Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Which Books Should Be Removed From the Canon?

"The Bookworm's Table" - Claude Rauget Hirst
Inspired by a recent Slate article that asked prominent book people to name which books they don't think are that great, I thought I'd turn it over to you.

Which books should be removed from the canon? Which classic books that everyone is expected to read just aren't that great?

Speaking personally, I'm a big fan of James Joyce's Ulysses, which I think is an amazing technical achievement. Finnegan's Wake, on the other hand, just felt like gibberish.

What about you?






136 comments:

Selena Robins said...

Moby Dick. It was painful getting through that book.

Caroline said...

Anything by George Orwell. I'm sorry, but I'm just not that interested in talking animals or the author's view of the future.

Joanne said...

I also first thought of Moby Dick! I had to read it in college and, I admit, skipped over the chapters that seemed like little more than a how-to guide for whaling. :-/

Michelle said...

Wuthering Heights & Lolita. The former because of the godawful unsympathetic characters and the latter because I really have no desire to spend that much time inside the mind of a child molester.

Daniel said...

I wouldn't recommend putting any books in a Cannon at all! They tend to crumple on impact. Well I suppose bibles might work against ghost ships but your probably better off blessing the cannon balls.

:P

Cyndy Aleo said...

I shouted with laughter about ULYSSES. I'm glad I got to meet you BEFORE I read that, or I may have approached you as one approached you as one does a potentially rabid animal. ULYSSES would top my list.

Moby Dick I LOVE! It's like a compendium of crazy on the part of the author as well as the MC.

I was thinking about this even before reading the Slate piece, though, simply because I just (finally) read Ann Patchett's STATE OF WONDER. I love her, but I'd been avoiding because of the inevitable comparisons to Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS, which I could actually get behind burning. But then I finally read it, and go to thinking how many books like Conrad, which torment students, could (and should) be replaced by these modern books that are SO MUCH BETTER and explore the same themes but in a much more relatable (and arguably better written) way.

Scott Stillwell said...

I hate to admit it, but I agree with the aspersions cast upon Cathcher in the Rye. I loved it when I first read it as a young man, but now that I've grown up a bit, Holden's whining makes my eyes roll so far back I can see my own brain.

Nico said...

Anna Karenina. No one needs to know that much about Russian farming.

Crystal said...

The Sound and the Fury. No question.

Mira said...

I'm not really trained to read literary fiction, and even if I were, I'd probably still dislike it, just not my cup of tea. So I'm hesitant to offer an opinion. I find many of these books boring and irritating, so I'd probably list off way too many books that were still great, but I just didn't like.

To name a few, D.H. Laurence's Women In Love made me so angry, well, years later I'm still angry. Gulliver's Travels and the Odyssey bored me to tears. But these are probably great books.

So, I'm going to tenatively go with that Shakespeare guy. Maybe it's just me, but his command of the English language appears to be sorely lacking. It's the 21st century, Bill. Get with the program.

(and yes, of course I'm joking. The last time I made that joke someone tried to convince me that Shakespeare was a great writer. And, yes, I will make this joke again, I never tire of it.)

Jennifer Cary Diers said...

"Great Expectations." I love Dickens-- I'm a fan of everything else he's written-- but I cannot appreciate this book. I've read it through twice, with no improvement.

dmc said...

The Scarlet Letter is not good. And Winnie-the-Pooh is terrible too.

Just Another Day in Paradise said...

Ah,One man's ceiling is another man's floor. Surely someone will want to remove "To Kill a Mockingbird" from the children's book list,at least. I take more exception to some of the current Pulitzer prize winners. Are you kidding me? Who gives out these prizes. Some of these books need a mental health warning. I wouldn't mind beating an author or two "over the head with their own shin bone", and I wouldn't be digging them up to do it.

E.B. Fyne said...

Naked Lunch. Don't know if it's technically a "great book," but I've heard people going on about it. I thought it was perverse and incomprehensible.

Goddess on Training Wheels said...

Les Miserables. I love the story of Jean Valjean and Cosette. But it bewilders me how anyone discovered this wonderful story buried in Hugo's social, political and historical tangents. I read this book because I thought I'd enjoy it. I finished it just to say I did.

Allan Petersen said...

It's a little frustrating to see people bash Beowulf. Obviously, it's not the best example of storytelling. That's not why it's important, though. It's (debatably) the oldest surviving work of English language epic literature.

E.B. Fyne said...

I completely agree with Just Another Day in Paradise re Pulitzer Prize books. American Pastoral was the most painful book I ever read. Made me want to shoot myself.

Ellen Brickley said...

I didn't like Great Expectations. It was mildly entertaining but does not deserve to be lauded as a work of genius. The work of a genius, perhaps, but there isn't much genius in it.

I've seen a few of my own favourites on here already. Seems everyone has their own canon :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Anything written by Thomas Hardy. His writing could be used as punishment.

Second offenders have to read the collected works of John Steinbeck.

E.B. Fyne said...

I'm by no means saying American Pastoral was badly written. I'm just agreeing it could use a mental health warning.

Katie said...

I recently had lunch at The Brazen Head in Dublin, which is mentioned in Joyce's ULYSSES!

LK Hunsaker said...

Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence. Yes, so it's supposed to be the first graphic "romance", but it's not romance. It's lust and vulgarity ... well, maybe it does fit today's definition of "romance" novels, but how about we throw out that book and that definition and get back to actual romance?

