Books I...Strongly Dislike
Thursday, August 4, 2016
I almost wrote "hate" but early conditioning kept telling me I couldn't say that. Does anyone else remember the teachers who wouldn't let you use the word hate? "No" they would say "you don't really hate squash, you strongly dislike it." Huh, really? I think I hate it. Anyway, I still feel bad about using the word so we are going with "books I strongly dislike." Though, I must admit, immediately after having read them I would have said hate. I am not talking about books that are poorly written. I usually cannot work up a good hate for a book that is not well-written and does not have possibilities. I am talking about the books that bothered me in some way, the books that made me angry, the books I wanted to throw against a wall.
The first book that comes to mind is Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. I just checked Goodreads and this book has a rating of 4.1 out of 5. Huh, apparently I am in the minority. A friend of mine highly recommended it. I should have known better. She likes gloom and doom in her books and I don't. I understand a book is possibly going to be sad at times but unrelenting depression and misery is more than I can handle. I also found the main character self-centered and completely unsympathetic. Actually, I don't think I liked a single character in the book and I don't think one positive thing ever happened. My memory is of babies being born, babies dying, children going hungry, and the main character being supremely annoying. This is a book I wanted to throw against a wall and just thinking about it is making me angry all over again. Apologies to anyone who loves it. I just couldn't.
I love The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. It is witty and funny and relatable. Her novel, Consequences, did not impress me. It made me angry. I read that it was Delafield's favorite of her works. I understand what she was doing. The novel highlights the plight of girls who have no option except for marriage. My problem, again, is that I disliked the main character. She seemed to be constantly making decisions that just made her life more miserable and there seemed to be a general 'woe is me' feel to the whole thing. And let's not even talk about the ending. I stayed up late to finish the book. I had a morbid fascination at this point, convinced that it just had to get better, that something had to go right for the main character. It didn't. I was so filled with rage that I went upstairs, woke up my husband, and ranted to him about it. I read this quite a while ago as a free book on my Kindle. I was quite bemused when I found out that Consequences is in the Persephone catalogue since I usually love their books. Delafield wrote another book with a similar theme and I enjoyed that book much more. I actually thought Thank Heaven Fasting was excellent. You can read my review here.
My last disliked book is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I reviewed this a while ago. It had an interesting premise but it never got off the ground. Again, it had characters I just could not care about and they seemed incapable of doing anything to improve their lives. I am sure there is a message and a meaning behind that but I just wanted to yell at them for being idiotic. I spent the whole book feeling like it was leading up to something big but it all just felt so anticlimactic. This is a book that actually irritates me more and more the longer it has been since I read it.
While writing this I have realized there are several things all these books have in common. For one, they all have characters I found to be irritating and unlikable. I don't need a character to be perfect but I do need them to be someone I can picture myself talking to without wanting to push them off a cliff. They can have flaws and defects, we all do, but they have to have strengths too. They have to be admirable in some way. Second, all these books were unremittingly grim. I know life is hard and sad. That is just a fact. But life is also funny and interesting. The dark needs to be highlighted by the light or it becomes too one dimensional. Dickens understood this. His novels could be heart-breaking but they also were frequently leavened by a good dose of humor. I also found all of these novels to be too heavy-handed. When I read Angela's Ashes I felt like yelling "Okay already. I've got it. Life was miserable. You were miserable. Move on. What did you do with it?" I don't need to be beaten over the head with the message. A light touch is preferable.
With all of these books I felt like I was missing something. All of them are, as far as I can tell, beloved by many. I...disliked them. But that is the thing about reading. Much as I would like to think that I am the definitive guide for what is and is not a good book, that just isn't true. I know, I am as surprised as you are. Though I have to say, if you don't like Jane Austen then I don't think we can be friends anymore. But I suppose if you back me into a corner and threaten me with no books for a year I will have to admit that you even have the right to dislike Jane Austen. I think I feel like a traitor even saying that. But my point is that I can hate these books and you can love them because we all read a different book. The words are the same but we are not. Our emotions, our experience, our background, our mood of the moment, all of these combine to make a book good or bad. Good or bad for us, maybe, just possibly, not good or bad for everybody.
What books have you...strongly disliked? Do you love any of the books I hate?