Friday, March 10, 2017

The Book Sacrifice Tag!

I haven't finished reading any fine vintage literature lately, so I don't have a review to post today. Instead, a few months ago there was a rather hilarious bookish tag going around the blogosphere, and I thought I'd fill it out. Here unapologetic thoughts on 5 books that I could definitely do without.

#1: An Over-Hyped Book

Situation: You are in a bookstore when the zombies attack.  Over the loudspeakers you hear the military announce that over-hyped books are the zombies' only weakness.  What over-hyped book will you chuck at the zombies?

The Hunger Games. Seriously. It's not that The Hunger Games is a bad book - indeed it's better than a lot of the YA fiction I've dipped my toes into - it's just that then I read Red Rising and realised that it was everything I'd wished The Hunger Games had been, and wasn't.

#2: A Sequel

Situation: You are caught in a torrential downpour and you're probably the type who melts when you get wet.  What sequel are you willing to use as an umbrella to protect yourself.

Maybe this is cheating a little, but let's say Zorro: A Novel by Isabel Allende. The original Zorro of Johnstone McCulley's pulp novel The Curse of Capistrano (no, I'm not kidding) was a swashbuckling hero who dashed about with sword, pistol, and black horse righting injustices and stealing hearts. In Isabel Allende's dour, sour reboot of the story, highbrowishly subtitled ~*A Novel*~, Zorro rates high on gender equality and racial inclusivity but fatally low on suavity, swashbucklery, dashitude, or fun.

#3: A Classic

Situation: You're in English class and your professor won't stop going on about a classic that "revolutionized literature". Personally you think the classic is garbage and you decide to express your opinion by hurling the book at his head.  What classic is that?

The Great Gatsby. I did not like that book. Now that I am grown, I suspect that I was not meant to like it, but where is the point of reading something meant specifically to annoy? Down with you, Gatsby.

#4: A Least Favorite Book

Situation: You're hanging out at a bookstore (where else would you be?) when global warming somehow manages to to turn the whole world into a frozen wasteland.  Naturally, your only hope of survival is to burn a book.  Which book would you not regret tossing into the fire?

To this day the worst book I have ever read is Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber. *shudder* I could probably keep warm for a century burning the planet's supplies of Forever Amber, and the world would be a better, brighter, braver place for it. But I'm actually not sure I could face ten minutes with nothing to read but a giant pile of my most loathed book of all time, let alone a century.

#5: A Series

Situation: There's a flooded stream you have to cross on your quest and you can't get your feet wet.  Which series (oh yeah, btw, you brought your whole bookshelf and also probably local library with you) will you use as stepping stones?

I never told the kind friend who loaned me this series at the time, but I could barely stand John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series and after the only character I liked died at the end of Book Three I loathed it. (Sorry, Alice). You probably have never heard of this series, but it's basically Red Dawn in Australia, and while looking back I can appreciate certain aspects of the storytelling, which could be very gritty and brutal, mostly the memory just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. (Also, the premise is kind of ridiculous. Australia is overrun in a night or two by some unspecified Asian nation, really? And none of our allies want to help us...except New Zealand? Seriously? I love NZ, but they aren't exactly a military powerhouse...and, they make fun of our accent.)


Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I hated The Great Gatsby the first time I read it, too. THAT was supposed to be the great American novel? What even? I didn't read it until I was out of college, but it disappointed me gravely.

And then I read it again a couple-few years ago, and found myself absolutely digging it. In between, I'd read another thing or two by Fitzgerald, so maybe I just had to get used to his style? Or maybe I needed to stop expecting huge, amazing, life-changing stuff from it. Anyway, now I'm planning to lead a read-along of it this summer, so my views have definitely changed. I think it's a wretched choice for high school lit classes, though. Both it and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea get used for high school because they're short things by famous authors that parents won't fuss about their kids reading, and I did not appreciate either of them until I was in my 30s.

Mac n' Janet said...

I'm with you on the Great Gatsby, hated it, hated the characters, hated the story. Forever Amber is bad, but unfortunately I've read worse. I read the first in the Hunger Games series and was very underwhelmed. I think I would have picked Gone Girl for that selection.

Claire B. said...

I never read The Great Gatsby, but I saw the most recent movie adaptation and that was more than enough for me. I walked out of the theater flabbergasted as to how that was a classic. It irritated me to no end. lol!!

I enjoyed the Hunger Games (although my like declined from book to book) and have Red Rising on my bookshelf waiting for me to read. I've heard really good things about the series, so I'm looking forward to getting into it.

Joseph J said...

