Books I Loathed discussion

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Terrible books you had to read for school

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message 1: by Rachael (last edited May 13, 2009 02:44PM) (new)

Rachael (rprensner) | 7 comments I'll be honest, not all the books I've had to read for lit. class have been bad. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Quo Vadis, Great Expectations, Ivanhoe, My Antonia, The Great Gatsby are all required reads that I've enjoyed...
But then there are the books that it seems nobody in their right mind could enjoy except for some small elitist group somewhere who rewards dryness and pretension. The Scarlet Letter, anyone? (Did anyone notice Hawthorne compares everything to two things? "Her poignant guilt was like a blazing flame, burning out within her, or a raging river overflowing its banks..." That was me imitating Hawthorne on the fly, not Hawthorne himself.) The Illiad? (I didn't need 600 pages of battle scenes and ridiculous meatheaded declarations.) Heart of Darkness? (Like I need to read something to get me depressed.) I could go on for pages complaining about each one. I'm not someone who can't stomach a dense read. I've read Austen and Bronte on my own. But sometimes the treasure isn't worth the journey...or even starting the journey at all.


Heidi (heidithebee) I couldn't stand The Great Gatsby. I just hated the characters and how selfish they were. It was absolutely aggravating.

I wasn't a fan of The Scarlet Letter as well. I really hate when we take literature and tear it apart and look for the meaning and symbolism. If the author didn't leave a note saying "this is symbolic of..." then I'm not sure how we can say it is symbolic. I don't mind doing light analysis, but when we start assuming meaning there's a problem. I think Tolkien's rant about allegory in books is spot on.


Sandi (Sandikal) My college nemesis was The Sun Also Rises. I just hated the macho BS that book contained. I think Hemingway was highly over-rated.


Tom (TommyRo) Ironic but I think that all 4 books you've mentioned are among my all-time favorites. In fact, they are among the few books I've read twice - once in school and the second time for pure pleasure. Maybe the fault is not with the books but, have you considered the possibility, you had lousy teachers who didn't know how to teach a great book? Sometimes I think that education ruins learning.


Erica | 66 comments My daughters both say nothing ruins a book like having to pick it apart for eons in public high school. That said, one of them did "Lord of the Flies" in 9th grade and adored both the book and the analysis.

I rather liked "Heart of Darkness," but I didn't read it until I wanted to.


Judy (Judy5cents) | 26 comments I had to read "The Scarlet Letter" in eighth grade and hated it. I don't know how Hawthorne and my eight grade English teacher did it, but they managed to take something exciting like sex (that was what it was about, right?) and make it really, really boring. Mostly I remember long passates on guilt and hypocrisy and this passage about the children in Salem tormenting little Pearl:

"Behold, there is the Scarlet Letter, and there is the image of the Scarlet Letter tripping along besider. Come let us therefore verily fling mud upon them!"

I am so sure sixteenth century children talked like that.


Tom (TommyRo) I'm pretty sure they did speak like that. In 200 years, all of us will be mocked terribly and judged as simple-minded morons because we all talk in twitter with lol and :-). I do not speak email orally or verbally but that particular form of illiteracy will define our age.

The Scarlet Letter is about religious and society's hypocracy, love turning to hatred for what you hate yourself for loving, and most of all guilt. The more Hester withstands everyone's scorn, the more she keeps the secret of who wronged her, the guiltier her persecutor feels and that just enrages him more. This story has been told over and over again in so many iterations that it is now part of our culture.

Today, what happened to Hester is in the criminal code and it's called harassment or stalking.


Rachael (rprensner) | 7 comments You are so right, Judy, about the dialogue. Completely ridiculous...though very enjoyable to ruthlessly ridicule.



Ari Half Angel (arihalfangel) | 3 comments Heidi wrote: "I couldn't stand The Great Gatsby. I just hated the characters and how selfish they were. It was absolutely aggravating.

I thought this book was excellent. The selfishness expressed in it is reflective of reality, not of the superior people we expect to find in stories. I read this twice after I had to, then went out and bought it.


Judy (Judy5cents) | 26 comments I enjoyed the "Great Gatsby", believing it beautifully written and sad, but I read it when I was in college in a course that I'd elected to take. I'm sure Tom's opinions of "The Scarlett Letter" are valid and insightful, and I'm perceiving the book through my junior high school angst, resentful of being forced to read this relic in the first place. And I'm sure the reception for the book has not improved. Which makes me wonder if appreciating literature is the goal of teaching, then we're failing miserably.


