Worst/Overrated books.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby emceng » Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:22 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:Ignoring all of the many books that are completely outside of my preferred genre (I disliked Grapes of Wrath as well, but that's not particularly noteworthy for me), I'll go with the Sword of Truth series. I loooove LOTR, Wheel of Time, Ender's Game (and all 10 or so oft-criticized sequels), Song of Ice and Fire, other lesser known sci-fi/fantasy/fiction books. Sword of Truth was recommended by a friend who said it was better than Wheel of Time and on par with Song of Ice and Fire, so I went ahead and BOUGHT ALL 14 of them (I like to reread, so all my favorite books are bought). Horrible, horrible, horrible decision. I can't stand the books. The first was OK, the rest were just bad - I only read them because I bought them and figured I might as well give them a chance. Apparently I'm a masochist. Lessons learned: 1) don't spend significant money on books that might suck. 2) There's no accounting for taste.


Yeah, I agree with this. I read the first one, and enjoyed it. Picked up the next two. Bleh. Second one was incredibly lame, and I ended up skimming the last 3/4 of it. Haven't touched the third one. I didn't see the point. Should just sell them.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby idunnosomeloser » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:49 pm UTC

While not the worst, one of the most overrated for me was The Silmarillion. I get that Tolkien didn't finish it, but if that's the case I'm not sure it should have been published. It reads like twenty books that got baled into one hard lump, destroying any character development or meaning in the process. All I got out of it was a headache and a feeling of longing for stories that will never exist.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby ahammel » Thu Feb 16, 2012 4:05 am UTC

John Wyndham just had no idea how to end a book. I really liked The Chrysalids up until
Spoiler:
a bunch of Kiwi deus ex machinas flew up from the southern hemisphere and fixed everything.
Also: Chocky. I have no idea if it's highly regarded or not, but Wyndham did a really good job of building up a creepy atmosphere. An alien consciousness inside small child's brain? How horrifying!
Spoiler:
Oh wait, no, it's harmless and cuddly.
And "thoughts travel faster than light"? You're just pulling this out of your ass aren't you Wyndham? Aren't you?

Edited for punctuation
Last edited by ahammel on Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:40 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Metaphysician » Thu Feb 16, 2012 7:58 am UTC

The Wheel of Time series was incredibly overrated. I don't think a single character developed in a meaningful way between books 4-8 (I stopped reading at eight).
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Black Dynamite » Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:16 am UTC

Metaphysician wrote:The Wheel of Time series was incredibly overrated. I don't think a single character developed in a meaningful way between books 4-8 (I stopped reading at eight).

For me, I felt like none of the characters were developing at all, except Rand. And even he was moving incredibly slow. I had to stop reading them because I couldn't take the all the conflict between the characters that could have been easily solved with communicating.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Metaphysician » Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:45 pm UTC

Black Dynamite wrote:
Metaphysician wrote:The Wheel of Time series was incredibly overrated. I don't think a single character developed in a meaningful way between books 4-8 (I stopped reading at eight).

For me, I felt like none of the characters were developing at all, except Rand. And even he was moving incredibly slow. I had to stop reading them because I couldn't take the all the conflict between the characters that could have been easily solved with communicating.



Exactly! The majority of interpersonal issues between characters (and these make up about half the books) were just a matter of not communicating or willfully misunderstanding the other person. It was like reading a book starring the kind of people I hate and try with all my power to avoid in life. The books also got super formulaic, the Dragon Ball Z of fantasy novel series.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Adam H » Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:36 pm UTC

I dunno, I won't disagree with you if you say that books 4-8 are boring, but I do disagree with the two notions that the characters don't evolve and the lack of communication is excessive. Lack of communication between characters is natural, makes good drama/irony, and extremely common in storytelling... I complain about that A LOT with other books and movies, but I can't think of an instance where the WoT characters were being especially stupid by not talking with each other.

And the books slow down a ton, sure, and maybe the plot becomes a bit meaningless, but I didn't get the impression that the characters stagnate. In a twelve part series where the characters don't die off, you really can't dramatically change characters. And I would contend that the characters do change. Rand hardens, the girls turn awesome, Perrin and Mat turn into nobility...

