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We've got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, you'll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest)

(4) Base Camp

Ivan Ilych is short, its plot is relatively easy to follow, and unlike Tolstoy's longer novels, it doesn't have millions of characters. The language is pretty simple too; even in an older translation, it reads naturally. The novella's main challenge comes from its themes and ideas; we are dealing with the meaning of life here after all. Even so, it's not the kind of book that leaves you wondering what the heck is going on; you'll have a good idea of the plot. But it will definitely lead to some questions. Ivan Ilych tends to become more complicated and interesting (and at moments more funny) the more you think about these questions.

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