Fiction book / author of good repute, avoided for foolish reason -- anyone else done this?

Recently came to mind, browsing in “Cafe Society” archives: Robert Graves’s historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Broadly, I like historical fiction: have encountered much that is very good, said / written about these novels, but have never so much as opened them. Can ascribe not having done so – precisely – to something which I acknowledge as stupid in the extreme.

At age 18, I landed up as an undergraduate at a prestigious British university, where I felt in every way unhappily out of my depth. There was a college-mate of mine there, at least a year senior to me, whom I knew slightly: he was clearly very highly intelligent, but had seemed to me a quiet, unassuming, pleasant sort. One day, though, I happened to be sitting at lunch with this guy and a few others. The conversation happened to touch on Graves, and I mentioned that I hadn’t read his “Claudius” books, and thought I maybe should. This fellow responded, in a tone of voice which positively dripped condescending scorn: “You don’t read Graves for the “Claudius” stuff; you read him for The White Goddess and the poetry.”

I was then very adolescently-self-conscious about not coming up to scratch intellectually and aesthetically; his comment made me want to crawl off into a dark corner and die – and convinced me that my even touching Graves’s “Claudius” novels, was out of the question. That was some 45 years ago, when I was a callow and impressionable kid; but for many years after that, I recoiled automatically from even thinking of opening the books concerned. I still have never done so – despite having long concluded “with my head”, that “Mr. You-don’t-read” was doing a supercilious-prick power-play, and there’s no earthly reason for me not to try the “Claudius” novels.

Am I uniquely silly / neurotic / whatever, in having eschewed this material for so long, and for so little cause; or have other participants here, behaved in a broadly similar – and similarly irrational – way, regarding avoidance of generally “well-spoken-of” fiction: individual books, or author’s entire output?

I won’t read anything by Jonathan Franzen after the Oprah kerfuffle even though I’m not at all a fan of Oprah’s book club. If that’s not irrational, I don’t know what is.

I’ve run across people who refuse to read any of Oprah’s picks just because they’re Oprah’s picks. There are some excellent books on that list.

However, when buying those books, I’ve avoided the ones with the O on the cover. I didn’t want people thinking I was reading it just because she chose it.

In re-reading my post, I think it sounded like I’m against her book club, but really I just meant that I don’t have a dog in the fight.

I get what you mean about the covers, though. If I’m buying a book that was made into a movie, I always avoid the movie-themed covers. It’s nuts!

A bloke I know refuses to read anything by John Varley, because he wrote “Titan” which sounds like “Triton” which was written by Samuel R. Delany, who wrote another book he really hated. A very strangely remote example of guilt by association.

I’m not in the US, and to be honest, the jsgoddess / AP exchange has largely gone right over my head: believe this is the first time I’ve ever encountered the name of Jonathan Franzen – though I have, just, heard of Oprah !

I recall another instance on my part. As a kid, I was somewhat under Protestant Christian influence; and in my teens, happened to read a book of “advice to the young” from such a source; which, under the heading of “OK and less-OK fiction”, counselled against reading Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea, because it could be seen as glorifying sex outside of marriage. I at the time, took that injunction to heart. For the next dozen years or so, I abstained from reading that, or any other, book by that author.

Over that period of time, I ceased to feel bound to keep my reading matter “pure”, and happily read plenty of fiction and non-fiction involving sexual shenanigans of all kinds. It finally became clear to me that I was being ridiculous about Monsarrat, and had had no problem devouring lots of stuff probably far raunchier than anything his characters got up to. I duly read The Cruel Sea, and found it a fine, absorbing yarn; followed by several more by the author, which struck me as good enough tales.

It came to my notice in time, that there are serious religious believers, Christian and other, who observe strict rules of sexual conduct for themselves; but don’t have a problem with reading fiction involving “licentious” behaviour – they just take it as part of the story. In the same sort of way: imagining a historical novel set in the South Pacific a couple or more centuries ago, dwelling on the joys and excitements and culinary delights of cannibalism – if such a work were well written, a modern Western reader might well enjoy it (if that were their sort of thing) without being filled with an extreme desire to try “long pig” for themselves, regardless of the consequences.

Franzen wrote a novel called “The Corrections”, about an American family that all gets together again for Christmas and the dynamics of that and their relationships with each other (their authoritarian father is ill and lost much of his authority, the kids were raised fundamentalist Protestant and have abandoned those values, etc…every member of the family has their own issues and it all comes out during the visit. Won a bunch of awards; was really popular. Oprah picked it as a book club selection, one of the few chosen right when it was published. Franzen was ambivalent about the picks, saying basically that it was an honor and he was happy about it, obviously, but that Oprah viewers really aren’t the target audience of the book, and that Oprah’s pick of the book was her attempt to raise the quality of the booklist from the usual schlock she picked and that she was trying to get a male audience.

There have been several books and movies , over the years, that I shunned for a long time because either:

  1. They seemed TOO popular and highly overhyped, which usually triggers my contrarian streak. Surely, if “everybody” loves something, it can’t really be that good.

