Wednesday, June 25, 2008


The Times (UK) recently asked critics to write about their "most-loathed books." I tend to like features like this, because anger is often funny. For instance, even if I loved The Awkward Age by Henry James (I haven't read it yet, but this won't keep me from dipping in some day), I would laugh at this take on it by Bryan Appleyard:
This late (1899) book marks the beginning of the end for James, and persuaded me that he was never that good. FR Leavis called it "one of James's major achievements." Leavis was mad. I tried to make myself read it, my mouth gaping in a silent scream, but I failed. I wanted all the characters to die, slowly and in terrible agony. It would be the first interesting thing that had happened to them.
Ian Rankin mentions The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and wonders, "How can a book be harrowing and pedestrian at the same time?" I've wondered the same thing myself.

I found the Times piece through The Elegant Variation, where Mark Sarvas asked: "what is it with all this 'Books we hate' nonsense?" I'm all for it. It seems a day doesn't pass when there isn't a new book on the tables at B&N with a subtitle like 75 Writers on the Books They Love or 5,005 Books to Read Before You Die. I don't know about you, but I'm not immortal. It would be nice to occasionally focus on narrowing the list, rather than expanding it.

Norm Geras makes the point that some dismissals are less worthy than others. Fair enough. But that doesn't mean dismissals are inherently less compelling -- or less honest -- than raves.

Along these lines, a friend and I had a conversation about a "modern classic" that we both detest. Part one is here. Part two is here. (A long-planned third part may be on its way...)


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