Thursday, May 8, 2014

Classics Club Meme Question #22

Which classic work has caused you to become a master in avoidance? It’s not necessarily because you’re intimidated but maybe there are works out there that just cause you to have the Dracula reaction: cape-covered arm up in front of face with a step back reaction?

Just a couple of months ago, I was ready to read Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.  It was so exciting because this book is the 29th title on The Well-Educated Mind list of thirty-one novels; I could see the finish line.  Plus, it is always fascinating to begin a new book, even if I know nothing about it. And I knew nothing at all about Song of Solomon.

So I enthusiastically began.

But let's just get to the point: after one week of struggling relentlessly, hopelessly, desperately through chapter one, I threw the book across my driveway.  I wanted it out of my possession.  I hated the book. I undeniably hated it.

Why?  How? When so many people LOVE Song of Solomon! Part of me hated that I was not able to experience what others positively experienced.  What did I have to know in order to survive this piece of literature?  I wondered.  Did it require special knowledge?  A particular mindset? I could not figure it out.

But then, the other reason for my hatred was caused by my disdain for its rawness.  It angered me, in a non-productive way, and offended my sensibilities.  It disgusted me, and I was not willingly open to it. Therefore, no matter how I tried to push through it, it was like swallowing something that made me gag.  I was literally forcing myself through the book, and I regretted every moment of it.

After a week of being burdened with a bad attitude about having to read Song of Solomon, I physically tossed it, emotionally divorced it, and finally gave it up.  In my only post about Song of Solomon, I described my experience as "sucking the joy out of my love for reading."  Come on! That is not reading.

Sure, I lost some followers who were offended by my reaction, but I had to be honest.  I thought I may be willing to try a different Toni Morrison, keeping an open mind, but I received feedback that most of her novels are similarly raw and, uh, unique.

Because of Song of Solomon, my consecutive reading streak through The Well-Educated Mind is ruined.  It's personal!  So now, when I see a copy of Song of Solomon or other Toni Morrison novel - like in the used book sale section of my library - I do have a Dracula-reaction, and I cannot look at it. Quite frankly, I even think the fangs come out!

So what about you?  Do you have a work of literature that brings out the Dracula-effect in you?


Anonymous said...

You and I both. Tony Morrison's books are a huge turn-off. I read Sula and hated it. You couldn't pay me enough to read Beloved. I find that "creative fiction" books tend to be overly-sexual and offensive. Of course that's a generalization, but I read a few creative fiction works and it turned me off to to the whole genre. Often these works are written by lit professors who value racy (but admittedly well-written) literature. "Pushing boundaries" is valued in academia and I think that is a huge reason why Morrison's books are taught in high schools and universities. That, I think, is also the reason why she won the Nobel Prize in literature.

Cleo said...

I can't believe that you lost followers just because you disliked a book and gave an opinion about it. Wow! I'm actually quite pleased when people disagree with me. It brings variety to life and something to talk about. I would NEVER stop following someone because their opinion was different than mine.

I tend to avoid many modern books, not because of the violence or sex or disturbing content but because I feel many writers make the story about those things, instead of having a strong plot and making those things support the story. And because of my avoidance of modern lit (probably over-avoidance ---- I do need to expand my reading) I don't really have a book that has a Dracula-effect on me. Oh, actually now that I think of it, I had a pretty adverse reaction to Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I only got about 1/4 through it but I felt that he was deliberately spinning certain things to make Catholics look bad. I found his portrayal of some of the monks quite bizarre ---- although I'm not Catholic so I'm not sure if a Catholic would have had the same reaction. In any case, the book really irritated me. I am hoping to go back to it and read it all at some point though, because I'm sure I missed a whole bunch of themes and symbolism in it.

And please keep writing your wonderful reviews and opinions, Ruth. I really enjoy and appreciate them! :-)

Unknown said...

Ruth, I appreciate your reviews and your point-of-view. (I really like that you include beautiful artwork and images in your posts.)

I'm certainly with you on Toni Morrison. I finished Song of Solomon but I didn't like it and have no desire to read more of her books.

I'm slowly becoming more intentional in my reading. Time is often short and I don't want to waste it on books I don't enjoy or that lack real value. I think Morrison is so popular because she 'pushes the envelope' and discuss taboo subjects. But I have better things to do with my time than read about sordid things. There's enough of it in the nightly news.

Unknown said...

