Book rant

Flew home last night, so I’m curled up in Northampton and my brother arrives today or tomorrow, completing the set. Went straight to bed, so not much to report yet.

I always find it hard to immediately down-shift from finals to break, so I’ve spent the last few days reading 19th century history, fiction and pastiches: My friend Chuck’s book on the perception of homosexuality in Britain’s Age of Reform, Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, the movie of James’ “Washington Square” (the novella was inflicted on me last year), Kipling’s “The Janeites” and Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. The goal is to get through 20 books I haven’t had time to read all semester and to give away the ones I don’t like to free up more shelf space for the coming semester.

Chuck’s book was fairly awesome and extremely engaging. The jury’s still out on Willis; I like her more serious books, but I’m not sure how I feel about her comedy. Still have 200 pages to go on that one, so we’ll see. But Dickens! Ugh!

I apologize if anyone here likes him, but wow. I did one of my required annotations for CSU on him just so I could rant about it for a page. Dickens draws fascinating, original portraits of his characters, but no one really challenges each other in Tale of Two Cities (nothing ever interferes with Mme. Defarge’s knitted record, for example), and David Copperfield depends on the same sort of “character is an idiot who is always taken advantage of and sleeps with anything that moves, but right feeling leads him to riches and an honest wife at last” structure that I loathed in Tom Jones. There’s no one to root for if the main character is an idiot, IMO, because I can’t sympathize with a character whose troubles depend on him being way dumber than me. I do feel disgust every time Uriah Heep comes on stage, but shouldn’t an author be able to elicit more feelings from the audience than disgust and pity? The book does pick up midway through and become more engaging, but for a 1,000 page book, that’s a hell of a commitment to have to make. And the word count padding is really annoying; if a work is in the canon, I shouldn’t feel tempted to skim the long descriptions of nothing that the author stuffed in there to make a buck. Because they’re canon works, though, I feel like the fact that I dislike them is not enough reason to trade them in, especially because they were Bat Mitzvah gifts. Like some day I’ll be old enough to appreciate them and I’ll regret being the Philistine who traded in such nice hardcover editions and has to buy them again.

What I hate about the canon is this illusion it has of being one size fits all. With a contemporary author, you’re allowed to say they’re not your thing. But you’re seen as being an idiot if you don’t like a canon author, especially if the problem is that they bore you or don’t engage you. I like Austen, I like Stevenson; at what point do I get to say I think one particular 19th century author sucks?


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