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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Grossly overrated books. (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Grossly overrated books.
Vyrus
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We've had 2009 Book Lists...Favorite Book lists...let's have an overrated book list.

Prettymuch, whatever is widely considered a very influential, beautiful, thought-evoking [or provoking, be that the case] sort of book, but in your opinion was actually drivel.

Let's cut out the obvious, such as young-adult fiction like Twilight, and go for less obvious ones.

I want to hear reasons why-I thought it could be really fun and interesting to hear people's opinions and dissections.

I'll start:

1984-The characters are hardly believable-the lead female, Julia, is a horrible character with few redeeming traits, and I couldn't possibly see why I should have sympathy for this sort of woman. It was hardly enough to keep me interested. From what people I knew said about it, it was supposed to be a mind-altering, life-changing piece of dystopian fiction. It was nothing of the sort, and there were many flaws that I couldn't get over.

For instance, I couldn't understand how the Oceania could get away with their slogans-"War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength", etc. You think people would be intelligent enough to know that this flagrant showcasing of the hypocrisy was not acceptable. I refuse to believe people could be that stupid, even in the world he created. The rest of the propoganda was handled brilliantly, just these few points.

As I Lay Dying-Faulkner's labyrinthine prose just did not match the overly-simplistic mindsets of the characters. If you're an uneducated corn-pone country family, you should speak as such. The book itself is good, and he does stay true to the characters in parts, but overall it was just too much for me to connect to.

I Will Fear No Evil-Heinlein is one of my favorite writers. I love his ideas, love his style of writing, but the only thing I really hated about this book was how, like the other two, the characters were completely irredeemable and unrelatable. The execution of Joan was something to be laughed at. The world in which the book takes place is very interesting in itself, as is the storyline; the characters and the overall novel were just poorly executed.


Clearly, when I don't enjoy a book it largely has to do with small things that make it unreadable to me-poor characterization, plot flaws, things of that nature. C'mon, fellow Hatrackers, what grinds your [respective] gears?

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Tatiana
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It's a good topic. I think Faulkner, though, you have to read several of his novels to start getting him. I always recommend The Reivers because it's so funny and I think it's a lot more accessible. After you've read a few Faulkners and sort of catch on to his storytelling style, then As I Lay Dying strikes a deeper chord. I do agree that it's a bad choice to teach in hs for people's first exposure to Faulkner.

I'd like to add Catcher in the Rye to this. I think it's not a good choice for the first Salinger book to read. I would start with Nine Stories, then go on to Frannie and Zooey. I think Catcher in the Rye is not that great to read as a teenager. It's more a book for adults. I loved it in college and after reading the rest of Salinger's output, but in hs it just came across as weird and kind of gross.

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Tante Shvester
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Moby Dick is on just about every list of "great literature", I suspect because the people who make those lists haven't actually read that book, but instead cribbed off of someone else's list.

Moby Dick cries out for some very heavy editing. It would make a decent short story, though. I think Herman Melville just kind of got caught up in the writing, and couldn't get himself to stop.

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Eaquae Legit
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I'll tentatively agree about Catcher in the Rye. I read it in HS, and I hated it. I had such a dislike for Holden that I can't see myself picking it up again to try as an adult, even though I know I might appreciate it more.

Wicked. Everyone seems to love this book. I hated it (started out as dislike, but has strengthened to hate over time). It was just pain after futile pain, like he was trying to see how much hell he could put his characters through without providing a story arc of some sort. And then it just ends. "Nasty, brutish, and short."

I usually have trouble with a book when I can't relate to any of the characters.

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Elmer's Glue
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Totally agree on Wicked. I couldn't even finish it.

The da Vinci Code, but that's obvious.

James and the Giant Peach. It's treated like one of the greatest children's books ever, but its extremely not very good.

