For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:
May 15: Books I Disliked/Hated but Am Really Glad I Read (maybe just for bragging rights)
1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy– I read this my freshman year of college. I wanted to like it, but after 1000 pages of characters and battles that I didn’t care about, I couldn’t. I just felt no emotional investment in anything that happened in it. I’m glad I read it though, even if only to say that I did!
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy– I read this book several years after reading War and Peace, and I didn’t like it much better. I did have some interest in the Anna/Vronsky story as well as the Kitty/Levin story, but reading a few hundred pages about Russian agriculture was enough to kill that interest. One of my professors in college said that “Tolstoy was a great writer who needed a great editor.” Perhaps I’d enjoy him more as a writer if he’d had one.
3. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer– The first time I read this I enjoyed it somewhat. Then I started to think about some of the troubling aspects of the central relationship. Then I read the sequels and things headed downhill at an increasing speed… But I’m glad I read it because it’s spawned so many imitations and prompted some interesting conversations.
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke– I actually didn’t “dislike” this book. I love the idea of writing a novel as an academic study of magic. I liked a lot of the humor in this and thought it was very clever. The problem is that I wasn’t able to invest anywhere emotionally. I didn’t particularly care about either character. That made the undeniably clever writing fall flat. I’m glad I read it for the elements that I did like, but I wish I’d enjoyed it more.
5. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson– This is a book that I really wanted to like. I thought I would like it prior to reading it. Actually, I did enjoy the first 1/3. But then it started getting very repetitive. Every time I felt like we were making some progress, we’d be sent back to the beginning again. Yes, I understand that was the premise. But for me, it worked better as a premise than in practice. I’m still glad I read it because it’s allowed me to participate in some really interesting discussions, with people who did like it as well as people who didn’t.
6. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand– I actually don’t remember too much about the actual plot, but philosophically it didn’t appeal to me at all. It could have been subtitled “why it’s really a good thing to be selfish.” Here’s the thing; I don’t believe that it is good. I know a lot of people find the book inspiring and think that it encourages them to take personal responsibility to lift themselves up by the bootstraps, and all that. But in order to do that, you need boots, to begin with. I’m glad I read it because it shows another point of view and a way of perceiving the world that’s different from my own. But I didn’t enjoy it or agree with it.
7. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson– Here’s the thing. It’s not all small stuff. Some stuff is big and important. Stressing about it won’t necessarily help anything, but sometimes it’s a part of being involved in the world around you. As you may be able to tell, I have a tendency to stress. A lot. Which is why I read this book. I don’t want to say it wasn’t worthwhile because it did put some things in perspective, I did notice a few things that weren’t worth the time and attention I was giving them and it helped me notice some bad habits that make my life a bit harder. But, for me, stress is a byproduct of caring. I don’t want to stop caring about the important things.
8. Blood Meridian: or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy– I read this in a college class called “Innovative Contemporary Fiction.” It stood out as the only book in the class that I really disliked. Maybe part of my distaste for it stems from the fact that I’m not a fan of the western genre in general. McCarthy is an undeniably talented writer, but the book featured a lot of repetitive violence that is essentially pointless. We don’t care about the people on whom the violence is inflicted, nor is there any emotional connection to those inflicting it, so essentially it’s rendered meaningless. I appreciated the accomplishment of McCarthy’s prose, and for that reason, I’m glad I read it in an academic setting because we were able to really delve into that. But it’s not a book I liked.
9. Just Kids by Patti Smith– I first discovered Patti Smith as a writer rather than a musician, which I think is how many readers know her initially. I read her book M Train, which I felt was beautiful, sad, and triumphant, in a quiet, thoughtful way. I was really eager to read her National Book Award-winning bestseller, Just Kids. Maybe the hype made it too hard for the book to live up to it. Maybe, because I read M Train, a memoir of Smith’s middle-aged years onward, going back to her youth in this book felt regressive. I don’t know. I did like parts of it, such as the depiction of the downtown NYC art scene in the late 1960’s, but on the whole, it didn’t resonate with me. I’m glad that I did read it because it allowed me to put the Smith depicted in M Train in a more complete context, but I wouldn’t call it a “must read.”
10. The Bhagavad Gita– The Bhagavad Gita is a 700 verse scripture that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. It consists of a dialogue between the Prince Arjuna and his guide Lord Krishna. It’s influenced thinkers ranging from Gandhi to Thoreau, to Emerson, Jung, and Oppenheimer. I read it as part of my Freshman Seminar in college. I didn’t enjoy reading it. I found it rather repetitive and cumbersome. But so many of my classes in college focused on literature from the Western canon. It was nice to have a class that had a more broad lens.