But anyways, I'm not much of a fanboy, I think the best books of the series are the ones written by Sanderson...
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:52 am UTC

I think the problem is that most of the major characters go through two major narrative arcs. The first goes from the first book through about book 3-4, where most of them are still figuring out their abilities and how they fit in the world. The second arc runs pretty much continuously from book four through the most recent one, and, admittedly, a couple of those middle books are pretty slow going, so I can see why you might not see a lot of personal development in many of the characters. If you look back from book thirteen (fourteen?) at Rand or Egwene or Nyneave or Perrin, to where they were in book four, I think you'll find the changes are pretty drastic.

Honestly, I think the biggest problem with the series is the Perrin/Faile/Berelain storyline. The really slow nature of a couple of the middle books is probably secondary to that.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Wilhelm » Sun Feb 26, 2012 6:33 am UTC

Most of the sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of Dune. Dune may be my favorite of all time, though.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Lucrece » Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:18 am UTC

I really hate books that are short on dialogue and longer on description. If your description of something's resemblance takes more than a paragraph, I will use your book as absorbent of dog piss and send you pictures of every possible defacing I can come up for it.

If I could go back in time, it would be to lobotomize Jules Verne so he couldn't inflict page upon page of Passepartout's facial features on generations of poor souls.

God, I don't care about the shape of a branch on your fucking trees. I don't read your books for expounded scenery; I do it because your characters are interesting, and I'm curious as to how they will interact based on a set of thought-provoking and emotionally gripping circumstances you will hopefully provide me with. The stupid color of your leaves don't convince me to waste my time or money.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Adam H » Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:59 pm UTC

Wilhelm wrote:Most of the sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of Dune. Dune may be my favorite of all time, though.
This is interesting to me, because it seems like Dune was written with at least the next couple books already plotted out. I read four of them (or 3? 5? I forget) and I got the impression that it was all one story. So your opinion comes across as similar to saying "The first part of the book is one of my favorite parts ever, but the rest of the book is some of the worst and over-rated."

I'm not trying to say that your opinion is wrong, just that it wouldn't occur to me. Probably because I haven't read these spinoffs that you're talking about.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby PossibleSloth » Fri Mar 02, 2012 11:11 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:
Wilhelm wrote:Most of the sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of Dune. Dune may be my favorite of all time, though.
This is interesting to me, because it seems like Dune was written with at least the next couple books already plotted out. I read four of them (or 3? 5? I forget) and I got the impression that it was all one story. So your opinion comes across as similar to saying "The first part of the book is one of my favorite parts ever, but the rest of the book is some of the worst and over-rated."

I'm not trying to say that your opinion is wrong, just that it wouldn't occur to me. Probably because I haven't read these spinoffs that you're talking about.


I think Wilhelm is referring to the multitude of Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson books that came out after Frank Herbert died. They're based on F. Herbert's notes, but the writing is nowhere near as good as the original books. I tried reading one and had to give up halfway through.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Metaphysician » Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:37 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:I think the problem is that most of the major characters go through two major narrative arcs. The first goes from the first book through about book 3-4, where most of them are still figuring out their abilities and how they fit in the world. The second arc runs pretty much continuously from book four through the most recent one, and, admittedly, a couple of those middle books are pretty slow going, so I can see why you might not see a lot of personal development in many of the characters. If you look back from book thirteen (fourteen?) at Rand or Egwene or Nyneave or Perrin, to where they were in book four, I think you'll find the changes are pretty drastic.

Honestly, I think the biggest problem with the series is the Perrin/Faile/Berelain storyline. The really slow nature of a couple of the middle books is probably secondary to that.


Maybe, I read books 1-7 or 8 in the span of three months or so. One of the things I got frustrated with was being re-introduced to every character in every damn book. Having to hear about the same preference, the same pet peeves. I mean, there is a good way to reinforce everything without pretty much reintroducing every major character in every book. I mean I get it, what if somebody picks up book three and doesn't know anything? Well, tough shit, read the first damn book, that's why you read things in order. I dunno I just remember getting supremely frustrated with the series.

Wilhelm wrote:Most of the sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of Dune. Dune may be my favorite of all time, though.


I loved Dune so much, it's one of my all time favorite books. Picked up the sequel and didn't make it fifty pages... what happened?
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby piwakawaka42 » Fri Apr 06, 2012 5:21 am UTC

I have real issues with anything from beofre the 1920s or so. THe pacing is just far too slow. And as for Lovecraft's verbosity AND lack of pacing...
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Re:

Postby zmic » Fri Apr 06, 2012 8:53 am UTC

liza wrote:I too hated Catcher in the Rye. I failed to see what all the hoopla was about. Teenage years are supposed to be the prime time to read it


I think that is exactly not the prime time to read it. I read it when I was 18 and I was totally meh. I read it back againI was 30 and I thought it was brilliant.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Apr 06, 2012 2:22 pm UTC

Eh, truthfully, I feel the only kids in highschool who enjoyed Catcher, and swore by how awesome it was, were those kids who didn't read much on their own, or conversely, those kids who simply loved every book they were told to read in school.

