Thursday, August 23, 2007

Entitlement: Books I Love to Hate

I think, as writers (and avid readers), we are entitled to certain things. Among those things should be: first dibs on the free book table at the university bookstore on the campus where you work, study or loiter, the one spot on the beach that has just the right amount of shade and sun for you to make it through half of _________________(enter your favorite book or whatever book du jour you're indulging in at the moment) before the midday sun wreaks havoc on you, assurance that you will not be bothered after having that long conversation with some great aunt or uncle at the family reunion and scampering off to scribble what you will begin to make of it under a tree in the park, and the right to love and/or hate certain books/poems/authors deemed as "classics". Therefore, after much thought and arguing over the years, I'm ready to publish my own list of BOOKS AND POEMS EVERYONE SAYS I SHOULD LIKE BUT THAT I REALLY, TRULY DON'T. Here's what I came up with:

Author that most people praise who still does nothing for me:

Jane Austen

(I wish I could say that Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility move me in some way, but they don't. I felt such guilt over not enjoying Austen that I ran out and read everything she ever wrote in hopes of finding something that would bring a tear to my eye. Alas, I found nothing, and I had to give away a whole bunch of books.)

Book that is on all of the World's Best Novel lists ever published that I can't stand:

Crime and Punishment -- Fyodor Dostoevsky

(After the murders, I was bored out of my mind. I just don't understand why anyone would torture students with this book. Now, I did like some of the symbolism. I remember a very riveting lecture by a professor who was teaching the book (probably the third or fourth literature class I had to endure with this book on the schedule) about Dostoevsky's abundant use of the color yellow. Seriously, it was a great lecture, but I still don't like the book. )

Book that I'm supposed to love just because I'm a poet but that didn't do anything for me:

Letters to a Young Poet -- Rainer Maria Rilke

(I have to say, I think I felt guiltiest about this one. I still do. I was so ready to be blown away by every word of this little book, but it didn't change my life. In fact, it didn't really inspire me at all. I just felt that the advice was meant for Kappus, not me. I did read Rilke's poems after this, though, in hopes of redeeming myself a bit for not loving his letters.)

Book that gets taught in most Black Arts Movement classes that I hate to see show up on the syllabus and that I would never teach:

Soul on Ice -- Eldridge Cleaver

(I know people have there reasons, but if I was ever forced to teach this book, I would only do so under the condition that I got to teach Sonia Sanchez's fiery review of it during the same class periods.)

Poem that I hate to see anthologized because it really sours students on poetry when I know there are tons of better examples of work by the author:

O Captain! My Captain! -- Walt Whitman

(Hello? Where are the excerpts from Leaves of Grass? "I sing the body electric...", come on people, it was good enough to be turned in to the climatic song for a musical for heaven's sake! Seriously, while I do love Fame and it's use of Whitman, I think if we showed students [myself included when I was stuck in ninth grade English and bored out of my mind] Whitman's "Song of Myself" and told them to write an essay on it or, better yet, their own 'song', we'd have some much more intriguing things to talk about in class.)

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. And though I am 'raging against the machine' (i.e. I guess in this case the 'man' would be the Academy, the New York Times book critics, I don't know...) here, I really punked out because all of author's are long dead, so I'm really not hurting anybody's feelings. I'd love to see some other lists of hated classics or, even better, contemporary lit that doesn't do it for you. Feel free to leave your own list in the comments, if you dare...