Books and Places, Part II

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Last week, I wrote about some of the happy memories I have about books that I love. Today, I am following up with some memories of books that I did not like. You’ll notice that only one book is shown in the picture. The sentimental value of that one is too great, but all the other books have long since been banned from my shelves.

Animal Farm by George Orwell. I’m sure there’s merit to this book, but I spent an entire semester talking about it during my senior year of high school. I suspect that that was mostly due to my teacher’s laziness, rather than any real enthusiasm on his part. I know that every single student in that class was sick and tired of it after six months. Since then, I’ve had a slight aversion to books with animals as the main characters.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thomas. Between high school and college, I spent a year in the U.S. as a nanny. When a friend heard that I would be traveling to the West Coast, stopping in Las Vegas on the way, she sent me this book all the way from Germany. OMG, the money she spent on the postage. And OMG, the drugs! I felt messed up just reading about them. I seriously didn’t want to go to Las Vegas anymore after reading the book. Since I couldn’t change my travel plans, I stayed in Vegas just long enough to place a bet and get the free meal that came with it, and then I left.

Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I had a much better time in San Diego than in Las Vegas during that West Coast trip. While I was waiting for the overnight Greyhound bus to San Francisco, I met this guy who was a total Ayn Rand fan. He forced me to read Fountainhead on the bus, regularly interrupting me to ask how far I had read. This went on all night long; he simply wouldn’t let me go to sleep. The book did little for me, and the guy’s enthusiasm got old rather quickly. I wasn’t sorry to find out that he and Ayn Rand had booked a bed in a different hostel in San Francisco.

The Secret by Julie Garwood. For reasons too complicated to explain here, this girl I knew felt compelled to give me a good-bye present when my time as nanny was over. She picked The Secret because it took place “on the highlands, just like that other book” she had seen me reading. That other book was Wuthering Heights, which wasn’t exactly to my taste. It was sweet that she went through the trouble of picking a book for me, but Garwood’s romance didn’t fare much better than Charlotte Brontë’s tale.

The Origin of German Tragic Drama by Walter Benjamin. When I first enrolled at university, I wanted to study comparative literature. I thought I was well-read when I arrived at my first lecture, but I had never heard of most of the names that were mentioned oh so casually by students who seemed so much more knowledgeable than me. The name Walter Benjamin was everywhere, so I resolved to read one of his books. Unfortunately, the only book I could easily find was this particular book. Can you blame me when I admit that I didn’t get very far? Maybe he has more accessible books out there, but frankly, I don’t have any desire to find out. No more Benjamin for me.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. My mom has an excellent taste in books, and we rarely disagree in our assessments. But this one? It was painful! She read and loved it when she was pregnant with me, and so I decided to read it when I was pregnant with my first child. I rarely talk to a book’s character, but I regularly yelled at Hans to get off the damn mountain already. It took a lot of determination to finish this book, and keeping it on my shelf proves how much I love my mom.

Tell me, readers, is there a book out there that you thoroughly dislike? And is it because of the book or because of the circumstances under which you read it?

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13 comments

  1. Six months on Animal Farm? That’s far too long.
    The problem of school was this: the teachers decided what we should read. Most of the time, I wanted to read something else – and did.
    I haven’t read The Magic Mountain, but I did read Buddenbrooks and didn’t like it much.

    • I actually liked reading most of what was assigned. But I never liked having to interpret it all and then get a grade for the “correct” interpretation. How can you ever be sure that you really know what the author intended?

  2. I did not enjoy ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes. To me, nothing really happened in it and it was a genuine struggle to get through it; it’s the only time I’ve ever regretted being a person who has to finish a book once they’ve started it. I’ve wanted to get rid of my copy of it for ages, but like you I have kept it for sentimental reasons; this annoys me to no end.

    • I totally understand your annoyance. I’m attempting to read A Spool of Blue Thread at the moment, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. But nothing happens in that book either. It’s a library book, so I should probably just DNF and return it.

  3. Oh yes! Herman Melville’s ‘Billy Budd’ took up an excruciating term at University for me – they kept telling me why I should love it and I kept telling them how much I hated it! I dropped out of English Lit not long after… 😉 But at least I’ve never had to read Ayn Rand…

  4. We read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man my senior year of high school. I didn’t understand it at all and I hated it so much and so began my fear and hatred of Joyce. It took me 20 years to get over it at which point I reread Portrait and I actually liked it! And then I read Ulysses and was blown away.

    That bus ride reading Rand, oh, I feel bad for you!

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