Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Three Rotten Classic Books I Never Want to See Again

When I was in school, I was forced to read any number of books that I hated. By this method, schools do a pretty solid job of turning off many kids from reading for good. God forbid you should read anything "fun," or "readable," or "not boring and shitty." No, no: It's a steady diet of Johnny Tremain and opaque Toni Morrison novels for you. Your assignment tonight is to read 70 pages of Song of Solomon, or slit your wrists and never come back to school. LEARNING.

Everyone has a classic book, one that's adored by English teachers and hipsters the world over, that they can't stand. I don't think you should feel guilty about it. I don't think you should be forced year after year to sit in silence while other people rhapsodize about a classic book you secretly despised. Here are three such books I never want to see again.

Not only did this book cause people to think that rich people are interesting (they aren't), it essentially created the entire modern "white people problems" class of novel that still persists to this day. OOOOH, LOOGIT ME! I'M JAY GATSBY AND I'M FILTHY RICH AND I THROW HUGE PARTIES BUT MY HEART STILL ACHES FOR THE ONE GIRL I CAN'T BANG! Way to go, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Way to cause every rich Ivy League douchebag out there to throw white parties and drive while shit-faced. I hate you. Did you know that Baz Luhrmann is making a movie out of this, and that it's going to be in 3D? And that it's going to be fucking horrible? There is nothing good about a book that inspires the Moulin Rouge! guy to make a movie no one wanted in a format no one likes. I bet it features a six-minute musical number, because Baz Luhrmann is a shithead.

There are paragraphs in this book that go on for DAYS. In fact, that seems like a staple or any and all Russian literature: NO PARAGRAPH BREAKS. Just an endless march through a literary gulag, with no stops for water or peepeeing. God forbid Dostoyevsky ever bother to hit the carriage return. No, no. Wouldn't want to let the reader off easy like that. No, best to write paragraphs that are 10,000 words long, so that your eyes aren't allowed to blink and re-moisten for 20 minutes at a time, until you just wanna find an old woman and bury an ax into her head. Let my eyes BREATHE, dick. When I was in school, everyone referred to books like this as "eating cement." These are books that you have to sit there and just will yourself to digest, taking in page after goddamn page without remembering one single thing that you had just read. Oh, I tried absorbing the book. I really did. And when my teacher asked me a question about it and I gave him a blank stare because all that shit went over my head, it wasn't because I had failed to read the book. I read it. Honest to God. But I took in NONE of it. They may as well have left it in the original Russian for me to read. And you know what? I just looked at an excerpt of it today for this piece and I still begin glazing over the words after two sentences.

Why wasn't Bilbo the one who killed the dragon? I spent hundreds of pages waiting for Bilbo to get to kill the dragon, and then what happens? Some random-ass Bard does the deed. From out of nowhere! What the fuck? Then everyone fights over the dragon's estate, like it's a goddamn episode of "Dallas" or something. Total bullshit. This is why we have Peter Jackson: To make these stories better. I don't give a shit about the bureaucratic difficulties of an imaginary realm. THAT ISN'T THE FANTASY I HAD IN MIND.

Drew Magary writes for Deadspin, NBC, Maxim and Kissing Suzy Kolber—a humor site dedicated to the NFL. The Postmortal, now out from Penguin, is his first novel. You can follow Drew on Twitter.

149 Comments / Post A Comment

katherine (#10,025)

Wouldn't the novel of manners be an older precursor to the "rich people problems" novel? Probably goes back much farther, too.

C_Webb (#855)

@katherine Yep.

Astigmatism (#1,950)

@katherine: Indeed. And Jane Austen even wrote in itty-bitty paragraphs that non-English-majors can understand. No wonder Maxim reads the way it reads.

P.S., Drew: try reading Absalom, Absalom! It has super-long paragraphs, it's about a rich guy and nominally told from the perspective of a depressed Harvard student, and it never really gets to the point. It's also one of the greatest works of American literature, so if you don't absolutely love it, you should _totally_ feel guilty.

nogreeneggs (#12,239)

Ugh, I took a class solely on Faulkner in college. I mean, literature was one of my majors and I liked A Rose for Emily in high school so should be awesome right?

WRONG! I am truly sorry to anyone who likes Faulkner, but that shit was rough. I don't care how much of a genius Faulkner is, his novels are depressing and hard to get through.