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Shmuel
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quote:
Originally posted by Vyrus:
1984-The characters are hardly believable-the lead female, Julia, is a horrible character with few redeeming traits, and I couldn't possibly see why I should have sympathy for this sort of woman. It was hardly enough to keep me interested. From what people I knew said about it, it was supposed to be a mind-altering, life-changing piece of dystopian fiction. It was nothing of the sort, and there were many flaws that I couldn't get over.

For instance, I couldn't understand how the Oceania could get away with their slogans-"War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength", etc. You think people would be intelligent enough to know that this flagrant showcasing of the hypocrisy was not acceptable. I refuse to believe people could be that stupid, even in the world he created. The rest of the propoganda was handled brilliantly, just these few points.

Aww, man. Nineteen Eighty-Four is on the short list of books that changed my life. I don't think "War Is Peace" is any harder to swallow than "The best defense is a good offense" (indeed, I'd say one is a direct restatement of the other); similarly, "Freedom Is Slavery" and "Ignorance Is Strength" are far from unusual outlooks in our own world. I don't think they'd be taken as hypocritical, but more like pithy truisms.

What I liked about the book was partly the exploration of how language shapes thought, and how restricting vocabulary might similarly restrict what one can concieve of, but mostly the exploration of reality and history as being entirely subjective matters of societal consensus.

I do agree that Julia is as flat a character as they come. Winston isn't much better; this is a novel of ideas, rather than characters.

Still, no book works for everybody. And if you like books with strong characterization and plot, then I can certainly see how this one would leave you cold. [Smile]

I don't know that I have anything to nominate for this list myself. There are certainly great books that I don't care for (Walden leaps to mind; Thoreau comes across to me as a pretentious prat, unlike the far superior yet humbler Emerson), but I'd stop short of calling them overrated; in pretty much every case, I know of people I respect who love them. They just don't work for me, is all.

...but on second thought, I'm tempted to make an exception for A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf. I will grant its historical importance in raising important questions. But for contemporary purposes, one can do much better. The gender-binary essentialism and the logical inconsistency of some of its arguments drove me bonkers. (Charlotte Brontė, for instance, is said to have written poorer novels because she lacked three hundred a year and a room of her own... unlike Emily Brontė, who in Woolf's view got it right. That the two lived under the exact same circumstances is somehow never addressed.)

But even there, if it gets people thinking, even a flawed argument can be useful. And clearly Woolf's voice resonates with a lot of people who aren't me. [Smile]

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TL
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So long as we're remembering that there's no good and bad here, only our own subjective tastes....

I really disliked The Scarlet Letter. I thought it was as obvious and clumsy as a John Grisham novel. Studying it, in high school, was absolute tedium. When they make you read this kind of stuff, and then ask you a bunch of dummy questions.... God. They really know how to kill the joy of reading.

Another book they kill is Catcher In The Rye. I thank the good lord I never had to read that in school, but instead read it on my own, for pleasure, and got to experience the joy of discovering the story without having to do study questions at the end of every chapter. To read Salinger is to enter a labyrinth of madness. You can't do it properly with the school or some other authority over your shoulder. English teachers trying to teach Salinger is like high school chemistry teachers calmly instructing the students in how to most effectively make bombs for the purpose of blowing up government buildings. It should never happen. There's some kind of innate contradiction at work, there.

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Tara
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Anna Karenina -- Tolstoy is pretty bad at characterization. The book might have other redeeming qualities, but the best novel of all time? Hardly.
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The White Whale
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quote:
Originally posted by Tante Shvester:
Moby Dick is on just about every list of "great literature", I suspect because the people who make those lists haven't actually read that book, but instead cribbed off of someone else's list.

Moby Dick cries out for some very heavy editing. It would make a decent short story, though. I think Herman Melville just kind of got caught up in the writing, and couldn't get himself to stop.

I love Moby Dick. But I guess that's obvious.
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Lisa
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The Grapes of Wrath. I was so utterly bored after the first chapter that I went and got the Cliff's Notes. I'd never done that before. But the Cliff's Notes were even boring. One big yawnfest.
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lobo
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Man, I like most of the books that people hate! I love Grisham, James and the Giant Peach, the da Vinci code, and while it is not great literature, I liked Twilight...

