Boring Books
September 25, 2008 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find incredibly boring books. The kind of books that you'll try to read, and can't help but space out. Bonus points if its in the public domain.

Also, if you have any experience with LibriVox, and know of any particularly boring books or boring recordings, that would be greatly appreciated as well.
posted by daboo to Writing & Language (80 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Not public domain but Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is the most boring book I've ever read. Lots of people -- many of them here -- are totally in the tank for him, though, so ymmv.
posted by matteo at 6:32 PM on September 25, 2008

What's boring to you etc. etc.

But, okay: Textbooks.
posted by box at 6:34 PM on September 25, 2008

I just bought myself a copy of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. I actually enjoy dipping into it, but by the time you get to her blanquette de veau people would be dropping like flies.

How 'bout the Res Gestae Divi Augusti?
posted by Countess Elena at 6:35 PM on September 25, 2008

Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson. 1) Dry 18th century language. 2) Preachy and moralist beyond your wildest dreams. 3) It's epistolary (i.e., fiction based on correspondence), so you read about every plot point three or four times. 4) By pleasant coincidence, they're both also two of the longest books in the English language. SCG is 1600 pages long.
posted by spamguy at 6:39 PM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Anything by Michel Houellebecq.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:42 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some parts of the Bible are really boring, especially the ones that recite someone's lineage. It's like reading a telephone book.
posted by XMLicious at 6:46 PM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed most of the classics I had to read for school, but I do remember struggling to stay awake through Little Dorrit (Charles Dickens), The Rainbow (D.H. Lawrence), and The Portrait of a Lady (Henry James). Those are all in the public domain, and it looks like The Portrait of a Lady and The Rainbow are available through Librivox.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:46 PM on September 25, 2008

The Table of Integrals, Series, and Products.

Seriously snoozy.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 6:47 PM on September 25, 2008

Finnegans Wake. Oh my god, Finnegans Wake.
posted by milarepa at 6:56 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Try The Italian by Ann Radcliffe. It's actually amazing... she makes a story about an insane monk kidnapping and attempting to murder his own daughter at the request of her lover's parents (in order to stop their marriage) read like the Aeneid as narrated by Ben Stein.

Oh, the Aeneid is also boring.
posted by ndicecco at 6:57 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Return of the Native, and War and Peace.
posted by Airhen at 6:59 PM on September 25, 2008

Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I've never made it further than 30 pages into Swann's Way.
posted by MsMolly at 7:01 PM on September 25, 2008

The Decameron

In the public domain.
posted by Zambrano at 7:02 PM on September 25, 2008

Seconding Ann Radcliffe. I was going to suggest The Mysteries of Udolpho. Hundreds of pages that you think will be leading to some gothic horror, or at least a bit of romance and intrigue. But it goes on forever, only occasionally hinting at action. The only things that seem exciting happen offstage. I could also rant for several minutes about the gigantic letdown of the black veil.
posted by saffry at 7:03 PM on September 25, 2008

The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien. I do love the Fellowship of the Ring and the Hobbit, but the Silmarillion just puts me to sleep.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 7:11 PM on September 25, 2008

Anything by the Marquis de Sade. His stuff is so terrible that I swear to God somewhere I read an essay that argued that being boring is actually de Sade's way of engaging in sadism against the reader.

The Aeneid was fun in Latin but yeah the English translation I read was terribly boring. There are probably better and worse ones out there to be found.

The Secret History of Queen Zarah is pretty bad too. It's basically incomprehensible if you aren't intimately familiar with early 18th c. English court politics. I imagine other romans a clef to which the clef is incredibly obscure or outdated will have the same problem.
posted by phoenixy at 7:23 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not free but it put me to sleep: Nonprofit Internet Strategies: Best Practices for Marketing, Communications, and Fundraising Success. En, as it were, joy.
posted by Grod at 7:28 PM on September 25, 2008

Heartily seconding spamguy. I came in this thread to suggest Clarissa. Be sure to avoid the abridged version and get the full 7-to-8 volume edition. One million words, it's said. And many, many of them superfluous.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:29 PM on September 25, 2008

Judith Butler's Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.

Just click on Amazon's 'Search Inside' feature, and try to figure out what she's saying in the first page without reading each sentence more than once.
posted by invisible ink at 7:29 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I only read a few chapters before reshelving it for a possible future attempt, but I found The Pickwick Papers utterly boring.
posted by CKmtl at 7:42 PM on September 25, 2008

Mein Kampf.
posted by pompomtom at 7:43 PM on September 25, 2008

The Communist Manifesto, what a snooze.

Much of my reading list from Law School.