Edited to say: And yet, thinking about it now, The Sound and the Fury was a very interesting story (in the way car crashes are interesting…you don't want to look but you can't not). So maybe that's the genius of Faulkner, making my life miserable but still keeping me interesting in his depressing stories. Damn you Faulkner!

deepomega (#1,720)

@katherine Nah, pretty sure nobody talked about rich people before 1920.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@nogreeneggs Prof. Wallace Gray, by any chance?

brad (#1,678)

@nogreeneggs – i too had a grad course in faulkner. oh we reveled in his genius. then, about 5 years after graduating, i picked up As I Lay Dying for some light summer reading. i don't when i became stupid, or lazy, but fuck if i was going to subject myself to high art for more than 12 pages. where's my calvin and hobbes anthology?

SeanP (#4,058)

@Astigmatism God, I thought it was just me. Just about any Faulkner novel falls into the category of "classics I can't stand". At least the Faulkner novels I've (tried to) read.

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

You read The Hobbit in school? What sort of hippie commune were you living in?

oxla (#12,069)

@johnpseudonym The Shire?

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@oxla (new hamp)Shire? Some classes read it there when I was in high school.

Flashman (#418)

@johnpseudonym We read it in Grade 7: Ryerson PS, London Ontario

jack human (#49,353)

I despised Catcher in the Rye. There, I said it.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@jack human In 11th grade our teacher made us run the DSM-IV on Holden Caulfield. It took a few years to like reading again.

deepomega (#1,720)

@jack human: What I'm hearing is, you aren't a 15 year old boy.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I can't count the number of times I've met someone's pet (or worse, CHILD) that they named Holden, and wanted to shove it out a window screaming "Run! Be free! Escape this stunted adolescent who named youuuuu!"

Tulletilsynet (#333)

What your 11th grade teacher made you do, that was a cry for help.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@Tulletilsynet Her maiden name was Sacco, so the Psycho-[Married Name] jokes were circulating.

belltolls (#184)

@jack human I just want to thank you for being such a goddamn prince, that's all.

Cheruth (#13,134)

@jack human Catcher in the Rye is a terrible book. I don't know how anyone who isn't a teenage boy could love it. It is basically a young adult novel that has no real significance to anyone who can legally drink. People always forget that Holden was an insufferable snob.

mrschem (#1,757)

@DoctorDisaster Or they go all the way with 'Salinger.'

C_Webb (#855)

If you read books only for the plot, you miss a lot. While obviously most high schools teach this, adults who read with more attention should be able to transcend it. There are several absolutely gorgeous passages in The Great Gatsby — plus, I have to say, if you think the message of that book was "rich people are interesting," you missed the point almost magnificently.

@C_Webb : This is as good a time as any to point out this thing.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Now link to the Perry Bible Fellowship version.

C_Webb (#855)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose: HA! Now THAT's a cogent critique!

laurel (#4,035)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose: If I met a parent who responded "What baby?" to my inquiry after their offspring, I might know a parent that I liked.

@C_Webb I know! Apparently this guy actually NEEDS to read The Great Gatsby again. Like, among other things, Gatsby was not only NOT an "Ivy League douchebag," he dropped out of St. Olaf, and then lied about going to Oxford, so that he'd be respected by the book's Ivy Leaguers, who are indeed a bunch of shallow douchebags.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

But without The Hobbit, where would Robert Plant have found inspiration for the 40% of Led Zeppelin lyrics he didn't pilfer from old bluesmen? On second thought, maybe I'm with you on that one.

riggssm (#760)

@SidAndFinancy For whatever it's worth, Plant also stole their melodires, harmonies, and … well, pretty much whole songs.

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

@SidAndFinancy Wagner.

Rod T (#33)

If we're having a book burning, can we throw The Old Man and The Sea on the pile?

zoom (#10,138)

@Rod T Burn the book burners.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@zoom First they came for the book burners…

melis (#1,854)

@keisertroll But who will book-burn the book-burners?

keisertroll (#1,117)

@melis Zombie Flamethrowing Martin Niemoller.

Cobalt (#7,571)

@Rod T Instead, let's just tear up copies of The Old Man and The Sea, dump it into the sea, and use it as chum for obsessive-compulsive sharks, the type that can't help getting their fins all bloody on the fishing line when fishing because they see themselves as grandiose martyrs.

brad (#1,678)

@Rod T – huh. i like hemmingway. should i duck now?

SeanP (#4,058)

@Rod T I liked the Old Man and the Sea. But I'm a sucker for a sea story.

Yamara (#9,395)

Gatsby: What you said.

C&P: tl;dr – And by that I mean your comment. The book was clearly marked PUNISHMENT.

