5 Books I Totally Hated (and Why)

The Twilight Series

People fall into one of two categories where these are concerned — they love it or they hate it.  Obviously, I hated it.

And not (just) why you might think.  Stephenie Meyer can form a sentence.  She can construct a plot.  My problem is that she took the MOST boring characters and the MOST boring plot and made them her focus.  Jasper took part in 1800s vampire turf wars.  Alice was deemed crazy and kept in a dark isolation room most of her life.  Carlisle was a preacher’s son who managed to completely tame his bloodlust after being bitten (because he’s just that awesome, not that he has some dumb power like Bella).  Rosalie was raped, beaten, and left to die by her fiance and his friends, but got her revenge Kill Bill-style after she turned.  Why can’t I read about that instead of the cheesy Harlequin romance that drags on 100 times longer than every other Harlequin?

And on the subject of characters, Edward is completely unrealistic.  “Oh, he actually acted like a vampire and killed people to drink their blood, but it’s okay, because he only killed bad people.”  Who is he, Dexter Morgan (and even he has made mistakes)?  And he’s a virgin after more than 100 years…yeah…

Emma

I feel like a traitor for hating this book since I love Jane Austen’s other books, but, to me, Emma was just a flop.  The titular character was whiny, annoying, egotistical, and completely oblivious to the facts.  I understand that this was kind of the point and she supposedly learned a lesson, but I couldn’t get past her flaws to find a trait that I liked or could even connect with.  My motivation to read it after that was based purely on the fact that I had to write a paper about it.

Mockingjay (SPOILERS)

Although the story of the Hunger Games trilogy was decent, I think that the actual execution fell flat.  It’s kind of the opposite of the Twilight series.  They seemed to get gradually worse, making the final installment the real disappointment.

Mockingjay and its predecessors suffer from the same problem as so many other YA novels — overly simplistic writing.  Obviously, you need to be on your reader’s level, but I’ve seen third grade chapter books with better sentence construction.  When your sentences are so basic that they sound contrived, it’s disappointing.  And when your descriptions are so jumbled and unclear that a college-educated writer can’t make sense of what’s going on, you have a problem.

The final issue I had with Mockingjay was that it tried to do too much.  The story against the Capitol was enough — don’t try to splice in issues with the government of District 13 along with it unless you’re going to set that up a little earlier.  Obviously, no government is going to be perfect and you can point that out, but if it’s so bad that the main character feels the need to assassinate the President to prevent her from taking power, then it needs to be a part of the larger story arc.  Otherwise, just focus on Snow’s evil, the decadence of the Capitol, the tragic bombings of the other districts, and the torture/brainwashing Peeta suffered.

And for the love of God, DON’T EXPLAIN YOUR METAPHORS.  Yes, Katniss is the cat with the red dot, going crazy for what’s dangled over her…but no person is quite that poetically self-aware.

Frankenstein

Pretentious.  Long-winded.  A total guilt-trip.  Excessively dramatic.  Confusingly written (a story within another narrative written down in a letter some third person is reading…?).

Madame Bovary

I had the same problem with Madame Bovary as I did with Emma.  The title character was so whiny and downright stupid that I was unable to connect with her.  I couldn’t even make a connection to the story because all the characters were either oblivious retards, simpleton peasants with no personalities, arrogant aristocrats, or user douchebags exploiting a weak-minded woman.  And unless you have some in-depth knowledge of French culture during the time period the books take place, a lot of the references that supposedly characterize Madame Bovary will just go right over your head (I certainly didn’t know that at the time, opera was considered plebeian entertainment on par with modern WWE).

 

Want to know about some books I really liked?  Try these past posts:

Reviewing Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

Terry Brooks: Sometimes the Magic Works

Read a Banned Book!

“Adults Should Read Adult Books” — Why?

A few days ago, New York Times columnist Joel Stein declared, “The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.”  Basically, Mr. Stein is embarrassed by the ranks of adults who read such literary phenomenons as Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter simply because they’re labeled children’s or young adult’s literature.  After reading the column, rolling my eyes, and tossing around some sarcasm, I came here to point out why I feel Mr. Stein is more likely to embarrass himself with these narrow-mindedness than by showing up on a plane with a copy of Breaking Dawn.

First, I want to point out, Mr. Stein, the major logical fallacy your column commits:

You have not read these books.

Any adult who can make a rational argument should be able to understand that you cannot judge, justify, defend, or really even engage with any sort of material until you at least know the bare facts.  Considering that, in your eyes, The Hunger Games has been ridiculously oversimplified to “games you play when you’re hungry,” I’d say you haven’t got even those.  Assuming value based on an arbitrary genre or age group only used by publishers and booksellers to organize thousands of titles is not only logically flawed, but really, it’s just stupid.

More importantly, however, such blatant and unfounded disregard for something flippantly termed “for kids” demonstrates a lack of understanding about not only the nature of literature, but also of its history and evolution as well as the nature of humanity’s intellectual and emotional development.  Were literary critics to constantly toss out what they might deem too juvenile, mainstream, or simply incompatible with their age or gender, we wouldn’t have the vast majority of our greatest classics.

My shining example of this is William Shakespeare.  Shakespeare wrote for the masses.  He wrote plays that would appeal mostly to the groundlings in the Globe Theater and would give his noble patrons a break and a laugh.  He was called “an upstart crow,” rarely paid for his work and rarely credited properly.  Today, he is the bread and butter of every English teacher from 9th grade to graduate school, and for good reason (I think).  In his Essay on Dramatic Poesy, John Dryden (whom I hope you hold in high regard, Mr. Stein), called him “the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul” and stated that “his magic could not copied be.”

Beyond Shakespeare, we have other writers who were disregarded by literary critics in their time for being too simple for “real” literature.  Geoffrey Chaucer.  Jane Austen.  Edgar Allen Poe.  Henry David Thoreau.  Mary Shelley.  Franz Kafka.  Emily Dickinson.  Charlotte Bronte.  Not to mention a host of artists, thinkers, and revolutionaries throughout the ages.

This might seem like overkill on the subject, since the only clear objection to “kid’s literature” is that it’s for kids, but I think this objection speaks volumes for ignorance and literary snobbery.  And sadly, Mr. Stein, you’re missing out on some really great books.

Why reject something that may be beautifully written just because it’s for kids?  You state that “books are one of our few chances to learn,” and you can learn from the kid’s literature you look down on so ridiculously.  The other day, my kid brother taught me a neat little trick for adding fractions that he learned in school.  He’s eleven, yes, and has an intense fascination with a mystical wizarding computer game and is very much a little kid still.  But that didn’t mean his ideas, his knowledge, and his input didn’t have value for me as an intelligent and educated adult.  His fractions trick isn’t the Pythagorean Theorem, but it helped me.

If “kids” literature has the potential to be as wonderfully written, intellectually stimulating, and universally wise as adult literature, why shouldn’t I read it?  It’s a dumb rule, to be blunt, Mr. Stein.  It doesn’t make sense.  I’ve read my chunk of the world’s “adult literature” and will certainly continue to read, but I can say right now that I learned a lot more about life, the world, and about writing from one go-around with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows than I ever did with half a dozen discussions of “My Last Duchess” orMadame Bovary.

Related Reading:

“Adults Should Read Adult Books”

“Authors Taking Risks Isn’t Kids Stuff”

Joel Stein and Literary Snobbery (fueledbyscotch.wordpress.com)