Finnegan's Wake.
posted by Ponderance at 7:45 PM on September 25, 2008

Oh, yeah, anything by Thomas Hardy - paying writers by the word is rarely good for prose.
posted by pompomtom at 7:51 PM on September 25, 2008

Seconding Ann Radcliffe. I was going to suggest The Mysteries of Udolpho. Hundreds of pages that you think will be leading to some gothic horror, or at least a bit of romance and intrigue. But it goes on forever, only occasionally hinting at action.

Oh my God, so true. I had to read The Mysteries of Udolpho for school also, but apparently it was so boring I had completely blocked it from my mind until now.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:53 PM on September 25, 2008

I cruised through Brothers Karamazov, which is pretty boring at some points. But Moby Dick got the best of me: it's the only book I can remember trying to read (twice) but failing out of pure boredom.
posted by dcrocha at 7:58 PM on September 25, 2008

The Hobbit. I have tried perhaps four or five times in my life to try and read it, and never have I gotten past about page 30 or 40. Sleep away!
posted by davidmsc at 8:09 PM on September 25, 2008

Atlas Shrugged took me an entire unemployed summer to slog through. I wanted very much to like it, but it just sucked.
posted by notsnot at 8:13 PM on September 25, 2008

Tristram Shandy. Good lord, did I want to find that book hilarious. Put me to sleep, several times, instead.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:14 PM on September 25, 2008

1. anything by solhzenitsyn
2.the decline and fall of the roman empire
3.anything by tolkien
4.anything by tad williams
5. the bible (esp. the parts about who begat who)
6.seconding war and peace

if you want some good technical books i can recommend some stuff on special relativity, string theory and statistical probabilities
posted by docmccoy at 8:44 PM on September 25, 2008

almost forgot, deception point by dan brown. hard to believe it's the same guy that wrote the da vinci code
posted by docmccoy at 8:54 PM on September 25, 2008

Yes, what is it about The Hobbit? I don't remember the content being singularly boring at all, in fact I think I liked it, but when I read it as a teen it took me approximately a year to get through it, because I would always fall asleep after a few pages. It was a running joke in my house to ask me if I had finished the book yet.

In fact, I remember being stuck on the same page for several months because I would have to reread to find my place and then nod off before I'd made it past the page.
posted by softsantear at 8:54 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

P.S., could you tell us your reason? Do you intend to use these as sleep aids?
posted by softsantear at 8:56 PM on September 25, 2008

I found Samuel Beckett's Watt to be especially mindnumbing.
posted by sad_otter at 8:56 PM on September 25, 2008

Mr. Sammler's Planet
posted by spacewrench at 9:06 PM on September 25, 2008

Canadians have a knack for writing boring books. You could start with Margaret Atwood's boring "Alias Grace," Carol Shields' boring "The Stone Diaries," and Timothy Findley's boring "Famous Last Words."
posted by Beardman at 9:17 PM on September 25, 2008

Yeah . . . Atlas Shrugged. Just the first page and I was bored (mostly because I didn't understand all of the words - words that were probably important to know).
posted by Sassyfras at 9:28 PM on September 25, 2008

I am incredibly surprised nobody has suggested The Mormon Bible yet. It's all online, and it's very, very difficult to stay conscious for.

(sorry, Mormons!)
posted by tmcw at 9:42 PM on September 25, 2008

posted by 517 at 9:46 PM on September 25, 2008

In college we all had to read "Leisure the Basis of Culture" and the entire freshman class fell asleep at once. Zzzz...
posted by GaelFC at 9:46 PM on September 25, 2008

Das Kapital, Volumes I, II and III.

If you're after literature, Musil's A Man Without Qualities is also relentlessly tedious: volume upon volume of fin de siecle Viennese engaging in endless drawing room discussions about nothing. About the most interesting thing that happens is when somebody drops their teaspoon on the floor.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:53 PM on September 25, 2008

Azamov FoundatioZZZZZZZZ
posted by mattoxic at 9:53 PM on September 25, 2008

(and Gender Trouble is not only wonderful, it should be mandatory reading for all)
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:54 PM on September 25, 2008

I've always been a voracious reader, and I tend to read in bed (for hours; I don't read to fall asleep, I mean) and the only book I have literally fallen asleep reading was Wuthering Heights.

