Last week, we talked about books we enjoyed reading in school. Now, we’re going to talk about those that we didn’t like. For many people, reading books in school was far from fun. We had to interpret the books in ways that we never imagined, and it just made it less enjoyable.
You know you’re asking me to remember something I probably stuffed into a mental trash can almost forty years ago, right? There were a couple we started on, that I couldn’t even get through the first chapter without my eyes bleeding. They were long, winding, literary classics of some kind, and I was bored to tears from the opening lines.
I don’t really remember, to be honest. I didn’t get on well at school and couldn’t wait to leave. At home I was always pinching my mum’s books from the shelves — mostly because I was told I was too young to read them — but they were a mixture of horror or icky romance. I remember I never got around to finishing Stephen King’s IT as she found it under my pillow and banished it to wherever (I never saw it again — even now!). Didn’t matter; it was rather over my head at the time anyway. My literary influences definitely came from my mum reading all the time and not much to do with school.
The Grapes of Wrath. It was my worst nightmare. Four hundred pages of sadness and depression and dusty roads and hungry children and hard-to-read dialogue. The end was also super sad. So yeah. Not my cup of tea.
My first thought was anything by Shakespeare. But that was me when I was a teenager. Now, as well as then, I’d have to say “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Mainly because we went so far into it that I got sick of it.
It’s been a while since high school, so any book I really hated has long since been washed from my mind. I’ve been diligent at trying to add every book I’ve ever read into my Goodreads account, and the lowest star-rating on my Classics list is a 3…so not bad, just not my cup of tea. I was basically an English class nerd my whole HS career though, and there really haven’t been many books I hate; I think I’ve always gleaned at least a bit of insight or style from them, so the experience was always educational if nothing else. I guess if I had to pick one from my 3-star list, it would be The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, just because….ehhhhh.
I didn’t like pretty much any assigned reading. Moby Dick, A Separate Peace, anything Shakespeare… Not that they were bad books, but picking them apart to tiny analytical points made the entire reading experience miserable. Even thirty years later, I still get a twinge even thinking of A Separate Peace.
This wasn’t for school, specifically, but one of my teachers once suggested that I read “Little Women“, and she even loaned me her copy. She knew I loved reading (at this point in my life I’d devoured most of our local library), and she really thought I’d enjoy it. However, I ended up hating it. I didn’t even get through the whole thing because I found it quite possibly the most boring thing I’d ever read. Maybe now-a-days it would appeal to me a little more (though I doubt it), but at the time I just couldn’t handle a story that seemed to be about the everyday mundane life of a pack of sisters.
Most memorably, I hated GRAPES OF WRATH when we were required to read it for class. I started/stopped it several times with great drama, convinced that it was useless and irrelevant. We were required to read a chapter and then write a brief summary of the chapter for homework (to show that we actually read it), and I took to writing my own versions of the story instead of actually reading and summarizing it, as assigned. (Incidentally, I got lots of great comments from Mrs. Lasky on my version of events, which unfolded like a cross between THE ROAD, MAD MAX and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but she graded them appropriately as Fs).
And then, after all that, I finally read it before taking the final exam and realized that it was actually pretty good.
I don’t recall disliking a book. There were, of course, some I didn’t understand too well (Shakespeare, The Iliad, etc… come to think of it, I have a hard time understanding them 20 years later).
Edith Wharton’s Summer. This is mostly fueled by my dislike of the protagonist Charity, but when reading it I had the impression that there was no meaningful conflict in the story. The reality is, there is certainly conflict but it doesn’t age well a century later because our social mores are so different.
Cold River was possibly the worst of several that were all too similar; there’s just nothing interesting to me about small groups of characters (or even worse, lone characters) being completely alone in mundane wilderness settings.
Lord of the Flies.
Maybe I don’t remember the bad books very much, but there were a couple that bored me. The first is The Wars by Timothy Findley. It’s an award-winning Canadian novel, but I wasn’t particularly interested in a novel about World War I, sadness, and mourning. The other one I didn’t find very engaging was the coming of age novel Who Has Seen the Wind by Canadian author W. O. Mitchell. Is it bad that the two I didn’t like are Canadian? Now I feel bad about it.
How about you?
Thinking back to school, which books that you read for English class did you not like? Let us know in the comments below.