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Old 03-23-2019, 11:37 PM
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whats the worst "classic " book/author you read or tried to read


in this thread, someone finished a Dickens book after a few attempts and it went off topic to how bad the classics are https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=872850

whats yours?

mine that i read was great expectations ... there's so much wrong in this book I could write a report in it (which I actually did )
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:30 AM
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The hardest author for me was Thomas Hardy - relentlessly dour and depressing stories, where good people get caught up in events and generally through no fault of theirs get ground down into nothing.

I also had trouble with George Eliot, but they aren't especially depressing (as far as I can remember) just deficient in plot. I think I read Romola and Adam Bede, but i don't remember a single thing about them.

One author that I enjoyed, somewhat surprisingly since they are somewhat stuffed with detail, are the parliamentary series by Anthony Trollope, as well as his Barchester Chronicles.

I always find Dickens entertaining, even when a trifle inexplicable. There were a lot of social ills that he exposed to popular view which it might be hard for us to understand or credit today. In any case, Great Expectations is one of my favorites and I would be interested to know what you found so wrong in it. Did you mean factually incorrect, or bad plotting, or something else?
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:40 AM
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Well, since you put quotes around ‘classic’, I’m going to stretch the interpretation to include “Catch-22”. Ugh, how I loathed that book, it was awful to try and read I had no patience for it. It was assigned for a book report, during high school. I struggled a few days, then approached the teacher and owned up about how I felt. I was clearly miserable. He didn’t miss a beat, opened his case pulled out a book right off the best sellers list, (which I can’t remember now?), and said, ‘Okay, read this instead and write a report.’ Which I did and got a good grade. I was taken aback at how instantly he was swayed and agreed. (Looking back though, I was an avid reader and a pretty good writer already, so why make a fuss, I suppose?)

Fast forward about 20 yrs, (90’s) I’m travelling through South America, English language books are hard to find and three times the cost of at home, grrr. I’ve finished the double helix book hubs brought, ugh, and have been carrying it around hoping to find a swap. We’re riding a train in Peru and a young man, fellow backpacker, comes down the aisle looking for a book swap! I’m all about it, only to be crushingly disappointed that it was, indeed, ‘Catch-22’ ! Ugh. (No, I did not swap, and I turned away so, so bummed!)

(Dickens I could read all day long, I’ve read almost all of it, some of it twice!)

Last edited by elbows; 03-24-2019 at 12:41 AM.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:47 AM
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Tolstoy. God. I loved Anna Karinina. But it was a slog. Forget War and Peace. I did carry it around on campus, for a year, pleasantly dog eared and post-it noted. Just to see who noticed.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:55 AM
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Faulkner
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:07 AM
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After we slogged through a couple Steinbeck books in school, I swore I'd never go near his stuff again. A few years ago though, I thought that maybe my teenage self just couldn't appreciate his works so I reread a few of them. Never again! I can accept that his work are a product of their time but I'll pass.
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:19 AM
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The hardest author for me was Thomas Hardy - relentlessly dour and depressing stories, where good people get caught up in events and generally through no fault of theirs get ground down into nothing.
Yes. We had to read Tess of the d'Urburvilles in high school and it was one of the most depressing books I've ever read.

I love to read, but it seemed like our reading lists in high school were perversely designed to turn us off literature. We also had to read McTeague, a "descent into poverty, violence and finally murder as the result of jealousy and greed" per Wiki, and Great Expectations. Now I actually like Dickens, but while this may be one of his greatest works it's not really the best one to turn on high school students to him.
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:28 AM
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In any case, Great Expectations is one of my favorites and I would be interested to know what you found so wrong in it. Did you mean factually incorrect, or bad plotting, or something else?
For me, the problem with Great Expectations is that it is so filled with lives that are needlessly embittered or wasted (at least for many years), like Miss Havesham, Estella, Magwitch, and even Pip. I preferred David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:28 AM
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I found Dracula surprisingly dull.
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:34 AM
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I couldn't get into "Catch-22" either, although maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance.