There's boring and then there are works that are so dense or convoluted, that are so difficult to make sense of that reading more than one page at a time without deciding that one really must do the dishes or fold laundry or check reddit right now is close to impossible. I'm assuming that the latter category falls under "space-out books", so here's my recommendation:

The most inscrutable, difficult-to-keep-reading book I've read in the past year was Return to Región (Volverás a Región is the original Spanish title) by Juan Benet. I took me about five aborted attempts to get past page twenty. There is a section, five or six pages, full of detailed geographic and geologic detail of the area - the author was an engineer, which I suppose explains the jargon - but to a layperson, the description is so full of unknown words that it's disorienting. Even if I took the time to look up all those words I wouldn't have been able to retain the meaning long enough to actually make any sense of the sentence, and so far (I'm about 2/3 through the book - I had to stop) he doesn't include another geographic description.
There are (fairly random) bits of Gregory Rabassa's translation online at Google Books. Here's a random quote I picked out:

"I think that I spent a whole hour contemplating that glass of pure milk, quiet inoffensive milk offered in houses of prostitution as a regenerative certificate, like the archaic vestige of a rite that precedes nuptial depradations, while my soul, far away from there - absent for the moment from the business that was of such interest to it - was still smelling in the red cushions, in the aroma of lotion that impregnated the pillow, in the vice-ridden shadows, and in the disorderly wrinkles in the sheets the omens of a new status for one who was discovering an evident vocation." That quote doesn't sound so bad, actually, upon re-reading, but the entire book is like that - every detail has a string of tangential descriptors.

If anyone has read this book, by the way, and has some insight, please mail me. I have a vague idea of what is "important", and some sections that seem key, but I'm not confident.

Oh, and the unabridged diaries of Lewis and Clark. Ugh.
posted by queseyo at 10:04 PM on September 25, 2008

role playing game manuals

Dune and it's myriad sequels

Lord of the Rings trilogy

Anything involving Mesoamerican (ie. Aztecs, etc) cultures
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:06 PM on September 25, 2008

Behold, one of my most highly prized possessions: the world's most boring book.

A History Of The Chartered Accountants Of Scotland
From The Earliest Times to 1954
Written and Published on the occasion of the Centenary of their Institute

The content is even more stultifyingly verbose than its title might suggest; even the many illustrations (mostly photos of empty library rooms and the backs of nondescript buildings) achieve such a perfection of dullness that one expects the entire volume to collapse into a cloud of dust and silverfish at any time.

As evidence of what I accept might be taken as an exaggerated claim, I quote at random from, as it happens, page 30:
The brief account given in the foregoing pages of the formation of the three Scottish Chartered Societies shows that each arose from small beginnings but that they all met a requirement that had for long been felt in their respective cities, and there is no doubt that their incorporation gave great satisfaction to their respective members. The matter is well summed up in the concluding paragraph of the Annual Report of the Glasgow Institute for the year 1955, presented to the members at their General meeting held in January 1856, which reads as follows: "While adverting to these few matters connected with their past two years' experience of the working of the Institute, the Council feel that the objects of the Association are in course of being amply realised. They feel also that although not stated in our Rules as one of its objects, our Institute, while in no respect diminishing honourable rivalry in the exercise of our common profession, is yet calculated, by drawing us together for the discussion of common objects and the warding off of common dangers, and even occasionally for the enjoyment in moderation of such a social evening as the greater number of us were enabled recently to attend, to promote these feelings of amity and goodwill, without the cultivation of which the business of Life is robbed of its pleasure without any increase of its profit.
...And so forth.

Our copy is ex-library, and according to the records card still in the binding was actually checked out once (by a Roderich, Hans H on 15 Apr 1955, presumably now deceased of lethargy.) You may not borrow it.
posted by ook at 10:07 PM on September 25, 2008 [14 favorites]

Infamously, Kant.
posted by scribbler at 10:24 PM on September 25, 2008

Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
Nadja by Andre Breton

Anything by Baudrillard, Barthes, Derrida, etc.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 11:18 PM on September 25, 2008

Walden by Thoreau made me sleep like a baby.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:41 PM on September 25, 2008

Snow by Orhan Pamuk. It's dreadfully dull, unless you love minutely rendered descriptions of snow falling on Turkish cities for pages on end. And poems about snow. And reflections on snowiness. And sometimes, reflections on the absence of snow.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 12:02 AM on September 26, 2008

I suggest A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates. I would be amazed if anyone found a more remarkably boring book anywhere. Seriously, check out the excerpt on the Amazon search inside feature. The whole thing is like that. Even the title is boringly descriptive.

I remember Herbert Brün keeping a copy of this (or some extremely similar book) on his desk, next to his Klein bottle.

