Who hasn’t fallen asleep reading a book before? Have you ever considered trying it when you’re struggling to get some shut-eye at night? It’s a legit trick. Just dive into something dull. “Pick something boring,” says J. Todd Arnedt, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Michigan Medical School. It creates the “perfect conditions for sleepiness to manifest.” (And make sure it's a good old-fashioned paper book. The light emitted from e-readers and other devices keeps the brain awake.)
Textbooks on esoteric subjects are obvious, but how about books that are actually beloved? Books that’ll make you sound like a true intellect when you tell people what’s on your nightstand? There’s no shortage of novels to choose from – and the sleep-inducing effectiveness will be different for each reader – but we did some digging (and testing) and think we’ve come up with a good collection to conk out to. (No offense to the authors or anyone who may adore any of these books!)
Here are 11 boring books to help battle insomnia:
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
What makes it a real snooze: Although this book is known for being about the wild, carefree, and radical beat generation, it’s actually quite dull. Another good title for it could’ve been “The Very Long Newspaper Article About Hitchhiking and Traveling Around the U.S. in the Post World War Two Era.”
Excerpt: One night when Dean ate supper at my house—he already had, the parking-lot job in New York—he leaned over my shoulder as I typed rapidly away and said, “Come on man, those girls won’t wait, make it fast.” I said, “Hold on just a minute, I’ll be right with you soon as I finish this chapter,” and it was one of the best chapters in the book. Then I dressed and off we flew to New York to meet some girls. As we rode in the bus in the weird phosphorescent void of the Lincoln Tunnel we leaned on each other with fingers waving and yelled and talked excitedly, and I was beginning to get the bug like Dean.
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (1913)
What makes it a real snooze: A kid lays in bed watching candlelight flicker and wonders when his mother will come in the room. He thinks random thoughts and notices things in the room. He recalls memories of his mother. This scene goes on for something like twenty-four pages! You’ll be asleep every night after three pages of reading, so even just this one episode in the book will assure eight solid nights of awesome sleep.
Excerpt: I would lay my cheeks gently against the comfortable cheeks of my pillow, as plump and blooming as the cheeks of babyhood. Or I would strike a match to look at my watch. Nearly midnight. The hour when an invalid, who has been obliged to start on a journey and to sleep in a strange hotel, awakens in a moment of illness and sees with glad relief a streak of daylight shewing under his bedroom door. Oh, joy of joys! it is morning. The servants will be about in a minute: he can ring, and someone will come to look after him. The thought of being made comfortable gives him strength to endure his pain. He is certain he heard footsteps: they come nearer, and then die away. The ray of light beneath his door is extinguished. It is midnight; some one has turned out the gas; the last servant has gone to bed, and he must lie all night in agony with no one to bring him any help.
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962)
What makes it a real snooze: Vladimir Nabokov was an intelligent man who loved word games and this book is essentially him enjoying his own private word game. It starts with a very long poem that is 999 lines long and then a story follows that somewhat describes the poem. Or maybe that doesn’t even remotely describe what the plot is because it more than likely doesn’t have a linear plot that is possible to describe. As you’re reading you may imagine Nabokov – the genius – entertaining himself with yet another hidden meaning while you – the normal person – are bored to tears. You’ll be quite happy to choose the pillow over staying up and reading more.
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
And from the inside, too, I'd duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I'd let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
10 Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
What makes it a snooze: With this book sometimes you’ll wonder why you should read the next page because the last 150 have made absolutely no sense. Most people read a book because they relate to the characters and establish a relationship with them. People read Gravity’s Rainbow to be able to say that they did. They often go on to write another book or lengthy article about what they thought Gravity’s Rainbow was about. A ripple effect of boringness.
Excerpt: The night room heaves a sigh, yes Heaves, a Sigh — old-fashioned comical room, oh me I'm hopeless, born a joker never change, flirting away through the mirrorframe in something green-striped, pantalooned, and ruffled — meantime though, it is quaint, most rooms today hum you know, have been known also to "breathe," yes even wait in hushed expectancy and that ought to be the rather sinister tradition here, long slender creatures, heavy perfume and capes in rooms assailed by midnight, pierced with spiral stairways, blue-petaled pergolas, an ambience in which no one, however provoked or out of touch, my dear young lady, ever, Heaves, a Sigh. It is not done.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
What makes it a snooze: This book is on so many people’s bookshelves because they think it’s going to be entertaining just like all those monster movies. It only takes a few pages of reading before it’s obvious that it’s not. It is unbearably dull. This book is a dust-collector on people’s bookshelves until its inevitable journey to a thrift store.