Hobbit: Even Tolkien hated his own style there in later life. Still, you equate the job "burglar" with the job "killer"? Where do you live so I can avoid there.

grandpa27 (#804)

What a twit.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@Carissa Wodehouse@twitter I liked Luhrmann until I found out he didn't write the sunscreen song.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Is Book 'Em going to be a regular thing? Will I be able to earn a free pizza party for my school if I read enough of these?

Can I add Lord Of The Flies to the list? Because, seriously, "left to their own devices, young people can quickly become savage and terrible to eachother" is only surprising, or even worth considering at length, to the old person in charge of the class. Making teenagers read that book is like spending several weeks informing fish that water is wet. Also, we had to read it TWICE. And watch the movie. GOD I HATE THAT BOOK.

Matt (#26)

Me specs, me specs.

melis (#1,854)

@Matt Sucks to your assmar, Piggy.

zoom (#10,138)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose If it took your class longer than a week to read and discuss LOTF, I think there's problems deeeper than examining the psyche of the youngs.

@Matt : Admittedly, my first thought while reading about the Robbers' Cave Experiment was "that actually sounds pretty fun".

@zoom : Oh, it probably only felt like weeks. But I do remember having to pick apart all the bits of the book because it was MEANINGFUL and we could RELATE TO IT, AS YOUNG PEOPLE. Holy crap, it was tedious.

Vulpes (#946)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Spoilers: Simon is the Christ figure.

gfrblxt (#11,113)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Oh, God, yes. Worst book EVAH. Perhaps if we hadn't been learning about "symbolism" (cymbalism?) I might have enjoyed it more. But probably not.

Can I say that I didn't enjoy "A Separate Peace" either? Hey, this is kind of fun….

Lemonnier (#14,611)


Screen Name (#2,416)

Of the classic books I read in school, the one that I disliked the most was this one novel by Dorothy Kunhardt called "Pat the Bunny." I made it through the first few pages and the part about (SPOILER) daddy's scratchy face, which was actually (HERE IS ANOTHER SPOILER) just a piece of fucking sandpaper (disappointed!), before skipping to the end and (THIS IS KIND OF A SPOILER BUT YOU WILL NOT MAKE IT TO THE END OF THIS BOOK ANYWAY TRUST ME) looking in that little square thing she described as a mirror. Hahaha. A mirror? Really? No, no, that would actually be a piece of tin foil that's been smoothed out by somebody. There is no reflection in it! It's not a mirror. (SORRY, ONE MORE SPOILER) There is not even a bunny in this book named Pat. How can they even do that?

laurel (#4,035)

Until very recently when I bought a copy for some stupid kid, I totally thought it was about a bunny named Pat.

KenWheaton (#401)

Moby Dick. Don't get me started. I could go on for days. I don't know what jackass Brit decided to revive Melville's reputation as the pinnacle of American writing but he deserves to be dragged out into the street and shot. Melville started out as a not-so-awful travel writer (Typee) and turned into a total mess of a metaphysical navel-gazer. No pacing. Horrible dialogue. Exposition and ridiculous tangents. I've even blogged about remembering that I liked Billy Budd, only to give it another shot and … nope. Couldn't get through it. (In the meantime, I went from not caring for Faulkner to really digging it.)

Put simply: Melville is a shitty writer.

And if you need further proof, check out some of his poetry. Or as I call it, "poetry."

ejcsanfran (#489)

@KenWheaton: I am still scarred by that book. When I wrote a paper (well, okay, chiseled a tablet) on it during senior year in h.s., my really wonderful English teacher (seriously, he was great) then submitted our papers to a prof at Cal – the idea being we'd learn about expectations of writing at the university level.

Both my opening and closing paragraphs were used as examples of how not to write – but it wasn't my fault! Moby Dick sucked ass – how could I write a paper on a book I hated and didn't understand? Oh, and just to give you an idea how I really hit the wall on this one – we were required to give our papers a title. For this one, I chose "A Whale of a Tale."

Happily though, I followed this up by analyzing the shit out of Emilia from Othello and got a solid A.

Astigmatism (#1,950)

@ejcsanfran Sing Whale-o, Whale-o.

propertius (#361)

@KenWheaton The introduction to the Penguin edition is coy about this gentleman's identity. However, his choices for greatest English novel were M-D and Middlemarch (i.e. English in language / English in nationality).*

*I hope that I'm not hereby reminding someone to rant about Middlemarch.

KenWheaton (#401)

@propertius Middlemarch was long, sure, but Eliot could at least string two sentences together. (I also don't think many high school teachers would attempt that one.)

