In honor of a chance reunion with my 12th grade English teacher, I offer our gentle readers a short list of so-called classic literature that I despise.
Dickens, Charles – Great Expectations
Random kid makes good by helping a convict and just so happens to meet the weirdest woman in England? Real plausible there, Dickens. Not that Dickens ever cared about plausibility (though he apparently cared about orphans and making money).
Try instead: Well, I can’t recommend any more Dickens, since I’m firmly in the Anti-Dickens camp. But I can suggest Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which presents a much more amusing Miss Havisham.
Great Expectations is available as a book, an audio book, and assorted movies. We also have the Cliffs notes and a DVD guide, but if you’ve been assigned this book you should still probably read it. The Eyre Affair is available as a book or audio book.
Eliot, George – Middlemarch
I tried to read this three times, twice while in college, and never managed to get more than 2/3 of the way through it (though I still got As on my papers, go me). The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t marry an old dude when you really want a younger one. There, I just saved you 800+ pages of dullness.
Try instead: Um, I hated Middlemarch so much that I never tried to read any more Eliot. Anyone out there have any suggestions?
Middlemarch is available as a book, an audio book, and a movie that I should eventually buy for this library. We have the Cliffs notes too, which are probably every bit as boring but much shorter.
James, Henry – The Turn of the Screw
This particular bit of assigned summer reading was such exquisite torture that I had to read it twice. Not that I enjoy making myself suffer, mind you, I was just so bored the first time that I was reading individual words and not complete sentences. I had to read it again so that I could pick up enough plot points to write a convincing essay (which I did, of course).
Try instead: Roderick Hudson – I read this one in college, and it actually has a plot. A plot that make sense. And the main character has a name!
The Turn of the Screw is available as a book and an audio book. We have the Cliffs notes as well, so save your money and borrow our copy instead. Roderick Hudson is only available as a book, probably because everyone gives up on Henry James after reading The Turn of the Screw.
Wharton, Edith – Ethan Frome
Life is hard! Let’s sled into a tree! While Robert Altman and the crew from M*A*S*H would have us believe that suicide is painless, this book, with its botched and completely lame suicide attempt, is anything but. Gah.
Try instead: Anything else by Edith Wharton. I loved The House of Mirth and Old New York, perhaps because they are nothing like Ethan Frome.
Ethan Frome is available as a book, an audio book, and a movie, though not even the presence of Liam Neeson can make this classic palatable. We also have the Cliffs notes for those who want to get this over with quickly and painlessly – unlike poor Mr. Frome. The House of Mirth is available as a book, an audio book, and a movie – though perhaps not a good one. Old New York is available as a book.
So I ask, gentle readers, are there any classics that you cannot stand? Or would you care to convince me that these four are worth my time after all?
– Amy (who really does have a degree in literature)