I wonder if people who are opposed to book-burning on principle actually love books at all. Only someone who loves literature would have the urge to burn a novel. I have often thought how much I would enjoy burning 90% of the books in our public library. The natives used to keep forests healthy and vibrant by setting fire to them regularly so that only the sturdy oaks remained. They were on to something.

I was shocked at your opinion of Gatsby, although I suppose I should expect almost anything from the madwoman who doesn't like Dickens. Actually, once the initial dizziness and heart palpations dissipated, and I had time to reflect, I think I can see where you are coming from. Gatsby is a tragedy and a cautionary tale about the dissolute lifestyle of the wealthy in the Roaring Twenties. So in that sense, the reader is not supposed to 'like' the characters or story anymore then they are supposed to like Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth and their sanguinary pastimes.

Yet in another sense we are supposed to at least partially like or empathize with at least Mr. Macbeth, and certainly find the story fascinating and enjoy the language. Its the same with Gatsby. I just picked it up now to see if it held up to what I remember from high school. Opening it randomly I was very quickly drawn in by the poetic language with its wonderful rhythm, and the way Fitzgerald was able to sustain a mood of brooding sensuality, tinged with absurdity and pathos.

Take this first paragraph I encountered:

"There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam."

'...drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam.' I would have that etched into marble over my fireplace any day.

For his dialogue, how about the drunk driver who ran off the road and crashed into a wall at the end of one of Gatsby's parties:

'How'd it happen?'
He shrugged his shoulders.
'I know nothing whatever about mechanics,' he said decisively.
'But how did it happen? Did you run into the wall?'
'Don't ask me,' said Owl Eyes, washing his hands of the whole matter. 'I know very little about driving - next to nothing. It happened, and that's all I know.'
'Well if you're a poor driver you oughtn't to try driving at night.'
'But I wasn't even trying,' he explained indignantly, 'I wasn't even trying.'

I would have to read it through again to be sure if I still loved it, but I think my positive opinion would still stand. This is a beautifully written story about bad or very flawed people, but it does not try to justify their behaviour. At worst it romanticizes them, which is perhaps a legitimate concern. Its considered one of the great American novels because it addresses the perennial danger of the American Dream descending into mere materialism and license. It is one of the books (along with The Old Man and the Sea!) that is actually worthy of being studied by high schoolers.

A book that one might argue wasn't meant to be enjoyed is the Catcher in the Rye, which is deliberately ugly and vulgar to an extreme. I never got past the first two chapters. No matter what constitutes the subject matter of a novel, there is no excuse for deliberately ugly writing.

As for the recent film adaptation, I only need to see the trailer to know it takes exactly the wrong moral approach by wallowing in and exaggerating the sensuality and depravity. No thanks.

Jess said...

Down with Gatsby! Finally some other like-minded people!

Hayden said...

Oh, I actually liked Gatsby- although I came into it expecting to hate it, so that might have played a part.

The Hunger Games isn't terrible, but I felt that each book in the series generally got successively worse; they play with some good and interesting ideas, but I think its main fault is a weak worldview so it rings rather empty in the end.

Also, I think one of the most demoralizing experiences I've ever had was reading the comments on your review of Forever Amber. eeek.

I may steal this tag, btw. :)

Anonymous said...

I loved the Great Gatsby, although I haven't reread it in a while.* The only other Fitzgerald I've read though, The Beautiful and the Damned, I HATED.

*Books affect you differently at different ages. I loved Kerouac's On the Road when I first read it in my early twenties and didn't care for it when I reread it in my 30s--I had lost all patience for Dean.

Andrew of the House of Lacey said...

This book-tag sounds like a lot of fun!

I am actually rather liking the sounds of Tomorrow When the War Began. It sounds like one of those series/books that are mildly swashbucklerish in a modern sense? Riding tanks through minefields without getting blown up while shooting down planes with a pistol, instead of riding a horse through an army, defeating everyone in sight with your sword-arm in a sling?

What do you mean we couldn't help? We could send our mighty navy for example. All four boats, with the shotguns mounted on the deck... :)

Suzannah said...

Hamlette, Joseph, Hayden, H.P., and everyone else who loved THE GREAT GATSBY - honestly, I suspect I might enjoy THE GREAT GATSBY more as an adult than I did as a teenager. I think Hamlette's dead on in suggesting that it's not a book for teens. I read a LOT of books back then that I've re-read since and been amazed by how much I missed. While I do think that young people suffer from low expectations, I think it's also fair to say that some books just speak more clearly to older people, and it's a shame to foist those books on those who can't appreciate them. I mean, there's so much literature that's every bit as deep and profound as THE GREAT GATSBY (if not more so) but that also comes with a sense of youth and heroism to it.