Anyone who had an interest in good books and knew how to pursue literature they enjoyed thought the book was utter shit. But who knows; maybe reading Catcher again as an adult I'd feel the same way as when I read Romeo and Juliet as an adult. That is, we're supposed to laugh at Holden as being a complete and utter idiot, just like we're supposed to laugh at Romeo and Juliet.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby ahammel » Fri Apr 06, 2012 4:25 pm UTC

piwakawaka42 wrote:I have real issues with anything from beofre the 1920s or so. THe pacing is just far too slow. And as for Lovecraft's verbosity AND lack of pacing...
(puts on firefighter's suit to prepare for flames from English majors/Lovecraft fans)

O_o

Isn't that a little like saying "everything written by a male author with a 'J' in his name is too slow"? Pace wasn't invented during the First World War, you know.

On the other hand, I actually quite like Lovecraft, but that is an entirely reasonable complaint.
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Re: Re:

Postby RollingHead » Fri Apr 06, 2012 6:40 pm UTC

zmic wrote:I think that is exactly not the prime time to read it. I read it when I was 18 and I was totally meh. I read it back againI was 30 and I thought it was brilliant.

I really enjoyed it the first time I read it at 13 or 14, but when I tried to re-read it at 18 or 19 (I can't remember precisely) I couldn't get past the first few pages. Maybe I'll take your hint and try again in a few years.

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Re:

Postby sdkelso » Sat Apr 14, 2012 6:45 am UTC

dagron wrote:Pretty much every piece of classic literature I've read.


I find this humorous considering that most of the people on this site seem to be studying hard science. Would you expect me, an English and philosophy major, to understand and appreciate an engineering textbook?

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Re: Re:

Postby Jorpho » Sat Apr 14, 2012 3:46 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:I find this humorous considering that most of the people on this site seem to be studying hard science.
o rly?
Would you expect me, an English and philosophy major, to understand and appreciate an engineering textbook?
I could have sworn I made a post about this very same subject not so long ago. Oh, it was in the other thread.

Jorpho wrote:
miedvied wrote:It only strikes me now that math books and chem books are just as much books as anything else, and fall under the topic of the thread, but even so: it didn't cross anyone's mind to criticize a horrendous math book.
The public at large would generally have no incentive to look at a horrendous math book, or any math book used in a general high school course. Nor is the "entire multigenerational community of [math or chemistry] geeks" particularly focused on any particular decades-old math or chemistry book. (Maybe the Feynman lectures on Physics?)

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Re: Re:

Postby sdkelso » Sat Apr 14, 2012 5:55 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:o rly?


First impression from the "Reactions to your major" thread. Is it wrong?

Jorpho wrote:I could have sworn I made a post about this very same subject not so long ago. Oh, it was in the other thread.

Jorpho wrote:
miedvied wrote:It only strikes me now that math books and chem books are just as much books as anything else, and fall under the topic of the thread, but even so: it didn't cross anyone's mind to criticize a horrendous math book.
The public at large would generally have no incentive to look at a horrendous math book, or any math book used in a general high school course. Nor is the "entire multigenerational community of [math or chemistry] geeks" particularly focused on any particular decades-old math or chemistry book. (Maybe the Feynman lectures on Physics?)


I'm not quite sure that I understand your post. Are you trying to say that because literary books are made for the public at large, the opinions that members of the public at large have about them are relevant, but the same can't be said of books on hard science? If so, we're talking about different things. An engineering textbook is understood and appreciated in a vastly different way than a novel. What I'm saying is that if experts in a particular field don't expect people not in their field to understand literature in and about their field, then said experts should not expect that they understand literature in and about someone else's field.

If your post has gone over my head, forgive me.

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Re: Re:

Postby Jorpho » Sat Apr 14, 2012 10:11 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:I'm not quite sure that I understand your post. Are you trying to say that because literary books are made for the public at large, the opinions that members of the public at large have about them are relevant, but the same can't be said of books on hard science? If so, we're talking about different things. An engineering textbook is understood and appreciated in a vastly different way than a novel. What I'm saying is that if experts in a particular field don't expect people not in their field to understand literature in and about their field, then said experts should not expect that they understand literature in and about someone else's field.
But English literature is supposed to have broader appeal than an engineering textbook.

