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Best Book I Hated

October 2, 2008
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Interesting question over at :


What, in your opinion, is the best book that you haven’t liked? Mind you, I don’t mean your most-hated book–oh, no. I mean the most accomplished, skilled, well-written, impressive book that you just simply didn’t like.

Like, for movies–I can acknowledge that Citizen Kane is a tour de force and is all sorts of wonderful, cinematically speaking, but . . . I just don’t like it. I find it impressive and quite an accomplishment, but it’s not my cup of tea.

So . . . what book (or books) is your Citizen Kane?

Having been asked to read lots of books during grad school, you’d think that something would leap out at me as fitting this category. Not much jumps out, though. If a book is well-written, I usually like it. I rarely quit a book unfinished, though I’ve done it twice this summer–once with This is Your Brain on Music and once with Michael Ruhlman’s House: A Memoir. Both of those had to do with the pressures of other books, my writing schedule, and just not being in the space for the sort of things those books were doing. They both sit on the shelf in my bedroom (the “soon-to-be-read” shelf), awaiting their turn.

It’s a different thing to ask what book I have finished but didn’t like, but that was also well-written. I’ve disliked plenty of books because they were badly done–poor characterization, boring, poorly proofread, etc. And I’ve occasionally been irritated by books that I liked–see my previous post on Stephanie Meyers, or take a look at The Good Fairies of New York, by Martin Millar. Millar’s book is a great, fun romp, but it looks like it was proof-read by monkeys. I’ve never seen a book with so many basic grammatical errors or outright typos.

None of which answers the question. My first impulse was to say Moby-Dick, which I recognize as important and in some ways brilliant, but which I really disliked reading. Even listening to it on tape, as I did when I had to read it for a Romanticism class at Western Carolina, I hated it. Melville needed a really good editor; by excising a good half of the novel, we could have had a tightly constructed adventure novel that still had room for philosophical musings and existential crises. Instead, I know each step of butchering a whale, a skill which I can’t see myself needing in North Dakota, where whales are thin on the ground.

I’m going to go with another book, though. I read Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse in a 20th century novel course at USC, and I felt like I had been robbed of the time. I’ve never really cottoned to modernist stream-of-consciousness styles, and that may be what prevented me from liking it. I like some other Woolf–Mrs. Dalloway, for instance, though that’s also stream-of-consciousness–but I just hated To the Lighthouse. I appreciate its importance, and I can see why it’s considered a masterpiece. I’m just grateful I don’t have to read it again. Tedious, tedious stuff.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2008 11:25 am

    You did fairly well for someone who thought they hadn’t an answer! I have three other titles for my answer. Come check it out. Happy BTT.

  2. October 2, 2008 11:56 am

    Ahhhh yes, the great Moby Dick! I never could place my finger on just what I did not enjoy about that book, and now I know…Melville needed an editor! I thought I did not like it because I tend not to like fishing stories, hence my dislike for Old Man and the Sea.

  3. October 2, 2008 10:18 pm

    Yah sometimes the so called best of the books can be really horribly tedious! Wish that weren’t true.

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