The Runt of the Literature

Ayyy, get it? It’s like ‘runt of the litter’, but books and the written word, so literature.
…I’ll see myself out.

Having recently written about my favorite standout works from amazing authors, I decided it was time to do the opposite.  That is, rudely single out my least favorite works by some of my best-beloved authors. Blasphemy.

I think my greatest hope, when I write about books, is that people will be inspired to feel like the classics are less remote.  It’s logical that, looking at the whole of the history of writing and authorship, you can find better pieces than were published in the past five or ten years.  For me personally, writing styles from longer ago are more pleasing than current writing (again, speaking very generally).  But I do think that we have a tendency to venerate classic literature kind of excessively.  Which makes people hesitant to read it and interact with it.  They’re just books like any other, and books are there for people to read and enjoy.  A book should never make you feel bad, and you should never feel ‘unworthy’ of a book or guilty for having a negative opinion about one.  It’s like trying on clothes.  If you try on something that doesn’t fit, it’s the clothing that doesn’t fit you, not you who doesn’t fit the clothing.

Okay, rant over.  Here’s a collection of books from my favorite authors who can by and large do no wrong.  And these are examples of the doing wrong (again, by me).  Books that I am perfectly content to not like.

Camino Real, Tennessee Williams
I’m a lover of Tennessee William’s poignant dramas, but then I got ahold of this sci-fi dystopian nonsense and was not here for it.  It involves a cast of existing literary characters in a series of dream-like sequences.

Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy
I’ve read the big and well known Hardy novels so I’ve begun branching in to his lesser known works.  This novel didn’t really capture me at all… maybe because it has none of the despair and tragedy that I love Hardy for best.

Edith Wharton’s Ghost Stories
It’s hard to reconcile these with my high opinion of Edith Wharton as an author.  They’re short and unsophisticated ghost stories that feel they could have been written by anyone.

Answered Prayers, Truman Capote
This was too vulgar for me.  I’m not a prude, but I did find myself too disgusted to keep going with it.  A lot of unsavory sexual topics handle with little finesse and a lot of crudity.

To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway
This was a great disappointment. I love the Bogie-Bacall film noir adaptation and had high hopes for the book it was based on.  One of the few examples of a movie being head and shoulders above the book.  The movie tames Hemingway’s worst habits and obsessions (drinking and arguing) and adds a lot more nuance and emotional movement (as well as an actual plot).

Lady Susan, Jane Austen
One of Jane Austen’s earliest works.  Given that everything she has written tends toward the guilty pleasure-superficial end of the spectrum, it’s not really the biggest surprise that this one rather tips the scale.  It’s so simple as to be kind of unbelievable, not so sharp as her other books, kind of flat and trite.

Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth, Tolkien
They lied to me. I thought these would actually be pieces of unfinished tales when really it’s just one of Tolkien’s descendants writing very dryly about Tolkien’s plans for potential stories.

A Book of Common Prayer, Joan Didion
I checked this one out recently and it just didn’t move me.  I’m still not quite sure why.  It’s not because it isn’t nonfiction, because while Joan Didion write excellent nonfiction, I also deeply loved Play It As It Lays.  Who knows?

The Skeptical Romancer, W. Somerset Maugham
However I do think genre is the reason I don’t relate to this one. Maugham’s novels are for the most part good and incisively written.  This nonfiction travelogue is dry and kind of imperialist. Hard to get into in this day and age.

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