The reviews on that amazon link are comedy gold, by the way.
posted by idiopath at 12:58 AM on September 26, 2008

I seem to remember that I saw a list when I was a kid of the Most Boring Books Ever somewhere -- in The Book of Lists, maybe? -- and they claimed that the #1 Boringest Book was The Pilgrim's Progress. It is public domain; the Wikipedia page includes links to full text, and there's a LibriVox recording here.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 1:40 AM on September 26, 2008

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell took me about 3 years to read (and I'm a pretty fast reader who gets through approximately 2 books a week in general).
posted by car01 at 2:23 AM on September 26, 2008

A lot of "classics" are classics because of their historical or detailed information about an area that was otherwise unrecorded, and NOT because of their literary content - off the top of my head:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (the whale doesn't even show up til the end and you have to plough through 300 pages of whaling terminology to get there).

Don Quixote by Cervantes (It's a parody of knight errant tales, but as these ceased to be relevant in around the 16th century, it's mindblowingly dull).
posted by BigCalm at 3:18 AM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

53 comments and not one mention of Thomas Pynchon?

Gravity's Rainbow was to have won the Pulitzer, but was withdrawn when it emerged that several of the judges couldn't finish reading it.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:01 AM on September 26, 2008

As you can see, you can't account for taste in boredom. So, find a time period or subject matter or literary school you really don't care about (19th century Britain, 19th century France, fantasy novels, detective stories, realism, romanticism, postmodernism, naturalism, math, geology, semiotics, whatever) and get books about that. Wikipedia is your friend.

Hint: The bigger the book (when it's not interesting), the more boring your experience.
posted by ersatz at 4:38 AM on September 26, 2008

Cold Comfort Farm.
It's the only time I ever put a book in the trash.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:49 AM on September 26, 2008

The Decameron

The HELL you say!

I tried reading something called The Princess of Cleves some time ago -- I downloaded it off Project Gutenberg, so it (like everything else on PG) is in the public domain -- and stopped reading after only a few pages of medieval rhapsodizing about how pretty and noble said Princess was.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:54 AM on September 26, 2008

Atlas Shrugged, yes, but anything written by Ayn Rand. No, everything written by Ayn Rand. And Wuthering Heights and Gravity's Rainbow are two of the greatest books written. It's all in the eye of he beholder.
posted by TheRaven at 5:37 AM on September 26, 2008

The phonebooK?

I don't know if it was already mentioned - but can't get more tedious than that. Zoning out - guaranteed. And later you can rip it to shreds without nary a thought.
posted by watercarrier at 5:48 AM on September 26, 2008

A Passage to India did it for me.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 6:13 AM on September 26, 2008

Another vote for Richardson's endless "Clarissa." In college i read it standing next to our bunk beds do that my face would hit the metal frame and wake me up every time I dozed off. Ugh. Also, Mencken's "American Language" may be better if you could hear it in all its multi-dialect glory, but read silently to yourself it's like having wet cement set in your skull. (

The Center for Military History at Carlisle Barracks ought to have some pretty dry material on, say, the Transportation Corps during WWII or Civil Affairs in the Interwar Years or something. (

(And shut up about "Tristram Shandy"! Don't make me come over there!)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:28 AM on September 26, 2008

My book club recently read Madame Bovary, and while there was general agreement amongst our francophone members that it was an interesting, witty book in French, there was general agreement amongst all members that it was almost impossible to force yourself to read in English. Plus, it comes in a variety of different translations, so you could bore yourself with the same story multiple times! Project Gutenberg has the Eleanor Marx translation.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:35 AM on September 26, 2008

I find those cheesy romance novels (that we scarfed up like hotcakes in middle school for the naughty bits) to be unbelievably dull. I have a really hard time actually reading the words and not just flipping the pages.

But I agree all the begat begat begat parts of the Bible are your best bet for snoozeville.
posted by desuetude at 6:49 AM on September 26, 2008

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski. You'll want to put a pencil through your brain.
posted by Wet Spot at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2008

According to my son,who has to read it for school, Jonathan Dickinson's Journal or God's Protecting Providence Being the Narrative of a Journey from Port Royal in Jamaica... is the most boring book ever. Judging by the title, I'd have to say he's on to something.
posted by misha at 7:40 AM on September 26, 2008

Based on the snippets I've seen, Dianetics is an absolute snore. People who see it on your bedside table might get the wrong idea though and you may have to pay to get it. I couldn't get through The Fountainhead. Haruki Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is 700 pages of a man sitting in a well.

YMMV. To each his own. Etc...
posted by chairface at 7:49 AM on September 26, 2008

To answer your second question: LibriVox podcasts make excellent slumber aids, because many of the volunteer readers are not particularly skilled. So the book doesn't have to be particularly boring to send one off into dreamland.

