21 April 2009

Books I like you too much to let you read, no matter who you are

I always like reading people's lists of read or recommended books. They remind me of all the books I've been meaning to read and keep forgetting. I also like reading that someone likes a book I like. Makes me feel like we're friends. But there are lots of lists like that out there, so I'll try to return the favor by saving you the pain of reading the following books.

1. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. Great reading for the hyper-irritable college freshman who considers himself a precocious misanthropist, kwim?

2. The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. I had to read this for a class called Modern Novel, which pretty much explains why it stinks. Now that I think about that class, let's add everything by DH Lawrence and Kate Chopin to our list too.

3. The Red Tent by Anita somebody. Plot summary: 1994 women's studies graduate class is transported in time to the Ancient Near East and and hegemonically imposes insipid feminist (but I repeat myself) principles, hilariously considered intellectual by those who practice them, on a venerable culture. I have to admit it was kind of fascinating to observe how the Scriptural texts on which this book is ostensibly based could be manipulated to convey meanings opposite those arrived at by the Church's hermeneutic. This book is what pastors are up against. The pseudo-theology is horrific, and somehow the writing is worse. (This came to me with the highest recommendation of a First Girl Ever To Learn Greek. After reading it, I was embarrassed for both of us.)

4. Stranger In a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I kept reading, thinking, but so many people say this is good! I had forgotten that so many people are idiots. The writing is terrible (this is the case with almost all sci-fi, to my great disappointment--I can make available a longer list of atrociously written sci-fi books for interested parties), and the concepts are only serviceable enough to get a sci-fi book published in 1961. Robert Heinlein is that creepy guy from high school who was always snapping his pencil lead while he filled whole notebooks with weird drawings and muttered to himself, and then was a total jerk to you when you tried to be nice to him. Turns out he was thinking about sex all the time, just like you thought. Maybe he'd have been civil to you if you were hot, or maybe he was just that weird. Anyway, here's the one thing you need to know from this book: if you hear someone say "I grok," he means, "I totally understand in an experiential and soul-touching way; moreover, I read Stranger In a Strange Land."

5. Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout. I picked this up because Pastor Lit is a subgenre I like. FAIL. This book is Gilead gone wrong, and apparently written to showcase how the author prepared to write a pastor lit book characterizing Christians as rotten hypocrites (zzzzzzzzzz. Tell us something we don't know) by reading some Bonhoeffer.

6. Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I tried this after reading The Name Of the Rose, recommended to me by Gauntlets and one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've ever had. F's P is misnamed and, as Gauntlets also knows, should actually be titled Umberto Eco Thinks He's Cool. This sprawling heap of undisciplined verbiage exists to prove that a lot more obscure pleonastic allusion can be bound into one volume than you ever imagined. It was exhausting to get through the whole thing just so I could say at the end, my mortal intellect withstood you, Umberto, but I wish I'd saved my money, which is pretty sad considering I got this book at the library.

Wow, this was really entertaining! :D If'n you'd like, get in on the fun and leave your unrecommended books in the comments or post a whole list at your place if you're a bloggin type.


Gauntlets said...

Good times, this.

1. Wuthering Heights
2. Tess of the D'Urbervilles (anything by Hardy, actually)
3. All Barbara Kingsolver, minus The Poisonwood Bible, maybe
4. The beloved Mitford series
5. The Inheritance cycle

I'll just stop myself now.

Reb. Mary said...

Gauntlets: Ha! In a recent PD James, one of her characters notes re: Hardy, "I find depressing his determination to make his characters suffer even when a little common sense on both his part and theirs could avoid it. Tess is one of the most irritating young women in Victorian fiction."

I'll echo on Eco: The Name of the Rose is a must-read; what's up with the rest? I tried his Baudolino a few years back, and it's oh, so very clever throughout, what with the self-conscious undermining of the text, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which narrative, truth, and history are shown for what they really are (not), the stuff of which semioticians' dreams are made... but as an engaging or even diverting work of literature, which I was hoping it would be, it was a non-starter for me, the whole slogging way through.

Rebekah said...

How embarrassing. I will admit to being a closet melodramatic tragedian in that I kinda liked Tess. Naming the baby Sorrow was really over the top, but if her big idea had been executed rather more cleverly it would have rocked. What can I say; I was born on a Wednesday.

But although I really did want to find out what kind of things might happen in the life of a person called Eustacia, I never could bring myself to find out. Notable since I obviously struggle to quit a book, even an awful one.

Reb. Mary said...

On the topic of admissions, I must add that there's a soft spot in my heart for some of those beloved Mitford episodes. Despise me if you will, but there it is.

