Books That Challenge You to Think

Have you ever read a book with a story that you did not like, yet you enjoyed the book as a whole because of what it said and stood for? For example, The Hunger Games is like this for some people. The world within the story, and the situations the characters face, are not pleasant. However because it addresses real issues and the fictional world is so thoroughly developed, it is enjoyable and a beneficial read.

This week I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy for my Modern West Lit class. I didn’t expect to like it, as I have not liked most of the books I have read in this class, and also because I had a friend tell me she had read it before and didn’t like it. However, I both did and did not like this book. On the surface, the story is monotonous and depressing. A man and his son travel through a post-apocalyptic North American wasteland in search of warmer weather and food, witnessing death and desolation on every page. It’s a horrible story if you just read it for surface value. The saving grace, is all the ‘big questions’ it brings. Hope is held onto even when it is not logical; why? Human nature, and what it means to hold onto one’s humanity is thoroughly discussed. There is so much beneath the surface of this book. The author has done a wonderful job of making his points without actually saying anything blatant or attacking anyone. I am not doing this book justice; it has such meaning. It was a hard read, but a good one. Additionally, The Road is uniquely formatted and written. There are no chapters, and the story flows poetically with irregular punctuation in places. Reading it takes a different rhythm than most books. This fits in with the man’s desire to hold on to his humanity, even as he sees it slipping away and society crumbled around him. It doesn’t really matter whether the apostrophe is in the right place, what matters is that the meaning gets across. This style could make it challenging for some people to read, but I found it creative and appropriate.

I have a lot of respect for this kind of book; the well-written books with more meaning to them than just what the words on the pages say. The books that make you think. This is not a book I will ever reread for fun, and probably I will never reread it at all unless it comes up in another class, but it is a book which has contributed to my worldview. It is distinctly postmodern, and there is a lot of discussion as to whether the ending is hopeful or pessimistic; personally I believe it to be optimistic, but this was not my first reaction. I had to think about it for a little while before making up my mind. I think that is what the author wanted. I gave this book four stars on Goodreads, but I felt the need to include a disclaimer of sorts explaining my intrigue with the deeper meaning despite disliking the story itself.

This was at times a hard book to read. I cannot recommend it to everyone; it is not written for everyone. I’m really not sure what to put as who I would recommend it for. Given what I have said about The Road, it is up to each reader to determine whether this is the kind of book they want to read. I do not feel like I can predict who it would be good for and who would not appreciate it.


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