Mr. D said...

As a teacher, I hate to admit this, but when I was in school and assigned to read most of these classics, I really didn't.

magpiewrites said...

Candide - the only book I ever had to get Cliff Notes for because I thought, I MUST be missing something. Nope, just an awful book.

L. Shanna said...

I think Taming of the Shrew is Shakespeare's weakest and least relevant work, at least to a high school English teacher. And at the risk of public flogging, I never saw what was so great about Catcher in the Rye.

Bane of Anubis said...

portrait of the artist as a young man (based on that alone, I will never touch another Joyce book)

Stephanie McGee said...

Wuthering Heights

Frankenstein

War of the Worlds

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde

Gulliver's Travels

That's all I got for now.

Stephanie McGee said...

Of Mice and Men

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Christian said...

I think there are good reasons why these are called classics. That said it certainly is fun getting to vent on ones that don't fit with my tastes. For me I agree with Mark Twain, and find Pride and Prejudice a drudgery. I would also add Great Expectations to the list.

Unknown said...

I thought of Moby Dick as well! And to think I actually finished it once, too.

Not Gulliver's Travels, that's a great book!

janesadek said...

Didn't even have to hesitate: Thomas Harding's Jude the Obscure. Every paragraph got worse than the last! My Brit Lit teacher challenged me to write, Jude, The Good Years. I may do it yet!

Laura Marcella said...

I'll probably be stoned for writing this because I know I'm definitely in the minority: The Catcher in the Rye. Everyone raves about it so I tried to like this book, I really did. I've read it three times at different ages (14, 17, & 20) thinking growing up may help me see what everyone else sees in it... It didn't. I just don't like this novel and won't torture myself to try liking it anymore, LoL.

Amanda K said...

I'm quite surprised by the choices to remove posted in the comments. Of course, many of these books are difficult or very displaced by today's standards, but without them we would not be the literary community that we are today. [Albeit very simplified] Frankenstein helped us think about man's obsession with playing God and 1984 forced reflection on the role of government in our lives.

If, under a critical eye, any of these books have no real human moral to teach, then they should probably be removed. But all of these books have helped shape our standard of writing and reading today. That doesn't mean you have to LIKE them, but every writer should appreciate what our mentors had to offer.

Kathryn Elliott said...

Ironically, I’ve just returned from my son’s High School orientation –where a very, very dry (I’m talking Sahara) lit teacher droned on about the 9th grade reading list. The top two were Great Expectations and Moby Dick. (Intrinsic cringe). I plodded through GE, but MD was torture. I was pleased to see The Help as newly required – progress!

Noel said...

Catcher in the Rye; Wuthering Heights (completely unsympathetic creatures); Heart of Darkness (or anything by Conrad, for that matter); not much of a Steinbeck fan, but I can understand the importance of bringing the plight of the migrant worker, the poor farmer, etc. to the world, but does it have to be the same story every time?; Hunchback of Notre Dame (reads like a soap opera)...and I may be one of the few people that loved Moby Dick--one of my favorite books. On a different note, what modern books should be placed in the Canon? Which books now will be deemed as "classics?"

Hart Johnson said...

So funny about the eye of the beholder. MANY of the books mentioned, I've loved. Writing styles change and I think as readers it is good for us to be adaptive and read great works from other era. That said, the two i got stuck with and hated were The Sound and the Fury (anybody who can't find a sentence ending by page three really is just being pretentious) and Red Badge of Courage (though I can't really read anything from World War I--the writing style of the time and content combination is just painful, but from a historical perspective, it's possible we shouldn't banish them all, in spite of that)

Sierra McConnell said...

Why should we be /forced/ to read anything? I think it's ridiculous. Reading should be for fun. Learning comes naturally on account of everyday experiences. Hasn't everyone heard of the old adage, you can lead a horse to water, but if you shove their head under it's gonna drown the damn thing?

Or something to that effect...

I always loved to read and often read ahead. I could fall asleep in class and still know where we were in the book, much to the ire of my teachers. But I would hate to make someone do something they didn't want to do. Like maths. Oh, maths, I love you when I understand you but otherwise I put the pencil through the book.

slweippert said...

Silas Marner, never in my life have I read a more boring book. The plot is barely long enough for a short story.

wolfqueen927 said...

Since no one has mentioned these two, I'll probably be stoned, but On the Road by Jack Kerouac just didn't do anything for me. The other one I couldn't make it through that has received raves over the years is Catch 22. Enough already with all the characters - what are they doing? Where are we going with this?

Darley said...

Tolstoy. Take your pick.

Taylor Napolsky said...

Is this list painful for anyone besides me to read? People debasing Wuthering Heights, Catcher, Moby Dick??

Frankenstein?? Freaking Frankenstein??

Sorry, but it makes people sound simple. It just does.

I can't take it!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Personally, I am not a Dicken's fan. I love his plots, it's just the execution that I find faults with. I never did read Catcher in the Rye. Picked it up several times to read it and never got past the second page.

April said...

I totally understand how times change, and with it our views, beliefs, ideals...and hence our actions and the art that comes from them.

However.

I hated reading The Iliad, and I couldn't get into Wuthering Heights. Honestly...there are so many classics I'd love to try to read, but I have way too many modern books competing for my attention! So, I can't say I've read many of the classics out there.

