Monday, August 15, 2011

Great books that just isn’t all that great

Monday, August 15, 2011
Great books that just aren't all that great

Over at Slate, deputy books editor Juliet Lapidos is asking writers, books critics and editors to tell her their least favorite books from the great, canonical books. I found it quite interesting read and it made me think how probably we all, same as Juliet Lapidos with Thomas Hardy novels, sometimes find ourselves lost and frustrated after reading or attempting to read one of the universally acknowledged great novels.

For me one of such books is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. After finishing the book, I read countless critical essays, reviews and analysis and I still feel that either I’m missing something or this novel just wasn’t all that great. While reading Wuthering Heights, I really wished that its characters would be real, so I would be able personally physically hurt all of them.

For instance, my grandfather, almost the whole his life was trying to love Leo Tolstoy’s books. Sometime, when he was around sixty, he was attempting to reread War and Peace again to finally get a grip of its greatness. Instead, he ended up shutting up the book with laud bang and pronouncing that he always thought that Tolstoy’s works were dull and he will never loved it. Mind, my grandfather was a compulsive reader, not just your casual, five books a year, case. And even though I disagree with him about Tolstoy in particular (I happen to be one of these people who find his works truly great), I completely understand him, how sometimes, even if you will spend half of your life trying, you just cannot love or at least acknowledge the greatness of one of the canonical books.

On the other hand, I always believed, same as Elif Batuman (one of the writes that is answering Juliet Lapidos question in the article) that the right book has to reach you at the right time. My mother, as it seems was always obsessed with this idea, handing out books to me with a phrase: “You will enjoy this book, considering your current age and state of mind.” And I must say that she posses a particular talent in this area, because almost all books she gave me became my favorites. Unfortunately, we don’t always have such a great advisers who know us and literature good enough to make a right suggestion. We grow up and starting to choose books ourselves. Some turning out to be a great misses, sometimes so great, it leaves a scar that might not heal until the rest of our lives.

Some books are imposed on us, imposed at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons. I’m talking about required reading in school. I have a number of books that were forced upon me at school that I still hate with all my might. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a good example. It was a required reading when I was in 10th grade. I was barely able to finish it, sick and tired of whiney Raskolnikov. After that experience, not only I loathed Crime and Punishment, I hated Dostoyevsky, even though I haven’t read any other his works. It took me sometime and only this year I found enough bravery in myself to try something else by Dostoyevsky. To my greatest astonishment I loved Idiot and Notes from Underground. However, I still feel not ready to give Crime and Punishment another try, so it still stays on my list of the great books that just isn’t that great.

Also, we have to keep in mind that we are all different. We have different interests, different life experience, we come from different cultural, social, financial and educational backgrounds, so it is a silly idea that every so-called great book should speak to every individual that reads it. We have our preferences in stories, writing styles and characters. For instance, Edgar Allen Poe’s writing is superb, in my opinion; however, his stories never really made much sense to me (The Fall of the House of Usher – honestly, why didn’t he let his beloved sister out the moment he realized that she was buried alive). Sometimes I might like the story (The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne), but not able to stand the writing style (how she talks to her daughter, frankly, I don’t think that anyone, in any century ever talked to children in such a pompous, overly dramatic, histrionic manner). Sometimes it is very hard for a reader to overcome prejudice and get out of the comfort zone, but it doesn’t mean that we should never try.

So, what is your list of great books that just aren't all that great?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The best 100 opening lines from books

Tuesday, August 9, 2011
The best 100 opening lines from books by Stylist

The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolfe “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.”

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.”

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville “Call me Ishmael.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams "Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun."

The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon “It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Its eyes were closed.”

The Time Travellers Wife, Audrey Niffenegger “Clare: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkein “When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventyifirst birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."

The Color Purple, Alice Walker “You better not never tell nobody but God.''

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Bridget Jonses’ Diary, Helen Fielding "I will not drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week."

A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolfe "But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction."
And the rest of it.