Tom (TommyRo) I agree completely. Maybe we should do a group discussion not on terrible books you had to read in school but books that were ruined in school and, more important, books that shouldn't be taught in high school and maybe not even in college because the book and the author could be ruined for life. Personally, aside from Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare should not be taught in HS.


Heather (creaturefromthesea) | 62 comments I remember the main books I hated were Cry, the Beloved Country, The Westing Game, and Nickel and Dime. Coincidentally, the same teacher assigned all these books.

I must have lucked out in high school, Tom, because I had two teachers who taught Hamlet and Macbeth phenominally.


Rachael (rprensner) | 7 comments Tom I'd be interested in hearing your reasoning for not teaching Shakespeare in HS. I read Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth in HS and also in HS acted in Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night. I really enjoyed all these and I think I was able to appreciate them at some level, as I had good teachers (and directors) for all. My main quarrel with teaching Shakespeare is that his work was all meant to be performed, so reading it really isn't the way it was meant to be experienced. I think something could be said for watching a good movie version in class along with reading the book.


Tom (TommyRo) I agree with your points about Shakespeare being performed and viewed instead of dryly studied. Obviously, you were ready to read Shakespeare and were blessed to have teachers who knew how to teach, either in class or on stage. But I've met too many people who hate Shakespeare, or can't appreciate him, because his plays were forced down their throats when they weren't ready and all they did was learn to resent his work. Perhaps we should make Shakespeare elective for those students who are ready for him or at least neutrally open minded.


Heather (creaturefromthesea) | 62 comments Good idea. I know several students who weren't ready to study him in college let alone high school. When I was going to high school there was a special class for seniors where you could study all of Shakespeare's plays. I regret not taking it to some degree.


Manuel | 19 comments In high school, I loved Shakespeare, I endured Billy Bud, I tolerated The Scarlet Letter.....

but I absolutely detested and loathed "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. Such mindless dribble about teenaged angst . I was glad when Phineas died!!!!! no more whining!!!!


message 17: by Judy (last edited May 15, 2009 01:28PM) (new)

Judy (Judy5cents) | 26 comments I agree with Blayre's comment that Shakespeare is best when it's performed as opposed to reading it out loud in class, or worse yet, reading it for homework. When I was 12, one of the television networks broadcast "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" and I loved it. Fortunately, that happened before we had to read "Julius Caesar" in ninth grade, so I still managed to keep an open mindabout Shakespeare


Tom (TommyRo) Manuel wrote: "In high school, I loved Shakespeare, I endured Billy Bud, I tolerated The Scarlet Letter.....

but I absolutely detested and loathed "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. Such mindless dribble about ..."


Whew. Glad I never read A Separate Peace. Now I don't have to.



Tom (TommyRo) I think JK Rowling should be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature because millions of pre-teens and teens learned to love reading who might never have opened a book. She has done more to preserve books than anyone else.

Maybe schools should teach students the habit of reading - and how to enjoy it - first and then teach them literature. What you should get out of HS is not why Jay Gatsby had a thing for Daisy Buchanan, but to learn the life-long habit of reading. Hopefully, the reading habit survives HS and college despite what sometimes seems as the best efforts by teachers to snuff it out.

One of the great things about goodreads I'm finding out is the number of people under 30 who read a lot. They make up for some people I've met who brag they have never read a book since school - and only did the cliffnotes then anyway. Now that's a life not worth living.


Heather (creaturefromthesea) | 62 comments Oh, I just remembered a few others I despised. Dear Mr. Henshaw and Strider were ones I had to read in 5th grade and despised.


Tom (TommyRo) I don't know how old you are, Heather, but that must have been traumatic for you to still remember.


Heather (creaturefromthesea) | 62 comments I'm still in college, if that gives you any idea.


Allison "Happy Days" by Samuel Beckett. I had to read it in college and though it was really short, I loathed every page. Some people may enjoy watching/reading a play about a couple that are stuck in a pile of dirt, but I am not one of them.


Mindi | 2 comments I hated Great Gatsby with a passion. Stupid, self-absorbed people. I had a wonderful teacher, who dissected every sentence and feeling in a book. I hated the books he assigned, but I loved his class. Never ever read another F. Scott Fitzgerald book. Never will either.


Gisela (chicadorlando) I liked the Great Gatsby and most of Shakespeare's comedies, Hamlet and Othello. Not King Lear though.


