#2. Pale Fire -- Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov might be better known for Lolita, his novel about the seduction of a 12-year-old girl that I'm not going to make too many jokes about.
Not after Legal reviewed my column, anyways.
Pale Fire might be his better novel, though, constructed around, would you believe it, yet another insane structure. The book is laid out as a 999-line poem called Pale Fire, written by a fictional author, and presented alongside annotations written by a fictional editor and friend of the author. The plot of the novel is laid out in these annotations, which discuss both men's slightly nutty lives. Like the fact that they're haunted by a variety of ghosts, or that one of them might have been mistakenly killed by an assassin who was trying to kill the deposed king of a country called Zembla.
That old saw.
What makes the plot so complicated is how non-linear it is, the details spelled out in the interplay between the poem and the annotations. With all those annotations pointing back and forth, it's often cited as being one of the first books written in hypertext.
Which the world has since used for nothing but the highest-browed work, as evidenced by all the sites we have with [REDACTED BY CRACKED LEGAL] that are really just begging for it.
#1. Finnegans Wake -- James Joyce
Finnegans Wake took James Joyce 17 years to write, and he was going to be damned if anyone would be able to read it in less time. Widely regarded to be among the most difficult books in the English language, Finnegans Wake tells the story of... something. That's about all anyone can say, really.
"A word, a word, a word. Another one. Yes, there's definitely something going on here, word-wise."
To make any sense of the work involves unpacking it sentence by sentence, subjecting every word to a brutally intensive analysis, collecting all the various meanings that fall out of this process, and reassembling them into something that actually resembles a coherent thought; reading it is a serious fucking operation.
The whole book is written in stream-of-consciousness, dream-logic gibberish, in languages that don't actually exist. Joyce invented his own completely bonkers language that was kind of English but also not, sort of as if he'd taken English and lightly pulsed it in a food processor before he started writing with it. The book has no plot that deserves the name, although trying to analyze it for a plot may be missing the point entirely. There are main characters of a sort, but they're a little hard to pin down, given the fact that they are given hundreds, even thousands of names within the text.
"Heh heh heh heh hehhhhhhehhehehe."
In short, it's basically unlike anything that's ever been written. If we're being generous, we can call this the work of a man trying to reinvent the very concepts of a novel, language, and possibly even concepts themselves.
"No, I did it to fuck with people."
Ahh, well there you go. OK, I take everything back. Fuck books.