01 December 2005

Confess Your Readerly Sins!

Being of good New England stock, I am a big fan of sins. My previous post has sparked a lot of comments already, and there seems to be a desire amongst readers to confess some of the books they know they should like, but haven't yet been able to connect with, for whatever reason. Let's bring that conversation over here. It will get us all ready for our New Year's resolutions, prepare us for the Rapture, and help us understand our praying-mantis god.

First, I'll add a quote I stuck in the comments to the other post, and which I stole from The Rake:
Not so many years ago I read an interview with a critic who was expounding on the importance of good taste. It occurred to me how once you begin worrying about whether your taste is "good," then you're calibrating your passions as others will judge them and your passions aren't your passions anymore but affectations. Preoccupation with one's taste is the way of small and cautious spirits. Any opinion worth a damn is an opinion that doesn't give a damn. In a severe and increasingly unforgiving new century, no pleasure is guilty; or perhaps, as Jonathan Lethem has said (only half-kiddingly, I think), all pleasure is guilty and that's the fun of it.
--Steve Erickson, introduction to Black Clock 4
And I'll make my own confession, because, obviously, I like confessing even more than I like self-flagellation: Of all the various writers whose texts give me little pleasure, the one I feel most guilty about is Charles Dickens. Chuck and I should get on great, and yet as much as I've tried -- and boy have I tried, for years and years -- I have never enjoyed anything of his I've read. Nothing. I can revel in the pleasures of even the dullest bit of Tolstoy, but Dickens? After five pages, I'm either asleep or ridiculously annoyed by any number of things that don't bother me with other writers. (It's probably a Victorian Big Novelist thing -- I don't get much from Trollope, either, and I only seem to like the first half of novels by Hardy.)

Enough about me. Confess your sins below.

45 comments:

  1. I like Dickens quite a bit, but I cannot stand Tolstoy. All that self-important, grave plodding is just unbearable. Maybe it is better in English translation; I know quite a few books which are terrible in their original language, but benefit from a competent tranlator. I also confess my great dislike of Tolstoy being mentioned in the same sentence as Dostoyevsky (unless that sentence is "Dostoyevsky is a much better writer than Tolstoy"), as if it is possible to lump two such different writers on the basis of nationality.

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  2. elizabeth bear12/02/2005 12:55 AM

    My confession is that I love Lillian Jackson Braun. The cats are annoying, and the characters shallow, but she so nails the weird manic minutia of life in a small Northern town that I giggle through the whole damned book, even though I can't remember what happened five minutes later, so I keep rereading the same ones and not remembering that I've read this one before until I get to the joke about hardy mums.

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  3. My readerly sins have more to do with individual books than with individual authors. Although they were critically acclaimed, I failed to be overly impressed with Light by M. John Harrison and Spin State by Chris Moriarty. On the plus side, I at least blamed myself for the bad reading experience. In Light's case, it was due to a series of late-night (and half-lucid) readings. In the case of Spin State it was poor timing; I was tuckered out on uploaded consciousness novels. And so it goes...

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  4. Jane Austen.

    I got 50 pages into Pride and Prejudice before having to give up. I made it all the way through Persuasion, but really didn't see what any of the fuss is about.

    (And yet I love Strange & Norrell. And Clueless.)

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  5. My confessions:

    I haven't read Mary Gentle's _Ash_ all the way through. Keep trying. And trying. I think I have something against the portrayal of warrior women who are good generals because "they hear voices."

    _The Left Hand of Darkness_. Sue me. It bored me.

    Everything by Faulkner. The guy bores the shit out of me.

    Book 7 and after of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. I'm not saying I feel guilty for not reading the rest - I feel guilty that I got so far into it before giving up....

    My guilty pleasures are old Howard Conan novels and all the Moorcock Elric books. Classic.

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  6. Since it appears I'm not alone in my dislike of Jane Austen, I'll choose another mortal readerly sin:

    I love Motley Crue's The Dirt.

