I saw Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby last weekend and… not my favorite movie.
Partly I think the problem is that I love the book so extremely much. I’ve posted previously about how much the book moved me when I re-read it as an adult, and I don’t know if it’s quite possible for a movie to capture the subtleties of the book (though for the record, I’m not sure Luhrmann really tried to do that).
As the movie release approached and passed though, I had lots of conversations with friends and acquaintances who confessed they really, really don’t like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The book, not the movie.
This is closely related to a question reader Drew Turney asked me:
How do you manage your relationship to a book that’s an accepted classic which everybody seems to love but which did nothing for you?
There are many classics of varying level of sacredness I really didn’t like: The Scarlet Letter, Little House on the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time…
And of course there are plenty of of people who don’t like some of my favorites: Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury…
How do you manage your feelings and react in polite company when there’s a classic that everyone loves that you just don’t? Why does it stir your emotions and get you a little crazy when a book is canonized and you can’t stand it?
(And admit it. You judge people a little when they love a book you hate…)
I think that's one of the reasons why I'm glad I never focused on English literature as a subject. It's just a clique group, just like a lot of things school/education/society presented us with before we knew what else to think.
"What? Read just cos you want to, not because someone TOLD you to?"
So much of our culture squeezes the joy out of ordinary things.
My dad had quantities of books. I think that's why I was a reader. I read what I liked and went to the library to discover books. I don't remember having a lot of discussions with people as to 'what to read.'
I think if we could 'remove' the stigma and somewhat elitist culture that 'reading classics' has wrought, more people would be discovering these books..
and simply reading them.
A new internet process? I wonder.
I think this topic begs a different question entirely.
Why is it not okay to have a differing opinion?
Seriously… What happened?
Seems to me we live in an age that when enough people say something is good (or something gets positive word of mouth early enough) — it is then declared unequivocally "good."
I mean, our ranking systems for novels and movies aren't even systems of any real value — they're a homogenization of opinion. An average value of a gazillion different opinions melted down into a single number.
We live with the illusion of critical value without actually having to think about what we like or dislike.
I read to be entertained. To be transported to another place. To look at the world a little differently. To spend time with some characters I care for.
If a story doesn't work for me — for whatever reason — why is that up for debate?
I'm sure I like stuff you hate and vice versa. It's kind of one of the luxuries of being an individual.
Very Highbrow says
I didn't like the movie either, but then reread the book and I think that helped me appreciate what Lhurmann was trying to do in the film. I agree a good film should stand on its own, but he tried to stay faithful to the book…a little too faithful: https://www.veryhighbrow.com/2013/05/pop-culture-blather-great-gatsby.html
When someone loves a "classic" book I can't stand or just can't get into, I really try and listen to them and understand something about the book maybe I'm just overlooking or being too narrow to see. Being open-minded has led me to actually enjoy a lot of the books I otherwise would have passed over…
For me, at least, a number of outside factors influence whether I like a classic or not: my age, whether it is required reading or not, how the teacher presents it (if it is required reading). For example, I disliked "Heart of Darkness" and "Lord of the Flies" the first time I read them, probably because I was too young. My sixth grade teacher had us read "Lord of the Flies." Who does that?
But when I re-read them later, I appreciated them both. Then again, I loved "A Wrinkle in Time" when I was young, but having read it aloud to my kids recently, realized that it was no longer as magical.
In the case of requid reading,, I believe a gifted teacher has a great opportunity to influence his or her students. I loved "Paradise Lost" because I was guided through the entire poem by a very talented professor. My second time reading Milton, in grad school, was not as inspiring.
And I must admit that one of my proudest moments teaching Intro to Literature was the class period I spent on Yeats's "Leda and the Swan." My students started the class in total confusion and ended it by admitting they actually liked the poem, now that I had explained it to them.
I have one personal exception to all of this, though: Joyce's "Ulysses." I do not believe I will reach an age or find a teacher inspired enough to induce me to appreciate that novel. Nor would I ever force myself to read it again. I respect that other people like it, but I give myself permission to hate it until my dying day.
I just don't get the Catcher cult. Whiny. Self-absorbed. Tedious. Likewise, One Hundred Years of Solitude. I don't like Haruki Murakami, but I read him! Mainly because I studied Japanese literature at uni and am interested in reading it in English. However, it leaves me cold. It's surreal and masterful, I know, but it feels soulless. I admire it, but I can't love it. If someone else loves them, wonderful; I can't begrudge anyone their literary loves. I saw someone on this thread doesn't like Kingsolver or The Book Thief. The Poisonwood Bible and The Book Thief are in my top 10 list of favourites. As is Jane Eyre (but I can't stand Wuthering Heights…). I feel naughty just writing this.
Oh yeah, I'm wondering. Is there anyone who DOESN'T like John Steinbeck's work? I'm yet to meet anyone who does not like his novels. Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, etc. I love pretty much everything. (I was given those when I was about ten, not forced to read them at school.)