses was the death of me. It was horrible. I barely understood anything that was going on. I couldn’t and still can’t figure out why so many people adore it when I’m over here like this book just gives me a giant headache. When we were discussing it in class and my peers would come up with ideas of what was going on in each chapter I was so frustrated when I, a strong reader, came up short and confused. I don’t blame you for giving up on this book. Sometimes you just have to do that with things that aren’t for you. I completely understand this struggle.

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    1. Thank you for sharing similar sentiments. I’ve heard about Ulysess being quite difficult or at least not a very likeable piece of literature.

      I totally understand how you feel about being frustrated and being so confused when everyone else gets it. I think to myself that I’m just so dumb and I don’t have the capacity to understand.

      But not to sound rude I also feel like at times there are those who boast about being able to comprehend a certain book, or at least claim that they understand it..I’ve met people like that and it’s so upsetting. But at the same time I’m like “Are you sure that you get it or just pretend to get it-so you can praise how great of literature it is.” Sorry I kind rambled and digressed a bit in regards to do this.
      I just wished I was that one person who can read a book and be able to comprehend the meaning behind it without having to go on Sparknotes/Cliffsnotes (I feel so pitiful at times when I have no choice but to because I just don’t get it. It also definitely takes out the fun in reading if you don’t understand something.

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      1. I totally agree with you about the people who just like to pretend to like something to make them seem like a better person. I always love it when you then ask them to explain the piece and they’re like well I can’t; you just have to know, and I can’t help you if you don’t already know. I want to be like no, if you can’t explain it, you don’t get it! You’re just trying to make yourself sound cooler and better so please stop! If they really actually liked the piece they would want to explain it to people so they could share what they loved about it. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves, honestly, when it comes to readers. (Most of the time it’s the literature snob type people.)

        You should definitely not feel pitiful that you have to look stuff up frequently, though. I minored in English Literature in college and studied too many books to count on all my fingers and toes and there were tons of books that I had to look up a reading guide for while I was reading them (One Hundred Years of Solitude was one I HAD to keep a guide next to me at all times. I would read a chapter and then read a summary of what happened because it was so hard to follow!), and I still do that sometimes with books I read! It absolutely doesn’t make you a pitiful or bad reader. In fact, it makes you a better one because you’re actively trying to understand what you’re reading 🙂 But I completely get not wanting to have to do this for every book you read. Sometimes it’s a nice feeling to just be reading fluffy stuff you don’t have to analyze and think critically to try and understand. But I can tell you that practice really does make it easier. The first time I read Shakespeare I had no idea what was going on. It was a mess. But now that I’ve read so much of him, I can read his plays without even having to translate his unique writing to modern day English (haha). Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself, but sometimes it good to read stuff that you don’t have to exert yourself to understand.

        To sum up, long story short, I totally get the struggle. It can be so frustrating sometimes!

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        1. Oh my goodness tell me about it! If you get it then I’m sure you can explain it. If someone asked me and I didn’t know I would be upfront and say “I didn’t understand crap…” HAHA

          Oh my gosh Shakespeare. I still have a hard time understanding his works since I didn’t get a chance to study him. So I envy you for being able to do so. 🙂 Hopefully when I have the time I’ll try to read some of his plays again.

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          1. Yea, Shakespeare is definitely worth the effort. I love him. But I understand that a lot of people don’t. Hope your reading starts going better for you!

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  2. I haven’t read The Sound and The Fury, but I’ve read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and that one can easily go over your head with its stream of consciousness style! Luckily, I read it with classmates so it was easier to dissect. I haven’t read any books that have confused me lately, but I do get this similar feeling of cluelessness when a book’s ending is very unclear or left wide open, and I wonder if I was the only one who just didn’t get it…

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    1. I just think that some books are needed to be read with a group in this case in an English/literature class or maybe even in a book club. I haven’t read As I Lay Dying but I do own the book but after that reading experience with The Sound and the Fury it may take me awhile to pick it up.
      Despite my negative reaction to the book, I’d still suggest you give The Sound and the Fury a try since you have read As I Lay Dying. You may form a different opinion on it. 🙂

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  3. That was me with 1984 by George Orwell. I understood it and I can totally appreciate its value to modern literature, but I was just so bored throughout. And I think that had more to do with the hype than the book itself, but I felt like there was something inherently wrong with me because I just couldn’t get into it. Haha!