Emily  O (ReadingWhileFemale) | 76 comments I could stand the Scarlet letter, mostly because we had some cool discussions about it. I liked the Great Gatsby, partially for the same reason. The book I hated was A Separate Peace. I swear, reading that book was torture, and then my teacher made up all this stupid symbolism that really wasn't there. The Scarlet Letter had symbolism, as did The Great Gatsby, but what she said for A Separate peace was just bullshit. "The stairs represented the structured world..." Are you serious? No. It was a boring book about someone who pushes his very nice friend out of a tree and feels terrible about it for the rest of his life. The end. (That isn't a spoiler, it happens in the beginning of the book.)

Grr.

Also, I hated Siddhartha. I loved the writing style and I really wanted to like the book, but the ending was terrible. Maybe because I was expecting it to mean something. How silly of me.



Manuel | 19 comments Emily,
I thought I was the only one who hated that trivial mind numbing book.
If I had one week to live, I would read "A Separate Peace"; it would make each day an eternity.



Mindi | 2 comments Manuel wrote: "Emily,
I thought I was the only one who hated that trivial mind numbing book.
If I had one week to live, I would read "A Separate Peace"; it would make each day an eternity.
"


Well, that's one way to deal with it! lol! I never thought of it that way.




Emily  O (ReadingWhileFemale) | 76 comments Manuel wrote: "Emily,
I thought I was the only one who hated that trivial mind numbing book.
If I had one week to live, I would read "A Separate Peace"; it would make each day an eternity.
"


Wow. I think that was the best thing I've heard all day.



Erica | 66 comments Mr Knowles would be so proud!


Peter | 10 comments I've always been a slow reader, so in school I would usually read the first 3 chapters, then it would be the day before the test, so I'd read the last chapter the night before.

Since then (and since getting a degree in Literature!) I've read "for real" a lot of what I only skimmed before, and enjoyed much of it. I was especially impressed with "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn."

It pains me to say it, but maybe in junior high or high school, kids should start on YA Fantasy, trash romance, and airport novels, like "Harry Potter," "Twilight," Tom Clancy, and John Grisham, just to get in the habit of reading. The stories are clear, the language is familiar, and the prose, while un-inventive, follows all the rules. Then the kids could work backwards from there.


Erica | 66 comments You'd get less whinging from the kids, but more from That Sort of Parent.


Emily  O (ReadingWhileFemale) | 76 comments True. Maybe they should mix it more. You know, mix classics and fun reading. That would be great. I worry so much about English classes killing people's love of reading before they ever find it, you know? I feel like, if they managed to make lit classes more fun for those people who don't already enjoy reading, then eventually they would learn to enjoy it.


Gail Well, I dunno. I think Peter and Emily have a good idea here that could be developed into a more appealing curriculum, giving the students some exposure to the "greats" while showing them that reading needn't be a chore, but actually can be enjoyable.

OTOH, nothing can replace the inspired teacher. One of my favorite memories is of (high school) senior English, with the teacher leaping to the top of his desk to demonstrate Ahab's, er, passion. Great, great class and a truly marvelous educator.


Sandi (Sandikal) Gail, you make a good point. I think a teacher who has real insight and passion can make even the most terrible books interesting. Most of the books we're talking about in this thread were read in high school. In high school (and college), group discussion makes all the difference. A good teacher will ask the class the right questions to generate discussion. It's that discussion that prevents a knee-jerk hatred of an assigned book.


Emily  O (ReadingWhileFemale) | 76 comments Agreed. I loved The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, not because I really enjoyed reading them, but because I loved the discussion we had in class (or rather, the discussion I had with my teacher and the two other people that cared.) It was great, and she really knew how to make it interesting. Even the worst books can be made good with the right approach.


Toni berkshire (starcookiecomcastnet) | 32 comments It was a bit tedious, but overall, I enjoyed Silas Marner and The Scarlet Letter. Dislike anything by Hemingway. Nice to have choices.


message 38: by Marilynn (last edited Jun 24, 2009 10:51AM) (new)

Marilynn (Marilynnv) | 13 comments Geoffrey wrote: "Silas-effing-Marner.

Re: Silas Marner
I certainly agree with Geoffrey ~ after having to read books like this in school, it's amazing that some students aren't turned off permanently to reading.



Amanda | 2 comments One of my most memorable hated high school books was The picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. Cruel and unusual punishment for teenagers.


message 40: by Jo (new)

Jo (jowearsoldcoats) I really hated 'Spies' by Michael Frayn. And it obviously hated me as I failed the exam.

Twice.



message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh Heather, I loved The Westing Game.

I had to read Of Mice and Men my sophomore year of high school and I hated, hated, hated it. I went on to get an English degree in college, but I've managed to never again read anything else by Steinbeck.