I think that Shakespeare is overated.

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Elmer's Glue
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quote:
Originally posted by lobo:
I liked Twilight...

Nuff said.
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Teshi
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quote:
James and the Giant Peach. It's treated like one of the greatest children's books ever, but its extremely not very good.
I certainly wouldn't describe it as Dahl's best, nor as great literature (and I have never heard it described as such), but I rather like it.

I think that Dahl is great writing, not "great literature". But often that counts for more in my world. Gordon Korman doesn't write great literature, but his books are some of the best out there.

My vote goes for anything by Margaret Atwood, but I can see how she's appealing.

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Brinestone
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quote:
Originally posted by lobo:
Man, I like most of the books that people hate! I love Grisham, James and the Giant Peach, the da Vinci code, and while it is not great literature, I liked Twilight...

I think that Shakespeare is overated.

Then clearly you don't know enough about him. Even if you don't like Shakespeare (which I do), a good teacher will help you understand why he's considered a genius. Kind of like Bach, I guess.
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Synesthesia
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She's Come Undone. I'm reading it again for book club. I liked it when I first read it, but when I read it again ages ago I realized that it's full of stereotypes. Now that I am reading it again the dialogue is stiff and unnatural, the main character has all of these bad things happen to her, but she's rather unnecessarily mean. I don't know why this book is so highly rated, it's really quite dippy.

Get the tomatoes ready. The Bean Series. And Ender in Exile. Can I explain why without being pelted with eggs?

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Elmer's Glue
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*pelts synesthesia with eggs*
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Xann.
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Not really, The Bean Series isn't that broadly accepted as a great book, so I have a hard time taking it as a grossly overrated one. Also I really liked it.

On the other hand I really liked 1984, but I don't think it needs to be standing as a best book of all time.

I would like to add the Great Gatsby to this list.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
The Grapes of Wrath. I was so utterly bored after the first chapter that I went and got the Cliff's Notes. I'd never done that before. But the Cliff's Notes were even boring. One big yawnfest.

Strange I found the entire book to be quite fascinating. The scene at the end was positively heartbreaking for me.

edit: changes "as" to "was"
----

Also I have never heard James and the Giant Peach proclaimed as one of the great books in any category. It's a an enjoyable children's book as far as I'm concerned.

[ March 05, 2009, 12:06 PM: Message edited by: BlackBlade ]

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Synesthesia
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quote:
Originally posted by Elmer's Glue:
*pelts synesthesia with eggs*

You did not give me an opportunity to explain and rant...
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Jhai
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quote:
Originally posted by Tara:
Anna Karenina -- Tolstoy is pretty bad at characterization. The book might have other redeeming qualities, but the best novel of all time? Hardly.

I really don't find most Tolstoy or Dostoevsky good enough to qualify as "great literature." While they both have interesting things happening in their novels, I feel that they manipulate their characters too much to prove the overarching theme. It's irritating.

Also irritating: the fact that Aleksandr Pushkin isn't better known in the English-speaking world. He's absolutely amazing, but I'd never even heard of him until I took 19th Century Russian Lit.

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Liz B
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I so completely agree about Wicked. Hate hate hate hated hate hated hate. I read about 100 pages and allowed myself to stop. (I used to finish every book I started...now I figure if I gave it 100 pages I gave it a fair shot.)

I also disliked The Catcher in the Rye, which I read on my own in high school. Maybe I'd like it if I read it again as an adult, but I don't know if I'll ever find myself desperate enough for a book to read it again.

I didn't love The Scarlet Letter, but I did like it. I think an important difference is that I read it when I was a college student and an English major, not a high school student. We English teachers (and the people who write the curricula) do indeed do a fantastic job of killing reading for kids by making kids read books written for adults. Adults of over 100 years ago, to boot.

