The 10 Most Confusing Books of All Time

"Oh great, another word I've never heard before."
"Oh great, another word I've never heard before." / Iuliia Burmistrova/iStock via Getty Images

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that James Joyce’s novel Ulysses is a work of genius—but it might take one to truly understand it. According to a new survey, it’s one of the top 10 most confusing books of all time.

Researchers at UK-based online retailer asked 3205 people to dish on which books puzzled them the most, and compiled a list based on the 10 most common responses. To rank those titles from most to least confusing, they relied on monthly search volume data from Google. Though deciphering the many layers of Ulysses definitely requires an assiduous reader, it actually only came in eighth place. The top spot went to a book whose nonlinear plot and many crisscrossing narrators truly do make it a doozy: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Unsurprisingly, novels rife with allegory and/or satire seemed to elicit the highest levels of bewilderment. George Orwell’s Animal Farm took second place, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies rounded out the top three. Exceptionally lengthy novels often cause furrowed brows, too; Les Misérables by Victor Hugo and Moby-Dick by Herman Melville both made the list. Readers also apparently have trouble decoding the deeper meanings behind the shifting relationships in the Brontë sisters’ novels. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights came in fourth, just ahead of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

An emoji all readers of Ulysses can relate to.
An emoji all readers of Ulysses can relate to. / then analyzed search terms to see what exactly readers were Googling about each book. Plot summaries were a trend across the board, and people are also especially interested in ending explanations and overarching meanings. But despite their best efforts to understand, it seems that some people do just give up: Catch-22, Ulysses, and Moby-Dick have all topped a list of most commonly abandoned novels, too.