Sunday, June 21, 2009

10 Lauded Books I Hate

To do the reverse of the lists below, I thought I'd put out 10 books that are generally highly lauded or canonical that I pure straight hated. Literary tastes are of course subjective, and I openly admit that I prefer 20th century literature over any other time period in general, so this list is appropriately skewed in that direction (though the 20th century isn't off the hook). So my 10 most overrated literary works, in rough order:

1) Pride and Prejudice - Words do not describe the contempt I have for this book. There are many movies you watch where you think, "I want those two hours of my life back." This is the only book I feel that way about.

2) The Bluest Eye - Some day, I will read something else by Toni Morrison, simply because I still can't believe my reaction against this book was so violent, and that there must have been something going on in my life at that time that made me hate it so much. But I'm not reading this one again.

3) Wieland: Or, the Transformation - Charles Brockden Brown is considered by many to be the first American novelist. You can make a strong case; what is not up for debate is how horrible the first American novels were.

4) Madame Bovary - She could not have died fast enough. Like Anna Karenina, only without any of the good parts, and an even more ridiculous dramatization of the worst parts. Oh, and spoiler alert - she dies. But not fast enough.

5) The Scarlet Letter - By now, it's probably becoming pretty clear that I'm just not that big a fan of pre-20th century literature. Still, I think this may be one of the most overrated books in all of American literature; useful for letting us get insight into a particular literary style, but god, it's an awful, boring literary style.

6) For Whom the Bell Tolls - The lesson I learned from this book? Hemingway's method and subject-matter is much more effective in short story form than in 400 page novels.

7) The Fountainhead - Only as I grew older did I realize just how horrible the "philosophy" behind Ayn Rand's "books" was. Fortunately, even as a teenager, I could recognize the stupid "plot," ridiculous preaching, stilted writing, and just general awfulness of this book, thus sparing me from also trying to plow through Atlas Shrugs (or anything else by her).

8) Romeo and Juliet - No doubt, this is because of the over-hype this play and story have gotten over the last 400 years. Still, over-exposure makes me hate it even more than Shakespeare's worst plays - at least their novelty makes them interesting.

9) The Good Earth - I may read it again someday, because I suspect it may not be as bad as I felt it was when I read it. Still, few books have left me caring so little about what happens to the protagonists, and unimpressed by either the story or the style. It's not much different from Nectar in a Sieve, but I thought the latter was way more successful at what it did than Buck's work.

10) Lust - OK, so Elfreide Jelinek isn't exactly "lauded," but she did win the Nobel Prize in literature a few years ago. No question, her wordplay is top-notch. Unfortunately, the meme of "sex is a horrible repressive system that denies women any agency, and death is the only escape" simply is not worth being repeated over 250 pages (not to mention that I just don't buy it - but hey, I'm a man, so I guess Jelinek would expect that response from me as another example of my male authoritarianism.).