Sunday, June 20, 2010

Famous Books That Suck

Just a quick post today. My son, Josh, is coming up around noon for Father's day and will be here for a couple of days. I won't be posting or reading blogs during that time. We've got some fun things to do that don't involve the computer. In the meantime, though, I'll leave you with a brief commentary on famous books that suck.

1. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Often referred to as the first modern novel, there are indeed some good things in this book. The writing isn't bad and the characters are well drawn. There are some justifiably famous lines, "From Hell's heart I stab at thee." However, the book is very long, with numerous asides that are info dumps on whaling and have nothing to do with the basic storyline. It took me nearly two years to read it and I still shudder a bit at the thought.

2. William Hope Hodgson wrote a very fine book called The House on the Borderland. I loved it's surreal prose and imagery, and the feeling of real dislocation within it. So naturally I tried Hodgson's The Night Land. Big mistake. The book is agonizingly slow and repetitive and is written with a biblical tone that is interesting at first but soon grows old. There is some fine imagery in it, and it showcases Hodgson's twisted but brilliant imagination, but the basic story is not very interesting in the first place. (It's about reincarnated lovers.) And the repetive elements are enough to drive a reader mad themselves. I thought if I was going to have to read one more time about how they: walked 8 hours and ate some tablets and slept for six hours, that I was going to scream. The books is about 200,000 words long, and I understand there is a 20,000 word version called The Dream of X. I sure wish I'd read that one first.

3. Requiem for a Dream, by Hubert Selby Jr. I've mentioned my dislike of this book before, and unlike with my first two picks I can't find anything positive to say about it. All I can say is, I wanted all the characters (except the main junkie's mom) to die as quickly as possible so I'd be put out of their misery. The writing is absolutely bland, with paragraphs that run on for whole pages and at the same time combine dialogue from several speakers without using any quotation marks or tags to let you know who is speaking. If you must experience something of this work, watch the movie, which is not my favorite in the world but is a thousand times better than the book.

And now, for two items that definitely do NOT suck. I just finished reading Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West, and I found it to be very fine. I'll be doing a review of the book as a blog post sometime soon. I also read "Love's Clothing," by Rachel V. Olivier, which is a short story in the March 2010 issue of Aoife's Kiss. Good stuff. Very inventive. With a great setting and backstory. I recommend both works.



RA said...

Phew! Finally somebody to agree with. I never, but never, dared to say that I found Moby Dick to be just a plain dick as far as books go! Hooray for saying it out loud!

As for Requiem for a Dream, well, I found the film so desperately dulling that I never dared to open the book.

mybillcrider said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mybillcrider said...

Okay, here's what I meant to say with the typo corrected. MOBY DICK isn't my favorite novel by any means, but I like it quite a bit. I've read it twice and parts of it a lot more than that. Never tried THE NIGHT LAND or REQUIEM FOR A DREAM.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Have never been able to get through Moby Dick. Or any Melville for that matter. My husband loved it though.

Rick said...

Any book that takes two years to read should be put out of its misery!

Sidney said...

I've never encountered The Night Land. Too bad. May have played better in its era, I guess.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Makes you wonder why some books are considered classics, doesn't it?

writtenwyrdd said...

I read Moby Dick when I was six and I credit that for my being able to actually finish it. (Yes, I did understand the book, even if a lot of it made even less sense to a 6-year-old than they would to an adult, lol.) I still remember thinking, Why would the captain be so stuck on killing that whale? Can't he leave well enough alone?

But I am glad to say I haven't experienced the other two you mention. I'm afraid that I am not much for the classics. Even though I have an English degree, most of what I read in college was more of a torture than enjoyment. (Although I did like Faulkner.)

Mike Golch said...

I hated Moby Dick as well.

I do want to wish you a happy Father's day.

laughingwolf said...

never felt inclined do read 'dick', not heard of the others, so guess i'm ahead with hours, maybe years, of reading time left? ;)

Barrie said...

Interesting! I like Moby Dick back in the day. I wonder if I'd still like it now. Hmmm..... Happy
Father's Day, Charles!!!

SQT said...

I only got through Moby Dick by skipping all the chapters that are nothing but descriptions of whales. I don't think I missed anything.

Lana Gramlich said...

"For hate's sake I spit my last breath...AT THEE!"
(What would "Wrath of Khan" be without "Moby Dick?")

Laurie Powers said...

Happy Father's Day to you Charles. Enjoy your visit with your son.