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Re: Re:

Postby sdkelso » Sun Apr 15, 2012 6:04 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:But English literature is supposed to have broader appeal than an engineering textbook.


That doesn't change the fact that "classics" are sophisticated in ways that people who don't study literature can't understand. He said that classics were overrated--well who rated the classics? Not mathematicians.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Angua » Sun Apr 15, 2012 6:50 pm UTC

I some how doubt many people wrote the 'classics' with the idea that only literature students would read them.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Sun Apr 15, 2012 6:58 pm UTC

Angua wrote:I some how doubt many people wrote the 'classics' with the idea that only literature students would read them.


Nobody wrote "classics." People wrote books and experts on literature called them classics. It's not surprising that people who aren't experts don't understand why. And there are plenty of writers who wrote for a sophisticated audience--Eliot and Nabokov are two off the top of my head.

You people must think English majors do fuck all in their years at the university.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Angua » Sun Apr 15, 2012 7:09 pm UTC

I never said that - you just seemed to think that the 'classics' are necessarily difficult for people who don't do literature to understand. You implying they're similar to a textbook that is written with the explicit purpose of actually teaching others about something is pretty off.

Personally, I'm not one for long novels about people's lives - I like action. However, if another person finds that sort of thing interesting, then they might like books like those by Jane Austen, even if they're not literature students.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Sun Apr 15, 2012 7:19 pm UTC

Angua wrote:I never said that - you just seemed to think that the 'classics' are necessarily difficult for people who don't do literature to understand. You implying they're similar to a textbook that is written with the explicit purpose of actually teaching others about something is pretty off.

Personally, I'm not one for long novels about people's lives - I like action. However, if another person finds that sort of thing interesting, then they might like books like those by Jane Austen, even if they're not literature students.


But bringing up classics as classics draws the English department into the discussion. My point is that experts determine which books are classics, and for someone who isn't an expert to say that they're overrated is a bit silly, because how could they understand why they were rated in the first place? Classics aren't necessarily difficult, but it is almost always difficult for a non-expert to understand why they are classics in the first place. The comparison to a textbook was to make the point that you wouldn't expect a literature student to be able to understand complicated science, so I don't expect a science student to understand complicated literature. Their opinion about it is meaningless to me, just as my opinion about, uh, strings would be meaningless to them.

Now if we're talking about how the general public rates books, then sure their opinion is highly relevant. But when you use the term classics, you are no longer talking about public opinion. For instance, if one were to say that Harry Potter was overrated and then gave reasons why that related to the criteria that the general public rates it by, fine. But if you say Lolita is overrated because there's not enough action, don't be expected to be taken seriously--it's rated by people who use more sophisticated criteria than action vs. no action.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Angua » Sun Apr 15, 2012 10:23 pm UTC

Many 'classics' tend to be quite old - it's not that surprising that people would sort of lump them together if they aren't that impressed by that sort of thing. They aren't necessarily saying that the people who decided they should be classics didn't know what they were doing, just that they didn't like that style of book.

This is a thread about opinions of books. Just because an expert has proclaimed a book amazing doesn't mean that someone else can't think it's overrated.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:33 am UTC

Angua wrote:This is a thread about opinions of books. Just because an expert has proclaimed a book amazing doesn't mean that someone else can't think it's overrated.


But you don't get it. Who is the book rated by: the public or experts? When you are speaking about classics, the people who rated them are experts. To say that they are overrated, then, is to say that the experts have gotten it wrong. Such a proclamation is absurd coming from someone who doesn't understand why the experts rated the books in the first place. Scientists generally don't understand why the experts rated the books in the first place. Therefore, such a statement coming from a scientist is absurd.

I then bring in the textbook example to counter the assertion that scientists might understand why the experts rated the books in the first place. Such an assertion comes from the assumption that literature is easy to understand without study. In reality it's not--I know from personal experience as an English major. So I drew a parallel to a science textbook to appeal to scientists' personal experience, i.e., that their discipline is not easy to understand without study.

It's a transparent argument. Which premises or inferences do you disagree with?

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:41 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:And there are plenty of writers who wrote for a sophisticated audience--Eliot and Nabokov are two off the top of my head.
Could you elaborate on this point some more?