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  7. Gene Wolfe. I understand what others see in his books, but personally, I just don't like them. Nor have I enjoyed anything I have read by Gustave Flaubert.

    //JJ

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  8. Forgive me father, for I have sinned...

    I can't stand Marcel Proust's IN REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST.

    I enjoy reading THE DESTROYER paperbacks (by Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir).

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  9. For the life of me, I haven't been able to finish The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. He's won numerous awards for it.

    I tried twice to read it in English, once in French. Couldn't read further than about 50 pages.

    And if we're into confessions, even though I'm quite an eclectic reader and love all kinds of fiction (to wit, the book reviews on my blog), I'm totally addicted to Nora Roberts.

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  10. I can't get into:
    -the novels of Kathe Koja (short stories, yes)
    -Dovsteyevsky (can't even spell him)
    -Don DeLillo (except for that one called White Noise or something like that)
    -Left Hand of Darkness

    And a lot more. But that's all I'm confessing for now.

    JeffV

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  11. Little, Big. I’ve tried it three or four times, and maybe I found it too late or something, but always comes off as, qu’est-ce qu’on dit? “Inherently twee.”

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  12. I love Haruki Murakami, but I felt constantly bored by The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Seemed like there were a lot of good short stories in there, but forced to work together.

    Also, White Noise (the only Delillo I read) left me cold. The language was good and all, but the story and the meaning of it just went nowhere for me.

    In both these cases, i worry that I just missed the point.

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  13. I don't think anybody has to apologize for reading the Destroyer novels. Those are crack. CRACK!

    Trust me, we all understand.

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  14. I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't like The Left Hand of Darkness. That was one that I felt a failure for.

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  15. Okay, then:

    Hated MADAME BOVARY or Madame Bovine as I call it. Jeez, I hated the bitch.

    Love Dickens [although Bleak House defeated me] and Hardy and Hugo, but Zola irritates me. Keep trying, though.

    The only Ernest Hemingway I didn't despise was A MOVEABLE FEAST. He sounded like he was writing about real people at least (well, he was).

    I confess I was a sucker for the first five or so Tom Clancy novels, but SUM OF ALL FEARS scared the crap out of me and I could not read any more. It just seemed too much like something that might actually happen. (And boy, that movie sucked, too.)

    This is a little off topic, but I also hated the film MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. Two guys talking, and one has a speech impediment - for two hours? Shoot me fucking now!!!

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  16. Oh, I meant to say: WHITE NOISE? Yukc. Did not get it at all. I used to like Delillo when he wrote short little novels but then he wrote that baseball doorstopper and I couldn't get past page 50.

    And you may all hate me for this but am I the only one who thought that Neal Stephenson's QUICKSILVER was ...[ducks head] boring???

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  17. Wasn't White Noise the one set in Beirut? I must be wrong. Maybe I read Mao II. The one about the writer in Beirut I liked.

    I have tried and tried and tried to read Little, Big and I just cannot.

    JeffV

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  18. I've been on a Herman Wouk binge
    (see my blog)and just can't get Atwood her writing is excellent I just wander off during the read.
    Oryx & Crake-nope I tried.
    Handmaids Tale-didn't finish, didn't like the movie.
    This is blasphemy from an unpublished author.
    Hopefully the agent/publishing Gods can forgive.

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  19. My confessions: I too am bored to tears by Charles Dickens, and I've never liked Tolkein much either. Or Iain Banks. Can't get into him, have tried several times. (Well, I liked The Wasp Factory quite a bit, but all the culture stuff just plain leaves me flat.)

    But the real confession is that I adore Nora Roberts. Love love love her books, both the Nora Roberts romances and the JD Robb cop-thrillers. I own about eight thousand of them and actually get excited when new ones come out. Sometimes I try to construct a respectable-sounding explanation about strong characterization and interesting gender commentary, but mostly, they're a good fun engaging read.

