Terence's Reviews > My Antonia

My Antonia by Willa Cather
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's review
Dec 29, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: historical-fiction

Perhaps an example of the danger of reading something before being intellectually or critically able to handle it. I wasn't "forced" to read this in high school but it was on a list of books an English teacher asked us to choose from and report on.

The experience was so awful that I've never cracked another Cather novel since.

Added 12/29/08: Apparently I was not the only young man "traumatized" by an early experience with Cather. In a completely serendipitous convergence I came across this paragraph in Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure in the Willa Cather essay:

Willa Cather hated to see her fiction anthologized or used as a school text. She feared that instead of discovering her stories and novels on their own, children would grow up with unpleasant memories of being forced to read her work. Unfortunately, this has happened. My Antonia is a staple of high-school English classes, but seldom a favorite with students, especially teenage boys. (p. 254)
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 1983 – Finished Reading
December 29, 2008 – Shelved
December 29, 2008 – Shelved as: historical-fiction

Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Agreed.

I was forced to read Cather and regretted it at the time. My Antonia was the culprit.

Years later, for reasons I don't particularly know, I picked it up again and it was as though it were an entirely different book. I very much enjoyed it.

Readiness, life experience, timing, being in an open state of mind...is everything.

I think teachers try to share things that impacted them with their students, but they forget that the students aren't where they are/were at that time. And some districts require books on the notion that they are required for literacy. There is a point to be made there, but it sometimes backfires driving the student further from literature.

What would be perfect would be if a teacher evaluated not just reading level, but did an assessment of the individual student's receptiveness/interest and then proposed a course of reading that would be enriching and broadening, but which would have a better chance at being meaningful. Of course, this would be nearly impossible to manage in a class of 30 kids.

Terence Stephanie & Elizabeth,

Having finished Dirda's Classics for Pleasure, I am almost convinced to give her a second chance. Particularly since he does dwell on Death Comes for the Archbishop so interestingly.

But you're right about timing. I may be at that point in life where I can appreciate Cather.

Perhaps we'll see...

Alexis It's not just boys who resented reading this in high school. I had to read it in 9th grade, and it was an awful experience. (Although to be fair, my entire 9th grade English class was a terrible experience.) Thanks for posting the quote from Dirda. It's kind of enlightening.

Heather Rose Interesting, I'd never even heard of it before, the title was quoted in an Emmylou Harris song and I wanted to understand the reference. I've very much so enjoyed it and but then I relished Grapes of Wrath in high school too. I enjoy books about rural life in tome much harder than our own now. Even fiction at least makes those time period the reality they were in our minds instead of what assumed them to be.

Jennifer This was the first book I was required to read in high school at age 14. I have since touted it as one of the worst books of all time, and my friends and I make jokes about it eight years later. Someday I may try to read it again, but the first time around it was just awful.

Werner Interestingly, I read this in high school and loved it; it became one of my favorite novels (though so far I've never gotten around to reviewing it for Goodreads). Of course, I discovered it on my own instead of being forced to read it (and my reading tastes were probably atypical for my age group). I agree that forcing kids to read books they're not ready for is one of the worst teaching techniques possible, and one that creates all kinds of prejudices that turn people against reading.

Melissa I had the exact same experience. Chose it as my senior year summer reading book, and I fell asleep on every page. This book bored me so much, that I am yawning 6 years later just thinking about it. I will never try to read anything by Willa Cather again.

Huelo Maybe you should give it another try?

Terence Huelo wrote: "Maybe you should give it another try?"

You talking to Melissa or me? :-)

In either case, for me, I think you're right and I should make the time to do so.

Angela I understand. I feel the same way about Lord of the Flies. Its on so many "must read" lists, but I'm afraid once was enough in my case. I liked My Antonia.

Kevinfrodahl I don't think it would have been interesting no matter where you heard about it. It's a dreadfully boring book. Just because there are compelling themes about coming of age, that doesn't make it a good book. There is no story. Just because somebody wrote a flowery 200 pages about nothing happening in the middle of nowhere does not excuse the fact that it's a 200 page book in which pretty much nothing happens in the middle of nowhere.

Ellen I also tried to get into this when I was in high school (it wasn't required, but it was on some recommended list), and just...couldn't. But I'm really loving it now. Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye is another book that I hated in high school (that one was required) but loved when I tried it again. I think there's a lot to be said for being in the right frame of mind.

Richp I certainly understand having to read this book for school would do a lot to spoil it.

Also, I did not find it to be that much of a coming of age novel. It was more a historical novel of the white settling of the prairie and the European immigrants, refreshingly not set in New York City.

Laura Boyle I too had to "read" this book in high school. 20+ years and much life experience later, I rather enjoyed it.

message 15: by Ben (new) - rated it 1 star

Ben This book was one covered in my 9th grade English class, which only covered American Lit.. To my amazement, I found this even more mind numbing than The Great Gatsby, which until then had been my most loathed book.

I'll stick to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Homer, Huxley, Orwell, and leave boring & pointless anti-exposition alone.

Laura Boyle Ben wrote: "This book was one covered in my 9th grade English class, which only covered American Lit.. To my amazement, I found this even more mind numbing than The Great Gatsby, which until then had been my m..."

Not sure how removed you are from 9th grade - but I highly recommend revisiting 25 years later. It gets better as you gain more life experience. I put off re-reading it for years due to being turned off from high school forced reading..

message 17: by Ben (new) - rated it 1 star

Ben Laura wrote: "Ben wrote: "This book was one covered in my 9th grade English class, which only covered American Lit.. To my amazement, I found this even more mind numbing than The Great Gatsby, which until then h..."

23-24 years removed, and reading just 1 paragraph confirmed that I still find it aimless, tedious, and insipid. If I must read American lit., I'll stick to Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Pearl S Buck.

My 10th grade year was much better; in European lit we covered Huxley, Chaucer, Moore, etc. and I couldn't find a book I didn't like.

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