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby ahammel » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:58 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:
Angua wrote:This is a thread about opinions of books. Just because an expert has proclaimed a book amazing doesn't mean that someone else can't think it's overrated.


But you don't get it. Who is the book rated by: the public or experts? When you are speaking about classics, the people who rated them are experts. To say that they are overrated, then, is to say that the experts have gotten it wrong.

I imagine that when most people say "this book is overrated" they mean "many people seem to like this book, but I didn't care for it". I mentioned John Wyndham above, but I have no idea what the expert opinion of Mr. Wyndham is. I feel comfortable making that post in an "overrated books" thread because Wyndham seems reasonably popular despite the fact that his endings suck.

And anyway, scholars of English literature aren't employed to sort books into good and bad, they're employed to study English literature. They write papers with titles like "The use of blood as a metaphor in Macbeth" not "Macbeth is totally awesome, you guys".
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Mon Apr 16, 2012 4:36 am UTC

ahammel wrote:I imagine that when most people say "this book is overrated" they mean "many people seem to like this book, but I didn't care for it". I mentioned John Wyndham above, but I have no idea what the expert opinion of Mr. Wyndham is. I feel comfortable making that post in an "overrated books" thread because Wyndham seems reasonably popular despite the fact that his endings suck.

And anyway, scholars of English literature aren't employed to sort books into good and bad, they're employed to study English literature. They write papers with titles like "The use of blood as a metaphor in Macbeth" not "Macbeth is totally awesome, you guys".


That's fair, but it's not what the user that I originally quoted said. He said that classics were overrated. My argument follows soundly.

You understand less about the English department than you let on. In fact, critics do sort literary works into good and bad, just not in the crude way you're suggesting. Who do you think determines what's in the cannon and what's not? English departments do by what they choose to write about and what they choose to put in their syllabi. That there isn't much criticism being done about an author is effectively a value judgment. By calling books classics, which like it or not is part of the job of English departments, they are rating them--not only that, but they are the only group that rates them as such. Again, my argument follows soundly.

Jorpho wrote:
sdkelso wrote:And there are plenty of writers who wrote for a sophisticated audience--Eliot and Nabokov are two off the top of my head.
Could you elaborate on this point some more?


I admit that I haven't studied Eliot extensively, but the general opinion of him is that he was an elitist that wrote in a deliberately difficult manor. Interestingly enough, though, upon doing a quick search for sources, it seems like that opinion might be changing slightly. Nothing I can find is conclusive, though a few articles claim to be. I won't provide links as all I did was google it--feel free to do so yourself.

Nabokov, on the other hand, I adore. I know that he has written a lot on the subject, and I'll do my best to find something now. For one, philistine is one of his favorite words, and in his Lectures on Literature he often refers to the vulgar, sentimental "bad" reader and warns his students off becoming one of them. A few quotes I can find by flipping through the books on my desk:

"The various combinations these minor authors are able to produce within these set limits may be quite amusing in a mild ephemeral way because minor readers like to recognize their own ideas in pleasing disguise." (Lectures 2)

Regarding a passage in Madame Bovary: "Shortly we find the whole bible of the bad reader--all a good reader does not do." (Lectures 150)

Coupled with his frequent invocation of the philistine, this quote is telling: "Generally speaking, I'm supremely indifferent to adverse criticism in regard to my fiction." (Strong Opinions 54)

On page three of Strong Opinions, Nabokov lists one of his loathings as "stupidity."

And the most telling of all: "I write mainly for artists...." (Strong Opinions 41).

I hope that clears things up.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Angua » Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:31 am UTC

You're still missing out on the fact that when lay people think and talk about classics, they are talking about a group of books which have a similar feel to them. They can feel that those are overrated.

It would be like someone saying that scifi books are overrated. Or romance novels. Or whatever other group of books they happen not to like.

Would you prefer if we gave them a different name, so we're not stepping on the English department's toes? I feel that warbles are, in general, overrated.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:14 pm UTC

Angua wrote:You're still missing out on the fact that when lay people think and talk about classics, they are talking about a group of books which have a similar feel to them. They can feel that those are overrated.

It would be like someone saying that scifi books are overrated. Or romance novels. Or whatever other group of books they happen not to like.

Would you prefer if we gave them a different name, so we're not stepping on the English department's toes? I feel that warbles are, in general, overrated.


Who in general thinks warbles are good?