Cheruth (#13,134)

@KenWheaton Plus, Middlemarch was also a fairly engaging story with fairly interesting people. If Moby Dick and Middlemarch are your choices it is Middlemarch until the end of time.

Bittersweet (#765)

@KenWheaton: Read the Bone comic books by Jeff Smith for an amusing takedown of Moby Dick. Best if you have a 9-year-old in the house for cover.

Dave Bry (#422)

I have the same problem with the ending of "The Hobbit." The whole book seemed to carry such a positive message for hobbits and dwarves, and so for the short people reading it, for the kids: "You can do it, shorty! Use your wits, use your size to your advantage!" But then, at the end, when it's really important, when the shit really goes down, we need the big tall MAN, the HUMAN, to save the day. "Help us, big strong man, we can't do it for ourselves. We're too little!"

I believe the term is "body shaming," right? It's like J.R. Tolkien is the bigot Randy Newman sings about.

Maybe Peter Jackson will change the ending in the movie. Maybe Dori, Ori and Nori will catapault Bilbo through the air, Sting first, and into the single scale-sized patch of exposed flesh on Smog's underbelly. A daring feat of tiny heroism that no big, clumsy, over-weight man could ever dream of executing.

I guess I don't really hope that. But still…

deepomega (#1,720)

@Dave Bry: So… a dwarfapault. You want to see a dwarfapault.

@deepomega : I think that's more of a "need" than a "want".

Bittersweet (#765)

@Dave Bry: As much as I admire your point here, you don't really want to see Bilbo turn into some Matrix-y dude, right? Right?!?

mcleodp (#3,579)

@Dave Bry I am really struggling with the level of satire that is going on here. This is a problem I occasionally encounter with the Awl. Is the article being serious in claiming that a bunch of books are terrible despite lots of people thinking they are great? Or is it satirising that viewpoint? And are you really concerned that the message of The Hobbit may be "only big men can achieve great things" or is this another joke? I feel dumb. But, supposing you're not all being sarcastic…
1) The article: I think it is pretty dumb to give space to someone who's using it to denigrate works of art in order to get a cheap laugh. There is no interesting analysis here, just ugly rejection.
2) The Hobbit: I thought it was pretty interesting that Tolkien chose not to have Smaug killed by one of the dwarves' party because it confounded our expectations of a traditional heroic narrative. The fact that the dragon killer was a man seemed neither here nor there. And the fact that the people who lived on the lake were presented as not obviously heroes or villains was kind of cool. But you know: it's been a long time and I maybe missed some political undertones there.

JGP (#1,686)

Grapes of Wrath. Oh man, the fucking Grapes of Wrath. I mean, I get it, but alternating chapters about the actual plot with metaphorical chapters is just belaboring the point. It would have been better to write "It was really hot, and dusty, and a big family spent weeks trying to get to California WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING!" There, done.

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

@JGP I agree with you except you missed "turtles" and BOOBS.

@JGP I grew up to be an English professor, and I can still say with all honesty that I totally loathe Steinbeck, and Grapes of Wrath is my top reason for hating him. Reading that book was one of the most miserable experiences of my life–read in the same year I was made ti read Crime and Punishment and Othello (both mentioned above) incidentally. Man, I hate Steinbeck with a serious passion. Crime and Punishment was tedious and boring, but The Grapes of Wrath was out-and-out torture. And then Steinbeck tries to do a version of the Matter of Britain (King Arthur and all) and *dies* before finishing it. Yeah, he has my vote for worst "classic" author ever.

TroutSavant (#1,990)

A much funnier version of this is this classic at The Morning News.

Matt (#26)

Yeah buddy.

bmichael (#213)

I saw Drew's new book at housing works yesterday. You can get it for half off, which makes it priced over its literary value by only $7.50 rather than the full $15.

zoom (#10,138)

You're supposed to read all of The Hobbitt? I did it wrong.

Tumbleweed (#49,486)

To be fair, my tenth grade English teacher let us choose between "The Hobbit" and "My Antonia" which we all totally raised our hands for The Hobbit which I believe is infinitely more interesting than that latter.

melis (#1,854)

@Tumbleweed Yes, but there was never a made-for-TV version of "The Hobbit" that starred a late-90s Neil Patrick Harris, so.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@melis My Antonia is where Neil Patrick Harris has the car accident and suffers amnesia, right? I love that book.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Tumbleweed: Yesssss. I had to read 'My Antonia' and some other Cather book in 10th grade English. It took a long time to recover.

('Lace' and Ian Fleming helped.)

