Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ask a Book Nerd - Episode 2

Welcome to the second installment of “Ask a Book Nerd.”  It’s a monthly (or almost-monthly) series we dreamed up to help all you fine readers get to know us a little better.  It’s also a handy way for us to pontificate about our favorite subject (books!) and revel in our own (perceived) brilliance.  But it’s totally for our readers’ benefit.  Honest. 

Here’s how it works.  We’ll take one reader-submitted question about books and literature and let everyone on our staff take a crack at it.  All you fine folks are welcome to answer the question yourself in comments section, too.  And if you’ve got a question for the resident book nerds, there’s a form below to do just that.

So with all that being said, here's this month's question:
Is there a book or author that you were supposed to like but you didn’t—for instance, a piece of classic literature or a wildly popular best seller?  If so, what was it and why didn’t you fall down on your knees and worship its literary greatness?

Jonathan Wilhoit – Jane F***ing Austen.  Yeah, I said it.  And I wouldn’t mind participating in a Sense and Sensibility-fueled bonfire, either.  Dr. Sessoms (my senior Women’s Lit professor) would be aghast.  I know “Jane” is supposed to be “the stuff” these days, but I just don’t get it.  Take Pride and Prejudice for instance.  I had to read that bastard three times during my high school and college career (I was an English Lit major after all), and each time I slogged through it hating every minute.  It’s just… insipid.  That’s the best word for it.  Four daughters of an upper middle class household try to find suitable matches while navigating the issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England and blah, blah, blah, lah-dee-freakin’-dah.  I mean really, who cares?  Or rather, who with a penis cares?  I can see why the book would appeal to women in some respects, but I can’t understand the fanatical devotion it seems to invoke in some of you ladies.  I mean, yeah, there are some interesting themes, but the writing isn’t all that good and those same themes have been beaten to freaking death over the years.  As a card-caring member of the male persuasion, I just can’t bring myself to give a damn.  Sorry ladies.  Sorry Dr. Sessoms.  I’ll report for my public pillorying in the morning…

Jessica Veter - Margaret Atwood jumps to mind first, but on greater reflection I'm going to say Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I was given it as a reading assignment in my fourth year at York U. I knew my prof loved it, but I couldn't get past page 50. I felt I was slamming myself repeatedly into a wall every time I opened it. By the time my interview rolled around, I still hadn't made it past page 50 and I confessed as much to my prof. I said I thought the author never intended me to be his audience. I found the main character tedious in the extreme: he was introspective and self-righteous, incapable of recognizing that that the boy traveling with him was in desperate need of his care and attention, and I simply couldn't stand being in the room with him. I said I thought the book had not been written for a woman reader. Surprisingly, I passed my interview.  And why not? I had learned a great truth about art: it does not, CAN not, appeal to everyone. Otherwise, it is no longer art. It becomes part of the great 'dumbing down' of culture, an insipid offering that offends no one yet also inspires no one.  I once wrote a short story and one of the responses I got from a reader was: "I hated it". A bottle of wine later, it occurred to me that hate is a pretty strong emotion, and my story had made someone feel it. Now that's a compliment.

Ryan St. Onge - My first reaction was to say Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig but Jessica covered my own beefs with that novel so succinctly that I'll list another novel that failed to maintain my attention: The Lord of the Rings. I have actually tried to read the first novel in the trilogy on three separate occasions and each time I have stalled somewhere around page 200 (or about the second appearance of Tom Bombadil). So I've tried. I really, really have. Before all the Tolkien-ators cast a spell over me, I'm not hating on Tolkien or fantasy here. Think of it this way: If literature was pop music and Tolkien is Pink Floyd, then Lord of the Rings is The Wall. It's a classic, no doubt. But it's also pretentious and florid. That's evident. In this context (actually both contexts) I'm more of a Ramones, Clash, Black Flag fan. In literary terms, this equates to more Vonnegut and less Dickens. I understand and respect the value of both, but I hate overwrought writing and Tolkien is the worst offender I have encountered.

Amanda Amaya – The only one I can think of is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.  I had never read a romance, and although I had heard of BDSM, I knew next to nothing about it and I still don’t want to.  But when I heard last spring that libraries were banning the book, I had to give it a try.  I read all three books.  Although I was fascinated with the story, the writing was awful.  Horrendous.  Atrocious.  But I do have to say that reading those books helped me to realize that there might be some redeeming qualities to romances.  And I didn’t hesitate when one of my friends suggested the Crossfire series, saying that it was better than Fifty.  And I am now eagerly awaiting the third book in that trilogy.  If you can get it for me early, let me know!

Olga Godim - One of the books like that for me is Wool Omnibus (Wool #1-5) by Hugh Howey. I read the first two stories in it, and the protagonists in both were killed. I started reading the third and stopped before the end. I never finished the entire book, although I did peak ahead, so I know that the protagonist of the third one didn’t die. So why didn’t I finish it? Because I dislike the writer’s harsh, unforgiving approach to his story and characters. I must admit that I think Howey a terrific writer. Objectively, his writing is clear and flows without a hitch, his word choice is precise, and his handling of the story structure is almost perfect. Most readers like his books, but he is too close to reality for me. Although Wool is a sci-fi dystopia, it reads like a true story. The writer doesn’t pull his punches when he talks about society and corruption; he doesn’t allow his readers any illusions, and I dislike that. I read for entertainment: light romance, cozy mystery, fantasy without too much gore in it. When I pick up a book, I expect to escape from reality with its health problems, money shortage, or general dishonesty of politicians. I don’t want to read about it. I want to forget, and Howey wouldn’t let me forget, so wouldn’t read his books.

Natasha Post - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a classic novel that’s often read at some point in high school.  I was no exception.  In my English II Honors class we had to read many pieces of classical literature.  There are rave reviews about Wuthering Heights and the complex issues between the Heathcliff and Catherine, but it was agonizing trying to read that book.  Out of every classic book I’ve ever read, that one seemed to be the most drab, boring, put-me-to- sleep book I’ve ever read.  I just couldn’t get into the story.  It was possibly because of Catherine’s antics, and I know it was in a different time, and there were different social norms, but her behavior in the book just didn’t sit well with me.  While many people adore this book, it’s not something I want to or will ever read again.

Kayla West - In all my years of reading, I can honestly say that I have never really encountered a book that I did not like. I have indeed encountered books that might have been a bit boring or contained ideas that have been overused and over-analyzed, but I have always been able to find some kind of interesting point in these books that pushes me to read it to the very end.  I hate with a vibrant passion to put down a book, any book, so that, plus my overwhelming optimism to support any author who has the courage to write down their stories, makes me find at least one good point in any work that I read. That way I can honestly say that although I may not have liked it for certain reasons, it was still likeable to some degree (however small that degree may be).

So what about all of you out there?  What book were you supposed to like but absolutely hated?  Tell us about it in the comments section below.

And if you'd like to submit your own question for us to answer, just fill out the form below and we just might be pontificating to the tune of your query this time next month.



  1. Hi Jonathan! I like this Ask a Book Nerd feature :) Excuse me mister, I am a big Austen fan and P&P is one of my favorite novels. But I can understand your POV...somewhat....maybe...nah, nevermind.
    I can relate to Amanda's take on the Fifty Shades of Grey books. I read the first two myself.

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