I recommend The Chronicles of Canada.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:41 AM on September 26, 2008

I actually really liked some of the books mentioned above -- but good lord, I'll second Finnegans Wake (Joyce). Holy hell, really????
posted by Craig at 9:09 AM on September 26, 2008

Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad". I'd also second "The Pickwick Papers".
posted by of strange foe at 9:17 AM on September 26, 2008

As someone who enjoys many of the books cited here as the height of boring (although in very small doses in the case of Finnegans), may I suggest Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple (and its non-Gutenburged sequel, Lucy Temple). I don't know that it will be on Librivox, because that would require someone managing to read it without falling asleep. Seriously the dullest thing I have ever been asked to read, and I have read numismatics journals.
posted by fidelity at 10:38 AM on September 26, 2008

Two nights ago the company I work for, a German automotive parts manufacturer which is this year celebrating its 100 year anniversary, handed everyone in the factory a white gift bag. I could see mixes of disappointment and amusement on the faces of coworkers who reached in to see what they'd given us. Inside, wrapped in tissue and shrink-wrapped, was a hardcover book. Not a slim, coffee-table format book that promised to be packed with pictures, but one that threatened 300 pages of scholarly reading. I won't name the company, because I'm a unskilled assembly line employee working on temporary contract in the collapsing automotive industry who should be trying to hold on to his job, and I don't want the understandably proud owners in Coburg googling their book title and finding this thread, but the subtitle is "A German Family Company 1908-2008". I read the first chapter, and might read the rest, mostly because I'm curious about how they handle the war years. I did skip ahead to see mentions of the company founder joining the National Socialist party. What's clear in the first chapter, which covers the years 1908-1919, is that the family has passed down little oral history of their company's founding. The only bit of colour in the chapter is an illustration of an advertisement for dog goggles "for any canines who cared to accompany their motoring masters or mistresses on the road". Otherwise the only sense of the company's first ten years, when the founder was a distributor and salesman of motor parts, is a recounting of the size of their notices in surviving Berlin business directories. Last night, at break, two of my coworkers noticed a coffee mug stamped with the company logo that had been left sitting on our table. Why couldn't they have given us a nice mug like that, they asked, instead of a book!?
posted by TimTypeZed at 11:19 AM on September 26, 2008

Finnegans Wake, as suggested above by milarepa, is the best answer by far. Beyond boring, it is unreadable in any traditional sense. Personally, I doubt even most of the scholars who have published on Finnegans Wake have read the thing from cover to cover. Also, unlike many of the other suggestions here, it is in the public domain.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2008

Hodgman's reading of 700 hobo names is pretty hypnotic.
posted by Pronoiac at 5:06 PM on September 27, 2008

Seconding The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I'll also add Great Expectations which I read half off as a child and never finished because I found it so painfully boring once the protagonist grew up. Le Peuple by Michelet, Les Contemplations by Hugo and most of Flaubert (except for "Saint Julien l'Hospitalier" which I think is an incredible story) would be among the most boring French literature I've read.
posted by nonmerci at 8:58 PM on September 28, 2008

Finnegans Wake, as suggested above by milarepa, is the best answer by far. Beyond boring, it is unreadable in any traditional sense. Personally, I doubt even most of the scholars who have published on Finnegans Wake have read the thing from cover to cover.

This is a very strange thing to doubt if you are at all familiar with academic literary scholarship.
posted by desuetude at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2008

Has anyone heard of the Urantia Book besides me? Now that tome would challenge the greatest reading minds! Freakishly boring and tedious yet hard to put down... kinda like trying to finish the ironman triathalon as a middle aged, fat, bald, guy, though not as fatal
posted by Redhush at 8:41 PM on September 29, 2008

Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders and De Sade's Justine. Both feature Women Descending into Degradation plots, both are intensely bad.
posted by stavrogin at 3:35 PM on October 3, 2008

The Silmarillon. ARGH.
posted by divabat at 4:53 PM on October 3, 2008

This is a very strange thing to doubt if you are at all familiar with academic literary scholarship.

I am familiar with academic literary scholarship, but I am also familiar with Finnegans Wake. The novel was best summed up by Vladimir Nabokov (a Joyce fan, and a great interpreter of Ulysses), when he said it was "nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room [...] and only the infrequent snatches of heavenly intonations redeem it from utter insipidity."

But you're right, a few people have surely read the thing. Have you?
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 6:03 PM on October 4, 2008

Me? Nope. My appreciation for Joyce is highly fickle.

Do I know any of these allegedly mythical creatures who have read the whole thing, who I believe to be telling the truth? Absolutely. (A couple are really stubborn fans, the others are academics by trade.)
posted by desuetude at 12:56 AM on October 6, 2008

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