  2. I sort of look down on the people who seem to like it. If THOSE people love it, it must not be for me.
    Examples? For a long time, I wouldn’t read the Harry Potter books, for reason #1.

And for years, I wouldn’t watch the movie Saturday Night Fever, because its fans all seemed to be squealing teenage girls who loved watching dreamy John Travolta shake his booty. It seemed like a glorification of disco and of the kind of stupid, blue-collar Guidos I knew only too well from my neighborhood.

When I finally read the Harry Potter books, I loved them. And when I finally saw ***Saturday ***Night Fever, I realized how completely wrong I was (as were the squealing teenyboppers) as to what the movie was all about.

This Franzen sounds to me, like a judgmental snob; his remarks as bolded, above, would I think cause me to have the exact same reaction to him, as jsgoddess tells of. I consider blanket categorisations about “so-and-so-viewers, or -readers” – or the supposed preferences of an entire gender – neither kind nor accurate: the human race is more diverse and complicated than that.

I tend toward contrarian behaviour of the same kind, for much the same reasons. I might well have spent a long time turning my nose up at Harry Potter and refusing to read the books, save for one chance thing. I first became aware of Potter when a particular paperback edition of the first book in the series, appeared here in the UK. The cover illustration piqued a strong interest-and-enthusiasm of mine: it was (I presume for some reason somehow to do with the Hogwarts Express) a splendid black-and-white photograph looking very much to be of a North American steam railroad train in the glorious era some three-quarters of a century ago, when that rail scene was the norm there. This being so, I just had to open the book and look inside; and found it intriguing in its own right. I was never a super-keen Potter-freak, but I found the books appealing enough to read all seven, and greatly like a lot of the content.
Another author with whom my relationship has been odd – though in this case to do with common perception, rather than one’s own personal perversity / nuttiness. I have the impression that when Dennis Wheatley is mentioned, most folk in general associate the name with his black-magic / Satanism / occult-themed fiction. For a long time, I did so, and avoided the guy’s works: for a number of reasons – including religious factors, but other factors too – I steered clear of any involvement with that aspect of life.

Something I long failed to realise, though: Wheatley (a prolific author) was a canny fellow, and after first making his name with his occult-type stuff, was aware that for various reasons, many people dislike and avoid that kind of fiction. He therefore increased his sales by writing many thrillers about wartime, and diplomatic / political, “mayhem”, at various times in history, which were fully “this-worldly” and didn’t involve anything occult-or-diabolic. (Plus a certain amount of crossover between his “spooky” and “non-spooky” milieux.) Later than I would have done, had I been more on-the-ball here; I discovered his non-spooky novels, and read many of them with considerable enjoyment. It would be hard to call them great literature; but I found them on the whole, fine eventful yarns.

I did in the end, try a couple of Wheatley’s novels dealing with the occult; but they signally failed to tick my boxes – they managed the feat of simultaneously creeping me out and boring me.

If I was an author I wouldn’t give a damn who read my books, as long as they PAID for them! I’d like to write good stuff of course, but “target audiences” wouldn’t be my goal, just getting someone to open them would. Franzen sounds like a snob.

Read the Claudius books! Heck, if you can’t find them I’ll send them to you as I have both paper and hardback. They are worth the read, IMNSHO.

I won’t read most Oprah picks because I read A Fine Balanceand it made me want to slit my wrists. Granted, that’s the reaction I have to most Indian literature not written by Salman Rushdie.

ETA: vontsira, you must read the Claudius books, if only for the part where a pear tree is tried, condemned, and executed for murder.

A friend of mine recommended the Temeraire series to me, and I bought the first of the novels. I’ve never read it, after I found out about her involvement with the Organisation of Transformative Works.

What is that and what is her involvement?

She’s a member of the board for a pro-fanfiction organisation. That part I don’t have a problem with. Unless they’ve changed since then, what I dislike about the OTW is that they think they speak for the community as a whole, while acting like it’s an exclusively female group, and their support of “real person fic” - a euphemism for writing and distributing gay porn about celebrities without their consent.

Both – thanks. I do plan to read the books very soon (am sure Amazon will do the biz): idiotic to continue to eschew them because of the – discounted – words of a random jerk nearly half a century ago.

Re the bizarre legal proceedings – good grief ! So, what happened to the partridge :slight_smile: ?

My dad would often pick authors, actors or singers because of their ideologies.

Whenever I found out that a favorite of his had political leanings he wouldn’t have cared for, I was very careful not to mention it. I’m not talking about “likes to roast live puppies”, but things like being in favor of the introduction of divorce (something which Dad’s own sister-in-law was very much in need of at the time).

The partridge got off easy on a manslaughter charge.

According to the way my son sings it, the partridge is “in a pantry”, so there’s his alibi.

Count me among those who are slow to pick up something that has a big ‘O’ on it or seems overly hyped. I, too, was very late to the Harry Potter books and in fact only read them a year and a half ago when my daughter convinced me to. Loved them.

Eat, Pray, Love was another one I avoided forever. Once I finally read it for my book group, I couldn’t separate out my disdain for the hype (and envy, I suppose—no one’s paying me to go travel the world) from my genuine criticisms of the writing.