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I don’t trust my opinion. Meaning sometimes I’ll put too much effort into something just because I think I should feel a certain way about it. Oddly enough this doesn’t translate into my relationships, but that’s for a whole other dysfunctional life blog. What I’m talking about here are books, movies, television, and various and sundry other entertainment formats.

Recently, and you’d think I’d have solidified this lesson ages ago via Eragon and Snooki’s magnum opus, I have learned that I can’t trust “bestsellers.” The list is a catalog of critical hits and misses and is eponymous.

Moment of Epiphany: It is literally a list of shit that sells!

Blew your mind there didn’t I? This means not all of it will be up my alley and now I know to put “bestseller” lower on my potential read rubric than it has been in the past.

Most recently I had this new philosophy affirmed by my reading of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan. You can read my spoiler riddled review here. This book was a bestseller and received high critical praise and has been optioned for movie rights and I hate it. I liked the premise and the ending; which is not a lot when talking about a finished novel, so I have to say I hated it. It’s a requirement.

Yet…I read the whole thing. Typically I’ll give a book three chapters, or I try to at least. Some books/stories are so aggressively bad that they tell you to get out before you can get to page 5. See any of the stories on Figment, Wattpad, or Movellas; and anything written by Sandra Brown and her other romance novel cohorts.

Three chapters, I think, is enough to establish atmosphere, character, and plot. It is exceptionally generous given that the average publisher or literary agent might only concede you 5 to 10 pages before passing on your manuscript. So why did I read the whole thing?

I think my primary source of animosity for Ryan’s novel was that, I could see something there. There was something that kept me turning the pages, but it never came together for me, which is the single most infuriating aspect of it all. Wasted talent should always be protested, and I doth protest. To put into perspective my critical appraisal methods, I offer you my Control Book of Wretchedness, Twilight.

I think I made it through one chapter and decided that book burning should be an Olympic sport. Redundant to say, it didn’t have page turning potential and yet another bestseller.

My other problem of stubborn non-decision making, are classics. Classics both in the sense of being historically genius and being considered a genius representation of an era/issues.

Hmm, that seems like I’m saying the same thing. Let me see if I can clarify…I guess it would be something like Shakespeare vs. Hemingway, Chaucer vs. Ellison, or Milton vs. Vonnegut. Maybe a more accurate description would be timelessness vs. relevance, does that make it clearer or muddier?

These are generally books you’ll be saddled with during the duration of your school career (Which if you’re anything like me can wind up being a very looong list of books if you catch my meaning…it means I’ve been in school a long time, I love you and I didn’t want you to think too hard).

Being who I am, I am sometimes drawn to these titles because of this classical reputation. It’s like being given an open invitation to sit down for tea with the royals, and whether you’re pro-monarchy or a secessionist zealot , no one passes up that opportunity. Again though, the fail ratio looms, ever present, even with classics.

My most recent experience with this is linked to my never ending quest to read the  books I collect. Whilst going through the heart wrenching, yet cathartic, task of eliminating books I no longer had a use for, I ran across a copy of Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. I’m not sure how I procured this particular novel. I know I didn’t buy it secondhand because I only buy hardcovers that way; and I’ve never read it, so if I got it for a class I most certainly failed whatever assessment went with it.

In any event, I made the decision it would be my next self assigned reading. As I read it, I could practically smell the intoxicating aroma that was blended together to specifically attract the beatniks, counter culture revolutionaries, pseudo-philosophers, and hipster elites. (I imagine the scent wafting through Williamsburg and enchanting handlebar moustachioed men and skinny jean unicyclists into levitating off the ground a la  an old cartoon with a delicious pie sitting in the window.)

I just couldn’t get into it though. I read the entirety of the Franny section, which reminded me of Carrie from Sex and the City.

A. Because they both use nouns as adjectives. It’s all very car keys and duct tape.  (I’m just naming things I see in my writing space)

B. There was also an episode where she met a family whose daughters were named Franny and Zooey.

[Yeah that’s right, I love zombies, hate romance novels, and watch stuff like Sex and the City. Put me in a box, I dare you…..too aggressive? Sorry. HUGS!!]

Getting back to the point, I couldn’t connect. Most of the reason was because every second sentence in the Zooey section there was a reference that I didn’t understand and I had to go look it up. The novel is littered with name drops that I don’t get, events I have no recollection of, and comprised_____

(brief pause here, I wrote this blog on paper before I transmuted it here, and for some reason I spelled comprised as “comproside” What the hell is comproside?! Go home J.R., You’re drunk)

and “comprosided” of a veritable litany of philosophers and Buddhist theories that brought my reading to a grinding halt. Not to mention that I don’t do well with stories that deal with existentialist neurosis rather than an actual plot, i.e. Henry James “The Beast in the Jungle,” or Nella Larsen’s “Quicksand.”

I made it to page 75 of 201, which is all of Franny and about 30 pages of Zooey. I think I gave it the old college try as the kids over 100 are fond of saying nowadays….as well as the word nowadays.  And yet….

Even though I’ve moved on to another novel and made up my mind that I’m going to add this book to the donation box, I still hesitate. I find myself looking up reviews and analyses of others trying to see if maybe my opinion is wrong. Utter bollix and an oxymoron, but because I feel like I should read it; that this book should appeal to me; that because of its status as a classic relevant must-read, I plugged away. Past those initial 20 pages that did their best to yelp “Get out, get out you can’t be in here! Past the next 20 that told me to “You can’t be in here, I implore you” and into the next 20 that laughed maniacally and said “You’re all going to die down here.”

Which is all very Umbrella and Red Queen.

J.R.H.

2 thoughts on “To Be, or Not to Be….No Seriously, Which is it?

  1. First, off, when you said “doth protest”, I thought, “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” Yeah some RDJ for ya. Second, don’t be bashing my man H.J. I enjoyed “The Beast in the Jungle”. And lastly, sorry that you are not a merry man with the bestseller list. Maybe you should should make your own “best-seller” list. Challenge accepted????

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