Masterpiece Monday: 5 Classics I Will Never Read

Last week I discussed the five classic novels that I really want to read, and I’m happy to say that I’m making a dent on that list. I finished Francesca Segal’s The Innocents, and now I’ve moved on to Kafka’s The Trial. I haven’t read enough to make an opinion yet, but keep a look out for my review of The Innocents this week.

Today I want us to be completely honest. We all love books–there’s no denying that–but let’s face it, we don’t love all books. There are stories so bad that we wouldn’t touch them with a fifty foot pole. Most of these stories are easy to mock, like 50 Shades of Grey, but what happens when the literary world has dubbed them as masterpieces? Do we still voice our hatred or bury it deep down to avoid offending the literati?

Well, I’m not afraid of speaking my mind, so without further delay, these are the five classics I will never read, unless bribed or under threat of torture:

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851): I have disliked Melville ever since I read his short stories “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “Benito Cereno.” His writing is so dull and dry that I cannot imagine being able to read an entire novel about a man hunting a whale. I’m sure under the surface there’s some wonderful symbolism, but the surface makes me want to fall asleep. How can this guy have been neighbors with Nathaniel Hawthorne? That’s like saying Kristen Stewart lives next to Meryl Streep. They may both be in the same profession, but they might as well be on different planets. Call me Ishmael? Call me never.

2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929): I’ve stated many times before that my least favorite writing style has to be stream of consciousness, of which Faulkner is king. If it wasn’t for Sparknotes, I would never have finished his Intruder in the Dust. It was such a frustrating reading experience that I swore off Faulkner forever. If I wanted to read insanely long, incoherent sentences which ramble about nothing of significance, I would work in politics.

3. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925): I wish that I liked Woolf, because I think she lived a fascinating life. Nicole Kidman played her beautifully in the film adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. But I have never been so bored as when I read her novel To the Lighthouse. Almost nothing happens. The characters want to go to the lighthouse, but put it off for decades. By the time they go, some have died and it’s just not the same. I’m surprised that Woolf and Faulkner weren’t partners in a writing workshop, because Woolf’s stream of consciousness is just as bad.

4. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843): This has to be the most overdone, cliché story of all time. Seriously, check out this Wikipedia page; it’s mind-boggling. I dislike most Christmas stories in general for being sappy lessons about morality and childhood innocence, but this one takes the cake. We get it: Scrooge is a humbug, and the three ghosts of his past, present, and future fill his heart with Christmas spirit. Excuse the Valley Girl reference, but gag me with a spoon. Dickens himself doesn’t suck, because I loved A Tale of Two Cities, but if A Christmas Carol was never adapted again, I think the world would be a better place.

5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955): Ok, if someone could write me an absolutely stellar review of this novel–like it changed your life forever–then I might consider reading this one, but only out of morbid curiosity. Let’s face it, Lolita is the most famous story about a pedophile ever written. I’m pretty squeamish, and I’m apprehensive about the emotional trauma that might occur from being stuck in the mind of a sick bastard. Nabokov is the only author on this list that I haven’t read personally, so I think it might be better to test out one of his other novels first.

Alright, I just unleashed a ton of controversial opinions, so feel free to share your own. Should we agree to disagree? Which books do you not want to waste time reading? Don’t be afraid to shout out your thoughts–trust me, it’s therapeutic!

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Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens!

Even Google honored Dickens’ b-day!

Today is the bicentennial of Charles Dickens’ birth (lived 1812-1870), so I thought I’d offer my opinion of the man synonymous with Victorian literature. But first, some random facts I learned about him via his Wikipedia page:

  • He was the second of eight children, and then had ten children with his wife Catherine.
  • He had a near photographic memory.
  • He was involved in the Staplehurst rail crash of 1865, in which the first seven train carriages fell off a broken bridge. Dickens was in the last first-class carriage, and his experiences helping the wounded left him traumatized.
  • Five years to the day of that accident, Dickens died. His last words were allegedly, “Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”
  • He stated in his will to not erect any monuments for him, but a life-size bronze statue can be found in Philadelphia.

Now I have a love/hate relationship with Dickens’ work. I think that A Christmas Carol is so overrated that I refuse to read it. I also loathe Great Expectations with a bloody passion after my freshman “English teacher”/debate coach completely ruined the novel with ridiculous assignments. However, I read Hard Times, and although it was pretty dull, I appreciate it as a honest look into the Industrial Revolution.

And, of course, my favorite novel of his will always be A Tale of Two Cities. It probably has one of the best first lines in literature:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

I’ll write a full review of A Tale of Two Cities for the next Masterpiece Monday, but it’s an exquisite story of love and turmoil during the French Revolution. Yes, due to serially writing his installments, Dickens is known for rambling about very little for a very, very long time, but I would say that the last five chapters of A Tale of Two Cities was one of the most rewarding reading experiences–so worth the struggle to get that far.

The Washington Post put it aptly: “We live in the age of TLDR — “Too long, didn’t read [but] When Victorian readers slummed it and put down their Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and whatever else it was they were expected to be reading, they picked up Charles Dickens in the grocery-store checkout aisle. If only we were so lucky.”

So while I may not love Dickens enough to attend UCSC’s week-long summer event “The Dickens Universe” (which I’ve heard is positively delightful, so click here for more info if it tickles your fancy), I do respect the author for shining a spotlight on the working class and giving us some of literature’s most memorable characters, such as Oliver Twist and Miss Havisham.

As for my own reading update, I just finished Book One of Tender is the Night, and because the book’s taking longer than normal to finish, I’ll probably post a mini-review sometime this week. Stay tuned!