Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Overrated Novels

Earlier last week I was reading a list of the top 10 of the so-called most overrated novels. I was in agreement with most of the choices except I rather did like The Great Gatsby and the Lord of the Rings series. I cannot imagine why 100 Years of Solitude made the list unless the blogger read a horrendous English translation, but then again, I was only 17 when I read these books. Lots of things I liked at 17 I cannot abide now.

I cannot tell you how relieved I was to learn someone else in the world hated A Confederacy of Dunces. I loathed that book and only read it as a favour to a friend who insisted I needed to read it. I have no idea why it won a Pulitzer but I took it as a given that the committee members were all dropping acid on the day they read it. So I decided to come up with my own list of 10 with a bit of help from my two oldest teenagers. Here's our combined list.

1. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. It's a good thing Salinger became a recluse not long after this book was published or his life could have been in serious jeopardy from the literally hundreds of thousands of teenagers who have forced to read this novel in the last 30 plus years. I was given the book at 14, and was told it would change my life and enhance my perspective on the world. My bad, I thought it was meant to be a life-affirming read. Sorry, I could no more relate to the Holden Caulfield's of the world than flying pigs licking their arses. It did make me question the judgment of all aging hippie types and that was 1976. My son concurs on both counts -the book has not gotten any more relevant or meaningful in 2007, and aging hippie types are still not trustworthy in 2009.

2. Lord of the Flies by William Golding. This is one of those strange books, which is far more enjoyable to discuss than to actually read. I was forced to read it in grade 9 and what a slow plow it was. I can still remember the ache. When I brought the book up for my list; my teens started to make these strange arm gestures while nasty retching sounds come out of their throats. The Last Amazon and her brother still feel the pain and their memories are obviously still far too raw to even be able to discuss it using spoken language.

3. Wuthering Heights by one of those Bronte sisters. My apathy is so great towards this book that I cannot even be bothered to look up which one actually wrote it. I was forced to read this in grade 12 and I have remained scarred by the experience ever since. I still utter the prayer mantra I learned from reading that book, "Lord, save and preserve me from whiney, sulky brooding men".

4. Ulysses by James Joyce. This book made me believe English were really onto something with the English invasion of Ireland. Best justification for ethnic cleansing of the Irish I have ever read.

5. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Never had I looked so forward to reading a book. Never have I been so disappointed once read.

6. Handmaiden's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Actually, I did seriously consider just putting down 'Margaret Atwood' on my list without centering out any particular book of hers. There are just so many worthy entries – who can really choose? Has any other author ever written so much which has been so outstandingly dull and staid? One of the highlights from my experience of reading the Edible Woman was when one of her characters hangs out at the laundry mat for entertainment. Every once in a while he tosses a colored sock in the dryer among his whites for his 'tv' viewing pleasure – that's the 'highlight' of the entire fracking novel. The Handmaiden's Tale has good idea behind it, and would have made a great book - if anyone else had written it. Once again, its one of those rare books which is better discussed than read.

7. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. While my mother read it to me I use to pray we would get to the point where Gilbert kills Anne and was disappointed to find out he never did. A free piece of advice - read Horatio Hornblower to your daughters instead. One day they will grow-up and thank you for it. I know mine did.

8. Who has seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell. This book was read to the class by my teacher. I learned two things from this experience. I cannot abide being read to and it discouraged me from having even the remotest desire to live anywhere on the prairie.

9. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence. This book is reason why I have never been to Manitoba. This book is the reason my daughter swears never to visit Manitoba.

10. The Wars by Timothy Finley. Overall, I like Finley as an author. Not Wanted on the Voyage and Famous Last Words go down as two of my all-time favourite books but this story just blows – and often literally. The Last Amazon suggested this mind-numbingly boring book should be removed from all secondary school curriculum reading lists as it actively induces a rampant case of homophobia in all those who are forced to read the book.

My list seems a little heavy on CanLit side, but hey, this is what comes from having the government heavily involved in pimping Canadian literary culture to Canadians for the last 35 odd years.

What I can't understand, is how a country with so many wonderful first class writers, produces a literary bureaucratic class, which actively settles for promoting the most boring books going. Why choose Robertson Davies over Margaret Laurence? Why not choose Findley's Famous Last Words or Not Wanted on the Voyage over The Wars? And for frack's sake - why choose The Edible Woman at all?


Chris Taylor said...

Amen. I hated Who Has Seen The Wind as well. Had to read it in Grade 10 or 11 and it bored me to tears. Couldn't even finish it. I told the teacher I would gladly accept a zero on that assignment because preserving brain cells was more important. My mom tried reading it as well and agreed that it was full of suck.

And like you, it convinced me that prairie = long slow boring death. It also convinced me that CanLit was written primarily by people who grew up in boring small towns who longed to move to Toronto. There was no CanLit for people like me who grew up in Toronto and wished boring people from small towns would stop moving here.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Well, we had Robertson Davies but would they teach in the secondary schools....noooooooo.

james said...

W. O. Mitchell almost cost me any respect for Canadian writers. Thankfully Robertson Davies was there to save me.