Oh please. Boo hoo. You had to read things in high school that you didn't like. What grade are you in now? And @KenWheaton: Typee is also a novel, not a work of travel writing. And while I don't care if you like Moby-Dick or not, the fact that you're too dim or lazy to make sense of it doesn't make Melville a shitty writer. It makes you a shitty reader.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@Erich Nunn@facebook: Nunn too pleased.

KenWheaton (#401)

@Erich Nunn@facebook
I'm not going to be lectured on reading comprehension by the likes of you, sir, or be called a shitty reader by someone so lacking in a sense of humor. Did I say that I couldn't make sense of Moby Dick? No. I did not. Despite the abuses he heaps on the English language and prose, it's not at all at hard to figure out what he's trying to do (be Nathaniel Hawthorne *cough**cough*). Also, I didn't claim Typee wasn't a novel. But to say it doesn't consist in large part of travel writing (which is what made it successful) makes about as much since as claiming that it, like White Jacket, isn't thinly disguised autobiography. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
But you're on Team Melville. No swaying you I'm sure. What next? Will you defend the merits of Pierre? Because that would be almost entertaining.

Oh of course, random guy on the internet, you're right and the entire field of American literature since F.O. Matthiessen is wrong. I'll be sure to let everyone know at the next MLA.

Flashman (#418)

I quite liked it back in grade school – except do people really die from bone splinters floating up into their hearts? – but I remember Lisa Simpson railing against A Separate Piece.
I can't think of any books that I didn't enjoy all through school. Maybe The Stone Angel (boorrrring) but that probably wouldn't be on an American syllabus.

Miles Klee (#3,657)


Sorry, pal, but you are so very wrong about The Great Gatsby, especially if you think it's all about making "rich people interesting"…

LondonLee (#922)

Yeah, fuck that Fitzgerald and Salinger and Melville and Golding and Steinbeck. They suck! I can't relate to them!

I'm surprised no one's thrown Harper Lee on the bonfire yet.

deepomega (#1,720)

@LondonLee If I wanted to read, I'd read Deadspin!

You and millions upon millions have misunderstood The Great Gatsby. I really couldn't care less whether you like it or do not like it, but wise up! It is a criticism of materialism, The American Dream, and reveals the inclination toward immorality of people who are rich. The narrator's journey in the book is from idealizing the rich to being disgusted by them. Nick says: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." Jordan who epitomizes the immorality of the rich, believes that she doesn't have to drive carefully, because other people will.

melis (#1,854)

This was a well-structured theme paper, Sarah, but you didn't stick to the 5-paragraph guidelines and the STAR tests are just a few weeks away. B-.

Murgatroid (#2,904)

Something something Something Awful.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@Murgatroid Go Crazy?!

melis (#1,854)

@keisertroll Don't mind if I do!

Neopythia (#353)

I took Journalism to fulfill my English requirement.

Donkey (#49,636)

I've just been lurking a couple of weeks on this site and have enjoyed the pieces so far, but after this I felt compelled to comment. WTF is this drivel? Trashing Song of Solomon? The Great Gatsby? Those are your examples of boring books? Say what you will about them, they're not boring.

I can understand C&P feeling like work to get through, but if you don't want to put the time in to learn something about the human condition, then you are just lazy. I feel sorry for you.

Morbo (#1,288)


Ha! I wouldn't do a search for what the author does at his day job, if I were you.

Though, I would argue DHF is the greatest insight into the human condition available on a weekly basis.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

A Separate Peace was the fucking WORST. A hundred pages of hand-wringing over whether the jackass narrator pushed his man-crush out of a tree GUESS WHAT, DIPSHIT, YOU DID PUSH HIM OUT OF THE TREE! OTHERWISE THERE WOULDN'T BE A FUCKING BOOK ABOUT IT, WOULD THERE?

Other competitors for worst high school novel ever: The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@DoctorDisaster Considering all my classmates were reading the Left Behind novels on their free time, I couldn't complain too much about what the teachers were giving us.

Vulpes (#946)

@DoctorDisaster For a young gay man, though, that gay relationship (and, yes, it was totally gay, don't "homosocial" me) was kinda swoony.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I know, right? I was thinking, hey Mr country school teacher, did you even read this?

keisertroll (#1,117)

@Vulpes My teacher (same one from the previous posts) used the whole "PHINEAS AND FERB ARE THE SAME PERSON" excuse to deny their gayness.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Any appealing subtext was stripped away when you were taught the book by a flamboyantly gay goofball who obviously had more than a slight crush on Finny himself. It was like, "I don't think I should know that you think these things, Mr. H___."