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  20. ‘Mao II’ is about the writer/hostages/terrorism in Beirut. I rather liked 'Great Jones Street' and 'The Body Artist ' (which is a slim story).

    Collen mentions Hemingway who doesn't represent an author I can't get through, just one that I seem to fail to appreciate after doing so.

    Another book that I was severely under whelmed by was Martin Scott's 'Thraxas' (I think it won the WFA a couple years back) - Thorn Smith he definitely is not.

    Secret Indulgences? Man…’Robotech’ novels. It might just be the Jap in me (and yes only other japs can call each other Japs of course). It's written by a team under the pseudonym Jack Mckinney, which is actually James Luceno (who writes Starwars novels now) and Brian Daley (who I don't think is with us anymore). 'Robotech' was just a cartoon I was enthralled with when I was younger, and even though I'm really not an anime freak at all, I can't get enough of it. It's 80-something episodes that represents moments of a happy childhood and I still swear it's the best SF cartoon series out there.

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  21. My sins->

    I can't stand Hemingway, James Joyce or Dickens. I have yet to get past the first 10 pages of any real experimental work (by real I mean extreme- the ZemZem Russian writers, Finnigan's Wake, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Her, anything by Appollonaire) without gettting bored. Although, I do think my undying love for Faulkner, Cocteau and Chapmen make up for it.

    I still haven't made it past the first book in Lord of the Rings. I'm currently trying to re-read them right now. This is my 101st attempt. I actually liked The Lovely Bones until the ending, which sucked ass. I really like pulpy books without any content. Howard's Conan is a prime example. I also like the Harry Potter books and Terry Brooks.

    God, I feel dirty now. I'm going to go read "The Lives of My Melencholy Whores" in penance.

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  22. Thraxas just flat-out sucked.
    JeffV

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  23. Yeah, Quicksilver was a disapointment. I got about 120 pages in, over a period of six months. I tried, really I did. But it was just too Baroque. I wish he had stuck with just the pirate story, that seemd lik eit was going somewher einteresting...

    Ulysses is my big sin. I've tried to read the damn thing three times now but just can't do it. I mean, we get it, Mr. Joyce, you're smart. Get over yourself and tell me a fucking story already!

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  24. Nick Mamatas12/02/2005 3:33 PM

    Secret indulgences? Books on how to (re(de)hyper(anti)-organize businesses and "work teams" and all that hilarious rrrrrevolutionary stuff.

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  25. I have several confessions:

    I read Terry Brooks and Ray Feist books for entertainment.
    I've read every single Cat Who... book by Lilian Jackson Braun.
    I could not get into Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell at all.
    I don't like Faulkner or Walt Whitman.
    Most every book that is supposed to be a classic does absolutely nothing for be.

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  26. Nick -

    Do you mean the Seth Godin kinda stuff? I love those kind of marketing books.

    My secret indulgence - especially when I get super stressed: forensic science mysteries. Kathy Reichs is awesome!

    I never have been fond of Russian writers and stopped reading them completely when I realized at aosme point I was internally replacing Russian names with things like "Bob" and "Sally" just so I could keep the characters straight.

    Of course, I did that with the Lord of the Rings, too. :-)

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  27. I thought MAO II wonderful. I also liked WHITE NOISE. I've heard Don Delillo's work being compared to Thomas Pynchon's but I have to confess that I found THE CRYING OF LOT 42 so frustrating that I threw it across the room. I couldn't retain enough information in my head and it made me realise my stupidity.

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  28. Oh, yea, I haven't read any of the Lord of the Rings books, either.

    I think that puts me in line for a stoning in some circles.

    But I love Hemingway. Love him, love him, in all his silly wanna-be-masculiness. Hemingway is great.

    And I find Balzac deeply, deeply funny.

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  29. Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 4 days since my last confession.

