Books I Hate Because They Suck (And Others I Forgot Because They Bore)

I was never a fan of reading “classic” books, either in highs school or in college.  This may come as a shock to all of you who know how highly I regard a liberal arts education, but I continue to prefer reading John Grisham to any classic, whether from the 18th century or the 20th.

You could say this  is a matter of personal taste.  Or you could say it’s because I was exposed to so many bad books in high school.  And I have two specific books in mind:  “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck and “Walden Pond” by Henry Thoreau.

These two books distinguish themselves in their ability to conjure my utmost disdain towards them, but most other books I’d read in high school were only marginally better.  In fact, they suffered from perhaps a more fatal flaw:  they were forgettable.  The only book I enjoyed from my “summer reading” list, an evil concept in of itself, was Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which I still think is the best American novel ever written.  But my life would not have been affected in the slightest had I been deprived of the unwelcome opportunity to be exposed to most other so-called “classics.”

So while many speak of the “Great Gatsby” as one of the best American novels, I don’t remember the plot, much less any lines.  I recall reading “I Know When a Caged Bird Sings,” a “modern classic” by Maya Angelou, but the only thing I can tell you about it is that the main character is not a bird and no cage makes an appearance, at least not literally (and who cares if it does symbolically?  Why is it so hard to just come out and say what you mean, like yours truly do in every single post in this blog? ).  I may have read “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” but the odds are  it would have taken the movie for me to remember the plot.  Call me savage, but I found Michael Crichton’s “Sphere” and “Jurassic Park” to be much more memorable and educational than any of these books.

So perhaps “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Walden Pond” should be commended for being memorable when all others failed to be so, although my guess is that neither the authors nor the teachers had hoped I would remember the books in this way.

The “Grapes of Wrath” is a particular travesty.  That this book won the Pulitzer and the Nobel price for Literature absolutely convinces me that literature critics are no better than New York Times’ movie critics.

This 600 page plus monstrocity that has the nerve to charge people to read it spends every other chapter describing a scenery for a dozen pages.  “Joe Sasanuma:  The Baby Years” is more interesting, and worthwhile, than a single page of those chapters.  Eventually I learned to skip those wasteful chapters because 1)  no one has earned the right to spend ten pages describing something that can describe in one word, “barren,” and 2)  quite frankly, I don’t care what barrenness looked like 80 years ago.

At least Steinbeck did the reader a favor by grouping together the irrelevant parts so you can skip right over them.  If only he could have warned in the beginning of the book that it has no ending, and thus a meaningful plot.  That way, I could have skipped the whole book.  I vividly recall being on page 590, then 595, then 600, and finally 605 thinking, “Steinbeck, you moron, you’re running out of pages to conclude the book.”  This, it turns out, was because Steinbeck intended to end the book in middle of a scene, à la “The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring.”  If I recall, and I care not to, the book ends with a girl wondering somewhere to do something.  At that point, after 600 pages of endless boredom, I couldn’t have cared less about where, what and why.

Some artistic person once suggested that the purpose of the “Grapes of Wrath” was precisely to show that the misery of traveling West (presumably the “wrath” among the “grapes”) was endless.  Sorry, ain’t buyin’.  Death cures all misery.  If Steinbeck wanted to send a message about misery, just kill off all the characters and we’d get the symbolism and the satisfaction of spending hours on end reading the book for some ending.  Of course, Steinbeck has been dead for years and I continue to suffer from his idiocy, so apparently, neither misery nor stupidity is cured by death.

In fact, death of a character was the only time I got any satisfaction out of the book.  There’s a scene in the “Grapes of Wrath” where a grandmother dies.  To say that I cheered when that happened is an understatement.  I kept on plowing forward despite the indescribable awfulness of the book solely out of the hope that more characters will be killed off.  Alas, Steinbeck deprived me even of that pleasure.  So I shall repay him by never reading another one of his books ever again.*

Henry Thoreau’s “Walden Pond” is appalling for a whole set of other reasons.  This book has no plot and that’s not my personal judgment.  The book just chronicles Thoreau’s experience living in a cabin out in the “woods” near a pond (yes, the pond is called “Walden Pond.”  At least Thoreau had the decency to spare us from cryptic titles) in Massachusetts.  He literally just sits in the cabin staring out the window describing what he sees.  Or so I remember.  I wrote a satire of this nonsense on my homepage in high school, typing away as I stared out the window from my computer, commenting on what I observed and heard in suburban New Jersey.  Some classmates got a kick out of my description of the trees, the grass, the birds and the eery New Jersey solitude, only proving Thoreau is an idiot for writing a serious book out of something so ridiculous.