@kt Gene. Phineas and Ferb is a cartoon.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@DoctorDisaster Phineas and Ferb would've "A Separate Peace" better.

LHOOQ (#18,226)

@Vulpes What, there was gay subtext in that book? I was a very sheltered child.

LondonLee (#922)

This is a bit like the 'Academy of The Overrated' scene in Woody Allen's Manhattan only nowhere near as funny.

Yale: "I think Lewitt's overrated. In fact, I think he may be
a candidate for the old academy. Mary and I have
invented the Academy of the Overrated, for such notables
as Gustav Mahler…"

Mary: "And Isak Dinesen, and Carl Jung…"

Yale: "Scott Fitzgerald…"

Mary: "Lenny Bruce. Can't forget Lenny Bruce, now, can we? How
about Norman Mailer? And Walt Whitman?"

Isaac: "I think that those people are all terrific, everyone
that you mentioned."

Yale: "Who was that guy you had? You had a great one last week."

Mary: "No, I didn't have it. It was yours. It was Heinrich
Böll, wasn't it?

Isaac: "Overrated?"

Yale: "Oh, God. Oh, we wouldn't want to leave out old Heinrich…"

Isaac: "What about Mozart? I mean, you guys don't want to leave
out Mozart, I mean, while you're trashing people."

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I always thought it was oddly un-Woody Allen to imply that Walt Whitman is terrific.

@LondonLee I was literally looking for the youtube clip of that scene to post when you beat me to it.

LondonLee (#922)

Thought it would be quicker to find the old-timey words.

But what do I know? I'm from Philadelphia, we believe in God.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

What the hell does that mean?

I feel bad saying this, but I just have to get it out of me: one of the reasons I stopped reading Deadspin was so I could AVOID Drew Magary. Stream-of-consciousness writing isn't my bag to begin with, and mean-spirited stream-of-consiousness is unbearable.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

@transcendental floss
Stream-of-consciousness should be distinguished from stream-of-silliness.

daemonsquire (#9,523)

I hope so: one outcome of reading this thread is an engendered interest in tackling Absalom, Absalom!, and a lot of the Amazon reviews describe Faulkner's style as "stream of consciousness". I'm counting on that being different from (in nadaturf's words below) "reads like a middling youtube comment stream".

tropical icey (#49,740)

I kind of resent that I'm always on the defensive about loving the The Catcher in the Rye. Especially when people always follow up saying they hate it by praising Salinger's other work, and I thought Franny and Zooey was one of the most obnoxious things I've ever read. I mean, on top of Catcher in the Rye being totally relatable for a point in our lives most of us go through and interesting and a good novel for all the English-class reasons, it's something I ENJOYED reading which is as important as anything else.

I guess trash it if you want, but just liking that book doesn't make me immature.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@tropical icey I loved Nine Stories but I hated this comment.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@tropical Funny, I never went through a phase where I blundered around in an impenetrable bubble of upper-crust privilege and daddy's dollars, blaming my every self-inflicted misery on anyone who had ever tried to turn me into something other than an over-indulged lout, before finally deciding to dress a completely self-interested choice up in a comically thin veneer of melodramatic self-sacrifice.

Adolescence: if that's doing it wrong, I don't want to be right.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@DoctorDisaster It seems like a lot of people dislike Catcher in the Rye because its reputation is that Holden is supposed to be some kind of authentically heroic rebel who the reader is meant to totally identify with, but I think this comment sums up why that's a kind of naive reading:

"Regarding the reactions to Catcher in the Rye, I read it for the first time at the age of 40 and loved it. I thought it was a cruelly funny and spot-on portrait of whiny, self-absorbed, vaguely creepy teenagers. Caulfield's lack of self-awareness is beautifully rendered. There's an unforgettable scene where he's clearly bouncing off the walls in an anxious, jealous rage and he's totally unaware of it, reporting his mental state as merely "nervous." He soon physically attacks the boy that's inspiring his jealousy, and has no idea why he's doing it. It rang true for me. That whole element of being in the middle of a temper tantrum while thinking that you're in control, with no understanding of the forces that are pushing you around, the sullen confusion, the desperate half-formed ambitions, that's what being a teenager is, or was to me anyway.

"I was shocked to learn that everyone else saw Caulfield as some kind of hero. Like Humbert Humbert you're supposed to understand him, and see the world through his eyes, and be a little bit horrified afterwards, but you're not supposed to perceive him as a hero. Am I the only reader who was genuinely afraid that he was going to deliberately do some kind of physical or grave emotional harm to his sweet, adoring little sister there at the end? Is this mostly just a function of the age at which you're first exposed to the novel? Since everyone except me read it in high school, were they just blind to the fact that Caulfield is a jackass in a typically teenager way?"