Excerpt: “We passed a fortnight in these perambulations: my health and spirits had long been restored, and they gained additional strength from the salubrious air I breathed, the natural incidents of our progress, and the conversation of my friend. Study had before secluded me from the intercourse of my fellow-creatures, and rendered me unsocial; but Clerval called forth the better feelings of my heart; he again taught me to love the aspect of nature, and the cheerful faces of children.”
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
What makes it a snooze: This is one of those books that people think they want to read until they start it – and then wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into. Sure, some people love this book, but even insatiable readers who will read anything get bored by the whaling chapters. Want to know everything about the horrible job of being a sailor on a whaleboat in the nineteenth century? Then this book is for you. (Even so, we predict you’ll be asleep by page five.)
Excerpt: "This whale, among the English of old vaguely known as the Trumpa whale, and the Physeter whale, and the Anvil Headed whale, is the present Cachalot of the French, and the Pottsfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words. He is, without doubt, the largest inhabitant of the globe; the most formidable of all whales to encounter; the most majestic in aspect; and lastly, by far the most valuable in commerce; he being the only creature from which that valuable substance, spermaceti, is obtained."
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
What makes it a snooze: Cormac McCarthy likes to go into great detail – to the point that he describes ever single plant and rock on the trail that someone is walking on. Page after page of beautifully worded sentences about very little happening will certainly lull you into a peaceful slumber. It’s great writing, but it makes you feel like you just took a very dull vacation.
Excerpt: They crossed the del Norte and rode south into a land more hostile yet. All day they crouched like owls under the niggard acacia shade and peered out upon that cooking world. Dust-devils stood on the horizon like the smoke of distant fires but of living thing there was none. They eyed the sun in its circus and at dusk they rode out upon the cooling plain where the western sky was the color of blood. At a desert well they dismounted and drank jaw to jaw with their horses and remounted and rode on. The little desert wolves yapped in the dark and Glanton’s dog trotted beneath the horse’s belly, its footfalls stitched precisely among the hooves.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
What makes it a snooze: Capitalist heroes fight against a government that won’t allow them to be as successful as they want to be. The government is suppressing the extraordinary and forcing them to be mediocre. What a great premise for a book! When was the last time you got excited about reading over one thousand pages about how great unimpeded capitalism is?
Excerpt: Then you will see the rise of the men of the double standard- the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money- the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law- men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims- then money becomes its creators' avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they've passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878)
What makes it a snooze: Tolstoy was a master writer and it isn’t his language that makes this book dull, it’s the fact that almost no one alive can relate to how high society Russians lived in the nineteenth century. If you read enough old Russian books you find that women would literally fall over dead from self-inflicted fevers brought on by simple shame and embarrassment. So of course it is immoral that Anna has an affair, but the way she and the other characters deal with this is so utterly Russian that reading about it becomes tedious instead of thrilling.
Excerpt: Princess Shtcherbatskaya considered that it was out of the question for the wedding to take place before Lent, just five weeks off, since not half the trousseau could possibly be ready by that time. But she could not but agree with Levin that to fix it for after Lent would be putting it off too late, as an old aunt of Prince Shtcherbatsky's was seriously ill and might die, and then the mourning would delay the wedding still longer. And therefore, deciding to divide the trousseau into two parts--a larger and smaller trousseau--the princess consented to have the wedding before Lent.
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (1939)
What makes it a snooze: Very very few people have read this book. No one knows the exact number, but it’s probably only a handful each year. Why is this when it’s by an esteemed figure in the literary canon? It’s because it doesn’t make any sense at all for the bulk of the book. It’s surrealistic babbling.
Excerpt: The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since dev- linsfirst loved livvy.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1880)
What makes it a snooze: Perhaps the biggest obstacle in this book is simply Russian people’s names. Some individuals have a lot of them, and sometimes it seems like they use different ones depending on who they’re talking to. And since they’re Russian names, they're difficult to digest (unless you’re friends with a lot of Russian people of course). Take this catchy character’s name as an example - Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova. You may read hundreds of pages of this book and still be confused by who is saying what or which one is the brother or the dad.
Excerpt: He was married twice, and had three sons, the eldest, Dmitri, by his first wife, and two, Ivan and Alexey, by his second. Fyodor Pavlovitch's first wife, Adelaïda Ivanovna, belonged to a fairly rich and distinguished noble family, also landowners in our district, the Miüsovs.