Dara said...

Well, if it were up to me, forget anything Hemingway :P Yes, he's considered a literary god, but I loathe every single thing that man wrote :P I've tried to like his stuff, but I just can't.

As someone who was an English major, there were lots of books and short stories besides Hemingway I wondered why they were considered so significant. I guess I'm just not literary enough :P

Sommer Leigh said...

Anything by Charles Dickens? Can I say that? I usually get chased out of the room with torches and pitchforks when I say that, but I can't tell you how much I mean it. There's something about his voice and writing style that makes me want to do violence to my eyeballs. One of only two times I was ever kicked out of class in high school was when I told my sophomore English teacher I'd read Great Expectations because I had to for her class, but she couldn't make me like the book.

Charles Dickens, as it unfortunately turned out, was her favorite author of all time. Go figure.

She actually threw me out both times, but Charles wasn't responsible for the second time.

My husband the English teacher says Moby Dick is the worst book he has ever read and would never make a student trudge through any part of it.

Cathy Yardley said...

Yes, I think that you should be "forced" to read in school. It's like saying to a personal trainer "you can't force me to exercise!" I'm not saying that it should be draconian: I think popular genre books can be studied as well as literary classics. But it would be irresponsible not to introduce kids to things outside of their comfort zone.

On the other hand, I also disagree with the idea of a cannon. Telling kids that these books have been considered "classics" is one thing, but suggesting that there's something wrong with the students -- that they're stupid or wrong, say -- because they don't like or don't "get" a book is another. Standing up for their opinions is probably just as important to learn.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

I have to echo The Scarlet Letter, which may very well be my distaste for having to read it in high school talking. It was just so DRY and stuffy and felt like a (misguided) lesson in the author's particular morality.

Jesse said...

Amanda K--Everyone has their likes and dislikes. I have to agree with the masses that Frankenstein, while classic, is a product of its time and doesn't translate well to the modern era. I read it, I was bored.

My list--

Frankenstein --wordy, doesn't translate to modern day
Gone With the Wind -- hey, I'm from the south, I'm so over the damn Civil War issues I can't see straight. Not my time period.
A Separate Peace -- snore fest; I got no peace
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock -- Okay, technically a poem but good God, I had to read and analyze that damn thing in every fricking English class I took. Okay, I got the coffee spoons thing...MOVING ON!
Ode on a Grecian Urn -- See comment on Alfred, without the coffee spoons. I don't care who the damn urn is talking to.
Anything by James Joyce -- and that's only because I've never been a huge fan of the "Stream of Conciousness" novel. They're very hard to follow and try way too hard to be hip, trendy, and cool. But since James is considered "classic," what do I know. I just don't like them.

After that, I rather liked all the other stuff I read. Never read Moby Dick, so no opinion on that one. Or George Orwell. Have to try 'em on for size. Along with Nabakov. But then, I'm not that big on the Russian style of novel either. Just not my thing. Ah well.

Rick Daley said...

I would swap Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" for "The Road"

I think both are excellent books, but "The Road" had a greater impact on me as a reader. I was more drawn into the characters and the story, where "Blood Meridian" can be alienating at times with the density of the prose.

WORD VERIFICATION: rutedi. A self-expression of encouragement. Example: I was excited, so "Hip-hip-hooray!" Rutedi.

Ryan Stuart Lowe said...

I'm not sure if I'd dispose of any books, per se -- but I'd certainly abridge many of the books in the canon.

This includes personal favorites like Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter, which include long filibusters.

david elzey said...

okay, while i get that most of what this list is comes down to personal tastes, the point and purpose of the canon is... what exactly? to make sure we all have a foundation by which we can discuss, compare, and understand other literature? is that a fair enough assessment?

so while, yes, MOBY DICK is the book that literally destroyed my first attempt at grad school, i do recognize its historical importance in american literature. should everyone know the story and its importance? yes. should everyone read it? no.

perhaps what is required is a pair of parallel canons, the books you know and the books you "should" read.

for me, MOBY DICK must go. heave-ho, heave-ho!

Himbokal said...

Wow. I'm into everybody being subversive. I started the summer with 20 books to read. I'm on #18. I have 2 left: Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness. These comments have not been reassuring (though they may explain why those two got shoved to the back of the line).

Classics I'd take off the Canon(that's just take off the Canon not burn or actively tell people not to read):

Far From The Madding Crowd-read it just to say I'd read Hardy.

Pride and Prejudice-Okay, but I'd recommend House Of Mirth over this any day.

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man-Like somebody else said: turned me off Joyce totally. Maybe I'd appreciate it if I read it now.

Mrs. Dalloway: Huh?

As for newer stuff that has whiffs of becoming canonical:

White Noise-DeLillo. Wake me when he's done being deep and ironical.

Alyson said...

-Amazed at all the Moby Dick hostility-

I don't much believe any book could or should be chucked from the "classics." Already I've seen many of my favorite books highlighted in the posts above (Les Miserables, Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein)--but really, what everyone seems to have in common is a bad English class experience. My tenth grade English teacher would have thoroughly ruined To Kill a Mockingbird had I not already read it (and loved it)...to often, it's not the book, its the way you were dragged through it against your will.

