Friday, September 17, 2010

A Fine Line Between Book Love & Hate

We are book lovers. The written word is what we're passionate about. We can spend hours upon hours upon hours discussing our favorite titles, under-appreciated authors, overrated novels, and what we love about writing our own stories.

If you love something as much as we love books, you have the ability to hate it with the same level of passion. Now, there are plenty of books we just don't like. Not our thing, don't read a certain genre, we're not the intended audience, etc. But I'm not talking about those gray areas. Maybe it's because I didn't get much sleep last night and woke up a little cranky, but - let's talk about books we loathe!

I think the first book I ever truly hated was Johnny Tremain. My 6th grade class had to read this in some sort of combination English and Social Studies lesson. Now, I've heard Johnny Tremain referred to as a classic and it even won the Newbery Award in 1944. To my 11-year-old mind, however, this was the most boring thing I ever had to read ever. And I read a lot! Maybe I should return to it with my mature, adult eyes, but whenever I think of this book, I can't help remembering how much I wanted to throw it across the room and how much I hated my 6th grade teacher.

A novel that comes in as a close second on the hate-scale is another that I was "forced" to read in my youth. In A.P. English, we had to read Bartleby the Scrivener, which might have been the first time I wrote a mini-rejection letter in my head: "Dear Herman, I love the idea you're going for here, but the execution is god awful. Sorry, I'll pass."

But, like I said, the story of Bartleby still intrigued me; I just "preferred not to" read it. It wasn't until my teacher then suggested Billy Budd by Melville that I knew true hate, and it's the reason I'll never read Moby Dick. Two examples of an author's long-winded, incredibly dull storytelling skills are all that I need, thank you. Sorry to any Melville fans; I'm sure there are things to admire about his sentence structure, style, and command of language. I just don't see it. I ended up telling my teacher about three-quarters through that I just couldn't finish. She seemed sympathetic to my cause and still gave me credit for reading it.

The reason these terrible-to-me books were read at such young ages is because after high school, people stopped forcing me to read things I might hate. In college I didn't love everything I read, but I certainly didn't hold any violent grudges toward them.

You tell me: what's the one title you can't barely think about without feeling enraged?

Just Say No to Bad Books! 
(but respect other people's opinions about them because everything is subjective!)

34 comments:

  1. Ha-ha. I threw A Separate Peace across the room when I finished it as a junior in high school. I HATED that book!

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  2. I hold a special hatred for The Grapes of Wrath. I don't really like anything Steinbeck wrote, but that one is my literary nemesis.

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  3. Ask me ten years ago, and I'd say FIFTH BUSINESS by Robertson Davies - but I think now, I'd appreciate it for what it is. To comment on Jenilyn's comment - A SEPARATE PEACE was something we had to read in school too, but my teacher was the only one who saved us from it. Her exact words: "You won't like it, and you won't read it". So we read THE CHRYSALIDS instead, which is still one of my favorite books of all time.

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  4. "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana deRosnay. I hated watching actual Holocaust history turned into a self-esteem quest for a rich woman who spent a fortune trying to shop away her upperclass ennui, when she could have used that $ to rescue hundreds of women from genocide in present day Rwanda. By discussing holocaust victims in upscale European cafes or during Hermes shopping sprees, the author makes a mockery of actual historical events. Bad taste, IMO

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  5. Life. Of. Frickin'. Pi. Yeah, it's the big Mann-Booker-whatever prize winner. Had to read it for a book club, and I suffered through, I dunno, 4 million pages. AND THEN I GOT TO THE END. Which I will not spoil. If the author had been standing there and if I had a machete in my hand...

    well, I don't know what would have happened. There is no other book that I hate as viscerally as I hate this book. The End.

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  6. All the books I "hate" are ones that were assigned reading in school. Hmm, I wonder what the connection is there? :)

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  7. Oooh, lishacauthen - I HATED Life of Pi too! I threw it across the room when I was finished.

    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is probably my least favorite book of all time.

    I remember liking A Separate Peace, actually, though that was a long time ago. I wonder what I'd think of it now.

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  8. Things Fall Apart. I only finished it so I could speak with authority about how bad it is.

