Re: Vent


I am so totally with you on Dickens. Perhaps my very least favorite author in the canon. I'm not averse to verbose writers (I love Faulkner), just pointlessly, pedestrianly verbose ones. Paid by the word, you say? It shows. Get to the point, Chuck; I don't give a rat's ass about every knick-knack on the mantle.

You know who else I can't stand? Maya freaking Angelou. Worst hackpoetry to ever reach a mass audience. Her autobiography is great, don't get me wrong. But every time I hear her read (and she's like the goddamn poet laureate of liberal events), I'm amazed at the sheer, clunky awfulness of it. Her poem at Clinton's inauguration? The horror, the horror.

So many great black female poets in this country, and she's the only one with any significant shelf space. Also, not that she's recognized as being a great author by anybody outside of her glassy-eyed Objectivist minions, but Ayn Rand gives me the vapors.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 12:36 PM
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Right there with you on Dickens. Blech.

For my own choices, Milton is completely unreadable as far as I'm concerned. And I still don't understand what on earth big deal about William Carlos Williamson's damn red wheelbarrow poem is.

Posted by: rufus | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 1:33 PM
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Interesting. I never read the three Dickens novels you list above, but I have read and enjoyed "Great Expectations", "David Copperfield" and "Nicholas Nicholby". They are overall much less bleak. "Great Expectations" in particular I find to be a superior novel, even though yes, his caricatures can get a bit wearing.

Authors I find unreadable: Faulkner, Austen, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

Posted by: fiat lux | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 1:43 PM
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Does Tom Stoppard count? I wanna drive spikes through his fat head.

Posted by: Joey Dee | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 1:51 PM
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I just don't get 'bitter' from Dickens at all, though Bleak House and Little Dorrit are more somber than the earlier works. Hard Times and Tale of Two Cities are merely second-rate Dickens. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, is warmly funny a la Sterne, and not at all bitter.

The usual rap on Dickens is that he is sentimental, and was best expressed by Oscar Wilde's famous quip: "He has a heart of stone who can bear to hear the fate of Little Nell without laughing".

"great" authors that people just can't stand

Once I flung down with an audible "fuck you" a volume of Flannery O'Connor. But it was just one particularly smug and tendentious story ("Everything That Rises Must Converge", or maybe it was "The Displaced Person") that so infuriated me; on balance I still like O'Connor.

Posted by: son volt | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 2:04 PM
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Well, Victor Hugo is a great author, but I wish he could have left out about a hundred or so pages of Les Miserables, the parts where you lose the plotline as he gives details of the Battle of Waterloo or whatever it was. But I think he was writing in a very different time for a very different audience: namely, people without TV and internet and access to endless literature. Same goes for Charles Dickens. I think I just have a shorter attention span than the contemporary readers of these authors. Sadly.

Posted by: Danielle | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 3:01 PM
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Good stuff!

Maya Angelou is embarrassing. Absolutely. And the wheelbarrow poem is good, and the plum poem is great, but the rest of Williams is scheisse. Another good one!

Did Oscar Wilde say everything interesting?

Oh, and fiat, who's left?

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 3:07 PM
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I don't think I've ever had a very strong negative reaction to a "classic" author, but reading Beloved in high school made me want to go blind.

Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 3:21 PM
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Oh, and I'm sure I'll catch hell for this, but Pale Fire, for crying out loud. You have no idea how much I didn't care about the tricks he was pulling.

Lolita was fine.

Posted by: Joey Dee | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 3:31 PM
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Another one came to mind: any insights on what's so great about D.H. Laurence? Maybe I was too young for Sons and Lovers, but I just don't recall getting much out of it. I agree with son volt though: most of the classics have earned their reputation. Anyway, ogged, I think bitterness aptly rendered is literature-worthy, just like Romeo and Juliet is great because it's so perfectly, painfully tragic.

Posted by: Danielle | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 3:34 PM
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the rest of Williams is scheisse



Nicht schiesse.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 3:57 PM
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I'd say Henry James, but I don't think I've made it far enough through anything by him that I've supposedly read that I can render a competent opinion.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 4:11 PM
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I pretty much detested Oliver Twist and Pickwick Papers as a teenager, but then loved Great Expectations and would recommend it to any Dickens hater. I have made several attempts at David Copperfield and Bleak House, and though I think every law student should read the chapter "In Chancery," I got through neither one.

My choice for great-writers-to-hate would be Henry James, although it has been years since I've given him a chance.

Posted by: TomF | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 4:12 PM
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If we get to bitch about things we had to read in high school, then I can report with no hesitation that _The Scarlet Letter_, _The Great Gatsby_ and _Beloved_ all suck ass. _Madame Bovary_ also kind of sucks, though not as bad.

Posted by: pjs | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 7:10 PM
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I'll not hear one word against The Great Gatsby, is that clear?

(Absence of a defense of The Scarlet Letter is not to be construed as approval of pjs' assessment.)

Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 7:24 PM
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I'm with SCMT. I've read Washington Square three times, each for a different class and with a different eye, and each time I hated it more.

Henry James, feh.

Posted by: LarryB | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 7:37 PM
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I'm always more surprised at "classics" that are actually readable... "Frankenstein" was unreadable, but "Dracula" is readable. Of course, they were popular, not literature, but then again, so was Dickens.

Posted by: Leo Hoban | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 7:38 PM
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The Red Badge of Courage was without a doubt the most boring book of my High School career. Why do English teachers love it so?

