Opinion

Which book do you find most confusing? My favourite is No 1

How often do you give up in frustration and not complete a book?

There have been numerous re-prints and covers for Catch-22. This is the one I recall from all those years ago.

Do you have a favourite book? Most of us do. Mine, by a country mile, is the war-based novel Catch-22 by American Joseph Heller. I must have read it at least three or four times and never find it boring.

Yet recent research based on online searches reveals that it tops the list of most confusing books to complete with 49,810 searches being made monthly to help break it down. Animal Farm (27,790) and Lord of the Flies (24,270) follow behind in second and third place. I had to study the latter two at school or maybe I would have given up on them.

I fully understand the confusion in relation to Catch-22. When I first read it 40+ years ago I found Heller’s introduction of events without going on to fully explain them an extremely annoying writing ploy. For example, he keeps referring to why the Snowden, the radio-gunner needs help. But the reader only discovers the full reason after progressing more than halfway through the book. Bit messy, so I will spare those who haven’t read it.

I, too, almost gave up on it. But I persevered for two reasons. One, I was on my first holiday abroad in Majorca and it was the only book I had with me. Two, my brother had recommended it. Reading the book coincided with my first ever trip by plane so I’m not sure he did me any favours given Catch-22 is full of planes being shot down and crashing into mountains.

Yes, I love Catch-22. Many people take different things from the book and I don’t intend to spoil the ending for you. But, the big thing I took from it is that, if you think outside the box, you can beat those trying to keep you down and under the thumb.

In the book, the main character, Yossarian, keeps going to the squadron doctor to ask to be grounded on the premise that the Germans are trying to kill him every time he goes on a bombing raid over Italy. The doc tells Yossarian that he can only ground him if he is insane. But, given that Yossarian is sane enough to ask to be grounded that proves he is sane so he must keep flying. “That’s the catch, Catch-22.”

How cool is it that you give a book a title and it ends up being integrated into common language? Sure, not everyone has read Catch-22, but most people are at least vaguely aware that it means – whatever you try to do, the authorities have got you by the intimate part of a man’s anatomy.

When it comes to books, sometimes we end up taking on more than we expected. From unclear symbolism to hidden messages, the reassrch wanted to find which books confused us the most? Interested in finding out, OnBuy.com took to Ahrefs to see which books we Google the most each month.

Topping the list with a whopping 49,810 searches is Catch-22. Before even getting into the content of the book, it seems many people had questions on what Catch-22 means with 45,850 Google searches being made each month. The plot also seems to raise many questions for fans with 1,610 searches relating to wanting a summary and explanation on the ending.

In second place is Animal Farm by George Orwell with a total 27,790 searches relating to it. When looking at their findings, OnBuy.com found that people needed the most help with summarising the book – on average there are 17,300 related searches made each month. It seems that the hardest chapters to understand are nine (350 monthly searches), five (450 monthly searches) and seven (600 monthly searches).

Coming in third is Lord of the Flies by William Golding, with a total of 24,270 searches every month. Known for its symbolism and rich metaphors, it’s one that may require re-reading to understand. Some700 searches are made each month to gain a further understanding of the meaning of Lord of the Flies and a total of 15,820 are made by people needing help with summarising the book, especially chapters two (1,600) and nine (800). Must look them up again but I had an advantage … a good English master who was keen for we pupils to understand all the hidden meanings.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë takes fourth place as the book people seem to struggle with most (22,060). It seems like a major point of confusion for people is the plot of the story with 600 searches being made monthly for “Wuthering Heights plot”, as well as 200 for “Wuthering Heights timeline” and 600 need further help understanding “What is Wuthering Heights about”.

Joining the list of classics in fifth place is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, raking in a total of 18,340 monthly searches. Known for its rich language and mixed character reviews there are many reasons to struggle with this book. So much so that on average each month 90 searches are made by people wanting to skip right to the end and find out “How does Jane Eyre end”, as well as 13,000 searches wanting a short and concise summary of the book.

Following these are the Miseries, Les Misérables (9,080) and Don Quixote (8,650) in sixth and seventh place, respectively. From the length of the books to their complexities, there are many difficulties to both.

Ulysses by James Joyce came in eighth place (6,330). Unsurprisingly due to its layered stream of consciousness, rich vocabulary and length, many find it to be a mission to complete, resulting in 40 for “How to understand Ulysses”, 300 searches are made on “How to read Ulysses”, as well as 2,740 searches wanting a summary of the book.

In ninth place is Moby Dick by Herman Melville (5,600). Said to use overly descriptive prose and complex references to the bible and mythology, it’s no wonder 4,400 searches are made each month for the book’s summary. As well as that, 500 searches are made monthly for “Moby Dick meaning” and 300 for “Moby Dick Metaphor”.

Completing the list is Life of Pi with a total of 5,080 searches a month. One element that people clearly struggled to get was the ending with 1,000 monthly searches being made for “Life of Pi ending”. 1,300 searches are made each month for the book’s explanation as well as 630 wanting a summary.

SURVEY REVEALS WHY WE STRUGGLE WITH BOOKS:

Interested in delving deeper and seeing what makes a book hard for readers to complete, OnBuy.com surveyed 3,205 people and received the following answers:

Reason:% that answered this:
Dislike characters83%
Lack the patience78%
Language used in book71%
Concept goes over their head66%
Length of the book64%

At the top of the list is disliking characters (83%). When we can’t identify with them it can be hard to feel empathy and therefore means we begin to lack care for the outcome of their story. I empathised with Yossarian. Just because the Germans were trying to kill everyone on his plane – not just singling him out – that was of little consolation to him. I fully sympathise.

In second was lacking the patience to finish a book (78%). Sometimes books can be slow burners and for some of us, it’s not ideal.

From using inconsistent writing styles to sloppy sentence structures there can be a lot that puts a reader off when it comes to the language used in a book as 71% of participants clearly agree with.

Completing the top five reasons for readers was the concept going over their head (66%) and the length of a book (64%).

By the way, I tried to read Heller’s follow-up book featuring Yossarian but couldn’t get on with it and never finished it. He should have stuck with just the one.

Ignore the dates on this trailer, it’s been and gone

David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past local weekly publications he has worked for include: the South-East London Mercury* covering the Borough of Greenwich as a junior reporter; Orpington-based News Shopper as a sub-editor; and the Kent Messenger when based in Larkfield, Maidstone, as deputy chief sub-editor. He has also worked for the following dailies/nationals: Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor on a car fleet magazine. His first foray into property ownership saw him move from London to Rainham (the Gillingham, Kent, variety). He has subsequently lived in Chislehurst, Petts Wood and Orpington in the Borough of Bromley (which he still regards as being in Kent). In more recent years he owned three different properties on the Kings Hill (West Malling) development.

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