Re: What Books Do You Dislike?
I dislike Ayn Rand's work intensely. I was introduced to her, as I suspect many people were, while in high school because the Ayn Rand Institute bribes its way into classroom curricula by offering some rather paltry scholarship prizes for essays based on her works. Because of that, I read Anthem
in 10th grade (which was a pale rip-off of Evgeny Zamyatin's We
) and The Fountainhead
in 11th grade. Rand's prose always seems like a too-lengthy submission to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I would also really love to know what perverse part of her sexual history causes her to write scenes the women who are obviously her projections and who are raped by men with the initials H.R., after which the women invariably fade into the background.
To give Rand a fair shake, I made the fateful decision to read Atlas Shrugged
over a three-day Model UN Conference in Costa Mesa, CA. Honestly, almost any
long book would have been better, and this experience caused me to take multiple books with me on any future trip. I read it all, despite how desperately dull it was, because I needed some diversion from my fellow students droning on about international affairs. Most of them wouldn't have known Brasilia from Beijing, and yet they couldn't be shut up. They went on at such length and so unproductively that there was no time to negotiate over the resolution that was introduced on the first day of the conference. There was barely time for a reading. We had to vote on it in a way that could have been done within five minutes on the first day.
But I digress. Despite being the dullest thing I've ever had to sit through, I still
put down Atlas Shrugged
and listened to it or read from a nearby phone book. I damn near walked to the local Borders, and would have done it if I had any confidence that I would be able to find my way back. Later, I read some of Rand's 'philosophy', which is even worse than her prose. Her notions about causality are either nonsensical or tautological. John Hospers pointed this fact out to her, but she was apparently too dim to understand his objection. At least her novels, however didactic, give her philosophy some cloak to hide behind, but when they're out in the open, with nothing to hide behind, then they appear as the vacuous and muddled mess they are. Rand's philosophy is 'new' to the extent that she didn't understand anything about previous philosophical systems, so her works are difficult to fit in either as continuations or criticisms of prior trends of thought.
While Rand's works may represent the worst prose that has ever been styled as "classic American novels", Dan Brown's books are even worse, but at least there's no Dan Brown Institute insisting that we teach The Da Vinci Code
in high schools. I read The Da Vinci Code
and later Angels and Demons
, borrowing both from my mother.
Everything I could possibly say about Dan Brown—and I certainly could go on!—has already been said by Geoffrey Pullum
. It's just the sort of thing that makes you want to cringe in your seat.
Well, anyway, the other work I absolutely loathed from my time in high school was The Catcher in the Rye
. I honestly have no idea why it's considered a classic, nor why it's inflicted on younger generations, except that this whiny emo angst about nothing is supposed to resonate with us. I think that if teachers want a classic American novel that should resonate with teenagers, then they could do worse than to assign Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth
. We're not all poor relations who luck into a privileged Old Money upbringing, but I think students would sympathize with Lily Bart's struggle to find a way to remain true to herself and live as she wishes.