Posted by: Andrew Cholakian | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 8:10 PM
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it's funny; my experience with classic books is almost always that I think "wow, so that's why it's so damn classic!" hmm. I'm noty just mad about Flaubert. Thomas Hardy--damn he could lighten up a little. I never could read more than about 25 pages of Finnegan's Wake, and I've decided I just don't care. pace ben, F. Scott Fitzgerald is only an OK writer. I actually think Beloved is a really good book, although I expected not to like it. I have problems reading Don Quixote because I feel really sorry for Rocinante. I can't handle for horses to get beaten. I think we can all agree that Catcher in the Rye sucks. and no talking shit about Nabokov, people. on the positive side, everybody ahould read Tristram Shandy; it is the funniest book ever.

Posted by: belle waring | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 8:26 PM
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Not quite a classic but Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is a tough read. One long stream of consciousness.

Posted by: Felix | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 8:43 PM
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Waaah. I liked Catcher in the Rye when I read it.

Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 9:05 PM
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Two comments:

Scarlett Letter: oh dear flod, horrible!! Just boring and tedious beyond words.

Cather in the Rye: you big phony! Holden rocks!!!

It really is sort of interesting just how divergent people's opinions can be even on books that have some sort of "consensus view" of worth.

Posted by: rufus | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 10:35 PM
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I loved _Tristram Shandy_ on a first reading but never managed to make it through again.

I found almost every page of _Anna Karenina_ after the first few a burden to read. However I love the _23 Tales_.

Does finding Citizen Kane boring count?

Posted by: rilkefan | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 10:45 PM
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Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell.

Hawthorne. Arg. I wanted to kill everyone in The Scarlet Letter by the time I was done with it.

Actually, pretty much everything I read my junior year of high school. I wrote my final paper on why I hated every book we'd read. Got an A.

Posted by: Dan | Link to this comment | 12- 8-04 11:00 PM
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No talking shit about *Fitzgerald*.

Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 1:53 AM
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I couldn't really appreciate Catcher in the Rye until I had already been out of high school. If you haven't read it since then, you might give it another chance, it's short.

I cannot comprehend not liking Fitzgerald or Dostoevsky. And Don Quixote? It's amazing. Burton Raffel's is the best translation, in my humble opinion.

The only think I've read by DH Lawrence is his short story, "The Rocking Horse Winner." That one was awkward.

What about poetry? I see Maya's been mentioned, but, though I have to strain to find a classic work I haven't liked, I can probably count the poets I would actually read for pleasure on my fingers.

Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 3:46 AM
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Has anyone here ever gotten through a book by James Joyce? Talk about overrated...

The Scarlet Letter is timeless, though. Hawthorne, if alive today, would take a look at today's Republican Party and tell you that little has changed since he wrote that book.

Posted by: HoldenL | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 10:47 AM
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Wow Holden, I'm the precise opposite of you: The Scarlet Letter isn't worth anyone's time (although Hawthorne's other work is generally excellent) and I've never read any Joyce I didn't like. I like Joyce so much that, yeah, I'll say it, Ulysses is the greatest thing ever written.

My list of classics i dont like, besides The Scarlet Letter, includes Welty in her mature stage, anything by Kipling anything by Defoe, and pretty much most any prose from the 1700-1850 for that matter.

Posted by: bg | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 11:39 AM
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I think I've repressed or given up on all the ones I've hated, so I'm too lazy to have a really good trashing.

Bet then s'one mentioned Red Badge of Courage - enough to put one off literature for ever. We went through it painstakingly week by week extacting metaphors and similes. My head hurts thinking about it.

Tristram Shandy was just an awesome surprise.

Gravity's Rainbow and Magic Mountain each took me a couple of tries, but I enjoyed them the time I finally finished them. And I think back on them reasonably often.

In Russian lit, people are usually in the Dostoyesky or Tolstoy camp. I was much more into Dostoyesky, but I skipped so much of Anna Karenina I feel like I can't diss it fairly. Oh yeah, Gogol, I just don't get what's funny about dead souls.

Posted by: cw | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 12:01 PM
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Oh, yeah, Vergil's Aneid in Latin. That was a miserable year of my life.

Posted by: cw | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 12:03 PM
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I just don't get what's funny about dead souls

The smell.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 12:14 PM
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But "The Nose"!

Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 12:15 PM
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ben's right. Gogol's short stories are some of the most amazing things ever. Interesting paper on them here. (pdf)

Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 1:44 PM
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Parody of Gogol and (apparently) Soviet Futurism here.

Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 1:56 PM
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[whispering] I hated Lolita. I don't think Nabokov's a genius and stop telling me you think it's great that he wrote the first paragraph in 3/4ths time. I didn't like it. At all.

[takes deep breath.] And I hate everything by Hemingway. [exhales sharply.]

Man, I feel SO much better.

Posted by: Moira | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 3:17 PM
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Thackery really, really sucks.

Posted by: pedant | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 6:40 PM
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I still resent Thomas Hardy for writing The Return of the Native.

Posted by: Matthew McIrvin | Link to this comment | 12- 9-04 8:03 PM
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The one and only positive thing about Wuthering Heights is that they all (all of them! yes yes yes!) die by the end. And good riddance.

Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 12-10-04 3:17 PM
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I could hate Hemingway. But then I would die. In the rain. Alone.

Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-11-04 8:43 PM
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Oh wow Fitzgerald is more than OK. Catcher in the Rye is GREAT as well.

Posted by: Jane | Link to this comment | 03-21-05 10:42 PM
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I thought Bleak House was redeemed by the spontaneous combustion scene and the detective story bit towards the end, though the latter part was too predictable.

The first half of War and Peace was three of the best novels I've ever read; the second half was five of the worst.

I nearly threw Cousin Stupid into the Seine (true story) but didn't finish it; I'll have to read Lost Illusions before I can say anything about Balzac, though.

This comment's going to be rejected for being on a thread that's been dead for too long, isn't it?

Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 08-28-05 11:28 PM
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