I have never been able to get past the first couple of chapters in Moby Dick. Dull, dull, dull.

Requiem for a Dream - never read it and now glad I've read your post. I liked the movie, however. Very compelling.

Randy Johnson said...

Like Ra, I can finally admit to not liking Moby Dick(my deep, dark secret). i've never been able to finish it and I gave it more than my usual out of obligation for a "classic."

Michelle's Spell said...

Happy Father's Day, Charles! Hope you have lots of fun with Josh. Books that suck -- Moby Dick, check! BORING. I like Mr. Selby, but I consider it a harmless perversion on my part and don't expect anyone else to follow suit. :)

Travis Cody said...

I often have this problem with "the classics". When I was required to read Gatsby in high school, everyone kept telling me what a great book it was, and I simply hated it.

X. Dell said...

I didn't mind Billy Budd so much. It's a lot shorter.

As a musician, I know some composers are held to be geniuses, yet I cannot share the enthusiasm for their work as others do. I like very little of Mozart--mostly the late works--although I would readily agree (from a analytical point of view) that his music is much better than it sounds (to me).

I wonder if that's analogous to what you're saying here. Moby Dick is supposedly a classic of literature (I never read it, though). Maybe, in terms of construction and composition it deserves its reputation, even if it leaves a few people cold at times.

Regarding your previous post, maybe Ridley Scott should take the hint and let you earn some real money from CitL.

ivan said...

Moby Dick.

I love the Sixties stand-up comics when they do parodies of great novels..

Like a Jonathan Winters' "character", a sailor on the Pequod who is something of a Richard Simmons manque'.
Nothing pleases him about Captain Ahab, or the whale hunt:

"Spend all day looking for that silly fish!"

And there's more.

"Starbuck, you're so strong!"

"Look, there's that big devil whale....You big devil!"

I love parodies of great novels. They relax you and sometimes even give you an insight into the works.

Like biographies of Katherine of Russia.

Talking horse says, "Gee, you make a swell date, Kathy. Did you know that?"

And now we come to the play Equus?

Oh what the hell. It's Sunday, my kids hate me, and I'm out of beer.

Spy Scribbler said...

I love the writing in Moby Dick! Really too bad he chose such boring subject matter.

Someone recommended Hodgson to me, but I wasn't able to get through more than two pages.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

Happy Fathers Day

I guess that would be one more in the very small handful of movies better than the book (I haven't seen or read REQUIEM in either version)

and I have only attacked the Whale in piecemeal-sounds like it was better that way.

Thanks again for recommending my book.

the walking man said...

The thing about Moby Dick is that it was conceived when Melville heard the true story of the great black whale that sunk the whale ship Essex.
The survivors spent months lost at sea, had to eat dead crewmen, and generally speaking the whale beat the crap out of the Essex and her harpoons. Broke her keel he did, matey.

That hat you see in most every picture of me say "The Great Black Whale" {;-)}

ivan said...

Peg-legged man against the Ineffable, against god.

Who do you think is going to win?

BernardL said...

Moby Dick was just one in a line of many 'classics' I had to read containing a few lines I loved and many I didn't. :)

Paul R. McNamee said...

I read 'Moby Dick' a few years ago. Yeah, the whaling asides were tedious. A friend mentioned that Melville wanted to chronicle the whaling life before it disappeared (I guess, even in the 1850s, some folks figured out it couldn't last forever.) He should have written a separate history of whaling.

I haven't tried Hodgson beyond 'House on the Borderland'. Even that seemed to run out of steam during the climax. Loved the tension build up, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

RA, I found the movie of Requiem fairly bad as well, although still much better than the movie.

Bill Crider, there are some really neat lines in it, and I liked Queequeg quite a lot, but as a novel I thought it was just so slow. I’ve never met another person who has read it twice. I salute you! Maybe I should retire it but I’m feeling weak today.

pattinase (abbott), I do know some folks who really like Moby Dick. I’m not sure why but different tastes for different folks for sure.

Rick, For most of it I only read a few pages whenever I was in the bathroom, although I started out reading it normally.

Sidney, if you want to read some Hodgson then “House on the Borderland” is much more approachable.

Alex J. Cavanaugh, one person’s classic is another’s “book that sucked.”

writtenwyrdd, I’m not even a big fan of Faulkner’s, although I liked his short stories and, like with Melville, often enjoyed his descriptive and setting powers. But once I’d graduated I told my high school English teachers that if I hadn’t already been a reader they would have cured me of it with the stuff they assigned us.