In young adult fiction: Cormier. This is more personal taste than truly being overrated, I'm sure. I've read The Chocolate War and I really, really did try to read I Am the Cheese. Hated them both. He has won jillions of awards, and I just don't see it.

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Synesthesia
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I have mixed feelings about Wicked. Anyone can take a children's story, add dirty things to it and WA-LA! Instant book everyone raves about.

Mostly I like Elphie, and that's sort of about it. I can see it's a satirical book, but it's definitely not one of my favourites.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Not really, The Bean Series isn't that broadly accepted as a great book, so I have a hard time taking it as a grossly overrated one.
Yup. I'd say that those books are just about perfectly rated.
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paigereader
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Hated Catcher In The Rye. Got it but don't care. What a snot-nose character.
Hated Long Day's Journey into Night. (high school reading)and The Awakening crazy crazy women!
Scarlet Letter okay but I read a book (can't remember the name) told from the minister's point of view which was actually much better.
Same goes for Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife

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Tresopax
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quote:
Then clearly you don't know enough about him. Even if you don't like Shakespeare (which I do), a good teacher will help you understand why he's considered a genius. Kind of like Bach, I guess.
Being written by a genius does not make a work into something people should want to read. On that scale, I'd have to think the works of Shakespeare are overrated.

Actually the same is true for some others of the overrated books on this list. People mistakenly tend to equate "could only be written by a literary genius" with "great book" sometimes.

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katharina
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Mystic River. I hated it - complete trash.
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Hobbes
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I remember reading Great Expectations. I try not to though, it hurts.

Bleh.

Though for those rabid Dickens fans out there I did like Tale of Two Cities....

Hobbes [Smile]

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Occasional
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First my protests:

I love "The Scarlet Letter" and have read it on my own twice and for school at least the same. The story is about rebellion, sin, repentance, hypocrisy, community, popularity, rule of law vs. mercy, self respect, and I could go on and on. The ending I disagree with and think was a cop-out for the writer and the character, but still realistic.

The novel "Catcher in the Rye" isn't bad enough to consider it over-rated. I don't know of many schools that teach it, although that is probably because of where I am from. There is lots of foul language that is an instant turn off for some community standards (hence one of the leading banned books). I do think that it would have been a better book if the character was more complicated and the story actually went somewhere. His rebel without a cause gets very irritating and too easily predictable. On the other hand, I read it mostly to see why it is popular with the "lone gunmen" types. It ended up a good case study of a psychopath.

Those who say Shakespeare is overrated are simply uneducated.

My own list includes just about any contemporary novel that gets praised. There are only two things books are about these days: sex and murder. "Wicked" and "The Davinci Code" are examples.

I agree completely with "Moby Dick," although the story is valuable as iconographic. Anything written by written by John Steinbeck is also beyond readability. I think he wrote as a way to put himself to sleep, like other people do counting sheep.

My own entry would have to be Issac Azimov's "Foundation," although I won't say the whole series. It is a wordy, unfocused, pretentious book that just left me cold.

Then there is James Joyce "Ulysses" that always gets mentioned, but never actually read. There is no story, no plot, no consistency, hardly a character, and too long for the effort. I feel that those who like it are only saying that to show off.

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Achilles
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Not that I think much of that novel, but wasn't the main character introduced in the first sentence?
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Hobbes
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quote:
I feel that those who like it are only saying that to show off.
I didn't know you could show off by just saying you liked a book! [Mad] And I've wasted all this time learning to juggle!

Hobbes [Smile]

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scifibum
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I've mentioned it before but "The Time Traveler's Wife" just didn't do it for me. The relationship didn't make any sense. (Like many fictional relationships I think the real life flavor would be "creepy" - just like the Edhard/Renesbellamay thing in the sparkly vampire books.) And as far as I can tell the relationship was crucial to the book. It had nothing interesting to say about time travel.

I also thought "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke was a bit overrated. I enjoyed it but I thought Clarke should have cut down the time span of the book by at least half and treated some of the episodes in more depth. In other words I think too much of her world building (which was excellent, in itself) made it into the actual book. I think it was on purpose, but the book felt like a historical volume, not like a story. I guess some people like that sort of thing; I'd have preferred a tight novel.