I'd be remiss not to add my latest Drastically Unrecommended book: Don't try to go meet God at The Shack. Just don't. Because you won't; you can't. He's not there. But so that you know where to start with the people who are all agog, this is a must-read: http://www.challies.com/media/The_Shack.pdf Plot summary, plus a decidedly decent overview of why it's so heartily unrecommended.

Reb. Mary said...

Oh, and Melville, Billy Budd. *shaking off memories from "classics" in high school*

Reb. Mary said...

Gauntlets, I also feel compelled, as though by some tragic predestined force beyond my control, to some sort of strange affinity with Wuthering Heights...

Reb. Mary said...

Sorry people, I'm really done now. But how else am I supposed to entertain myself, between tossing the baby in the other room and seeing if I can get a comment typed before he comes raging back to me?

Gauntlets said...


I only hated Wuthering Heights because it momentarily revealed the blind, flesh eating dinosaur that lurks in the dark bottom of my soul. Though I was very glad to have read it once I hit the second (or third?) book in the Thursday Next series, which is really, really good. Silly, but good. (Fforde)

As for Tess, I tried to like her all the way up to the end, but her body flapping like a black flag on the horizon while Angel (for crying out loud!?!) and her sister bow in sorrowful reverence was a bit more than I could take. That book hit the wall more times than even the Book of Mormon (also unrecommended, unless you like a bad joke).

And as for Mitford, I can't hate you for liking it. :D I blame my wretched soul dinosaur, which eats such things before I get the chance to really think about them.

Gauntlets said...

Back to the Brontes: I credit Jane Eyre big time for helping me fall from Feminism. That book is great.

I haven't read anything by Anne. With all the chair time I have these days, I should perhaps give her a chance. (It would be so good of me.)

Rebekah said...

Would you believe I have a soft spot for Billy Budd?? :D No joke.

I like how we're the only ones who like this thread.

Karin said...

I've just been reading mostly books on the kids reading lists and I really hated "The Red Pony" which everyone in Junior High had to read and I found sort of pointless (or I am too stupid to figure out the point). I was very bored by "Babbit" and didn't even finish it. I got the point of it but didn't find it to be that fantastic. Those are my two stupid books so far this school year.

I like "Wuthering" and had a friends husband imply it was just an evil book. What did that imply about me???? Tried Tess but must have had something else to do and haven't finished it yet.

Karin said...

I forgot I did read the Mitford series after several closely spaced children in order to get my brain working again. I have to rebuild the brain from sleepless nights etc. from time to time.....

Reb. Mary said...

Hey, someone else finally joined in our strange musings :)

But--Billy Budd?!? Ok, I'm going to have to revisit him to be sure I'm not maligning unfairly. My memory on the matter is admittedly dim, and consists mostly of the melodramatic protest my friends and I staged as sophomores. So...

Cheryl said...

"I like how we're the only ones who like this thread."

Au contraire--J'adore ce thread! You three are just too quick for the rest of us--you've got a good 10 witty comments up before I can kick my brain into gear to try to come up with one. And then it pales by comparison. Can I blame it on pre-menopause? I only have three children running around and two of them are teenagers. I'm running out of excuses.

I am thinking about this here meme and contemplating putting my own list up on my blog, but considering my geriatric pace you three will have probably quipped your way through another nine or ten linguistic escapades by then. Maybe you'll circle back just to humor me?

(My word verification letters are "foolya." Are you trying to tell me something?)

Rebekah said...

My Billy Budd hangup is indicative of my desired career as a literary pathologist. May Billy Collins have mercy on my soul.

The Brontes and I never really hit it off, although I bear them no ill will--but I had no idea anyone thought dear Emily was evil!

Cheryl, you just post that when you're good and ready! I'll look forward to it. :D

Gauntlets said...

Oh, how desperately did I hate The Red Pony! I read it too young, maybe, but it left me in tears for days. I haven't any tears left; I blame all my sourness of heart on Jody.

Hence, I really liked East of Eden.

Gauntlets said...

I have to renege a bit, but just a bit . . . today, I finished Kingsolver's Homeland. She's knacky with a pencil, that one. She's also an agenda kneading sophist; but who's throwing stones?

Bethany said...

I'm coming to this one a little late, but I could not pass up an opportunity to bash my least favorite books!

Ditto on the Robert Heinlein. I generally like science fiction, but Stranger in a Strange Land did nothing but give me a stomach ache.

Some more least favorites: Anything by Henry James,
Middlemarch (I'm sorry, but I cannot abide George Eliot), The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The House of Seven Gables , and Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner make up my all-star list. Also, anything distopian really bugs me

It took me four tries to read Wuthering Heights. Three times that cheap paperback went flying across the room. On the fourth attempt, I actually enjoyed reading it more than flinging it.

Rebekah said...

Bethany! No George Eliot, huh? You'll have to expand on that for me sometime. ;)