So, if I had to strike a book from the "required reading" canon, I'd be glad to be rid of Great Expectations. The whole assignment was intolerable--and I love Victorian fiction. Dickens' ego is apparent between every overstuffed adjective in that novel.

Atthys Gage said...

I love how varied these responses are. Taste is a remarkable and inscrutable phenomenon.

But still, come on people! Lolita is a magnificent book. It really, really is. Likewise Moby Dick, though I will agree that Catcher in the Rye is pretty trivial.

Don Smith said...

Faulkner's "Absolom, Absolom"... I knew I was in trouble after that first sentence.

E.B. Fyne said...

I do think it's important to distinguish between books you consider well written (and have historical significance), but you just don't like, and books you feel are badly written. There many well written books that I did not enjoy reading. But I still appreciate their value.

Heather Hawke said...

I am such a geek! I love so many of the listed: Silas Marner, almost all Dickens, Wuthering Heights...but I do admit I was never able to get through Ivanhoe or Anna Karenina despite multiple tries.

Bonnie said...

I remember Ethan Frome being horrible.

Lisa Lane said...

I think many books sit on the canonical fense because so many people fail to understand them. For example, I hated Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING until I figured out the brilliant, hidden key to the story that only careful deconstructionism could uncover.

With that said, I would remove MOBY DICK from the canon. Melville writes some good short fiction, but he's just too long-winded for his own good. I'd also add any post-Civil War book that uses excessive manipulation of phonetics in its attempt to capture slack-jawed southern dialect. I just can't stand that.

As far as winners I'd fight to keep in the canon, my votes would go for anything by Wells, Orwell, Vonnegut, Pope, or Salinger.

Gerhi Janse van Vuuren said...

You shouldn't be reading any books in a cannon.
First there is not enough space to move your elbows and turn pages. Second, there is not enough light in there and you could damage your eyes and third... No there is no third. Just don't read in cannons.

david elzey said...

something i realized while mulling this over further: i totally hated THE GRAPES OF WRATH in high school, but read it almost 20 years later and totally loved it.

so perhaps one of the problems with the canon is that we get these books before we're ready for them?

even so, still no love for MOBY DICK

E.B. Fyne said...

I agree that many people (including myself)don't necessarily appreciate older books because we are too far removed the historical context. I read several of Jane Austen's books and, sadly, I found them very boring. But from what I understand, Jane Austen's books were intended to be witty and poke fun at contemporary norms. If we are ignorant of those contemporary norms, we will miss the humor.

D.G. Hudson said...

Ah, the declining of the literary period. . . I think this should go to referendum. Reading the classics is an OPTION, it's only required as long as you're in school.

Books I didn't like: any of the Jane Austen or Bronte stories, but I have read some of them just for the taste, which didn't suit me.
I loved Dickens (I'd want to edit the long description passages but even so...)and the ending of Oliver Twist will always stick in my mind.

Kerouac's On the Road, IMO, was one of those books that defined the searching of a generation.

If you choose to educate yourself only on the books written in the last 30 years or less, you may have a narrow perspective, but it's your choice. Some of the classics are dead-dry and boring, but you can study the techiques of the writing. Most were appropriate in the time period they were written, and not likely to appeal to today's readers.

How can you compare The Road to Pride and Prejudice - one paints a reality that is dank and dreary but viewed with a father's love while the other highlights the rigid bylaws of being feminine in a man's world of the early 19th century.

You can educate yourself or not, in any way you choose, but allow those choices for others. Schools should go for a mix of classic and new -- that would work.

Kari said...

Wow...what a controversial subject. Some of my favorite books are on this list.

Anyway, I would vote for Alice in Wonderland...but maybe I am not qualified to knock it since I've never been able to get through the whole thing.

Amanda K said...

@ Jesse - see, and I disagree! I feel that Shelley's warnings are all to relevant today.

But I guess that's the most important part about literature - it's up for interpretation, and after words are published they then belong to the reader.

Amanda K said...

Bleck. I swear that Blogger made that spelling mistake, not me...

L.G.Smith said...

I see subjectivity rears her beautiful head yet again.

JohnO said...

I reread a lot of the classics when I went back for an MA in English in my 30s, which made it glaringly obvious that most of these classics were written in the "pre-visual era," when they could take their time because they didn't have to compete with film and TV. I agree with the commenter who said they need to be read in context.

Another pet theory: Some of these books are on the canon because they were "firsts" or at least earlies, such Wuthering Heights. (I found it hard to read, with unsympathetic characters and a bleak story. Maybe it exists to make English degrees seem like work instead of pleasure.)

Other observations: I read Arthur Koestler and Orwell's 1984 back to back, and thought "Darkness at Noon" was a MUCH better novel.

I always wondered if Catcher in the Rye got so much traction because it was essentially a YA before the genre formally existed.

Some Shakespeare plays are miles better than others. "Taming of the Shrew" and "Merchant of Venice" are just not that good. "Anthony and Cleopatra" is hugely underrated.

pamkwill said...

Lord of the Rings. Yes, it started the fantasy genre. The idea was great. But it didn't really have a plot during the first half. He just threw everything he could think of in there about the world. And the ending was nothing. It ran out of steam. Great idea, great characters. The story really wasn't that great. (please don't everyone hate me.)

Most classic books are hard to understand today anyway.

Jasmine Blade said...

Anything by Faulkner. That man has Writer's A.D.D.

Henrietta said...

