With The Great Gatsby movie out this week, even non-English majors are talking about the book. I was particularly interested in one article about hating the book, even though it’s considered the Great American Novel:
“I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent; I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains. None of this would matter much to me if Gatsby were not also sacrosanct. Books being borderline irrelevant in America, one is generally free to dislike them—but not this book.”
Kathryn Schulz goes on to explain why she finds Gatsby lacking, and I can totally see her points, even though I don’t agree. I grew up in a house of Gatsby-haters. When I read the book in eleventh grade, I already knew that everyone in my family thought Gatsby was foolish and Daisy was brainless and the story was pointless. I didn’t expect a lot from the book, but ended up loving it–I thought it was dramatic and shocking and had a powerful ending about how fantasies and goals are so easily destroyed.
Does that mean I went on to change the minds of everyone in my family? Nope. I’m firmly in the camp of You Don’t Have to Love All the “Great” Novels. If you don’t love The Great Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice or Moby Dick, that’s okay. Not every book necessarily connects with every reader, even if it’s beautifully written and revered by lots of very knowledgable people. It’s not a moral failing for not loving a particular book. It just means there are probably other books out there you’ll like more.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try lots of classic novels. Schulz has given Gatsby five tries so far. I think she can cut her losses. A few years ago, I read Anna Karenina because I thought, “Hey, there’s a novel I never had to read in school. People seem to like it?” I spent the whole thing waiting for Anna to get hit by that train. Not the book for me. Sometimes I think maybe I should give it another shot, but there are so many other wonderful books in the world–I think my time is better spent moving onto one of them.
Which “great” novels do you hate?