(dons flameproof suit) I read "The Handmaid's Tale" a couple years after it came out, and thought it was awful. I don't care what that book's about, it just plain old sucked.
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:38 AM
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For me, the problem with Great Expectations is that it is so filled with lives that are needlessly embittered or wasted (at least for many years), like Miss Havesham, Estella, Magwitch, and even Pip. I preferred David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.
as I said in the other thread "they didn't have mail from Australia?" a letter would have avoided soo much drama......

not to mention the possible attempted murder of the shrew aunt by the sainted uncle joe so he can romance the other relative ..


the girl who was raised to be a female misogynist being sold off like a piece of meat to a series of abusive husbands


and the hero himself decides to be slacker bribes his boss to promote his friend...
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:57 AM
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I loathe Dickens. Often good stories, but the prose is terrible.

A Christmas Carol is, for some reason, an exception, but I haven't felt the urge to reread it.
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Old 03-24-2019, 03:48 AM
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Back in my avid read-everything days, Dickens' Great Expectations was the one that I just could not finish.
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Old 03-24-2019, 04:55 AM
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I think I read "Catcher In the Rye" at the wrong time of my life. If I'd read it when I was Holden Caulfield's age, I might have enjoyed it. Or at least sympathized with him. I was in my 30s, and wanted to slap him instead.
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Old 03-24-2019, 05:11 AM
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The Scarlet Letter, I was forced to read it in school and I could not get through even a page without my eyes glazing over due to the stilted language.

Moby Dick was similar, in that I kept giving up after the same percentage of the book, since each page was tolerable but then when nothing happens after several pages it also gets discouraging.
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Old 03-24-2019, 06:24 AM
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I saw the thread title and as it turns out I came here to mention the same book the OP did. I have not read Dickens since having Great Expectations forced on me.
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Old 03-24-2019, 06:30 AM
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The Hobbit. Tried as a kid, tried in my late teens, tried again around 30ish; never finished it. Just could not be bothered. Forced myself through Lord of the Rings over several months, but getting to the end was something of a pyrrhic victory. I was rather sadder upon completing it. I'd have been happier knowing its fame as a classic than knowing exactly how dull I found it.
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Old 03-24-2019, 06:47 AM
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I felt that way about Great Expectations in high school. When I had to read it again for grad school I understood why it's so well regarded. It is a great novel. Nowadays, I read Dickens and am never disappointed.

I didn't care much for A Separate Peace, though I'd probably understand it better now.
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Old 03-24-2019, 08:31 AM
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Great Expectations...

I know that I read it in high school...
I know that I read it again at university and wrote an essay on it...
I know that I watched a movie of it...

...but if you were to ask me what it was about I couldn't tell you. It left no impression on my mind, except that it was unutterably dull.

War and Peace, on the other hand, I absolutely loved. I can remember all the the main characters and talk knowledgeably about the plot 20 years after last reading it.
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Old 03-24-2019, 08:35 AM
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Wuthering Heights was a real slog for me back in HS, despite being an avid reader. Too damned depressing and frustrating.
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Old 03-24-2019, 08:56 AM
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Faulkner
Same here. A pale imitation of James Joyce, with the addition of Southern American tropes and scandal.
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Old 03-24-2019, 09:33 AM
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Wuthering Heights was a real slog for me back in HS, despite being an avid reader. Too damned depressing and frustrating.
I really hated Wuthering Heights in high school but when I re-read it in my 30s , I appreciated it for it's darkness and complete f-you to romance novels every where. Cathy in particular is such a nasty, selfish person- I appreciated it for just making almost everyone completely unlikeable and that was very fun for me (being a person that tends towards cynicism). I have found I can't read it again though and it compares very badly with Jane Eyre ,which is one of my favorites.

