Sunday, June 22, 2008

Critics Name Their Most-Hated Books

The Times Online has a fun piece this morning in which various writers and critics "choose their most-loathed books." It's juicy stuff.

I've often wondered why I dislike certain writers or particular books that seem to have achieved a kind of cult following. I feel so out-of-step sometimes when I mention how boring I find the whole "Lord of the Rings" thing to be or how pretentious and boring I find anything that ever came from Ayn Rand's pen. Then there's my reaction to certain contemporary writers like Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, Jackie Collins, etc., writers that seem to have cloned both themselves and the tripe that they so consistently place on the best seller lists. While I would personally be embarrassed to be seen browsing through any of their books in a public place, I can always count on seeing the very same books prominently placed in the best seller display of any large bookstore I visit.

I suppose that's why the Times article made me chuckle a bit this morning. I know it's Sunday morning and this might seem to be a little bit of a mean-spirited way to start off the day, but here are a few highlights from the article.
Daisy Goodwin, TV producer

Patricia Cornwell... anything lately Her first few books starring the paranoid but compelling Dr Kay Scarpetta were gripping, if a bit gory – but, in the past few years, Cornwell seems to have abandoned any pretence at coherent narrative structure, decipherable plot or any shred of credibility. I threw her last book off a boat. A classic book I have never managed to stomach is The Lord of the Rings – enough with elves already.
...
Ian Rankin, novelist

I haven’t ever wanted to hurl it to the floor, but I’ve started Midnight’s Children several times and been unable to get past the first 10 pages. Not sure why; it’s been a few years since I gave it a go . . . maybe time to try again! I loved Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, but was told by author friends that Blood Meridian is his masterpiece. I tried it and couldn’t get halfway through. Just didn’t find it interesting. Also couldn’t finish The Road. How can a book be harrowing and pedestrian at the same time? Enjoyed The Hobbit as a teenager; gave up on The Lord of the Rings after about 30 pages
...
Stephen Amidon, novelist and fiction reviewer

The Waves by Virginia Woolf is everything a novel should not be – and so much less. After the triumphs of Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, and the fascinating experimentation of Orlando, Woolf decided to change tack with this “playpoem” and wound up sinking into a putrid morass of unreadability. Beloved of American academics – which ought to tell you something right there – the book fairly accurately simulates the experience of sitting next to a pretentious old windbag on a flight to Australia.
These are just three of the people who speak their mind in the article. Read the whole article and, if you feel up to it, let me know what is on your own "most-loathed" list and why.

I do feel better now about my reaction to Patricia Cornwell novels and The Lord of the Rings because it seems that I might be in good company on those. Some of the choices surprise me, though, and make me wonder how readers can see books so differently, with the same books being on "most-loathed" and "best-loved" lists. We readers are a bit strange, aren't we?

20 comments:

  1. Hi Sam! Loved the article! I have to join you in the camp of dislike for Ayn Rand and The Lord of the Rings. I also don't like James Patterson; I'm a crime fiction junkie and there is so much better to be found out there. The one I would most assuredly add to this list is ULYSSES, and seeing as it always makes those "Greatest Books" lists, I feel like the outsider on this one, but Joyce's elitism just turns me off from page one. I also didn't like THE STRANGER (Camus). I read it in high school, though. I don't know if I'd have a different outlook going back now.

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  2. Great article - thanks for posting. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only person in the world who didn't like McCarthy's The Road...

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  3. Kind of ambivalent to Tolkien myself. Can't stand anything Steinbeck. I moved a lot growing up, so with changing schools and variations between local curricula, I was required to read and write about Catcher in the Rye three times and was ready to shoot someone over it. But the only book I've ever had the urge to destroy with my bare hands and shove out an airlock (I was stuck on a plane with it) was Ishmael. Blech!

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  4. I have a books-I-loathe list, but I loathe Ayn Rand so much that she gets her own special loathe list.

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  5. I agree with all the Cornwell, Patterson hate. I really don't even those authors are actually writing all those books anymore...

