Friday, August 9, 2013

Seven Quick Takes

Thanks to Jennifer at Conversion Diary for hosting! Unfortunately, I lack her ability to post 7 random but profound/ hilarious observations, so I'm stuck with a theme. For today, it's classics (books, stories and poems) that I just can't appreciate.

1. The Swiss Family Robinson. This is supposedly a rollicking story of a ship-wrecked family who explores a tropical island.  It's actually the most boring children's book I've ever been forced to read. If the parents said "Well done, Franz!" once, they said it 195 times. Note to aspiring authors: if you find yourself using the words further, more, again, and another for chapter titles, chances are you're being repetitive. Chances are that a child will throw your book across the room when they're forced to read it for a book report. One amazon reviewer said that "the father's endless prattling about his knowledge on each subject made me want to row him out to the wreck, and then ditch him there." Amen.

This cover is misleading

2. "A Pair of Silk Stockings" by Kate Chopin. In this short story, the mother of a large, poor family decides that buying a pair of silk stockings is a good trade-off for buying food for her family. The supposed theme is how one downtrodden mother learned to satisfy her own desires for a change, that she had a "great awakening." At least, that's what I was told in college. My impression was that this story is deeply anti-feminist, portraying women as selfish and trite, willing to sacrifice their own family's needs for vanity. Am I missing something? 

3. Stuart Little by E.B. White. I know, it's technically an excellent book. I just couldn't get into it, probably due to my own artistic failings as a nine-year-old. This is another example of failed education: I started reading it for a book report and, about 30 pages in, decided to ditch it. For the sake of "perseverance" I was told that I must read the entire book merely because I had begun it. Note to parents and teachers: this method will not inspire a love of reading in your children. Thankfully I was also allowed to choose my own books.

4.Sarah, Plain and Tall. There is a tendency in schools to assign books based on length rather than content. If you homeschool, please avoid this trap. Just because a book has fewer than 200 pages does not make it child-friendly, and some "long" books like Treasure Island keep you on the edge of your seat. With Sarah, Plain and Tall, the short length made it look like a children's book, but most children are not mature enough to appreciate the themes of a pioneer woman coping with loneliness and alienation. Or maybe I was just shallow.

5. If The Swiss Family Robinson takes the prize for most boring children's book, it's only because Ethan Frome is an adult novel. Otherwise, Ethan Frome would win hands down. Unfortunately, this was another case of a short novel being foisted upon middle school students who couldn't care less. I might actually enjoy it now, but I have post-traumatic stress from downing liters of Coke to keep myself awake. Why do schools do this? Did an education professor decide this was a good idea?

6. Ulysses by James Joyce. Yes, it is packed with literary allusions. Yes, the final chapter is a brilliant feminine monologue. That doesn't change the fact that this book is an exercise in literary one-upmanship, a chance for Joyce to prove to the world just how clever he is. The only reason it is still in print is because literature professors are enamored with obscure allusions. The contemporary equivalent is 100 Years of Solitude, which I refuse to read.

Prepare to be disappointed

7. The Road Not Taken. This is really a case of over-exposure. This poem is not the best by Robert Frost by any stretch, but people persist on printing it on posters and calendars. It's interpreted as a call to unique living, to bucking the trend. Be all that you can be! Never mind that Frost never says that the road was better or more fulfilling, simply that it "made all the difference." Don't take my word for it; here's his own reading of his poem.

If I come to a fork in the road and choose a path that leads to a pack of wolves, that will indeed make all the difference. Different does not equal better, people. The American myth of individuality is just that, a myth. Most of us have "ordinary" lives with sublime, quiet moments of joy. Nothing wrong with that.

I took the path of exorbitant student loans, and that has made all the difference.

Happy reading!


  1. Ha! This is an AWESOME post. My favorite line: "The only reason it is still in print is because literature professors are enamored with obscure allusions." Hilarious! The only one of these I've actually read is Stuart Little and I don't remember it at all. Not even enough to be able to tell you what it's about. :) Confession time: I actually did a book report on Little Women when I didn't finish the book. Same thing, I just couldn't make myself finish it. LOL Lucky for me it was a "telegram" style book report, and I totally nailed that fake.

  2. What's a telegram style book report? I'm not familiar with those. And thanks - this is a post I've been subconsciously writing every time I had to read a terrible book.