Sidebar on Reading Difficulty

When I'm reading, there are two forms of difficulty I like to be aware of: what I'll call "Syntactic" and "Structural" difficulty. Syntactic difficulty is something where the sentences themselves are hard to parse, due to having archaic language or conventions, weird grammar, or long digressions. Structural difficulty is what it sounds like: something hard to follow on a higher structural level, like plot.

Syntactically difficult books can be a slog to get through because of the concentration required to power through the sentences. Structurally difficult books can be harder to follow along with, even if the sentences themselves aren't hard to read. It's the difference between "What the hell is this saying?" versus "What the hell is going on?"

Books are on separate scales for plot and syntactic difficulty. A book like "The Wild Palms" by William Faulkner has a plot that is not especially hard to follow, but the density of his sentences can be a challenge. On the other end of this spectrum is something like "The Time Traveler's Wife" which is an easy read, but all the time jumping can make it a little confusing at first. (That may not be the best example as that's a plot device and is part of the puzzle rather than a pure style choice, but it was the first one I thought of).

The Platonic Ideal of a book that is extremely high on both types is "In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust, the single most difficult book I've ever read.