    I also agreed with Atonement by Ian Mclellan. I literally threw it against the wall as well. Glad to see I wasn't alone as many people loved it.

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  6. Jen, we Rand/Tolkien "haters" are a bigger group than I ever imagined, looks like. My main complaint with both of them is the "boredom" factor they so quickly achieve...sure to put me to sleep no matter the hour of the day I pick up one of their books (which I have refused to do for several years now).

    I agree on Ulysses, also. I've never been able to finish that one...or "The Stranger," for that matter.

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  7. DreamQueen, I found "The Road" to be kind of interesting but I didn't really "enjoy" the thing. I probably rated it higher after first finishing it than I would now that I've had time to think about it more. It really didn't seem to break any new ground and the writing was a little vague at times.

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  8. Mella, I was a Steinbeck fan for years and have been meaning to "reread" his novels to see if they hold up for me. I read most of them at least 20-25 years ago and I've been a little hesitant to mess up my good memories of the books by reading them again from a whole new world perspective.

    As for Salinger, well, I've just never seen why he's such a big deal and have to wonder if it's as much his mysterious lifestyle as anything else that makes him such a legend.

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  9. Sheri, Patterson, I think, has just made himself into a "brand" and has sold franchises to the highest bidder. His books, even the early ones, were written so simply that I wondered if they were just fleshed out screenplays. But now, it's like the man just slaps his name on the cover of books written by others...a guarantee that the book will become a best seller regardless of whether or not it reads as if it were written by a streetwise 10-year old.

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  10. I hear you, Bybee. Rand is a "special favorite" of mine, too. :-)

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  11. For me, the 2 worst books I've ever read are Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea." Two worst short story classics are Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" and... oh crap, the name just escaped me - famous story about a man who turns into a bug.

    If they weren't assigned for classes, I never would've read them. They were dull, boring, depressing, repetitive, pointless, and made me want to shoot myself.

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  12. How can anyone find Tolkien boring????

    However, I tried another author, one I think I remember reading that you like very much, and couldn't stand his so-called masterpiece (Award-winning masterpiece).

    To each his own.

    Oh, I'm starting something at Semicolon you find interesting: Semicolon Author Celebrations:
    http://www.semicolonblog.com/?p=2560

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  13. Gimme a break, Sherry. After all, I did say that readers were a strange bunch, etc. :-)

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  14. I'll agree with J. Anne's asessment of Old Man and the Sea. I think the short story she's refering to is Kafka's "Metamorphisis". Of my loathed books, I'd say Melville's "Moby Dick,", anything by Ondaatje or Munro, and perhaps not as surprising, Tom Clancy. Of Lord of the Rings, I was always just neutral. I liked some parts a lot, but all the songs drove me nuts. I am surprised by all the haters, though!

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  15. Yeah, "Metamorphosis" - I blocked it out. :)

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  16. Old Man and the Freaking Sea is on my most loathed list, along with Ayn Rand and Catcher in the Rye. I'm sure there are more but off to read reviewers scathing attacks. Good times.

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  17. John, I'm not all that surprised on the Tolkien "haters." I think that many of us find the man to be a terrific bore.

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  18. I kind of liked "Old Man and the Sea," again showing that some books will be on both lists...pro and con. That's what makes this kind of thing so much fun, I think.

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  19. I'm about to write a post on this subject and stumbled across your blog. Fascinating that Ian Rankin and I share the same hatred for 'On the Road' and McCarthy. I honestly can't abide starkness of that kind in a story.

    However LOTR is a firm favourite. 'The Waves' was impenetrable and left my feeling dumb. Woolf has that effect on me a lot! Try as I might I can never reach the 'higher order' thinking she seems to write about so easily. Then again, I've never been a big fan of poetry!

    Do you mind if I trackback to you?

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  20. I have only one despised book that not only I haven't read yet, but I DON'T WANT TO! The book's cover scared the heck out of me when I was little. I couldn't sleep for weeks. That book is The Lord Of The Flies. Bleep that one.

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