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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)

(6) Tree Line

Hawthorne loves a good word, and he won't use one when he can use ten. All the same, he's pretty clear about spelling out the themes and consequences of his Pyncheon family drama. The House of the Seven Gables actually has quite a simple story: dude frames another guy for murder then dies 30 years later leaving the other guy free. Voilà. But because Hawthorne's writing is a bit wordy and dense with description and symbolism, we're giving this novel a 6.

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