I loved Great Expectations but it wasn't until the last 3/4 of the novel that it really came together for me. It starts off great but then the middle can drag . I just remember getting to a part towards the end where I realized I was reading a classic that deserved to be.
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Old 03-24-2019, 09:41 AM
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Back in my avid read-everything days, Dickens' Great Expectations was the one that I just could not finish.
I also tried and failed to read "Great Expectations" in my younger days (it was an optional school assignment), at a time when I was inhaling just about any book that came my way. Same with "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I figured Dickens wasn't my thing, until we were assigned "A Tale Of Two Cities" and I couldn't put it down.
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Old 03-24-2019, 10:04 AM
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Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. OK, I understand it is important for the historical and social and political angles. But as Literature: at the end of the semester, when we were pressed for time, we skipped Hemingway and Faulkner to spend weeks studying this hack?


The following year, I had to do a term paper on Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. Hated it.
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Old 03-24-2019, 10:18 AM
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I've read a lot of classic books in the past few years, and the one I had to work hardest to finish was Henry James's "The Ambassadors"; there were way too many sentences that I had to read three or four times before I could parse them.

I enjoyed most of the books mentioned so far, except for "Jude the Obscure" (which didn't grab me). I also thought "Catcher in the Rye" was overrated.
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Old 03-24-2019, 10:28 AM
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Had to read Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and something by D. H. Lawrence (Sons and Lovers, I think) for college and got absolutely nothing out of either one.

Had to read Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) in high school. Bleh. Tried listening to the audio version not too long ago, to see if I might appreciate it more now that I'm a lot older, but gave up on it. Words, words, words, droning on without a point.

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I've read a lot of classic books in the past few years, and the one I had to work hardest to finish was Henry James's "The Ambassadors"
Oh, Henry James. Does anybody actually like Henry James?
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Old 03-24-2019, 10:49 AM
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I remember enjoying all of the Dickens books I've read, but (aside from A Christmas Carol), I can't remember anything from any of them. That might just be the years, though.

My nomination is Hemingway. We had to read, I think it was The Sun Also Rises, in high school. Nothing happened in the entire book. There was no plot. There were some characters, but none of them were at all relatable, possibly because they never did anything.
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Old 03-24-2019, 10:52 AM
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"Worst", likely not the most applicable word concerning me and my bete-noire author: since I feel virtually certain that the fault lies with me, not the author. However -- I just cannot handle Jane Austen; and that after a number of separate attempts.

Comedies of manners/ social oddities and obstacle-courses from times past, are not the kind of fiction to which I most readily gravitate; and I'm male, where JA is reckoned to appeal more, overall, to the female sex -- however, the writing is generally reckoned to be brilliant; and it's well-known that there is a very sizeable minority of male Janeites. Somehow -- and I "realise with my head" how ridiculous this is -- I just can't get past the Regency-era language; all the "some body" and "any body" and other, to me, weirdnesses. I've tried various Austen novels, certainly half a dozen times; each time I've managed perhaps twenty pages max, before getting so irritated with the language, as to have closed the book, and got no further -- wanting to throw the damned thing violently against the opposite wall of the room.

This same factor made Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (on which I have heard quite widely varying opinions) a no-no for me: with finding that -- it being set up largely as being composed of supposedly documented material from that era -- the bulk of it is written in Jane-Austen-speak. An impressively clever feat, no doubt, on the part of the for-sure talented author; but a kiss of death for me.
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Old 03-24-2019, 11:03 AM
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The Scarlet Letter, I was forced to read it in school and I could not get through even a page without my eyes glazing over due to the stilted language.
That's another depressing entry in the list of "books designed to turn high school students off reading."

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Moby Dick was similar, in that I kept giving up after the same percentage of the book, since each page was tolerable but then when nothing happens after several pages it also gets discouraging.
I know Moby Dick is hated by many, but I loved even the chapters about whaling minutiae. At least our teacher effectively abridged it by only assigning key chapters to read, so those who wanted to skip all the other stuff.
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Old 03-24-2019, 11:09 AM
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Cormac McCarthy - I have read several of his books, but it was Blood Meridian that made me finally throw one of his works against a wall. Specifically, it was the part where the Judge threw a bag of puppies into the river...then shot them, or maybe it was the Indian babies and raped grandmothers on spikes. I don’t know, I threw that book against the wall so many times.

