Hey there readers, In today’s newsletter I’m featuring a memorable line from Bruce Catton, a list of overrated classics (that I would love for you to add to!), and a few great links to peruse over the course of your week. Quote of the Week Though it was a worthwhile reading experience for me, I can’t say I enjoyed every page of Bruce Catton’s
Pride and Prejudice. I’ve slogged through it twice. I still don’t get the hype.
So the Count is my favorite book, so I can’t agree with you guys. You can just be wrong 🤣
As for overrated classics:
Catcher in the Rye.
Don Quixote (so right Jeremy!)
Anything by Dostoevsky (but I LOVE Tolstoy)
Strongly disagree about Monte Cristo. I read an unabridged version and then read an abridged version later on, and I was pretty surprised to discover that a very key scene at the end of the book had been removed from the abridged version (it's how the Count handles one of his three main enemies, and is a key piece of Edmond's arc in the story as he realizes that revenge is NOT the ultimate answer). The Count of Monte Cristo is absolutely epic, and I always recommend people to ONLY read the unabridged version. But of course, to each their own, and I just appreciate the opportunity to discuss awesome books! Thanks for this newsletter and encouragement to read great books!
So many bad opinions here. Huckleberry Finn is the great American novel. Still a work of genius. Not sure I can take anyone seriously with this view of that book!
Right there with you on Monte Cristo. Finished it earlier this year, and that ending was a big disappointment.
Catch-22. I kept feeling like Heller was trying to show off with big words when simpler words would have been a better choice.
Prepared to get some disagreements about the comments I'll get for my choice....
Finally read War and Peace, with help of Jeremy and the Big Read. I'm glad I read it, it has been on my "To Read" list for 20+ years. Although the parts about the actual characters were entertaining and often insightful, there was way too much philosophizing about Napoleon, war, etc.... He made his point about the futility of war and the lack of genius in Napoleon early but then just kept repeating it. I felt the 1200 pages could easily have been cut in half and still communicated his views. I don't recommend it to my book reading friends. Watch a movie version to get the storyline and move on to other books.
Lest I be deemed an overall Tolstoy critic....I thought Anna Karenina was an insightful and bold exploration of the misogyny that women faced (and still face) that was written at a time when few people and even fewer men were writing about it.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens I am reading it with a Patreon group (with Annie Jones of The Bookshelf in GA) and I don’t think anyone really likes it. We read The Count last year and I didn’t love it but I liked it far more than Bleak House. I am an avid reader but the list of classic I have enjoyed is pretty short…
Hemingway for me. Dislike everything from him I've read except a handful of short stories. I find his terse, showily "no-nonsense" writing style off-putting and strangely pretentious (despite attempting to project the opposite). Also: some of the most one-note female characters in all of classic literature. I also struggled with Huckleberry Finn, although it was less of a slog than Tom Sawyer (which, going in, I thought would be his fun one). Pudd'nhead Wilson is the only Twain novel that's ever engaged/interested me. I want to read his nonfiction someday, and see if that appeals more.
I find good English teachers can really unlock some of these less accessible classics. I probably would have rejected The Scarlett Letter if not for the wonderful English teacher I had in high school (although it's criminal to make students read that tedious, unnecessary Custom-House introduction), and I had a professor who really made Shakespeare's work come alive for us students.
I disagree about Don Quixote (at least part I), but I love that you're doing this and it's tempting me to go back and read Quixote with your criticism in mind. In any case, just wanted to say I enjoy your takes, and I'm sure I would enjoy them less if we agreed on everything;)
Well, we disagree. I personally would not suggest that someone read an abridged version, (unless perhaps it was an authorized abridgement, such as with The Gulag Archipelago). Otherwise I see an abridgement as a disservice to the author for the sake of indulging the shrinking attention span of modern readers.
I'd venture a guess that the condemnation of Huck Finn has more to do with it's incompatibility with modern views than anything else.
For me, The Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies.... All overrated.
I agree on the count which I read a few years ago. This was the first big read book I skipped. I just couldn’t put the time in to read it again. I’m looking forward to starting up again in November.
My least favorite classic is the Scarlet Letter. I think being forced to read it in high school when I had zero interest in it ruined it for me. Does anyone disagree and think I should give it another shot?
Of mice and men. Ugh.
Candide by Voltaire. No need to get an abridged version - just read the first chapter and you will understand the whole book. It's like the author hits you over the head with the same exact point over and over again. It's not even funny satire if it's that repetitive
I must be a bit alone in thinking that Dracula is deeply overrated as a book. Coppola's movie from the 90s was a terrific and surprisingly faithful adaptation of a bad book with a great story. I'm also surprised to not see Old Man and the Sea in the thread. I think it's a great read but I know it tends to be high on the list of "ugh" books.
I have taught Huck Finn for more than 20 years--because even though I am the Chancellor I can get outvoted. I struggle to find the redemption value. We start with child abuse and a run away. We move to making fun of religious tradition of the day, we paint a vaguely positive spin on how women and people of color are treated and we hero-worship a kid who performs larceny, fraud, and disrespect. Yes, it taught colloquialism maybe empathy for the underdog (dig deep) but does that justify all the fodder?