There is a certain amount of pressure on people who call themselves writers or literary students / lovers, to read and love particular books. Sometimes though, the best thing to do for these masterpieces is to acknowledge their intelligence, appreciate it, but admit that you just personally didn’t like it.
When I left high school, I began a Writing and Editing degree at my first university. I had to sit through a really painful class on James Joyce’s Ulysses. From the very first lesson I knew the whole unit was doomed for failure. One of the first things the teacher announced was that he wasn’t even sure why he’d chosen this for study when he didn’t really like it let alone teaching it. He tolerated Joyce but spoke of him dryly and critically. His reluctance to teach it didn’t turn me off reading Ulysses however, because the moment anybody mentions that something is bad, hard or important I have to know why. I began the book.
Along side Ulysses we were asked to read Homer’s The Odyssey, which I loved. I could not, however, understand how the 2 stories were supposed to be connected. Was I daft? I felt it. We were also given a reader full of highly regarded professors analyses of the text. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Was I even dafter?
From the reader full of literary snobbery I learned a very valuable lesson: it is true intelligence when you can convey complicated thoughts in a simple way. Not the other way around. When things are written complicatedly purely for the sake of showing off (look mama, I learned a big word! It doesn’t really fit in this sentence but I thought people should know that I know it…) then there is no real complexity at all. Big words are nothing to be feared (a dictionary clears any confusion up), but they are to be abhorred if you use them only to make yourself feel superior.
The book itself was much worse than the reader, though. Yes Joyce, your idea of writing a novel from the perspective of a person’s stream of consciousness is cool – well done on giving it a shot – but your other ideas to baffle people and waffle on mean that it just doesn’t work well. I’ll leave the exclaiming over its brilliance to you, Ulysses fan, because I’m not interested in a shambolic attempt to annoy future scholars.
Not content with just annoying Joyce fans I decided to turn my attention to Dickens. Oh yeah, I just said Dickens. I was excited to read something by him, and I chose ‘Oliver Twist’ because when I was young I saw a play version at the theatre, and thought it was magical. Or was it magical because one of the actresses noticed me in the top ring leaning over the banister and winked at me? The short version is that I never finished Oliver Twist. I simply didn’t like how it was written. I disliked the style because it was written for a weekly slot in a newspaper as a series. Hence why every chapter ends with an exaggerated cliffhanger. There wasn’t a lot of story.
As poor as these deeds probably are to literature, I cannot pretend to like these stories or other greats (A Clockwork Orange – yes, great idea with the language, but I hated your characters and so didn’t enjoy reading you though I acknowledge the skill in writing hate-able characters. On the Road – could not get past the first pages.) simply for acceptance or credit. It boils down to preference, that personal taste we all have. I’d rather read a Ken Follet book than Dickens, but does this mean I’m not a true ‘reader’? Does this mean I’m not a true writer? I appreciate these books, but I don’t enjoy them. I enjoy other classics, but liking one doesn’t mean you have to like them all.
A book worm does not have to be a lover of all books, which is one of the most relieving things to realise about reading. You don’t actually have to finish anything you don’t want to. A book lover is simply someone who enjoys reading, and who will have the curiosity to try novels. I was curious, and that curiosity led to a dead end. That’s fine. As for being a true writer, of course I am! Writing is not strictly for the Joyce fans or the person who knows the most about the great authors. Writing is for those who have a story to tell, and who will keep going until they can tell it well. I will prove that by learning, practicing and trying as hard as I can to make my stories good, and not by pretending to love anything.
When you look at your life, and how you spend your time, why be worried about thinking you need to read something that will not make any difference to your path, family or life? Read what you enjoy. Read what challenges you. Read what opens your mind. Read what shows you new worlds. Read about history. Read about science. Read about romance. But for God’s sake, don’t read any fiction novel just because you think you should to attain some man-made level of ‘deep’ when it really just bores you. Appreciate the concepts and author’s hard work sure, but then shelve it and pick out something else. If you want to sit down with some chick-lit or cheesy thriller – do it!
Rules on what you should read are imaginary.