    Delillo -- ICK. read 40 pages of white noise and put it down. It started in w/ the Hitler Studies, and I was in college at the time, and it was more neurotic rich white academics than I could stand.

    Wouldn't have read Pynchon unless I had a class. Woudln't have made it through Harrison's Light unless everyone kept telling me to read it. Loved both, ESPECIALLY Gravity's Rainbow. Brought it back to LA w/ me so I could keep it close. "Like the Bible?" my sister said, when I packed it in my bag.

    Guilty confessions? Trashy YA fantasy stolen from my little sister; sub-sub-par chick lit about shopping; when I was 15, Star Wars novels and scads of anime fan fiction, which alone has got to merit 100 Hail Virginia Woolfs and 50 Our Shakespeares.

    Oh boy. I missed confession.

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  30. I am with you on Dickens. Could never stand reading the caricatures, and the style was a mind-killer. I do admit to liking A TALE OF TWO CITIES simply because of the awesome self-sacrifice themes in the end, but otherwise, Dickens plots are good but the execution and style is not for me.

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  31. Woops- above when I said ZumZum, I meant Zaum. Either way, I don't like it. But I feel like I should.

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  32. Gwenda had a good point in her comments to the previous post. I read Swanwick's Stations of the Tide and hated it. I hated it so much that I exiled it to the bookshelf at my parents' cabin. A few years later, I was stuck up there without anything to read and grabbed it again. I loved it. Brilliant work. I don't know what I was thinking the first time through.

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  33. I admit: I enjoyed _Tale of Two Cities_, up to the point of developing a crush on Sydney Carton.

    I really like reading T. S. Eliot. I don't have a friggin' clue what's going on, but I really enjoy reading him.

    I have yet to give Tolstoy and Kafka their fair, post-A.P. English shake. I haven't read any Mark Twain since middle school.

    I thoroughly enjoyed _The DaVinci Code_ and Harry Potter books one through four.

    I got bored with _American Gods_ about halfway through, and skipped to the ending. I did the same thing with the fifth Harry Potter book. I don't care, and I'd do it again.

    I can't stand French poetry. Gag me.

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  34. Loved Great Expectations and the first paragraph of Little Dorritt, then Bleak House did me in - alternating between sly omniscient narration and simpering bloody Esther began to feel like I was edging towards bipolarity. That was all back in school, 20 years ago, and I haven't been near Dickens since.

    These days, well... Have tried Perdido Street Station 3 or 4 times. Loved the invention, found the prose boggy. Have also tried T.H.White's The Once and Future King a number of times and failed to get past Sir Pellinore's first outing. Can't get around the feeling that I should have read it when I was a kid, and that it's just too late now.

    More shockingly, to myself, at least, is that I was bored by Jeffrey Ford's Portrait of Mrs Charbuque, because I loved all three Cley books and devour his short stories. Hmmm.

    Bought Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space and Chasm City a couple of years ago. RS took a long time to go nowhere in particular, and I gave up. Chasm City remains unopened.

    I'm always afraid that if I do give up, it will inevitably be just before whatever it is I'm giving up on actually starts to get interesting...

    (Oh, and Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds - I know I love it, really, somewhere deep in my heart...)

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  35. I've done the same as Kristin - hated a book then picked it up again later and loved it so much that I wondered what I was thinking the first time round. As for the Pynchon - I kept wishing at the time I was reading that someone else I knew was reading it too. I knew it was clever, but I couldn't cope with it alone. Maybe I ought to try again - some day.

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  36. Mine is Tolkien. I love The Hobbit, but have never been able to make it through The Lord of the Rings (and haven't tried that hard, frankly). Although, my attempt to read the first one while I had the flu did lead to Christopher making up the Tom Bombadil Rap, a big hit in a crowded room. That chapter was just too painful to make it through. (And I still think Goldberry sounds like a twee version of a Bond girl.)

    Also, Gene Wolfe, but I think that's just because I haven't read him yet.

    I don't really feel guilty about not reading anyone though.

