Writers should read the classics, the literary canon. Everyone has heard this advice before; I've even written a blog post on it. However, I don't think that means that all literary classics are created equal. Not every book is going to be a hit with every person. Frankly, there are some classic novels that I just cannot stand. This post is about a few of those classics I absolutely hate.
- The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
When I think of classic novels I hate, this one is near the top of my list. I had to read it for a college course and had to force myself to skim through it enough to get the gist of it, but I hated every second of it. Holden Caulfield is a whiny brat who seems to think it is cool to hate everything and be super cynical. He's the ultimate proto-hipster and I cannot stand him one bit. Add to that the fact that I do not like Salinger's writing style and you wind up with a book I barely got through.
- Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
This is another book I had to read for a college course and the experience was awful. Nabokov's writing is beautiful, I won't try to deny that, but reading a book from the perspective of a pedophile, Humbert Humbert, was enough to make my stomach twist. Then there was my professor, who insisted that the story is a love story and who liked to harp on how the story insists that Lolita is the sexual aggressor. The result of the experience is that I completely loathe this book. I will just say that this book disturbed me far more than any other book I have ever read. The book has many beautifully written passages, so if you can stomach the subject matter, you may enjoy it. I, however, cannot.
- The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
Not going to lie, I've never finished this book. I have tried to read it a few times and just cannot. Similar to The Catcher in the Rye, I cannot stand the main character. Howard Roark is a know-it-all egoist who is absolutely grating on the nerves. Put plainly, Roark is a complete asshole and Rand puts him on a pedestal for it and raises him up as an ideal man. Add to this the fact that Roark rapes one of the female characters and you can count me 10000% out for this book.
- The Stranger - Albert Camus
I had a teacher in high school who was very into existentialist literature and recommended that I give The Stranger a try. The book follows Meursault, a French Algerian who is indifferent about everything. His mother dies and he does not care, just smokes and drinks coffee instead. He shoots a man only described as "The Arab" on a beach and offers no explanation or excuse other than the fact that it is too hot and too bright. He is essentially a sociopath who feels no emotions about his own life or actions. Meursault is such a vacuum of a character that it was impossible for me to feel anything about him or connect with him in anyway. I hate this book and quit it about 2/3 of the way through.
These books are widely considered to be essential parts of the Western literary canon. I have given all of them the old college try, but just cannot get on board with them. That said, if you love these books, good for you. Austen is one of my favorite authors, but there are plenty who can't stand her, including Mark Twain, who once said that "... any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book." Just because I hate these books, doesn't mean that you can't like them. Equally, just because a book is a classic doesn't mean you have to like it. It also doesn't mean you can't be critical of it. So, what classic novels do you hate?