Jean Marie Davis (Thundercat22) Tom wrote: "Manuel wrote: "In high school, I loved Shakespeare, I endured Billy Bud, I tolerated The Scarlet Letter.....

but I absolutely detested and loathed "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. Such mindle..."


don't listen to him, Tom. A Separate Peace was fantastic. Of course I read it in middle school so the angst made sense. But come on! I loved it.. but I love angsty books about prep schools... A Separate Peace, The Chocolate War etc.




message 43: by Heather (last edited Jun 30, 2009 09:50AM) (new)

Heather (creaturefromthesea) | 62 comments Kristen, the reason I hated The Westing Game so was that I read it in my freshman year of high school, when my comprehension levels were that of someone in their first year of college. I had gone from reading Toward Zero, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Terra Nova in middle school to reading books for ten year olds. Had I read The Westing Game about ten years before ninth grade, I probably would have enjoyed it.


Dianna | 4 comments moby dick. god i thought it would never end.


Emily  O (ReadingWhileFemale) | 76 comments Oh gosh, and All Quiet on the Western Front. That was bad.


message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, Heather. That seems really late to be reading The Westing Game in class. Even if much of the class a(not including you, obviously) had low comprehension level, that book just seems too young in topic for that age level.


Peter | 10 comments My theory why many young readers resent Hemingway (and readers who haven't read Hemingway since they were younger) is that they learn from their literature and writing classes that "good" writing is supposed to be big words, long sentences, and fancy prepositional phrases. Youth is the time for learning rules and youth is the time for trying to appear grown-up. To appear grown-up is to use big words.

Then comes along this Hemingway guy who gets the job done with short sentences, a small vocabulary, a disdain for adjectives and adverbs, and who doesn't bother naming all his characters. When we're young, we say "he broke the rules ergo he's bad!" not "to what purpose did he break the rules?" Hemingway once said "story is what you have left when you throw out all the fancy writing," or something like that.

You can see this prejudice in action if you read prose from many young aspiring authors online. Plenty of them try to be the next JRR Tolkien and think fiction is when you show off how many big words you know and how to use a thesaurus. They end up with a narrative voice that is nothing like their own and cannot be sustained for very long, because they fear actually speaking in their real voice using their daily vocabulary will make them appear childish, when the opposite is usually true.

It helps that Hemingway is good at aligning style and subject matter. The phrase "he ate the fish and it was good" fits the old man from "The Old Man and the Sea" because the old man sees the world in clear, nearly-binary rules: you fish, because you are a man, and you either catch it and live, or it gets away and you die, because your best efforts were not enough, but as long as you try, you have no regrets.

Jane Austen uses 20x words to do the job because her characters do not live in a world that encourages clarity.


message 48: by A.J. (last edited Jul 02, 2009 08:55PM) (new)

A.J. (lyrajf716) | 1 comments Manuel wrote: "Emily,
I thought I was the only one who hated that trivial mind numbing book.
If I had one week to live, I would read "A Separate Peace"; it would make each day an eternity."

Brilliant! I too loathed "A Separate Peace" only a little less than I hated another book, which the same high school sophomore English teacher assigned: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. That book was sooooo slooowww.
Also King Leopold's Ghost. Differnt teacher, and for my World History AP class. The ONLY bad part of the class.


message 49: by Petra (last edited Jul 06, 2009 09:57AM) (new)

Petra I read Silas Marner by choice and loved it! I also read some of the other books here on my own (Great Gatsby, Siddhartha) and enjoyed them.

The two that put me to sleep were: Ivanhoe and Madame Bovary. I remember trying to read the first page of Ivanhoe probably 10 times. It was SO boring and I kept daydreaming and realizing my brain was reading the words but I wasn't taking any of it in. A year later, we read Madame Bovary. My 11th grade teacher tried to make it sound like this great classic but at one point, I remember asking, "Isn't she kind of a slut?" It's about a woman in the 18th or 19th century leaving her husband and sleeping with 3 different guys. I know now that's not such a big deal but I thought back then that was looked down on. There was nothing about it that screamed classic to me.


Sarah (sarahazhar) | 4 comments We had to read My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrel and in 8th grade although everybody else loved it, I detested it and still do.


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Sun Also Rises (other topics)
The Westing Game (other topics)
Cry, the Beloved Country (other topics)
Nickel and Dime (other topics)
To Kill a Mockingbird (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

William Faulkner (other topics)
Upton Sinclair (other topics)