Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Ones I Wish I Liked

Before I jump back to a specific book, I want to get something out there.  From time to time, I will read a famous book that everyone seems to love.  I will hear overflowing praise for its depth, insight, writing style, etc., and eagerly pick up the book to find out what everyone is talking about.  And on those rare occasions, despite my best effort, I just don't really care for it.  I may ask my friends to explain why they like it so much, and I can even understand their perspective, but I can't seem to change my feelings about it.  Maybe this has happened to you too.

These are the pieces of literature that I really wish I could make myself like.  (I actually feel that way about a couple of movies too, but that's another story).  These are the ones that lit-lovers are really disappointed to hear that I didn't enjoy.  On the other hand, sometimes I don't mind disliking certain books because I truly don't think they are written very well or contain a lot of depth.  That is a different category and not what I'm talking about.  Ok, enough already... I'm stalling.  Here's my list of The Ones I Wish I Liked:

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein - Remember the category, ok??  I absolutely recognize the intense amount of work Tolkein invested in this series.  I am in awe of the depth he reached by providing detailed historys, varied characters, and new languages.  I can feel the epic nature of the series; he created a whole world!  But, I just didn't really like it.  I couldn't feel attached to the characters, (most of whom felt one-dimensional), and I felt myself reading out of duty rather than interest.  And the second half of The Two Towers nearly killed me.  Is there anyone who actually enjoys those endless pages of Sam and Frodo walking through the mountains with the obnoxious Gollum at their tail?  But I'm sorry, I tried!!

2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville - So many people love this one.  With the bad taste of Billy Budd in my mouth, I had no intention of investing in this massive Melville text.  But after enough friends pushed me to read it, even going so far as to buy me a copy and place it in my hands, I gave in and read the entire, unabridged version.  I would have loved to tell everyone, "You were right all along!  I am so glad you made me read this!"  Sadly, though I am glad to have read it, I can't say those words whole-heartedly.  Again, I recognize the aspects of it that people love.  The beginning is almost poetic, and I genuinely did enjoy the first portion of the text as Ishmael felt his call for the sea and headed toward Nantucket.  Moreover, the ending of the story was captivating, and I have never felt like an ending was so well anticipated.  It was so satisfying to face Moby Dick in the boat after pages and pages of waiting in the sea without catching a glimpse of him.  But OH MY GOSH I did not want to know that much about whaling!!  I cannot get over that; I'm sorry.  I really don't care to know about each knot on the boat and how to make use of every little part of the whale.  There are so many chapters that have nothing to do with the plot that felt like a major chore to get through, and no matter what happens at the beginning and the end, I can't embrace the book for that dreadful middle section.

3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - I really want to like this one.  When I first read it in high school, I was happy to toss it aside in my dislike of it.  However, as I continued in my literary studies, I repeatedly heard people praising this novella as one of the best pieces of literature in its time.  Reluctantly, I finally re-read it, hoping that my years of literary training and analysis would bring me to love the book as so many of my peers do... It didn't work.  I have talked to friends and read essays about all of the symbolism, and I guess I can understand that.  But I can't shake the fact that I don't really like it, and I think it's over-rated.  I didn't feel like the admiration of Kurtz was fully explained or deserved, and the meeting certainly didn't meet the buildup the rest of the story had created.  I couldn't connect with the characters, and I wasn't even sure the messages were very strong or insightful in the text.  Oh, "The horror!  The horror!"

I'll stop here.  There are actually a few more, but I read them so long ago that I'm hoping a re-reading will make me change my mind, (even though it didn't work with Heart of Darkness).  I'm sure this is more than enough to make many of you yell at your computer screens and object to my bad taste.  But please remember that I am not insulting any of these texts.  I am putting them on this list because I DO recognize their merit, but I nevertheless can't bring myself to like them.  And I have no doubt that many of you feel the same way about some of the books I love the most.  I can accept that, though I would feel a little disappointed just as many do with me for the books I just listed.  To each his own...  :)


DeniseF said...

I am so glad I am not the only one who didn't like 'Heart of Darkness'. I read it for the first time recently because I thought I was missing out on something. I was wrong. :)

Adrienne Gorra said...

I feel the same way about The Lord of The Rings. I tried to read The Two Towers TWICE but stopped halfway both times. I would just rather spend all of that time on a book I'm going to enjoy and not feel like I have to finish it just because everyone else seems to have.

the Crow himself said...

I love it when you're in this mood, Amy, and I'm so with you on both Heart of Darkness and Billy Budd. I've always wondered if it was just something about nautical tales that absolutely turns me off, but I can't like them, much as it would be nice.

Julia Hones said...

I've just finished reading On the Road and I do not have a high opinion about it.

christina said...

I love this post. And for the record I could never get into LOTR either. I wanted to oh so bad. Haven't had a go at Heart of Darkness since high school, so I'll try that one again. And honestly, Moby Dick scares me. I mean, c'mon. It's a journey with a WHALE.

Amy said...

I always feel a little sense of rebellion when I write a post like this, so I am pleased to see the positive responses. I also feel SO much better knowing that other people feel the same way about some of these books!

And Christina, the stinkin' whale doesn't even show up until the very last pages of Moby Dick, so the book is actually more like instructions about whaling and not even a journey with the whale itself!

Keep them coming - you all are making me smile!

Anonymous said...

I can see where many people struggle with LOTR. LOTR is not written like many of the other "greats" in that it was more calculated than artistically depicted. Sure it has salt and pepper artistic expression, but as a whole it is not like many pieces of literature that are supposed to make you fall in love with the characters. Many novels will spend a lot of time trying to get the reader to be in sync with a characters thoughts and actions. Thus, the reader is invested in the character.

Tolkien, on the other hand, invests the reader in the story. Therefore, the reader falls in love with the story. I think it frustrates some readers of LOTR that they have so many interesting characters, but don't feel invested in them. That is not Tolkien's style in LOTR. To like LOTR, you have to like a good story/plot. You have to feel the emotions produced by the story and not the characters. You have to admire the detail of the setting and the excitement of an unexplored world of endless possibilities.

Most of this is ruined if the reader already knows the story or what creatures exist/don't. The movies were quite good, even by the standards of those of us who read the books first. I'd imagine that this would change for many who watched the movies first or even those who knew the story in some other way before reading them.

How many people who really like getting engrossed in a character's thoughts would like to read a book after watching a movie that had revealed almost every thought contained within the book?

Just some thoughts...