The Once and Future King by T.H White. Tedious!

Marilyn Peake said...

None of them. I could see replacing many of them with other books for Literature classes, but it's always worth studying the classics and keeping them on a recommended list. There are some award-winning, highly recommended modern books that don't even come close in quality, and even those are worth reading. That said, there's no reason why any book shouldn't be analyzed for flaws as well as quality, and classic books are usually studied within the context of the era within which they were written. For instance, I can’t imagine having BEOWULF removed from the list of studied literature, and yet in large part it’s just an example of very early written storytelling.

Mystery Robin said...

Doesn't Nathan love Moby Dick?

It pains me to see some favorites on this list like Wuthering Heights and Huck Finn and Frankenstein...

but personally, I feel kind of scarred for life having read Lord of the Flies in 10th grade. I definitely think that should be optional in high school curriculum. Let those who love it find it, and let the rest of us stay the h*ll away!

Mostly, though, I love the classics.

Gail Shepherd said...

You guys will have to pry Thomas Hardy and Melville out of my cold, dead hands. I could definitely have done without Pamela, though.

M. S. Steed said...

Whuthering Heights. I read it just to get it over with -- and my first thought after was: "What on Earth did I just READ?"

The Call Of The Wild -- I think I read that for school, and it was painful.

I haven't read many classics (yeah, home schooling meant it was never required).

Amy Tripp said...

Anything by the Bronte sisters... *snore*

rachelslessonslearned said...

I'm sorry, Nathan, I know that this will be blasphemous to you, but I have to say "The Great Gatsby", no hesitation. I hated that book. HATED. I found the characters irritating (if the word emo had existed then, that's what I would have called them), the plot unoriginal, and the writing uninspired. Don't get me started on the insipid closing.

SIGH. yeah, The Great Gatsby needs to go. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Anything by Saul Bellow or Graham Greene...BOR-ing. Saul can't go a paragraph without name dropping, and Greene was the inspiration for LeCarre only because he must have thought to himself, bloody hell, I can do better than that.

david elzey said...

i so don't want to get into questioning anyone's choices or reasons, but i'm curious about GATSBY'S plot being called unoriginal. at the time it was written, what other books had the same plot?

sincerely curious...

Amber Cuadra said...

I hated Moby Dick. I think that's the only book I've ever said I outright hate. I also don't really care for the Chronicles of Narnia as a whole. The stories are okay, but I can't stand the writing. (I don't know if they count as a classic, but I'll put them there anyways). And to be honest, I think I'm the only girl alive who has only read five chapters of a Jane Austen book. I couldn't get through it. I'm going to try once more to read one, but I don't know if I'll be successful.

Jaime Morrow said...

Removed from the Canon OR shot out of a cannon? Hmmm...
I flipping detested Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (as somebody else mentioned, I might actually be able to get behind burning that thing). I could shoot it out of a cannon easily :)
Also didn't love Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, but that could have a lot to do with the fact that my dad's a salesman...

Margo Lerwill said...

LOL. I love that some people are naming books that others adore. Subjectivity at its finest.

I loved The Iliad and Heart of Darkness, but I wouldn't feel awful if every copy of Lolita and everything James Joyce ever wrote suddenly went inexplicably missing.

And The Mists of Avalon, I'd definitely 'misplace' the Mists of Avalon. It's not technically a classic, but you wouldn't know that from my lame social circle.

Nathan Bransford said...

mystery robin-

I do love Moby-Dick. This has been a painful thread to read.

Though I must say I agree with those who mentioned The Scarlet Letter. I like some of Hawthorne's writing but felt like TSL was so over the top in just about every way.

KAWyle said...

Frankenstein. Terribly written (as well as anti-science). Only saving grace is the moments of unintentional hilarity (like the monster reading The Sorrows of Young Werther).

Bless Me, Ultima. Ponderous, pretentious -- except for a couple of scenes that seem to have been written by a different author.

David Copperfield. There are better Dickens books to assign (Great Expectations, or Tale of Two Cities -- I think many students would get caught up in the latter).

Dave said...

Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury." How that stream of randomness came to be considered literature eludes me.

Mister Fweem said...

GRATE EXPECTATIONS by Edmund Wells.

And shocked, just SHOCKED that anyone would want to expunge Orwell. No, sir or madam, that is just wrong. Plain wrong.

And to the person who listed SILAS MARNER? Pooh to you. Without that book, we would not have Steve Martin's "A Simple Twist of Fate."

Torre - Fearful Adventurer said...

I had to laugh at the comment above: "Frankenstein. Terribly written (as well as anti-science)." Questioning science was the whole point, and it's even more relevant today because of that.

I tried and I tried, but I couldn't enjoy Love in the Time of Cholera. I got to the last pages and I wanted to break something out of boredom, pent-up frustration and disappointment. It was like never-ending fever dream, apart from this one line: "This soup tastes like windows."

Eddie said...

I knew I shouldn't read the comments on this post. I wonder how many people have actually and truly read the books they've decided to chuck from the canon.

I can't say I'm surprised, though. On the "Which quality is most important for a writer" post, only 5 comments out of 159 mentioned HUMILITY.

I don't like Jane Eyre. But I've still read it completely three times. I respect it and understand that it is significant and a great literary accomplishment. I'm familiar with the literary and philosophical tradition that it interacts with and responds to. And I absolutely think everyone should read it. It deserves its place in the canon, even though I bloody well don't care for it myself.