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@hypnosifl I see your point. But can you really count it as satire if the supposed targets read it by the thousands, identify deeply with the narrator, and never make that leap to "wow, I'm loathsome"? Especially if, as this thread suggests, most readers who find the narrator repugnant feel the same way about the novel? I think that you can read it your way, but you can do the same with Atlas Shrugged; your reading can contradict the author's intent.

c.@twitter (#57,900)

@hypnosifl I agree with this analysis. I read it as a twelve-year-old girl and loved it because it had cussing and drinking and distracted me from my grandmother's funeral. Read it again in college and loved it as basically a great character monologue. Many people simply find the book insufferable because they find Holden insufferable, but I'm a sucker for craft from way back.

Mr. B (#10,093)

1. I've talked several 20-somethings into rereading Gatsby, and so far none of them didn't think it was awesome.

2. Um, The Hobbit is only 250 pages long (including illustrations!), and Smaug is dead by page 200, so, "waited hundreds of pages"?

3. Oh, Maxim, eh? Go away, philistine.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I was wrong. Please bring back the 9/11 coverage.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

I read Crime and Punishment over the course of three weeks while I had a pneumonia (with a constant fever, and basically did not eat at all as I lived alone in the city I knew no one) in the breaks from work on my laptop (yep, I had to work, or else, there would be no money for the meds!).

It is absolutely, positively the best book ever written. In fact the best single thing ever produced by the human race. I can agree however, that it is not, and cannot be for the "eyes" of teenagers. It is for the souls of grown-ass men and women, who have lived a full life, and for whom parties and rock concerts have stopped working as redemption a long time ago.

Also, Great Gatsby is not about what the teenager in you said it was, just like it wasn't about what the rich douches think it is. They just have more money to invest into being wrong, which is not Fitzgerald's fault.

Finally, who just got born yesterday and declared The Fucking Hobbit to be a classic?

@Niko Bellic : Starving, feverish, and alone in a strange city is probably the most receptive one can be for Dostoevsky. On further thought, "reading great works of fiction in a state analogous to the author's at the time of writing" has "awesome Tumblr" written all over it. You know where to find me.

@Niko Bellic : Also, "The Fucking Hobbit" would probably be a pretty good Tumblr. But you can handle that one on your own.

Mindpowered (#948)

@Niko Bellic Agreed. And I'm deeply jealous that you got to read it the perfect altered state.

daemonsquire (#9,523)

Oh, good! I was just scrolling through this thread to get to the bottom, so I could protest how I enjoyed Crime & Punishment, and how surprisingly easy to read it was, compared to the intimidating reputation Dostoevsky had accumulated for me. But now I realize that it's probably key to my experience that I enjoyed it in adulthood, while recovering from food sickness, traveling through India.

Somehow, I can't remember having had to read any books in high school… Er, it could be that I managed to avoid the assignments whenever they arose… I'm comfortable indicting both my poor study habits and the state of US public schools, although my memory of school years is prob'ly the weakest link. I vaguely recall being asked to read Catcher in the Rye. Haven't yet. Somebody falls off a cliff, or something?

Bittersweet (#765)

@Niko Bellic: Crime & Punishment is unbelievably amazing, as is most everything Dostoevsky ever wrote. Please start that Fucking Hobbit tumblr already.

Kakapo (#2,312)

@Niko Bellic THANK YOU. Also, I love The Great Gatsby. But I just devoured Crime and Punishment in three or four days (also, oddly, in a strange new city where I knew no one but minus the pneumonia). It is a total fucking page-turner as is pretty much everything the man wrote. Except I haven't been able to get through Demons, yet.

Yeah, I haven't got a lot to say that hasn't been already covered, but I'll add myself to the list of people asking, "Who is this guy and why is he writing for The Awl?"

This isn't even criticism or engagement of the books on any level. It just reminds me of the jockish guys with white baseball caps sitting in the back of AP Lit, whining "Why do we have to read this?" Fuck this.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Yeah but the special thing about Drew is that he's ironic!

mrschem (#1,757)

@ontologicalpuppy Is this gonna be on the test?

harrumph (#18,649)

this idiot is a published novelist? what a world.

nadaturf (#50,500)

Because Drew Magary writes for Deadspin (I know what they do over there, but I don't read sports), I thought this piece might be a sendup of the stereotypical jock's response to literature/reading/words. The inclusion of The Hobbit (a bit of fantasy pulp when compared to Gatsby and Crime and Punishment) made me sure that it was a parody, because only a jock (or similarly immature reader) would put the Hobbit in the same class as those two true classics. But after reading the piece twice (you guys owe me), I'm sure Mr. Magary means what he says here.