    I’ve never read a Faulkner book, but I’ve heard he does that to a reader. I can’t say I’m super excited to read him, but I’m still curious…

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  4. Ι understand exactly what you mean but I don’t think I felt dumb while reading because if I didn’t get the book, that means that I have more stuff to learn about. What really makes me feel dumb is the other readers who ‘get’ the book, just like what you said, and make me feel minor. Also they make me feel stupid when they talk about how deep the books was and how they can see the deeper message the book is trying to pass etc etc.

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    1. Oh my goodness yes! When people have discussions about books and the meaningful message that it conveyed and I didn’t get it, I feel so disappointed because I want to be able to comprehend it, too. :/ It makes me feel bad….

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    1. Yes I’ve heard of the whole stream of consciousness thing. I hate that writing style! Now that you mention As I Lay Dying, I might just avoid reading that, too. My Faulkner books are going to be just sitting on my bookshelf without being read. -__-

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      1. Knowing you, you’d probably pick it up one day. 😛 But yeah… I had to read it for school, which probably made me dislike it even more. It’s one thing not understanding what you read and a whole other thing when you’re tested on a confusing mess, haha.

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  5. I remember this happened to me at uni with Ulysses by James Joyce. Everyone goes on about what a modernist masterpiece it is, stream of consciousness, etc. And I’m sure they have a point. I just didn’t get it! And so opted to study Virginia Woolf instead! 🙂

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    1. I’ve never read any of James Joyce, but I have heard about Ulysses not “making sense” to some who read it as well. I have yet to read a Virginia Woolf, but I’m sure she is much better than James Joyce. 🙂

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    1. Thanks Emily! 🙂 This happens to me as well especially when I read a classic book. When I think I understood what the whole meaning of the book, I am totally wrong especially when I read reviews for it.

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  6. I’ve had that happen before. I can’t remember the specific titles right now, but I know at least a couple of the books this has happened with were really big name ones–ones people would usually refer to as classics. . . . Which makes me wonder: I know I’m not stupid, however I may feel after reading a book like that. So does everybody just say the book is so good because they’re book snobs and they want to seem cultured? Or do they really get into some weird groove where it actually makes sense? I just don’t know. . . .

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    1. It’s usually the classics from what I’ve noticed.

      I ask myself the same question! I think sometimes (not that I’m questioning people’s intelligence) but certain people probably “claim” they get the book even though they don’t really understand to sound “smart”. I know I’ve met people like that..Or like you mentioned they are probably so smart that everything makes sense to them…who knows….

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  7. There have definitely been a few books that make me scratch my head in confusion; mostly because the characters aren’t the brightest.

    I can’t think of any from school that come to mind (maybe Heart of Darkness?) but one YA novel that pops into my head is Under the Never Sky. I still don’t understand the concept of the world and what was really happening in it despite loving the plot of the series.

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    1. I haven’t read Heart of Darkness, but I know some people didn’t “get” it either. Oh no. Under the Never Sky is on my to read list. I love world-building in books, but when I don’t understand it, then it’s definitely going to be difficult getting into the story.

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      1. I still highly recommend Under the Never Sky. The rest of the plot is great, it’s just the aether concept I struggled with. I think it’s because more dystopian stories take place in a world similar to ours and elaborate aspects we currently have. Under the Never Sky has a more science fiction/advanced technology vibe to it so I think that’s what threw me for a loop 😛

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