I think it takes a lot of gall to nominated ANY canonical book for this because it's not a question of how much you enjoyed it or if it gratified you. It's a question of whether or not the book deserves to be read widely, whether or not it has something substantial to offer the great conversation that has passed to us from thousands of years ago. To claim a book has nothing worthwhile to offer because "I'm just not that interested" or "I have no desire" or "it's torture" (read: it requires too much of my brain) is so lazy and puerile. Ugh.

MJR said...

As an English major, I had to read George Eliot's Middlemarch twice and it was a bore both times. Some of Virginia Woolf's novels I found pretty boring (Mrs. Dalloway)...I don't think I'd re-read The Brothers Karamazov, but at least I can say I read it.

Beth said...

The Diary of Anne Frank. It is not so much the agonizing saga of a Jew in hiding as it is the ramblings of a whiny little girl.

My mother would say "The Giver," but that's because I don't think she "gets" it. *I* think "The Giver" is fabulous.

Maya said...

I vote for THE SUN ALSO RISES because all of the blatant anti-semitism keeps it from classic status.

My husband has spent the last 3 years plodding through Finnegan's Wake; in fact, it's his Everest. He has a companion book longer than the original text containing all of analysis and footnotes. He claims that it is a worthwhile endeavor, and maybe it is. He should win a medal if he ever completes it!

Just Another Day in Paradise said...

You folks have no heart. You would do away with some of my favorite characters: Holden, Heathcliff, Cathy, Ahab and Ishmael. Like I said earlier books should come with a "mental health warning" when necessary,no matter what era. Thank you for the nightmares Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Stoker.

Emily Strempler said...

To Kill a Mockingbird was very boring and Kafka's Metamorphosis was so absurdly hard to get through that I press ganged my mom into forcing me to listen to it read aloud. Those are the main ones I would get rid of.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

One man's clunker is another man's classic. There is no book everyone in the world loves.

Jim Oliver said...

The Sun Also Rises. I never made it out of Paris. This surprised me, because I loved For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Susie said...

I don't think the books in the so-called 'canon' are the problem--I think the problem is that the western canon is still widely priveleged above non western literature. Why not read Sundiata, or Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart?" What about "The Diary of Lady Murasaki?" These elegant texts may help forge a new understanding of what makes great books stand the test of time.

Mira said...

Some of these are funny, and some are very painful. Dismissing the Diary of Anne Frank? Lolita? Pride and Prejudice? Ah, a stake through my heart.

But an enjoyable thread nonetheless, despite the fact that I really think we're just sharing what books we don't like for the most part.

Bryan Russell said...

You folks are killing me. No Moby Dick? No Joyce? (Though Finngegan's Wake is almost gibberish, and intentionally so, in my opinion - Joyce wanted to create a literary puzzle, I think, and did just that). No Austen? No Conrad?

I hope none of you are in public office. Think of the poor Canon! All those Dead White Guys rolling in their graves!

Killing me, I say. Especially Bane. But then he's a Lakers fan, so what can you expect?

Anonymous said...

I'd have to go with The Bible, and Gone with the Win. Both were way over the top for me. One's way too dramatic and the other needed a good revision before it went to print.

Bryan Russell said...

I do, however, like that idea of who you'd like to put in the Canon...

ED Martin said...

Another vote for Moby Dick.

Steve Bradley said...

The Catcher in the Rye. Every time Holden Caulfield used the phrase "if you want to know the truth" it made me want to track down Salinger's closest male descendant and punch him in the balls.

Anonymous said...

The arrogance of some of these posts is astounding. I mean, really. Everything by John Steinbeck? Anne Frank is a whiny little girl? Thomas "Harding"...? (that one made me laugh)

If I may quote Amanda K., because she put it quite well: "...all of these books have helped shape our standard of writing and reading today. That doesn't mean you have to LIKE them, but every writer should appreciate what our mentors had to offer."

Mira said...

Sorry to post three times, but hey -

Nathan asked! People are sharing honestly.

It's true that I shared about an arrow to the heart, but it's all in fun.

Let's not give folks too hard a time.

Cherise said...

I started Moby Dick and appreciated the style and feel of it, but I confess I ran out of patience. I don't think it should be 'tossed out,' per se, but perhaps we should leave it sitting on the shelf, waiting for the people who don't mind taking multiple years to read a single book.

I haven't read Lolita, but the excerpts I've come across made me shudder and want to scrub my brain with soap. I do not care how well something is written; digesting filth for the cause of literature is not worth it.

Geekamicus said...

The Bible (King James) -- as literature. I don't have a problem reading it from a standpoint of faith, but reading it for its literary value like I was forced to do in my freshman Eng. Lit. class was an incredibly painful experience.

It's interesting because we didn't have much forced reading in my high school apparently, (Beowulf being the exception) but I've read a lot of these dislikes on my own time and if I didn't enjoy them, at least I can say I've read them.

Mick Montane said...

Someone please explain to me how the question in this post is anything more than shameless comment-mongering.

Oy!

The Desert Rocks said...

Franz Kafka's The Castle

Haley Whitehall said...

It is interesting reading everyone's choices. I definitely didn't like Lord of the Flies. That needs to go.

Reina said...

