Last week I wrote on the refreshing honesty and downright rudeness some authors display when they dislike a book. From the bluntness of Stephen King saying Stephenie Meyer “can’t write worth a damn” to Dorothy Parker’s caustic book reviews (“[this] novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force”) there is no shortage of pithy putdowns amongst the literary set.
But what if you are not in the literary set? It’s all very well to dislike a book when you are a writer yourself, but when you haven’t got ten bestsellers and a Miles Franklin to your name, it seems a little cheeky to declare a book a waste of text.
Especially if you take on the canon of the classics. It took me three re-readings of Lord of the Rings – three! – to finally acknowledge the truth. I don’t like it. In fact, I actively dislike it.
My reasons for disliking it are as long and self-indulgent as the opening scene of the novel itself, which takes approximately 100 pages for something actually happen, other than a rather dreary party full of furry-footed and insufferably twee hobbits. I try not to over-share and normally don’t start frothing too much. I usually spare people the full recital of my wishes to see the nauseatingly cheerful hobbits rounded up and dropped into the Mines of Moria, and the Elves strangled with their own straight-and-shiny-and-oh-so-lovely hair.
But I still get shocked faces when I come out with it. “Yes, Lord of the Rings is a classic, and an amazing piece of work. I just don’t like it.”
I like to compound this by opining that Salinger’s Holden Caulfield – the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye and all-round emo before it was fashionable – would benefit from either a stint in military school or blunt trauma with his own incoherent prose and that Joyce’s Ulysses was – in the words of both his and my people, the Irish – a load of old bollocks.
(If you are offended by my profanity in describing Joyce, do yourself a favour and don’t read Ulysses.)
How can you admit to hating the one of classics without feeling a bit, well, stupid? How can I happily stick my hand up and complain about an author that has his own festival, Bloomsday? That you enjoyed the Twitterature version far more than the real thing? (Written by two 19 year olds, and containing such delights as Romeo and Juliet: “Her nurse asketh if I want to marry Juliet. She is the sun but this is waaay too fast. Am I being punk’d? Where’s Ashton?”)
It’s tempting to conclude, in a universe where these books have stood the test of time and become classics, that I must lack any and all literary taste. That reading enjoyment is not subjective and that my personal opinions are actually wrong.
But sometimes by voicing the unspeakable, you discover how your opinion might be more common than you think. I’m not alone in disliking Tolkien. At his own literary group, The Inklings, Hugo Dyson complained loudly, and Christopher Tolkien records Dyson as “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, “Oh God, no more Elves.”” A small subset of my English class used to escape after lectures to drink coffee and have a good rant about Mansfield Park. (I can’t even begin to tell you how much more I enjoy Murder at Mansfield Park than the original.) It’s a huge relief to stand up and say, “Yes, I know it’s a classic. But I don’t like it.” And even more so when you realise, as you almost definately will, that you are not the only dissenting voice in the world.
So, which are the classics that you would cheerfully toss in a volcano and flambé ala Frodo?