He is adored by fans and his books keep coming up in book club list recommendations, but I find his style so over the top childish and unnecessarily graphic in an attempt to hide the truth. The man cannot tell a story. What’s left then is the reader sifting through the chicken entrails of ‘the plot’ to desern the true meaning of violence...or some bullshit.

I no longer care.

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Old 03-24-2019, 11:28 AM
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Anna Karenina. Stupid story, not one likeable character in the book, and the ending is the best part. Why this is considered a "work of art" is beyond me. I hate the damned thing. My daughter, who's half Russian and had to read the novel in college, agrees with me 100%.
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Old 03-24-2019, 11:32 AM
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Anything by James Fennimore Cooper. Poorly written.
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Old 03-24-2019, 11:37 AM
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I read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton in high school and since that day I still consider this as the worst book I ever read.
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Old 03-24-2019, 11:41 AM
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Anything by James Fennimore Cooper. Poorly written.
Just in case you haven't read what Mark Twain had to say: Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:01 PM
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Anything by James Fennimore Cooper. Poorly written.
I've told this story many times before, but I had a cashier at Borders actively try to discourage me from buying a copy of "Last of the Mohicans". I really should have listened to her.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:05 PM
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My picks are legion.

I cannot stand to read anything Ernest Hemingway wrote. His style is the exact opposite of the style I DO enjoy reading. I LIKE emotions and descriptions!

I can't get into Jane Austen, either. I modestly assert I am not without reading comprehension, but I find her tiresome and...convoluted? Too many double negatives, or something.

Is Chuck Palahniuk considered 'classic'? I know people who think he walks on water, he is that marvelous.

Heart of Darkness - we were supposed to read it in high school, they just passed the books out and said, read it, there will be a test in ____weeks. The overwhelming majority not only didn't read it, everyone save 2 brainy types failed the test. We were then all assigned another book to read instead, and that went better.

Don Quixote - we had a copy in tiny tiny print on onionskin paper, a thousand pages or more! Gave up after three pages, it might have worked as an audio book.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:05 PM
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I've told this story many times before, but I had a cashier at Borders actively try to discourage me from buying a copy of "Last of the Mohicans". I really should have listened to her.
How does it compare to the movie (which I didn't particularly care for)?
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:08 PM
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The Great Gatsby. I know people who love that book. And people love the movie adaptations. I had to read it in highschool and I hated it. The characters were miserable people that I despised and when bad things happened to them I felt like they had it coming.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:08 PM
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I think I read "Catcher In the Rye" at the wrong time of my life. If I'd read it when I was Holden Caulfield's age, I might have enjoyed it. Or at least sympathized with him. I was in my 30s, and wanted to slap him instead.
I read Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school and I still wanted to slap Holden Caulfield. I think we spent an entire semester analyzing every word of every page of the book and by the end I was so thoroughly sick of that book I never wanted to see it again. I think my English teacher expected us to identify with Caulfield. I just thought he was a miserably whiny brat. That being said, some of my classmates were miserably whiny brats... and those were the ones who ate the book up.

Jackmannii mentioned A Tale of Two Cities, which is what I came in here to post. I've tried to read it after picking it up cheap for my Kindle. Can't get past chapter three. Just can't get into it. I keep thinking I'll try again but haven't yet.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:19 PM
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The Great Gatsby. I know people who love that book. And people love the movie adaptations. I had to read it in highschool and I hated it. The characters were miserable people that I despised and when bad things happened to them I felt like they had it coming.
Poor Mr. Salinqmind has tried to read it several times, I think he assumed a book always in print, and that had so many movie versions made from it had some merit. Perhaps, but not in his opinion!

I thought of another - 'Barry Lyndon' by William Makepeace Thackeray. Right up there in tediousness (to read) with James Fennimore Cooper. Right up there.