First, is there really an agreed upon canon? Depends who you ask, I'd wager. I haven't *liked* plenty of books, but I agree with @AmandaK and @CathyYardley, it's not particularly educating to only read what you like or even understand fully. Education is about expanding our minds, our views, our critical thinking skills. Good teachers help us learn to articualte why something may not appeal to us while showing the merits of a work. Lack of decent teachers? Find, or be, your own.

Linda Godfrey said...

Agree with Nico on Anna Karenina - my most regretted time investment in a novel ever. Blast it from the canon!

I love Thomas Hardy's works and read them all over and over, and Moby Dick rocks like a Kraken. Call me Ishmael, too, if you like.

Anonymous said...

I challenge any of you writers to read again Catcher in the Rye and claim it is a well-written book. If I read it today, I would assume it was a first draft, sent off to a vanity press before it evolved into a readable novel.

Kudos to Salinger for coming up with the most ways to say the same thing on a single page. On every page.

Other Lisa said...

What @Reina @AmandaK and @CathyYardley said. This thread's killing me too!

I will divulge a couple of books I couldn't get through though...

100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE -- it's a measure of how I felt about this book that I had to double-check and make sure it wasn't called 1000 YEARS OF SOLITUDE -- and Pynchon's V. On the other hand I LOVED The Crying of Lot 49, a book which really influenced me. Go figure.

Oh, and THE DEER-SLAYER. We had to read that and A. Conan Doyle's THE WHITE COMPANY in junior high. Two of the most boring books I've ever read.

Was not crazy about Scarlett Letter or Ethan Frome either, but that might have more to do with my age when I read them.

Jennifer M said...

The Moby Dick comments make me want to methodically knock people's hats off (and it's not even November). I love that book, and I love the film versions of it, which have been all over the TV this summer. Gregory Peck's Captain Ahab is my favorite, but Leela in the Futurama episode, "Mobius Dick" is a close second.

As to which books should be removed from the canon, I'm torn. While I struggled through some of the books mentioned here, I also know that I became a better reader because of them. If I had to pick one, though, it would be OF MICE AND MEN, and that's only because I think Steinbeck's other stories are better. So please don't kick Steinbeck out completely.

Jo-Ann said...

I thoroughly second whoever said "Love In the Time of Cholera". The characters made me grind my teeth. Fermina Daza was continually described as being "spirited", an example of "telling" contradicting the "showing", because she was actually so damned passive I wanted to stab her in the eye with a sharp stick.
And lets not forget the sleazy MC and his string of lovers, including his 12 year old ward (when he was about 70). Why weren't reviewers concerned about the blatant pedophilia? Somebody please get the gasoline on this offensive, overwritten nonsense.

Margo Lerwill said...

Looks like a few people need to take this post and themselves a little less seriously. All in fun. No one is seriously going to dig up your favorite author and stuff him and his books into a cannon, m'kay?

Robin Connelly said...

I find myself suffering a strong dislike towards The Great Gatsby and anything by Hemingway. I also found Gilgamesh boring, though I think I would have been much more interested in the story as a whole if their hadn't been a rule in the book about everything needing to be repeated three times first.
On the otherhand, I think that most people should, at least try, read "I know Why The Caged Bird Sings."

marion said...

My least favorite required reading:
Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. Enough already about the poor guy's complex about his club foot. On and on and on.

I also hated A Farewell to Arms. An endless tedious soap opera.

I like some of the others that people dislike.
The Sound and the Fury was a revelation of how people's thoughts run.
But, much more recently, I read As I Lay Dying. The ending reveals that the whole thing is a kind of sick joke. Not a fan.

One reason Wuthering Heights is a classic is that, in spite of the silly gothic elements (which I loved, as a teenager), it depicts a dysfunctional family. Which was probably a first.

Anonymous said...

Great Expections. I know Charles Dickens is supposed to be a genius and all that but NOTHING good ever happens in that book and for me it just kept dragging ON and ON!

Barbara Forte Abate said...

Oddly enough I don't recall the required reading from my own school days as well as the stinkers my four children have been assigned over the years. I'm sure it's their moaning complaints of having to spend their summer vacations tortured by the necessary reading of painfully dull and boring books. Always I am left wondering why teachers feel it's important to instill an actual hatred of reading in kids by assigning "Classics" such as The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick. Particularly when there are so many excellent modern tales that would do the job of teaching love for literature so much more effectively.

Karen A. Chase said...

Tess of the Dubervilles. It's more like Tess of the Boringvilles. I even tried watching the movie. All those hours of my life I'm not getting back...

Anonymous said...

Taylor, I have to agree. This thread is painful. "Loathe" "boring" "burning it" directed toward The Scarlet Letter, Heart of Darkness, Moby Dick, 1984, Gulliver's Travels... This is really depressing. I'm leaving a message, but I had to quit reading, and I won't be returning to this thread.

Donna

Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC said...

I nominate Tender is the Night. I don't care much for Henry Jamesbooks either, but I have a special kind of hatred for Tender.

Bill Greer said...

The Great Gatsby - I didn't hate it but it did nothing for me. I remember thinking, "This is one of the greatest books of the 20th century? Seriously?"

Anything by Albert Camus.

BTW, I liked Moby Dick.

Daniel McNeet said...

James Joyce said it took him thirty years to write Finnegan's Wake and he expects the reader to take the remainder of his life to read it and understand it.