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:29 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:Who do you think determines what's in the cannon and what's not?
Ingrained cultural inertia.

English departments do by what they choose to write about and what they choose to put in their syllabi. That there isn't much criticism being done about an author is effectively a value judgment.
So it comes down to the volume of criticism? That just requires a couple of loud people to be able to make interesting arguments. Granted, a more complex work will lend itself better to interesting arguments, but high complexity is not necessarily a requirement, especially if the people are loud enough.

Jorpho wrote:
sdkelso wrote:And there are plenty of writers who wrote for a sophisticated audience--Eliot and Nabokov are two off the top of my head.
Could you elaborate on this point some more?
Frankly, while the name of Madame Bovary is something I've heard before, I know nothing of Nabokov. I was wondering what other writers you might have in mind.

These days, a publisher is unlikely to be much interested in a book that will only sell to people with English degrees, you see.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Angua » Mon Apr 16, 2012 2:11 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:Who in general thinks warbles are good?
People who like that style of writing?

Are you trying to say that only English majors think they're any good? A bunch of people told me that Jane Eyre was a good book when I didn't care for it (including my mother who is definitely more into sciences than arts).
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:11 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:Ingrained cultural inertia.


Yes, but who determines what's in the cannon and how? You've given a crude reason that nevertheless has some truth to it, I've given above the process and those who execute that process.

Jorpho wrote:So it comes down to the volume of criticism? That just requires a couple of loud people to be able to make interesting arguments. Granted, a more complex work will lend itself better to interesting arguments, but high complexity is not necessarily a requirement, especially if the people are loud enough.


The volume of criticism, along with English department syllabi, largely determines what's in the canon. I don't understand your objection; is it that then people could canonize whatever they want? In a way, but they don't because they make value judgments when they choose what to study. Furthermore, your couple of loud people wouldn't make much of a difference unless they had very good arguments, in which case perhaps the work should enter the canon (an example of this is Eliot's revival of interest in the metaphysical poets). Again, I don't see how this functions as an objection--I've given you a rough outline of the process by which works enter the canon, something which is fairly uncontroversial.

Jorpho wrote:Frankly, while the name of Madame Bovary is something I've heard before, I know nothing of Nabokov. I was wondering what other writers you might have in mind.

These days, a publisher is unlikely to be much interested in a book that will only sell to people with English degrees, you see.


Well first of all volumes upon volumes of literary criticism are released year after year which are marketed only to people with English degrees, and they sell just fine. But that's not what I was talking about--I was talking about writers who choose to write for a sophisticated audience. I couldn't care any less whether or not publishers think that they will reach mass audiences (in many cases they will after having first been rated by experts). It doesn't change the fact that the books were meant to be appreciated by a more sophisticated audience. Joyce didn't write Ulysses to appeal to sentimental audiences fond of action. Nabokov didn't write Lolita for philistines. Hell, Tolkien (to pick a non-canonical author) didn't write The Lord of the Rings to appeal to anybody but himself. All three are immensely popular works, but that doesn't change their authors' intended audience.

In any case, these points are hardly relevant to the transparent argument I've been making. This point is far more compelling:

Angua wrote:People who like that style of writing?

Are you trying to say that only English majors think they're any good? A bunch of people told me that Jane Eyre was a good book when I didn't care for it (including my mother who is definitely more into sciences than arts).


Fair enough, I guess.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:17 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:
Jorpho wrote:So it comes down to the volume of criticism? That just requires a couple of loud people to be able to make interesting arguments. Granted, a more complex work will lend itself better to interesting arguments, but high complexity is not necessarily a requirement, especially if the people are loud enough.
The volume of criticism, along with English department syllabi, largely determines what's in the canon. I don't understand your objection; is it that then people could canonize whatever they want? In a way, but they don't because they make value judgments when they choose what to study. Furthermore, your couple of loud people wouldn't make much of a difference unless they had very good arguments, in which case perhaps the work should enter the canon (an example of this is Eliot's revival of interest in the metaphysical poets).
You suggest that a "classic" work is something about which someone can compose a very good argument.

Well first of all volumes upon volumes of literary criticism are released year after year which are marketed only to people with English degrees, and they sell just fine.
Do they, now? I doubt it's an especially profitable venture.

But that's not what I was talking about--I was talking about writers who choose to write for a sophisticated audience. I couldn't care any less whether or not publishers think that they will reach mass audiences (in many cases they will after having first been rated by experts). It doesn't change the fact that the books were meant to be appreciated by a more sophisticated audience. Joyce didn't write Ulysses to appeal to sentimental audiences fond of action.
He did probably write it with the hope of getting paid for it, though.