For those who think my characterization of  “Walden Pond” as “ridiculous” only shows I don’t appreciate art should check out the part of the book where Thoreau posts a shopping list and a pricing chart, not adjusted for inflation, for the things he bought to start his garden at his cabin.  He then (probably) spent the next 100 pages describing his flowers grow, reminding you of Robin Williams’ piece on golf commentators wanting to hear the grass grow.  Really, a shopping list?  People barely give a crap about my blog even as I try to get attention.  You  think when I give up on original ideas and start posting my shopping list the readership will increase?  I can’t believe Thoreau turned this crap into a book and, more unbelievably, people accepted it as art.  Talk about reputation preceding quality.

I’ve been told Walden Pond is not that far from Boston and it’s a very nice place to go.  Reading the book made me want to avoid the place like Mexico during the swine flu outbreak.  And does anyone else see the irony of this statement?  So Thoreau, a transcendentalist, went to Walden pond, which is not that far from Boston, to write about getting away from society.  I bet you Thoreau bought those seeds on the shopping list in Boston and went there every weekend to buy milk.

“Grapes of Wrath” and “Walden Pond” always come up when I talk “literature” with people.  One time I was conversing about the “Grapes of Wrath” with college students and, overhearing the conversation, a guy ran across the room to chastise me for my failure to understand and appreciate the work, i.e. for my barbarism.

My response, although not so stated?

I did understand.  I understood that the book sucked.

*  Incidentally, I had read “Of Mice and Men” before the “Grapes of Wrath” and I’m glad I did.  The former book was short and satisfying.  If I had read the crap before “Of Mice and Men,” I would have never had the pleasure of reading such a despondent book.


11 Responses to “Books I Hate Because They Suck (And Others I Forgot Because They Bore)”

  1. 1 rattoch May 13, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    It seems that all classic means is old. If anyone wants to be like Walden they can just publish their own diary and see what happens. The day in the life of Ratto would be fairly entertaining if you ask me!

    However, I would enjoy reading the classic political philosophy of the Englightenment. Coke,Smith and their students Jefferson and Adams. What happended to beatufil writting such as theirs? I wish I could come even close to their style.

  2. 2 joesas May 16, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    “Classic just means old.” That’s great. I gotta start using that. Yep. Your and my diary will certainly be more interesting.

    Really? You’d enjoy the “Enlightenment” writers? I find their writing to be horrible. Not a fan. Have you ever read Locke? That guy has never heard of a period.

  3. 3 Miran May 19, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    lol I am actually a huge deovtee of classics, but I have not read Walden or Grapes of Wrath. For months, I relished my Russian phase of Dostoyevsky’s _The Brothers Karamazov_ and Tolstoy’s _Resurrection_. I wholeheartedly recommend the former book- Dostoyevsky is deeply funny and deeply serious, esp about religion.

    • 4 joesas May 19, 2009 at 4:55 pm


      Thanks for reading and posting!

      You know, my roommate in college told me of all the wonders of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (and yes, it was a required reading in one of my classes). He actually finished the book. I didn’t even start it. The thought of slogging through the book as thick as a bible was overwhelming.

      I wonder if there’s an abridged version that keeps all the good, important parts and skips over the needless parts. Sort of like skipping every other chapter of the Grapes of Wrath and everything that happens in the middle, and just focusing on the beginning and the ending, and adding a scene where everyone in the family dies. You know, short and sweet, just like that.

      In all seriousness, I should read the book. I need to be cultured and be refined. My blog does nothing to suggest I have received a liberal arts education.

  4. 5 Miran May 19, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    devotee, sorry!

    • 6 joesas May 19, 2009 at 4:56 pm

      And you can misspell on my blog anytime!

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