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Old 03-24-2019, 12:49 PM
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Another has occurred to me, about which I feel on more solid ground than re my aversion to Jane Austen (though I find that saliqmind is on a similar page to me, as regards the Divine Jane). I got nowhere with Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy -- concerning which, I have heard a fair few other dissenting voices; though there are those who love it, sometimes passionately. TS was the favourite fiction work of a late uncle of mine (not a particularly big intellectual or arts maven) -- he read and re-read it. I endured the first few chapters; and feel no hesitation in writing the work off, for me, as a huge assemblage of drivel and babble, with the occasional weak and flogged-to-death joke -- extending over many volumes.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:52 PM
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Just in case you haven't read what Mark Twain had to say: Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses
I brought this up with my American Lit. Prof. He was amused but still had to read the damn thing.
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Old 03-24-2019, 12:57 PM
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I've read most of the books mentioned in the thread, but I've never managed to get more than about 20 pages into Moby Dick.
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:16 PM
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Going over the thread, I have to agree about Hemingway. I read him at the same time I learned to appreciated Great Expectations and found his minimalism boring. It's OK in theory to write a dull character to imply the character is emotionally repressed, but he's still a dull character.

We by Evgeny Zamyatin. It's usually thrown into the science fiction curriculum because he didn't write in English, but it's really just the same sort of dystopia Orwell and Huxley did better. Why they overlooked the immensely superior Stanislaw Lem mystifies me.

Definitely not a fan of Henry James. Daisy Miller is fine (especially with the joke about Schenectady), but his later work is wordy as hell and he was constitutionally incapable of making a point, dancing around it with phrase after phrase that circled without getting to. I did discover the change was because he started dictating all his work, which make you run off at the mouth.
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Old 03-24-2019, 01:47 PM
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How does it compare to the movie (which I didn't particularly care for)?
I actually bought the book because I liked the movie version of "Last if the Mohicans". So if you didn't like the movie, maybe there's not much difference.

I just had a hard time parsing Cooper's prose. Long convoluted sentences that didn't scan easily, so I'd have to stop and go back and read a sentence two or three times before it made sense. A lot. Plus, everything in that Mark Twain critique is pretty much spot on.
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Old 03-24-2019, 02:02 PM
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I think I read "Catcher In the Rye" at the wrong time of my life. If I'd read it when I was Holden Caulfield's age, I might have enjoyed it. Or at least sympathized with him. I was in my 30s, and wanted to slap him instead.


I read it in my teens and wanted to slap him.


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  #47  
Old 03-24-2019, 02:27 PM
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I'm always amazed by how many people refer to Twain's criticism of James Fenimore Cooper without getting the joke. What Twain criticizes in Cooper's works is exactly the things that Twain himself did in his own works (which are quite justifiably considered classics).
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Old 03-24-2019, 02:34 PM
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Atlas Shrugged, followed closely by Wuthering Heights. Ayn Rand should have been aborted, or possibly strangled at birth.

I've seen a movie adaptation of WH, and it was bearable, as so many of the movie renditions of the classics are.

I agree with Blood Meridian, as noted above. What a slog that was. To call it 'dark' is like calling Satan 'mischievous'.

Forgot honorable mention for Stephen King's Tommyknockers. Oy.

Last edited by Chefguy; 03-24-2019 at 02:35 PM.
  #49  
Old 03-24-2019, 02:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Procrustus View Post
Faulkner
Yep. and Pilgrims Progress.
  #50  
Old 03-24-2019, 02:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nearwildheaven View Post
I couldn't get into "Catch-22" either, although maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance.

(dons flameproof suit) I read "The Handmaid's Tale" a couple years after it came out, and thought it was awful. I don't care what that book's about, it just plain old sucked.
I kinda liked it, but not as much as some of my friends who thought is was "fanFUCKINGtastic!"

Yeah, got halfway through, thought it was crap and stopped. Bad book.
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