Hell, Tolkien (to pick a non-canonical author) didn't write The Lord of the Rings to appeal to anybody but himself.
And if it appealed to no one but himself, no one would know of it today, regardless of how an "expert" might dote upon it when it was discovered.

In any case, these points are hardly relevant to the transparent argument I've been making.
Probably, but I'd like to know more about this. I recall a quote from Ms. James Joyce to her husband: "Why don't you write books people can read?"

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:39 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:Probably, but I'd like to know more about this.


Why didn't you say so? I'll do my best to explain, but I'm no expert.

Jorpho wrote:You suggest that a "classic" work is something about which someone can compose a very good argument.


I don't think I do, I think you're reducing what I'm saying. Nowhere in my post does it suggest that if someone made a really good argument about why Harry Potter is garbage and couldn't be further away from the canon, then it would become classic. But since I was confusing, I'll start again from the beginning. What is a classic? Let's give it the practical definition of "a literary work in the canon." Of course the word also contains ideas about value over time, but that does change the fact that classics are works in the canon and vice versa. When we ask how (not why) a work becomes a classic, then, we are asking about canon formation. A work becomes canonical in two ways (I'm sorry I don't have a citation--this is something I learned in a theory course): people choose to do criticism on it (very often this is a large number of people over a long period of time) and it is taught in literature classes (same stipulation as the first way). Do not take this to be a sweeping generalization--there's a course here next semester teaching The Hobbit and I can find criticism of Harry Potter in our local bookshop, but neither of these works are canonical. This is a long process by which a work gradually becomes accepted as worth studying. And now I've snuck in a value judgment with the word "worth," and this leads me to my next point: choosing to do criticism on a work and choosing to teach it are effectively value judgments. What the professor is saying is, "I find this work more valuable for study than some other work." I warn again against a sweeping generalization, as some classes teach non-canonical works because they're easier or because the students will like them more or for any number of other reasons. But this is the general outline of how canon formation works.

I brought up the Eliot example as an anomaly, an example of how one critic changed the canon by showing that a group of poets who couldn't be appreciated by the standards of their day are worth studying by the standards of our own. I'm not suggesting that this happens very often. Not to mention the fact that Eliot is considered one of the best literary critics there ever were--it wasn't like some grad student thought that Dune should be in the canon so he wrote a paper on it.

Well first of all volumes upon volumes of literary criticism are released year after year which are marketed only to people with English degrees, and they sell just fine.
Do they, now? I doubt it's an especially profitable venture.


Not like producing Transformers was a profitable venture, but something tells me that you've never been in the criticism section of your local bookstore before.

He did probably write it with the hope of getting paid for it, though.


Joyce, maybe. The man was poor, give him a break. Luckily he knew that there was an established audience of modern intellectuals that would receive it (which also answers your question about his wife's quote--he was interested in writing a masterpiece in the modernist style of his time). Nabokov, on the other hand, once said (he may have been quoting Pushkin), "I write for pleasure, but I publish for money." Honestly, if these two only wanted money, they could have written things that would appeal to a much wider audience. Instead they wrote masterpieces that have filtered down to the masses in part because of controversy but mainly because they have been judged as such by experts.

Hell, Tolkien (to pick a non-canonical author) didn't write The Lord of the Rings to appeal to anybody but himself.
And if it appealed to no one but himself, no one would know of it today, regardless of how an "expert" might dote upon it when it was discovered.


But that's irrelevant. The point I was trying to make is that people do sometimes (often) write for relatively small audiences, and in the case of great writers these audiences are often the intellectual elite. Avant-garde was never meant to be popular with the masses and it never really has been (even though almost everyone knows of it). Likewise, although almost everyone knows of Ulysses, it has never really appealed to a mass, non-intellectual audience. So when you call avant-garde or Ulysses or any classic overrated, the word is meaningless if you never got why it was rated in the first place. Now I've brought myself full circle.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby SecondTalon » Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:28 pm UTC

This whole "Quoting and replying to snippets" thing?
This is really annoying
So can we knock it off?
That'd be great.

No, seriously, organize your thoughts better.
Seriously. Quote the whole thing and reply to the whole thing
Because this is annoying to read.
Particularly when you repeat it eight or nine times in a single post.
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