Mac'n/or Janet, perhaps I would have mentioned GONE GIRL if I had actually read it. I watched a YouTube video essay on the movie's screenplay and decided I would not bother!

Claire, I think you're going to love RED RISING. It was brilliant.

Joseph, I completely agree that you have to feel very passionate about books before you'll go so far as to suggest burning one ;). But there's probably a spectrum, you know - on one end, those who hate reading so much they'll burn all books, and on the other end, those who love it so much they'll burn the bad ones!

Jess, LOL. We aren't precious about classics here!

Hayden, consider yourself tagged! It'll be lots of fun to see your answers. Don't mind the comments on the FOREVER AMBER review...I have deleted the more incendiary ones!

Andrew, no. No, TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN was not, as I recall it, that much fun and certainly not remotely swashbuckling. But thank you for your offer of help. Why, with forces like that you could man the whole of King Island.

Jamie W said...

What I'm getting from this thread is that clearly someone NEEDS to write the book that Andrew was thinking of! And then we can all read it and enjoy modern swashing of buckles!

(Oh dear... my brain just decided a modern swashbuckler must be a swashVelcroer.)

Andrew of the House of Lacey said...

- GRINS - I think you nailed it Jamie.

Suzannah said...

Sounds like fun. Please, feel free to write the story ;)

CVL said...

I also hated Great Gatsby in high school, but then when I read it later my opinion of it improved quite a bit. His other books I didn't like though.

Honestly the other books I wouldn't even pick up based on their covers and titles alone! I definitely judge a book by its cover.

Sophia White said...

You deleted the more incendiary comments on Forever Amber? Good thing you did, or anyone who read them would probably be rendered permanently blind. After that I had to read the remaining comments, and quite apart from the worldview reflected, the shocking ignorance of history, combined with a pretence of teaching it, annoys me to no end. I write historical fiction myself, which means that when people throw around misconceptions as if I'm the ignorant one, I do want to whack them with the good books. Or perhaps with stories written in the age under discussion. Homer and Virgil and Dante and Malory do not lack women who are free to do things, thank you very much.
I fall in the camp of those who burn bad books for the sake of good ones, I think, though I have never actually burnt a book myself. . . yet.

I have a friend with whom I normally agree about literature, but he happens to be of the mistaken opinion that the Hunger Games are one of the better books written this century. I haven't read them, just bits and pieces here and there, and certainly haven't seen the movies, but I think I know enough to have an informed disagreement. We haven't talked about them very much yet. Taking into account the many inherent limitations of and problems with the genre, they might be all right, except for the hopeless worldview --- and if a worldview can't give you any hope, what good is it?

Suzannah said...

CVL, I think the consensus here is that GATSBY is terrible for highschoolers but great for disillusioned adults! Maybe I'll be able to gather the willpower to try it again one day :)

Sophia, you and your friend should read RED RISING. It was everything I wished HUNGER GAMES had been and more, including an optimistic worldview. I wouldn't even say that RED RISING is one of the best books of this century, but it sure makes HUNGER GAMES look pale and unconvincing!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely hated The Great Gatsby on my first read-through in high school (thinking, 'Seriously? Adultery?') But pretty quickly I ended up loving it, and I don't quite know why it changed. I think because it shows so much of the futility of certain goals in life--it doesn't have a happy ending and it doesn't present a solution, but I could get on board with its critique. And I guess I also started to really enjoy Fitzgerald's writing style.

Joseph J said...

I re-read Gatsby in one sitting. It gripped me. Definitely lives up to my original high opinion. A couple more favorite examples from the book:

"His heart beat faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete."


"They're such beautiful shirts,' she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. 'It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful shirts before.'"

I spent some time becoming a Wikipedia scholar on Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. They are a fascinating couple, but they terrify me. Basically they both threw themselves consciously into a life of selfishness, hedonism, and worldliness. F. Scott was a very autobiographical writer, often drawing directly from his life, even to the point of stealing verbatim from his wife's diary. So he wrote these books basically expressing the darkness of his own life and showing how it all leads to tragedy. The moral of the story of Gatsby, given in the last paragraph, is that we are all condemned to be driven by unfulfilled desires till we die. But despite this self-awareness he never seemed to express repentance or the desire to improve. It reminds me of gansta rappers who glorify the tragedy of their own choices. In the end F. Scott died a miserable alcoholic and his wife died in a fire at an insane asylum.

None of this sounds very appealing, but it is F. Scott's own honesty about his lifestyle that makes Gatsby a good tragedy and cautionary tale for a discerning Christian reader. It is also beautifully written, and doesn't cross the line into the obscene.


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