I'm entirely with you. I had to read Beloved for a class once and hated every minute of it. I feel that writing should be clear and you should know which character is in the scene before you are a page and a half into said scene. It just isn't good writing.

Ruth said...

I have never heard the term "creative fiction" used before, but would you say it is similar to post-modern works? I just have a bad attitude about post-modern lit because it reminds me so much of post-modern art; and you see where that went. Anything is art: the more provocative, the better. And I think you are correct about why they want to feed it to high school and college-level students.

Thank you for sharing your perceptive opinion on the matter.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Cleo! You are too nice!!!

I will keep writing honestly about my feelings b/c this is my journey. Just like someone else's experience is different than mine.

Like I was telling Fariba, I haven't really cared for modern/post-modern works b/c of my bad experiences, but I am still keeping an open mind b/c I do hope to find something that is comparable to the great works of the past that tend to have a strong plot, well-developed characters and relationships, and a deep moral. But like you said in your comment, modern authors seem to want to reinforce those things which provoke or offend people rather than spend energy on a worthy plot and whole characters.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Tonia.

You brought up an important point about reading intentionally because this is what caused me to let it go - my conscience, that is. I was agonizing over finishing it b/c it is on TWEM list, but it wasn't worth it.

I have to admit it, but pushing the envelop gets people noticed. But you are right, some of us have better things to do with our time, and we don't have to accept it.

Ruth said...


Truly, it is so enjoyable to know what you are reading about - the sooner the better. Otherwise, a reader is likely to lose interest. That's exactly what happened to me w/ Song of Solomon.

By the way, was that a college course in which you had to read Beloved?

Brona said...

Surely part of the thing about having a well-educated mind, is knowing what you like and what you dont like, and why.
All well-educated minds also allow for difference of opinion, differing tastes and preferences.

You stopped reading a book that you weren't enjoying with clearly articulated reasons. Life's too short to waste on a book you're not enjoying or getting anything out of.

I think you have now graduated from your well-educated mind challenge with honours!

The last 2 books are bonus points!

Although you have now made me very nervous about the fact that Beloved is on my Classics Club 101 list :-/

Ruth said...

Aw, thank you, Brona. I appreciate that.

I have to agree: well-educated minds should also be able to differentiate between good and bad literature. Well, in my world, this is bad literature. And while someone else may enjoy it, it doesn't work for me. I can walk away from it, not because it intimidates me, but because it insults my intelligence. OK, that sounds rather snooty; but what I mean is: it goes against my principles for what I am willing to read.

I suppose I would suggest you give Beloved a try. Maybe you'll get through it and find something about it that you like; maybe you won't. But start with an open mind, and your conscience will dictate what to do about it.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Song of Solomon or Beloved, but I have read The Bluest Eyes and Jazz. Like you I don't remember finding either particularly engaging as a story, but I do remember admiring certain sections of each work and some of the experimental writing techniques. We read Jazz in one of my grad literature classes and at the very least it made for interesting discussion. I might try to tackle it again sometime in the future. I want to see if my tastes have changed and what I might get out of it.

Ulysses was the book I was most afraid to tackle and now I'm on the final chapter! Finnegan's Wake scares me more than Ulysses, but I'm not sure I ever intend to read it. I see Cleo mentioned Umberto Eco. It seems the commonality of book avoidance centers on non-traditional narrative styles and experimental literature.

Ruth said...

I see you are working your way through Ulysses, which is one I hope to read, too, although I understand it is challenging because of its writing style. A non-traditional style can be intimidating or discouraging if the reader does not understand what is happening.

So, if you reread Jazz and do a review of it, I would be open to reading your post. But that may be the most I get out of Morrison.

Anonymous said...

What bothered you most about Song of Solomon, the style or the explicit details?

You might appreciate this post by literary critic D. G. Myers: link He calls Beloved the most overrated novel and then analyzes its stylistic faults.

Ruth said...

First, it was the style because I was frustrated and lost while attempting to understand the characters and the plot. But I have experienced that before with other novels (Mrs. Dalloway, Return of he Native), yet I have carried on and got through it.

Then came the crude and coarse descriptions, and I stopped. I felt like the story did not merit even going on; although out of curiosity, I did research the synopsis and confirmed its senselessness.

Most of all, I felt like it was one of those post-modern books that aimed to officially offend people and provoke them out of their senses, and that we are all suppose to accept it as good literature. I guess I was feeling a little rebellious when I threw the book.

Nonetheless, I will definitely take a look at the link. Thanks.