(I was tempted to try to find books that were overrated grossly. Made up example: "I loved this book so much I want to eat, sleep, and poop with it.")

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kmbboots
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What Shmuel wrote about 1984.

I would heartily second Catcher in the Rye as overrated and add Proust to the list.

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Occasional
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"I didn't know you could show off by just saying you liked a book!"

In literary and educational circles, this isn't as hilarious as it sounds.

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Hobbes
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Which just makes it that much funnier to me. [Big Grin]

Hobbes [Smile]

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katharina
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quote:
Anything written by written by John Steinbeck is also beyond readability
Oh, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men are both fantastic. If Cannery Row and Grapes of Wrath put you to sleep, try East of Eden. Seriously, it's just amazing.
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Tante Shvester
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I have a soft spot in my heart for Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I'm also all kinds of crazy for Theodore Dreiser, so take that for what it's worth.

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Dobbie
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The Bible.
The main character isn't even born until 3/4 of the way through

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katharina
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Someone already made that joke.
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Occasional
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I want to add "Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl" to the over-rated list. Historically important? Check. However, it isn't treated like that. Literary value? If it wasn't for context the book would be just like any other adolescent girl's diaries; although I will give credit to her writing skills. That is, if that hasn't been improved by those who did the translating.
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Synesthesia
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Have you read the special edition of it?

It really is quite good. I learned they cut a lot of stuff out of the original version that everyone is familiar with. It's annotated too.

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katharina
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I do like the unabridged version much better.
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Christine
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Since Catcher in the Rye keeps coming up, I'll just mention a conversation I had with my father about this book just this week. Now, I read it in high school and will join those in saying I didn't like it all that much. My father also hated it in high school, but he happened to pick it up again shortly after returning from his tour in Vietnam and at that point he said he was laughing so hard by the end of the first page that it had him in tears. From what he says, not just maturity but also a certain type of life experience would help greatly in the enjoyment of that book.

One of the problems I'm having with this entire discussion is that simply disliking classics, IMO, doesn't make them overrated. A lot of the time, our exposure to the classics is at a too-young age and handled poorly by English teachers. I disliked most of the books I had to read, though I love reading in general.

I have recently picked up a few of the classics and am learning to appreciate some, despite their "flaws" (which you have to understand is only true in the context that modern writing has changed so much over the years and especially since the introduction of television...more on that later).

I very much enjoyed "The Time Machine," for example, though if the book came out today it would be awful.

On the other hand, I thought "Frankenstein" was awful and that basically ever remake of it was better than the original.

I liked 1984. I'm not sure about the life-altering thing, but it was good and not about what most people think it's about. It's a psychological tale that takes us through the worst of human nature. The goal was not to create a sympathetic character, and this, I believe, is one big difference between modern literature and the classics.

Back to the TV generation...nowadays, books are in a position to have to give us something that movies can't. Movies can give us live action with picture and sound. They can show in a single shot what it could take pages to describe on paper. So what do books do? Well, there are a number of things they can do, but one big one is to get us inside the mind and hearts of characters, where cameras can't go.

Third person limited omniscient point of view is now very popular (third person but inside one character's thoughts) but omniscient viewpoint or narrative viewpoint was more traditional. We often didn't get a lot of character thoughts except in first person point of view. That's not what the stories were about.

Anyway, I could go on but I'll stop for now.

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Epictetus
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Part of me thinks that part of the reason why so many HS students walk away with a bad impression of Shakespeare is that many of them never get to see any of his work performed live. To be fair, most teachers make the attempt, but often, the only financially feasible way to do it in public schools is to show the students a movie of the play. There's a big difference between watching Mel Gibson make an attempt at reading Hamlet on a small screen in a hot and stuffy classroom, and sitting down in a small theater and being totally immersed in the characters and the play.