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  37. Ah, yes. James Joyce. I read Ulysses in English (not my native language) when I was fifteen. Not a very good idea.

    //JJ

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  38. What amazes me is how few (if any) of these make me go, "What?! You can't be serious!" I think I feel much more defensive toward living writers I'm passionate for than dead ones. I mean, I've even read Faulkner's poetry, so I worship the man, but it doesn't bother me in the least if somebody else doesn't. Certain living writers, though, I can see myself getting in bar fights over.

    DeLillo I've had ups and downs with -- I liked the first parts of White Noise, but I felt like I figured out what he was aiming for pretty early on, and so the novel's development didn't interest me and felt shallow. Mao II and Underworld I liked, though.

    Hemingway I like a lot of the short stories, but none of the novels, which just seem silly to me in all their brooding masculinity.

    Oh, here's one I can throw in: I think The Great Gatsby is tremendously overrated. Maybe because I have to teach it each year, and had to read it twice in high school and twice in college, so it is the book I have read the most in my life. It can't bear all of those rereadings.

    As for guilty pleasures, I keep trying to get some and failing. Most of my guilty pleasures don't involve reading -- they're things like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", which I should hate for millions of reasons, but which I find endlessly amusing.

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  39. Torger Vedeler12/03/2005 12:20 PM

    I'm afraid I must be added to the list of people who don't enjoy Jane Austen; I've been told that she is a brilliant observer of human nature, but I just don't see it.

    And despite the fact that his work has none of the elements that in my opinion make up great literature, I must confess I've always enjoyed Robert E. Howard's Conan stories.

    Oh, the shame! Oh, the shame!

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  40. The problem with puritanism is that there's too much guilt and too little exhaltation about one's sins. How about getting into the joy of not having to read all of Trollope.

    rick bowes

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  41. Queer Eye is hilarious! Amazing Race is my retarded guilty pleasure.

    I digress...the book I forgot to mention - and possibly the one book I hate most in the world - Catcher in the #$#@! Rye! Holy cow do I hate that book. I hated Holden Caulfield so much I wanted to shred the pages, smear them with excrement and then set them on fire. I never could undertand why they foisted that stupid book on poor unsuspecting high school students ever year. I particularly hated the way that Salinger spelled 'crummy' as 'crumby' and I could never get past the fact that I thought Holden was just a self-absorbed whiny brat with no real problems.

    (Wow, do I feel better now that I got that off my chest.)

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  42. I can't read Tolstoy or Checkov. Proust doesn't register with me, either. Neither Asimov nor Clarke. I had a fling with Ayn Rand, but now, she's unreadable to me. All of these writers are somehow connected in their pomposity or humorlessness, but I can't put my finger on it, so I'll just confess my sins and leave them at your doorstep, Father Cheney!

    ~barth

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  43. La Gringa:

    I hate Catcher in the Rye as well. Most people like it, I think, because it makes them feel smart when it actually isn't all too great. So they can read it and say stupid things about and think that they are literary. Like those people who say "there is no spoon" and think they are all so clever.

    But I did like Franny and Zooey, strangely enough.

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  44. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. (Wait--does that work for Jews?)

    Short James Joyce: Fine. Long James Joyce: Arrrgh. Cannot. Be. Done. (And believe me, I've tried. Several times.)

    Similarly, I adore Henry James' short fiction, novellas (Turn of the Screw), and early novels. Late, "great" Henry James, however, usually leads me to contemplate violent acts of self-defenestration.

    For some reason, my brain doesn't respond very well to 19th-c. Russian fiction.

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  45. My guilty pleasure is this: even though I love books, I really really do, and I love good books and interesting books and award-winning books, whenever I have a choice between reading something with literary merit and reading Janet Evanovich under the covers licking the icing out of Oreos the Oreos win every time. I'll read the other stuff too, and I'll love it, but I'll still pick the airport paperbacks first.

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