Here's the curious thing: Magary's debut novel was released just four days ago. Without that fact in mind, this piece is just an unfunny, tossed-off rant that reads like a middling youtube comment stream. But when you know that the ink on this guy's first novel is still damp, you wonder if the publication hasn't gone to his head, maybe puffed him up to the point where he feels confident enough to triumph in a smackdown with two masters of the form.

But then I noticed something. The imprint under which Magary is published is called Penguin (Non-Classics). That's the actual name of the imprint: Penguin (Non-Classics).

My guess? The book came out, Magary noticed, maybe for the first time, the name of the imprint, then started developing this anti-Classic riff. Maybe he thought it was funny. It isn't. He shoulda sucked on the idea for a while, got it out of his system. Honestly, that's the most generous thing I can imagine. I think it's the only explanation that would stop me from pumping him full of lead if I ever saw him reclining, mid-pool, on a floatie.

StetAtkins (#279)

@nadaturf: Your comment reads like a middling youtube comment stream. Maybe you thought it sounded smart. It doesn't. And your little "non-classic" conspiracy theory makes you sound like some med-fest mouthbreather who couldn't make it through a chapter of some Dean Koontz novel, nevermind anything in the literary canon.

carpetblogger (#306)

Watership Down (Rabbits! Does anyone still read that anymore?)
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (Catholic school!)
The scarlet letter (though perhaps I see its value now more than as a 10th grader)

obsolete (#3,717)

This was a pretty terrible post. This comment is pretty bad, too, but I don't have much else to say about it.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

The reason C&P and other Russian novels seem so turgid in school is they usually have you read translations done by prim Victorians who reworked the original to sound like how prim Victorians thought they should sound; i.e., boring. Dostoevsky actually has a surprisingly fragmented, kinetic, and modern style in Russian, which is exactly why he's only considered a moderately important writer in Russia (he doesn't sound 'classical' enough). Also, you do realize the plot of C&P is basically 'guy kills old lady with an ax because he is bored, is pursued by wisecracking detective, hooks up with prostitute'? I always tell people to read the Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear translation of 'Notes from Underground' to get a good sense of what Dostoevsky's all about.

But yeah, of course this whole post was just a bit of stupid nonsense to generate controversy/book sales. Well played!

Mindpowered (#948)

@stuffisthings See I always wondered what Tolstoy *really* read like.

I was going to toss "War and Peace" on the pile of overrated crap, but I'll remove it pending a semi decent translation.

Kakapo (#2,312)

@Mindpowered Semi-decent translation, to put it mildly, already done by the folks stuffisthings mentions. Although my reaction to WAR AND PEACE is still "Too much war; not enough peace".

Hard to say if it's a troll or not a troll, and not worth the effort to decide. I will split the difference and suggest that Margary is doing for literature what Lil' Nephew did for algebra.

keisertroll (#1,117)

I actually love all this controversy. It all plays into my planned rehabilitation of "Dave Barry's Greatest Hits".

scourge (#51,986)

I'm an old person. Over the years I've tried to read Moby Dick four times. I would get through the incident in the inn and then gradually fade out. Last year I finally got through the entire book and realized I'd never read it far enough to get to the chapter all about rope, or the one about the Catalan sailors who are never heard from again until after the lecture about Catalan sailors. I had learned to enjoy Faulkner and Proust as an old person – but even if I reach the age of 110, I doubt I will be able to understand why Moby Dick is supposed to be so important – except to suggest that writers need a good ruthless editor.
There are wonderful contemporary books to excite high school kids about good literature – why not try the books out on a few guinea-pig students and listen to their opinions? Then decide what to assign – but in some schools the English teacher has no choice – some higher-ups have told them what they MUST teach. And then they wonder about drop-outs! Let's not just call them stupid.


"Whenever I'm at a loss, I dip into Rilke."

"Rilke? That tortures me. Every Christmas, some asshole gives me this copy of Young Poet with this patronizing note on the flap about how it’s supposed to change my life.” Igby Goes Down.

iplaudius (#1,066)

This is a lot like a Map of Misreading, except in this case the productive misreading leads not to "serious" "literary" "production" but, rather, to so much rascally blogging!

Post a Comment