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  9. Q: Is there anything worse that Moby Dick?

    A: No.

    Although, because I refused to read Mel-vile in high school I had to agree to read whatever else my teacher gave me. As a lesson, she gave me Susan Howich's Cashelmara. To this day I don't know who won that throw-down.

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  10. The Red Badge of Courage, Across Five Aprils and Walden's Pond. Horrible,dry, and so freaking boring. All were required reading in school.

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  11. A Separate Peace...although I wasn't too fond of The Grapes of Wrath or As I Lay Dying. All were required school reading. I don't know why they torment students so. Oh, and I tried reading Great Expectations, but I never got past the first chapter.

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  12. I think the book that takes the cake for most despised was Crime and Punishment. I still hate it and even have my characters in my stories HATE HATE HATE it. I couldn't even watch the movie with Patrick Dempsey in it. I get hives recalling that terrible book.

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  13. On David's comment - YES!! I have my doubts about the sanity of those who find Melville brilliant. The man wrote a textbook on fishing, for Pete's sake.

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  14. You all should be English teachers! Notice how most of these "hated" books are the ones forced on millions of kids in schools every day? I wonder what would happen to our literacy rates if kids were assigned books that were FUN to read. Hmmmmm . . .

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  15. I hate A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Pronouns without antecedents drive me absolutely crazy!

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  16. I was hoping to be the first to post Moby Dick as my choice, but knowing how much venom that book stirs in so many circles, I'm not that surprised that two people already beat me to it. (In all fairness, the last four chapters where they FINALLY face the whale aren't horrible. Kind of like the last five minutes of a really boring basketball game).

    Since that one was taken, though, I'll have to post my #2 choice, and I know it won't make me popular here: The Catcher in the Rye.

    Sorry, Sarah, but if I ever met Holden Caufield in real life, I'd probably shake him and say, "Quit whining!" not long after we said hello. Couldn't relate to the story, hated the protagonist, and the jokes were all meh.

    Please don't ban me from the blog.

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  17. Lots of hate for required reading! Sad so many named A Separate Peace though... that's one of those books I never read but always looked forward to when I find the time.

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  18. @Gregg - You break my heart... but you're definitely not the only person w/ that opinion!

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  19. Is it absolutely horrible if I admit I hate The Scarlet Letter? I hated it in high school, then bought it about a year ago to give it a second chance as an adult. Still didn't like it.

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  20. Sara,

    Good call on The Scarlet A. Definitely my #3, now that you mention it. Not shockingly, all of the ones I mentioned were required reading.

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  21. The Sound and the Fury. Absolutely unreadable but it somehow became a classic.

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  22. American Psycho.............BORING!! But I always finish a book. Awful repetition. One can certainly convey materialism and irony without CONSTANTLY repeating the same kind of thing over, and over, and over, every two pages. Good concept, bad execution.

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  23. I think I may be weird in my reading tastes. I loved MOBY DICK and BILLY BUDD (especially the religious symbolism in Billy Budd – that was my first time encountering it, in high school, and I still remember the delight I felt at discovering symbolism that went far beyond the actual words). I loved THE SCARLET LETTER and THE GRAPES OF WRATH. In high school and college, John Steinbeck was one of my favorite authors. I loved all these books because of the messages they communicated.

    What do I hate? TWILIGHT and all the books in that series! I love that you understand the passion, both positive and negative, that writers have toward books. I think you hit on something very important with this. We feel very passionate about reading, so we both love and hate certain books. I always feel like I should apologize for hating the TWILIGHT books as much as I do. Not only do I detest the poor writing in the TWILIGHT series, the underlying messages in those books drive me crazy. I’ve told myself I should read the entire series because it’s so popular, but I’ve only been able to bring myself to read one of those novels every so often, and I always hate the entire experience of it. There are so many modern books like that, it makes me feel like screaming. It seems to me that these types of books involve mature themes written at third grade reading level with really poor or lame messages.

    There are also many modern books that I absolutely love: TINKERS by Paul Harding, FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen (which I’m presently reading), THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE by Aimee Bender, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver, and lots more.

