kelby-lake: I generally don't think much of these type of threads (shouldn't it be "worst" anyway?). It encourages people to bash books instead of trying to understand them. There's a difference between understanding why a book has become a "classic" yet not liking it personally, and shutting yourself off to a book that you may later enjoy. Some books need to be read more than once in order to appreciate them. Obviously some of the more pulpy fiction doesn't apply to the rule but classics are classics for a reason.
I absolutely agree. It seems rather immature thinking to assume that if we personally dislike something it must be bad. I will be the first to admit that I'm not overly fond of James Joyce. There are passages I greatly admire... but as a whole his work has never really clicked with me. Yet I understand that in spite of this Joyce may actually still be a great writer. There are more than a few authors I greatly admire who were profoundly inspired by Joyce, and there are more than a few well-read individuals who are deeply enamored of Joyce. To come out an declare that Joyce is a "bad" writer (let alone the "worst") or overrated seems rather like dismissing (if not insulting) the opinions of everyone but myself. Considering such, I largely agree with Kelby Lake that such threads... such discussions... seem rather useless and negative.
Okay, allowing for some variety in tastes and quirks, sometimes a book is just banal, inane and stupid. One such book is required in many high schools to blunt criticism that most reading focuses too much on Dead White European Males.
And that is the only reason I can speculate why such a clumsy, incompetent piece of nonsense like House on Mango Street is foisted on young readers.
There are a hundred ways a book can go wrong, and Sandra Cisneros managed to find 99 of them. It's a combination of e.e. cummings's disregard of punctuation, the hilarity of Yoko Ono, Julia "Sweet Singer of Michigan" Moore's march toward sobriety and Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.
It's not prose, exactly, so I tried to judge it by its poetic content, that is, the use of similes and metaphors and tightly-controlled imagery. Unfortunately, the imagery was clumsy and unclear: ugly like bare feet in September; prettier than a yellow taxicab; sunflowers big as flowers on Mars; laughter like tin; dusty hollyhocks thick and perfumy like the blue-blond hair of the dead; I closed my eyes like tight stars; they smelled like Kleenex or the inside of a satin handbag; weeds like so many squinty-eyed stars.
There's no accounting for such snobby rubbish or, as I call it, snubbish. It's the kind of trash that folks like Nikki Giovanni or Maya Angelou produce because they know nobody will call them on it. They're invincible, these darlings of diversity and textbook writers.
I once found a thick *** book with the intriguing title of The Shortest Book in the World. I opened it, and it was nothing but blank pages. I guess that was inarguably inane, but it was an alright gag I guess.
Last edited by JuniperWoolf; 05-07-2012 at 08:39 AM.
"Personal note: When I was a little kid my mother told me not to stare into the sun. So once when I was six, I did. At first the brightness was overwhelming, but I had seen that before. I kept looking, forcing myself not to blink, and then the brightness began to dissolve. My pupils shrunk to pinholes and everything came into focus and for a moment I understood. The doctors didn't know if my eyes would ever heal."
I'd say "Mrs Dalloway" ugh...
Without going into details about him, I'd say it was only his limitations (he is a strong moralizer and Wilde says a moralizing man is a hypocrite) that he could not enjoy reading Wilde. It is pity that one cannot enjoy reading Wilde.
D. H. Lawrence once said one of the defining traits of Modernist writing is that it is difficult to read. So it is, very difficult to read indeed. But it is the effort that one makes in reading modernist writings that opens up the mind to new worlds of reading, reading becomes more exciting that ever. I'd suggest start with Lawrence and also read commentary on modernist writings and modernism on the side.
I'm finding Mrs Dalloway difficult to read too. It is like eating food that slow that satisfying hunger no longer remains the purpose and all that remains is to savour the taste.
I agree that just saying a book is rubbish because I think that it is is a bit pointless, but on the other hand there are those who are somewhat precious about particular works - we can all be a bit like that - and it's good to appreciate a balance of views. The fact that a book is labelled a classic does not mean I or anyone is going to like it. The interestng thing is why some like a book and other not - perhaps for the selfsame reasons.
I truly dislike this. I can't imagine being forced to listen to more than a few seconds of it without losing my mind. But I can't fairly say that it is bad because I know virtually nothing of the art form in question. I cannot make a fair comparison or offer a logical explanation as to why it is "bad" or "good". To simply make declarations that this or that work of art is "bad" based solely upon personal opinion is rather like the half-literate teenager opining "Shakespeare sucks."
In no way am I suggesting that the "classics" are sacrosanct and beyond criticism... but if criticism is to have any value it must be constructed of more than personal likes and dislikes or comments that say more about the reader ("boring", "too long"...) than the book. No one can question me if I say I hate Chinese opera, Lima Beans, and "The Red Badge or Courage". Such is simply a statement of facts of my personal experience. But it is quite different if I declare, "Chinese Opera is pure noise; Lima Beans taste like sh**, and "The Red Badge of Courage" is one of the worst stories ever written." Now I am presenting personal opinions or experiences as if they were objective facts.
As Shelby_Lake suggested: "There's a difference between understanding why a book has become a "classic" yet not liking it personally, and shutting yourself off to a book that you may later enjoy." I would take this further and suggest that there's a difference between appreciating why a given book is considered a classic or even simply appreciating a given classic text... and actually liking it. I was in virtual disagreement with everything that Plato had to say in The Republic... I continually wrote scathing commentary in the margins... but I also recognize just why that book is so clearly a classic if only due to its ability to challenge and provoke our thinking several thousand years after it was written. But in no way would I say I enjoyed reading Plato.
Last edited by stlukesguild; 05-07-2012 at 11:42 PM.
I think the "you can't say it's bad, only that you personally don't like it" idea only holds up if you apply it to all forms of art, not just the classics.
That's simply because what is a classic is decided basically by opinion. I mean, it's not decided by some formula or scientific principle or something like that. So there's nothing real dividing classics from non-classics, so you have to extend the objectivity of criticism to all kinds of literature.
Of course it helps if the poster gives some reasons for disliking the work, and sometimes, when the reasons are outlandish or outrageous, they make for very entertaining posts. And there's a better chance of being taken seriously if your general literary standing is good. Nobody takes the high school kid who trashes Shakespeare seriously, but if Tolstoy says "Shakespeare sucks", everyone sits up and listens with interest.
Exit, pursued by a bear.
"You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views." -- Doctor Who