The Anomalies

My reading tastes aren’t too terribly unusual. In genre fiction, I loved Ender’s Game, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hyperion, Neuromancer, and Books 1-6 and 11+ of The Wheel of Time. (Currently reading and liking Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.) If you want to talk classics, I enjoyed Animal Farm, My Antonia, Peter Pan, White Fang, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Lord of the Flies. (Just finished Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which was good, though I thought the first chapter could’ve used a little cutting.)

I could give countless other examples; the theme here is that, to a large extent, I do enjoy the books you’re “supposed” to like. But every so often – more often than I would expect – I come across an anomaly: some universally beloved book that does absolutely nothing for me.

Below are my top five. No disrespect meant to the authors or readers of any of these books; they just weren’t for me.

5. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. The first few pages absolutely hooked me. I was enthralled; I raved about this book to my friends. But the more I read, the more the plot wandered, and the ending fizzled. Strong writing style and vibrant description throughout the whole novel, but I never felt like it went anywhere. Gaiman’s fans treat him like a rock star, and there’s no question he has enormous talent, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

4. Idlewild, Nick Sagan. Again, this is one of those books that people rave about; again, the beginning was cool; again, never seemed to go anywhere.

3. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. From what I can gather, this seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel, but it felt very “meh” to me. Okay, I’ll admit, it contains one of my all-time favorite lines. “Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” I mean, that’s just fun to say. And there’s no doubt the characters in the story have depth. But the constant language gymnastics and obscure references got old very quickly; they felt like the author was showing off, and in my opinion, they got in the way of the story.

2. The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle. This book has over 200 reader reviews on Amazon, and almost all are five-star. The Editorial Review at the top says, “The Last Unicorn is one of the true classics of fantasy, ranking with Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Beagle writes a shimmering prose-poetry, the voice of fairy tales and childhood.” I’ll tell you right now: I hated this book. It was torture. It was awful. The last hundred pages were an exercise in sheer willpower, just to see if maybe something changed at the end; it didn’t. The story was okay, but the author absolutely drowned it in prose so purple it practically defines the term. Again, nothing against those who liked it, just not for me.

1. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. I would be hard-pressed to think of any recent book that received as much praise as this one. Editors, agents, and authors all gushed about it; literally every one of my friends who read it, loved it. Even the Penny Arcade guys can hardly contain themselves. I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t stand this book. I read the whole thing out of some sense of duty, but nothing else. Two things, I think, killed it for me. One: I really, really didn’t like the main character, Kvothe. I think I might’ve liked him better if the book hadn’t constantly shoved in my face that I’m supposed to love him; as it was, he just seemed boring. And two: in my opinion, the story desperately needed tightening. The hardcover is 662 pages, and it easily could’ve lost half of that. I distinctly remember thinking, when I got to around page 50, “Everything before this could have been cut.”

I know, I know, I’m a stick in the mud. Can’t help it. But if you, too, have ever been a stick in the mud on some beloved story, tell me about it in the comments!

6 responses to “The Anomalies

  1. The Great Gatsby (hated the characters) and Of Mice and Men (didn’t connect with the plot at all) – both torture to get through! And they’re short!

    • Yeah, it’s been a while since I read both of those. I don’t remember particularly loving or hating either. Great Gatsby did some fun things with the language, as I recall, and a few scenes in Mice and Men definitely hit me, but neither made a big long-term impression I guess.

  2. I feel the major anomaly for myself at this point is actually the Wheel of Time series itself, so far as I’ve read- nearly finished with book 5. I truly don’t understand the widespread attraction to the series or characters, and the _only_ reason I’m continuing beyond the first book is that Brandon Sanderson, presently my favorite fiction author of all, finishes the series, and I can only hope that it will all have been worth it when I get there.

    To begin with, I couldn’t identify with any of the characters. All the boys were so whiny- Rand: Whaa! I have the power to do untold amazing things! Perrin: Whaa! I can see through wolves and hear their thoughts! Boohoo!

    The girls have so… little in the way of believable real character? If Nynaeve tugs her braid one more time, so help me…

    Alas and I may write a WoT parody book together- with 7/16ths men (with a minimum of 5 other different names that people call them, another thing that annoys me) chasing after people that say ‘Freeze me!’ way too much. Or something.

    And I liked Name of the Wind. So much more 😛 I can see your points, but I guess I didn’t notice them as much or they weren’t so grating.

    On a different note, have you tried Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora yet?

    • If you’re reading Wheel of Time only for the Brandon Sanderson books, I highly recommend you skip books 7-10 in favor of plot summaries. Even for people who love the books (like me) these later books are slow going (especially 9 and 10). The thought of someone slogging through thousands of pages of fairly slow-moving plot, when they don’t even like the characters, seems…unfortunate. Just my two cents. Good, very in-depth plot summaries can be found here:
      http://www.tor.com/features/series/wot-reread

      I haven’t read Lies of Lock Lamora. I googled it just now and it does sound interesting, but I’ll be honest – my current to-read list is so long right now, I’ll probably be ten years dead by the time I finish it. 😉

      • I like how you have given me 2 of these 5 books. Thanks! lol I didn’t realize I ranked so high as to be given these anomalies.

        Also Wuthering Heights is considered like one of those great amazing books that people like. Blech!
        But you know me, I also distaste 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Lord of The Flies. but that’s just me.

        btw I totally agree with the hatred for Of Mice and Men. You know what else is fun to hate. The Road to Wigan Pier and Red Pony. Both terrible.

      • Haha that’s right…you are my all-purpose book dumping ground.

        I also hated, hated, HATED Wuthering Heights back when I first read it. But that’s been a while. Not sure what I would think if I came back to it now.

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