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  24. The book I hated was Pride and Prejudice, because I hated the teacher and I told her so before I walked out of her class - that was a bad, bad day for me.

    But after watching the BBC miniseries - the one where Colin Firth dives into the lake - I reread the book and loved it.

    There was one book I threw at the wall not so long ago, but I can't remember its name, it was that bad I’ve erased it from my memory.;) I have to be careful throwing books now; my Kindle can't take too much abuse.

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  25. One of my younger cousins was taking a college lit class and was having trouble with her assigned book and she asked me to help her out. I thought, "Sure, I love books!"

    The book was Red Rover by James Fenimore Cooper.

    I think I've blocked out the plot, I was that mind-numbed by this book. Something to do with the sea, maybe there's pirates or a storm, I dunno. But I was sorta obligated to finish it to help her and to be all, "Look, reading is...er...*forces the word out* fun."

    I can still remember driving to the library to return it - I was literally giggling, I was so happy to be rid of it.

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  26. "A Reliable Wife," was one I read this year after hearing many good things about it. It was one of the most truly awful books I've ever encountered. I thought the writing was terrible.

    Also, I finally broke down and read "Twilight" during my vacation this summer. Everyone kept telling me how wonderful it was, and how I was going to be addicted to the series after I started. I promise I tried to read it with an open mind, but there was just so much swooning, and bright toothy smiles, and vampire nonsense...I just couldn't get into it. I didn't read past the first book in the series.

    In high school, I hated "The Great Gatsby" with a passion, but I think I'd like it now that I'm older and I can better understand the story. Might try that one again sometime.

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  27. I hated the Scarlet Letter, though I've contemplated going back to see if it's really as bad as I remember.

    The worst book, I think, was The Lexus and The Olive Tree. I think it's the only required book I've ever left unfinished. The entire class hated it and the teacher just kept yelling at us that we weren't experienced enough to appreciate it. I remember wondering why she would even assign it then.

    @Janice Haha, I have the same problem with my kindle. I finished a book recently with a cliff hanger ending and my first reaction was to throw it against a wall. I realized it wasn't throwable and chucked pillows instead. Someone needs to manufacture abusable ereaders.

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  28. Last of the Mohicans. Am I spelling that right? You know what, I don't freaking care.

    LAHST UF TEH MOHEEKENS.

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  29. I hated THE PEARL by John Steinbeck. I liked the theme of wealth corrupting innocence, but thought the execution ruined it completely. I had to write about my least favorite book for a writing class earlier this week, so I read the first page again and it still made me cringe, even years later.

    I was assigned the book in high school. I really wanted to like it, but finishing it was just torturous.

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  30. Most recent: Justin Cronin's "The Passage"--how you can take the vampire trend and make it as bleak yet boring as hell, well, I guess on some level it DOES take serious skill.

    Back in college: Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"--may have been seminal to the aging beatnik who assigned it to my lit class, but I thought the characters were losers then, and I still think of them as losers now.

    And BTW, my teenager daughter hates reading because of all the "classics" assigned in school--thank you, English teachers.

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  31. My sister gave me "Angela's Ashes", and I just could not get into it - it was totally depressing (and I'm Irish!).

    The poverty, alcoholism, unemployment and disease - hell, I can see that in my neighborhood!

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  32. I despised George Orwell's 1984. I had to read it in high school and I got through it but I can't recall admiring a single sentence. Also Anne of Green Gables. I think she's one of the most irritating characters in literature.
    I suspect she wasn't really an orphan. I think her parents took off to save their sanity.

    That said, I did love LM Montgomery's Emily books. Maybe I was biased because like Emily, I was also a girl who wanted to be a writer.

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  33. I agree - if teachers could assign fun books, or give choices so readers could at least pick the least horrible (in their opinion) maybe we'd have more readers.

    I devoured books outside school but almost anything assigned I couldn't stand. (Partly on the sole basis I HAD to read it, though.)

    My least favorite was Dickens anything. I think after suffering through Tale of Two Cities I learned to do Sparknotes for books I simply couldn't abide, and I didn't feel too horrible about it, either, since I knew I loved books and reading - just not THESE books.

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  34. I sure hope you guys have read something since high school.

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