Mike Golch, thanks Mike.

laughingwolf, you’ve chosen well, my friend.

Barrie, maybe one day I’ll retry Moby. If I have the strength. Thanks.

SQT, that book definitely could use an abridged treatment version.

Lana Gramlich, Oh I’ll agree, there are some great!!!!!! Lines in that book, well used by Star Trek.

Laurie Powers, Laurie, thanks. We’ve had fun so far. Requiem was OK as a movie, I thought, although I still wouldn’t have probably made it all the way through without Lana’s encouragement.

Randy Johnson, I finally just started reading Moby dick a page or two at a sitting. While in the bathroom.

Michelle, I know your weakness for Selby and have already forgiven you. :)

Travis Cody, I liked Gatsby better than some, but still not my idea of required reading. Silas Marner was another one I hated.

X. Dell, I should read Billy Budd. I have a copy of it here. I went through a period where I listened to a lot of Mozart, but for the life of me now I can’t quite figure out why. Moby Dick deserves credit for being such an early novel and setting the stage for literature that came later. But judged on its own merits strictly as a book it has some problems.

ivan, I have a feeling you’re much better at reading the great novels than I am. Especially the great Russian novelists, which I haven’t even tried to tackle yet. I do have a Kindle ebook version of War and Peace, though.

Natasha Fondren, there is some good writing in Moby Dick. Love his description of Queequeg, and some of the lines here and there. It is certainly a worthwhile book to peruse.

David J. West, thanks. And yes, I almost ‘never’ like a movie better than a book, but in this case. There’s no comparison in my mind.

the walking man, I remember reading that Melville based the core of his idea on a real event. Of course, I think people these days are more apt to root for the whale anyway.

ivan, It sure took Ahab a long time to find out who would win.

BernardL, I’m the same. I really don’t think some of this stuff should be assigned to kids just learning how to read. But I know some of it has changed since I was in school.

Paul R. McNamee, I heard that too about Melville and he certainly did so. It would have been nice to have the novel and a companion piece of nonfiction on whaling!

ivan said...


After reading War and Peace in its entirerty, you might indeed want to kindle it. :)

Cloudia said...

bold, well founded

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Bernita said...

I'm with Bernard about many "classics."
Didn't like Moby Dick. Never finished it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, I suspect you're right.

Cloudia, thankee.

Bernita, I agree.

Barbara Martin said...

I loved Moby Dick, but have not read any of the others. I guess I'd the odd person to appreciate the old salty fish tale.

Greg said...

never read Moby Dick but i've heard a lot of people criticize it for its massive info dumps. have fun with your son!

Charles Gramlich said...

Barbara, maybe you just liked Queequeg? ;)

Greg, they are quite massive.

Heff said...


oK, I HAD to say that.....

Ty said...

I loooove Moby Dick! One of my favorites. I love all the asides on whaling, and the tale itself speaks to my darker side.

As for famous books that suck ... well, I won't give a list of books I believe really suck, but here are some books I just didn't care for despite their popularity:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
anything by Charles Dickens

Charles Gramlich said...

Heff, I believe I agree with you.

Ty, well there's no accounting for taste. :) I liked Dune and Neuromancer, hated Hitchhiker's guide, and am not a fan of Dickens either although I liked A Christmas Carol pretty well. Probably for many books we who disliked them might actually have liked them if it had been at just the right time in our lives.

cs harris said...

I got a chuckle out of this post's title. Enjoy your time with your son.

ArtSparker said...

Some wit (Kurt Vonnegut? Donald Barthleme?) referred to Moby Dick as "The great flatulent American Bible".

Erik Donald France said...

That's so funny about Moby . . . better remembered as an obsession, like Death in Venice, than as an actual novel.

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, we had a great time. I hated to see him go home.

Artsparker, lol.

Erik, that's probably the way to think about it.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

You know, I just caught that last paragraph. I skimmed this entry before and never saw it. Hey, that's ME. That's MY story! XD!

I'm glad you enjoyed it. It feels good to know that someone was able to enjoy what you wrote.

jodi said...

Charles, I've never read any of those books, and I couldn't make it through the movie, "Requiem".

Charles Gramlich said...

Rachel V. Olivier, twas a good story.

jodi, it it hadn't of been for watching the movie with Lana I probaly wouldn't have made it through either.