I think we should leave it in the Canon. I have read it and liked it.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I liked so many books on that list: Don Quixote, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, are just a few. It really IS subjective. I have a friend who adores everything Charles Dickens wrote, and yet when I read Oliver Twist I had such mixed emotions: interesting bad guys, interesting story problem, or idea of a story, anyway; but the world's most boringly angelic MC saved by cardboard characters and an improbable ending.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how often an inability to connect with a book is due to the way (or rhythm) a book is read rather then the book itself.

When I first read Pride and Prejudice I couldn't get into it and thought I'd never get through it. Then I change the rhythm of how I was reading it and it changed everything. I liked it and would read it again.

Just a thought. I don't have any books to add. I'm behind in my reading of the classics and some of the comments are making me less enthusiastic about some on my reading list.

SBJones said...

I'm sure I'll get hate, but I despise Shakespeare, and the Canterbury Tales. Its just not grade school level material and in my opinion hurts reading more than it helps.

Nicole said...

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Maybe it's because I read it in high school and was too young to "get it," but I'm not exactly jazzed about books that are like abstract paintings and end up as "classics."

And I was the one girl in the school who loved books and loved to read. This one though...just...no.

Tricia said...

I love this thread. I always thought there was something wrong with me that I hated Catcher in the Rye and some of the others mentioned here.

Usually when the names of these novels are brought up, it is with a pretention. And honestly, I think it's a bad case of the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes with a lot of these books. "Oh, you loved A Hundred Years of Solitude? Well, so did I." blah blah blah.

This topic is refreshing for a change.

Brenda said...

I might get run down and shot for this, but anything by Jane Austen. I just can't stand her books.

Glory Lennon said...

Perhaps it's because I see no point in being stoned to the point of incoherence but you can toss On the Road into a volcano for all I care and DH Lawrence's rambling Rainbow? I mean...what the hell was the point?

T said...

Dang, am I the only one that knows that Moby Dick is Nathan's favorite? Yikes! I noticed a common thread. I just skimmed the remarks and many of the same books were mentioned, which also happen to be required reading in high school and college. A correlation? And shouldnt we be a little forgiving to books we haven't read in twenty years? Just a thought.

I personally believe that force feeding classic lit to students is a nonstrategic approach to teaching. Teaching is an art and simply assigning "great" lit isnt enough. I'm not surprised that many books were quickly regurgitated.

But on to the original question...

I am a die-hard reader of the classics. If somebody says, I read classic book X and it was so dry and boring, I immediately put it on my mental reading list. I'm a prose junkie. I need each sentence to pull me into the next. When somebody learns that I love reading and persists that I read a Da Vinci Code-style book I am forced to confess that I am a Book Snob, I confess! I still haven't read everything by Dickens and Fitzgerald and McCarthy and Atwood! How could I possibly waist a moment's time on anything else?!

However, with that said, there are two highly acclaimed books that I would knock off of the pedestal they were put on.

The first one is The Catcher In The Rye. Holden drove me crazy. He whined and moaned and bothered me. Take any one hour period from my teen years and that hour would shatter Holden's idea of rebellion. Some good nuggets in there, admittedly, but it's no heavyweight.

The next book would be Neuromancer by William Gibson. It is not a classic in the general literary sense but it is considered the father of cyber-punk (or the matrix concept for you non-Sci-Fi readers). About half way through the torturous prose and who-cares plot I had an existential epiphany: I dont have to suffer! I can end this! So, with the greatest relief and joy, I put the book down. To this day I examine my inability to end my own suffering at an early time. Like page five.

Jen P said...

Ooh I feel like we're on secret confessions.

First, all you voters for Hardy I will cross the Atlantic to collect up your unwanted copies of Tess or anything else. If you haven't yet visited his locations in England do if you can, and then re-read - you may see it in a whole new light. And Huck Finn, nooooo - just loved loved loved that story! Second, thank goodness I'm not alone in The Great Gatsby (sorry Nathan, I know)! Could not get into it, but may give it another go after a break. Personal taste vs great literary merit perhaps? I didn't really get why The Sea by John Banville was regarded such a recent classic. But as far as old-classics go, Alice in Wonderland, Don Quixote, Middlemarch and Vanity Fair. What's struck me reading these posts, is the number of greats I still have to read, and the enormous pleasure and lasting impression that so many of them did make on me as a teen-reader. It's less common that recent novels leave me with that something special, so perhaps I need to re-read some of these greats to distill their essence into something to aim for in my own writing now.

Fun post discussion!

J. T. Shea said...

FINNEGAN'S WAKE felt like gibberish? You Sassanach! Oh wait, you're an American. But you clearly don't understand GuinnessSpeak, which the UN will soon be recognizing as an official dialect of English, or Irish, or something.

Far from from REMOVING books from the cannon, I can think of several I'd put INTO the canon, and fire as far away as possible.

Katie, it's been said if Dublin were somehow destroyed it could be rebuilt using ULYSSES as a guide.

But MOBY DICK haters beware! I'm sharpening my harpoon! THAT will be painful!

Rachel6 said...

I haven't read a lot of the books on the list, so I'll keep my mouth shut about Tess, Moby Dick, and Catcher in the Rye.

But speaking as a big fan of Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew ought to be allowed to die a quiet death. He wrote many plays far better.

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