Monday, July 18, 2011

Forgive the Negativity...

I have resisted writing a post like this for a long time now, but I am giving into the temptation.  Not too long ago, I read a funny post by Dead White Guys called "I hate your favorite book" in which she ranted about a couple of beloved classics.  Although I do really love one of the books she mentioned, I still found the blog amusing and entertaining.  I'm hoping that my entry will likewise entertain you and not aggravate you.  Although I'm not exactly trying to copy what she did, I have had a burning desire to get this off my chest for a while now, so I'm taking her playful entry as a green light.

I have very consciously limited all of my reviews to books that I believe deserve to be designated as "Classic Literature."  This has somewhat limited the amount of writing I can do because there are a considerable number of books that I regularly read which I do not think should be included in this list.  I've noticed that a lot of bloggers follow the formula of summarizing and then giving their opinions, whether good or bad.  There's nothing wrong with that, as it can be quite helpful, but I guess I've been trying to offer something a little different by picking up on one or two interesting issues within books that I love.  But believe me, I do not love every book I read.

Ok, ok, enough procrastinating.  Here goes... I really do not like Jane Austen.  Whew.  There it is.  I have to admit that I have not read all of her novels, and I recognize that there is a possibility that I could change my mind if I did.  But for now, I just have my feelings from reading two of them, and I am not a fan.  The problem is that my favorite thing about novels is the psychological character development.  I am fascinated by a multi-layered character who goes through struggles and accomplishments while moving toward the end of the novel.  I love getting inside a character's head, and I want a plot that emphasizes that.  Austen's characters are somewhat one-dimensional, and I can predict the ending by chapter two.  I understand that her skill is in the use of language and wit, but it feels too frivolous to be a truly great novel for me.  I'm sorry, Austen fans.

There have been a couple of novellas I read recently that disappointed me.  For example, I felt let down by The Stranger by Albert Camus.  I struggled to enjoy it in its complete lack of redemption and spirit.  I also thought The Old Man and the Sea didn't have a lot to offer, which is unusual for Hemingway in my experience.  Plus, I've seen it on a couple of "Best Books of All Time" lists, which surprises me.  Oh, and this is old news, but I absolutely hated Melville's Billy Budd when I read it a while ago.  That was brutal!  (To be fair to Melville, I've read about two-thirds of Moby Dick and definitely find it to be a great improvement, though way too long-winded at times.)  Now that I'm getting carried away, I may as well add that I really didn't like Jane Eyre the first time I read it either, but I was so young that I know I should probably try it again... I just don't particularly feel like it.  I could also list a handful of contemporary novels I've read that disappointed me, but I'd rather not.  And don't get me started on poetry...

Finally, there's an extremely important literary figure whom I do not particularly care for.  This has always been my cardinal sin as a literature lover, and I am reluctant to talk about it quite as openly.  But I will give you a significant hint and say he's the big "S."  If you know who I am talking about and are infuriated, please know that I do not discount his contribution to literature and yet I have my reasons for my dislike.

That was actually more fun than I thought.  I do apologize if you've taken any of this personally and can't believe my bad taste, but at the same time I don't feel too badly because I'm talking about some dead authors' writing, not about your mother.  But after this, I promise I'll be better about biting my tongue again and keeping my negative opinions to myself... at least for a little while.


Allie said...

I really like this entry. :) I think it is perfectly normal to not "mesh" with certain authors or titles. I always try to be open and honest with my own feelings on what I read. I will say that I am an "easy to please" reader and usually enjoy some aspect of everything I read.

But, there have been a few titles on my list that I really didn't care for. I really didn't like "The Stranger" either when I read it, so you aren't alone there. I also just read "Dubliners" by Joyce. While 3 or 4 of the stories were good, the others made me want to gouge my eyes out. I had to force myself to finish them.

I also really can't stand Joseph Conrad. "Heart of Darkness" is a nemesis of mine and I have had to read it three times (once in high school and twice in college). It is on my list and I am dreading it.

(and because I feel I have to, try Jane Eyre again. :) You might change your mind now that you're older)

Agrippina said...

You've listed quite a few of my favourites here, but I really must agree with you re: The Stranger. It just didn't grab me at all.

Falaise said...

Nice post. It's about time more people opened up about this. I don't believe anybody can genuinely like everyting that is deemed a "classic". The book world is far too large for anyone with any thought or judgement to like everything. I can't stand Joyce, am beginning to dislike Pynchon heartily and have always avoided Austen and anyone whose name is Bronte. But I do like the "S" man a lot!

Sarah G. said...

AMEN! I do not like Austen either. Way to be brave and say it! :)

IngridLola said...

I'm not a huge fan of Jane Austen either. I try to like her, but I just can't. I didn't mind Persuasion too much but still.... meh.

I did like The Stranger though. I'm kind of into bleak, depressing stuff. Maybe that's why I don't like Jane Austen ... too happy.

Anonymous said...

Not liking the big "S"! What a tragedy?! Oh, the irony!(Correct me if I'm wrong of course.) I feel that obviously no author is going to be able to appeal to every reader because that connection relies on the personality and experiences of the reader. Therefore, I encourage you to retry an author or genre periodically as life's resume grows; however, if the author and you are not on the same page, put his or her work aside for awhile. There is a time for everything. It will be interesting to see where your growth will take you in the world of literature. Keep up the good work, Amy. I have really enjoyed your recent posts.

And if the big "S" is referring to Nicholas Sparks, then I fear for your soul. JK Rowling on the floor, laughing. Oh, sometimes I just kill myself. Paronomasia intended Mr S.

Amy said...

Haha, this is great. I was a little nervous writing this, so it's fun for me to see all the positive feedback.

Allie - I can't stand Heart of Darkness either! And ok, I'll at least put Jane Eyre on my "To read" list, although it's not a high priority yet. :)

Agrippina - Sorry about that. But don't worry, I'm sure I love some books that you hate.

Falaise - Before you avoid too many Brontes, I think Wuthering Heights is a lot different so keep that in mind. And thanks for not killing me regarding the Big S!

Thanks Sarah!

Ingrid - I like the bleak stuff too. We make for great, somewhat demented, kindred literary spirits. :)

And "Anonymous" at the end, I do believe you have caught me... and it's not Sparks (although I'm clearly not a fan of him either).

Kathy said...

Have you read much by Henry James? If not, I recommend him to you--I think you will like his work for the same reason that you *don't* like Austen's. (Does that make sense? I mean his characters are multi-dimensional and it is SO interesting, the way he lets you into their heads.) Only don't start with The Ambassadors. I would suggest Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove to start with!

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of your choices except Austen, whom I've not read. I'm not drawn to her works at all, though that might change in the future. This is perfectly okay. The "classics" are just a bunch of books and it would be odd for any one person to love or even like all the books.

Jillian said...

Ha ha - no Shakespeare (the big S?)? OR Austen OR poetry? You're missing out! :-) I disliked Austen but knuckled down and tried her again, same novel (P&P) and now I adore her. I felt exactly as you did last year. With Austen, the depth is under the surface -- but it's absolutely there.

Shakespeare? Not sure if that's the big S, but I disliked him too, then tried him again (with a translation to regular chatter), and now I ADORE him. Especially his sonnets, which are teeming with psychological intrigue.

I currently dislike Mark Twain. But he's growing on me. :-)