My All-Time Least-Favorite Classic Books (in no particular order)!
Let's face it. We've all read books that suck. But when it's a classic book (or several) you have a poor opinion about, you start to doubt if your opinion is valid or not. Let's forget about that for a sec as we review my all-time least-favorite classic books (in no particular order)! You'll see I have stronger opinions on some more than others.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Woolf's stream-of-consciousness writing style is confusing as heck. I never knew what was going on, who was whom, or where anyone was. It felt like someone trying to explain their dream. Only, this book made less sense than the average dream.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Okay. I know I'm going to be crucified for this one since it's such a beloved classic, but hear me out. It's not realistic. It's fantasy! you may protest. It doesn't have to be realistic! The rules of reality are allowed to be broken!
True. But some parts of the book are supposed to take place in "the real world." In order for the reader to buy into your story, you have to follow the rules of reality. This book does not. Let me explain why:
1) Charles Wallace is a freakishly intelligent five-year-old. Sure, some kids are prodigies and what not, but Charles acts, speaks, and reasons like a grown man. I highly doubt that any child--even if they had an IQ far beyond their years--would behave like this.
2) Mrs. Murry lets some outlandish stranger into her house in the middle of a severe storm, despite being aware that there is a thief on the loose somewhere in town (this point may have been somewhat more realistic if there had been an adult male in the house that could’ve deterred a stranger’s suspicious behavior). Come on, no one's that stupid.
3) That random character Calvin just materializes in the woods because he “felt” that he should have been there. This screams lazy writing to me on L'Engle's part. Why not introduce his character earlier so his being there actually makes sense?
4) The insta-love romance between Meg and Calvin. Again, this is lazy writing.
Here's the problem. Since this is a book written for kids (who are still learning "the rules of reality"), they may not pick up on these questionable character components. But I also realize that I am not the target audience. I could have really appreciated this book as a kid.
Then there's the prose itself. Kudos to L’Engle for her wild imagination, but sometimes her descriptions are incredibly abstract. They leave me scratching my head. Maybe I advocate for concrete, sensory-rich prose because this is how I was taught to write in high school, but L’Engle’s abstract writing leaves me the job of filling in too many blanks. This, of course, has more to do with my personal taste, so I'm willing to let this one go.
Now. Back to this book's portrayal of "reality." Around the time I read this book, I got into a discussion about it with my friend, who was a huge fantasy fan as a child. A Wrinkle in Time is one of her favorites, but as I explained to her all my dislikes, her response was key: “My life as a kid sucked. I didn’t want to face reality so I always picked the books that were most out there. Fantasy was my escape. I don’t know if I’d be able to read the book as an adult and enjoy it the same way.” Unfortunately, I think this is true for a lot of kids, especially those who favor fantasy.
I'm not saying this is true for every fantasy book out there, but I think fantasy has the potential to delay children's ability to make sense of the real world. Literature, fantasy or not, should equip children to confront reality—not avoid it. Fantasy needs to reflect or reveal truth about the real world in some way. It must serve as an allegory, a parallel to the world we live in.
Alright. Enough about that. On to the next book.
Stuart Little by E.B. White
Bashing this one hurts a little. What I do appreciate about this book, though, is the writing style. The flow of sentences is seamless, the word choice sparse. White knew what he was doing here. What I dislike is the plot, which seems to trail off by the end. The ending is disorienting and abrupt. The book, as a whole, is disorganized and random.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Yikes. Where do I start? The concept is intriguing, of course (a group of boys trying to survive on an island), the main characters are engaging, the writing . . . well. This is where I had a hard time. I didn't quite jive with the descriptions and imagery. It bogs down the pacing and doesn't move the plot fast enough. The beginning and the end of the book are good (and sufficiently disturbing) but reading the middle of this book felt like slushing waist-deep through a swamp.
1984 by George Orwell
Ugh. I listened to this on audio. It's way too description-heavy for me. There's not enough action, the pace is too slow, and the overall plot is confusing. And, if I recall, the ending is depressing. It probably doesn't help that we know what the real 1984 was like . . . .
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
I've read this book twice. First in middle school and then a couple years ago. As with L'Engle's book, I realize I'm not the target audience (it's clearly a coming-of-age story for boys), so I didn't connect well with this story. There are a few things I admire, though--namely, the part one quarter into the book where Billy cuts down a tree. This is no easy task for him, but I thought it was the perfect metaphor representing a boy stepping into manhood.
That's about the only thing I got out of this book. Like a few of the afore mentioned, this book has hardly any plot and is quite the snoozer. And that ending? [spoilers ahead] Maybe I'm missing another metaphor, but the dogs dying at the end seems like a ploy to make readers sad. There's something oddly manipulating about it.
So there you have it!
My all-time least favorite classic books. I'll redeem myself by writing about my favorite classic books soon. Stay tuned!