To this day, I can barely force myself to read a Shakespeare play, but I try to make it to performances as often as I can.

I have to say that I think The Grapes of Wrath was overrated too. One of these days I'll probably read it again, and probably enjoy it, but during high school I found it phenomenally boring. The only pleasure I got out of it was sarcastically suggesting to my teacher that the turtle crossing the road was the most important turtle in American Literature, second only to Yertle. Also that Steinbeck only wrote the chapter because he either, needed a break from writing about the main characters, or it was the product of breaking a case of writer's block that he later realized was relevant to his story.

My teacher and I did not get along.

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katharina
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Speaking of, David Tennant's Hamlet is being filmed this summer. It will be available on DVD.

*beams with happiness*

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lobo
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"I feel that those who like it are only saying that to show off."

Funny, that is what I think of when people say they like Shakespeare...

But I am only an uneducated buffoon, so...

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BlackBlade
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It's funny my brother is reading Masterpieces of Science Fiction as edited by Orson Scott Card. He asked me last night, "Why aren't more of these authors famous? These are some of the coolest concepts and ideas I have ever read!" I don't have a very good explanation, but at least it shows that there are so many books out there worth reading that are due more fame than they have.

quote:
On the other hand, I thought "Frankenstein" was awful and that basically every remake of it was better than the original.
Strongly disagree. The original book is fantastic, and every single movie, comic, or adaptation that I have seen has totally butchered the book. It was so fundamentally new and unique in it's ideas I think it needs to be called the first science fiction novel. I think Frankenstein is a paradox in that it's butchered concept is overrated, but the actual book is very much underrated.

I couldn't make it through Great Expectations, but then again I was in High School at the time so perhaps it's time to try again.

The Scarlett Letter is a bit overrated, but for it's time it certainly presented an important lesson that I think everyone should learn. That lesson has been obsessively redone in millions of other stories so now it's kind of lost in the shuffle.

I read an abridged version of Moby Dick, and while I am usually abhorrent of abridgments, I think Moby Dick is improved by it.

I think most of these overrated books are simply suffering from age. They become less relevant in more and more ways to the current set of human beings the older they get. I mean it's not like we read as much Greek and Roman philosophy/literature as they did 100-200 years ago.

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katharina
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A book I hated as a teenager that I loved as an adult was Silas Marner. I simply had never been aquainted with grief, so I didn't understand the entire thrust of the book.
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Epictetus
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And speaking of Nineteen-Eighty Four, I was in Washington last week and was a little horrified that muting the TV in the hotel room didn't actually turn off the sound completely.

I don't know, maybe all televisions are like this and I just never noticed, but it gave me the chills just the same: that I can mute the TV during the commercials but never fully silence them. *shudder*
[/derail] [Smile]

[ March 05, 2009, 12:33 PM: Message edited by: Epictetus ]

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Occasional
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"I don't know, maybe all televisions are like this and I just never noticed, but it gave me the chills just the same: that I can mute the TV during the commercials but never fully silence them. *shudder*"

Brings back thoughts of that under-rated TV show Max Hedrum. It is technically dated, but the concept is more contemporary than when it was made.

"I think most of these overrated books are simply suffering from age. They become less relevant in more and more ways to the current set of human beings the older they get. I mean it's not like we read as much Greek and Roman philosophy/literature as they did 100-200 years ago."

What a sad commentary on the modern world. We are all living in "the moment" and rejecting all that went before. Who needs philosophy, morality, religion, civilization, et el.? Well, we still have science and technology right?

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Noemon
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
A book I hated as a teenager that I loved as an adult was Silas Marner. I simply had never been aquainted with grief, so I didn't understand the entire thrust of the book.

Honestly, I think that that's part of the problem with a lot of the books people have been talking about hating. I disliked many of them when I read them in junior high and high school, but my subsequent life experiences have made me a different person than Jake-That-Was, and Jake-That-Is enjoys (or at least appreciates) a good number of them quite a bit. Life experience has given me a different perspective.
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