top 5 wednesday: Books I Disliked But Love to Discuss

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

I haven’t done one of these in a while!

March 7: Freebie: Since these are posted a bit later than usual, you get a freebie! Was there a previous T5W topic you are bummed you missed? Now would be a good time to do that topic!

I’ve decided to go with a topic that I missed when I was busy in Houston in January: Books You Disliked but Love to Discuss: Some books we disliked or they were just okay, but they still have a lot of discussion points to sink your teeth into.

820689The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I know, I’m practically the only feminist who isn’t crazy about Margaret Atwood, but I really, really do not like this book.  I know it’s deliberate, but I don’t like how the narrator is held at an arm’s length from the action, and how none of the reader’s questions about how and why this society formed are ever answered… it made for a very dissatisfying read for me.  And then there’s the fact that women of color are sidelined by the narrative while their own historical experiences (i.e., slavery) are appropriated for Offred’s narrative (a white woman)… I don’t know.  I think this book was progressive and important in a lot of ways when it was published in the 80s, but I’m not really sure that it holds up as the contemporary feminist bible that a lot of people see it as.  But I find it interesting to discuss, because I don’t think it’s a 100% perfect or a 100% worthless book – I think it has a lot to offer and a lot to critique.

59716To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  I will gladly talk to any and everyone about this book because I’m still waiting for someone to explain it to me.  I had to use Sparknotes when I read this (last year, when I was 24, holding a lit degree) and I still don’t even begin to understand half of what was going on here.  Someone please tell me what the lighthouse represents.

 

9889Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.  I had to read this for a book club, and I thought it was tremendously boring.  And if there’s anything worse than reading a boring book, it’s reading a boring book for a book club.  But this ended up being one of the more interesting discussions we had, particularly because someone brought up the question of the narrator’s sexuality.  I remember reading this quickly and not putting too much brainpower into it, but I just assumed that the narrator was in love with Holly and it was a voyeuristic, male-gazey narrative… but then someone started talking about how they read the narrator as gay, and I started realizing just how much evidence there was to support that, and it added an entirely new dimension to the novel that I hadn’t even realized was there.  I still think it’s an interesting subject to ruminate on.

32283423American War by Omar El Akkad.  This is a book that tested my resolve to never DNF if ever I read one.  This was painfully dull and long-winded.  However, it did raise several rather interesting questions about the possibility of a second Civil War in the US, and I think it’s interesting to consider whether or not El Akkad’s vision for how this war would develop is a likely one.

 

22522805The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.  As you know, I’m a pretty big fan of almost everything Kazuo Ishiguro has written, but this was easily my least favorite of his books.  What I didn’t like about it was that it took a simple concept that would have suited a short story, and inexplicably drew it out to fit a full-length novel.  Much boredom and repetition ensued.  But I do find the central concept fascinating, and I loved the ending a lot, so I’m glad to talk about this book as I do see the merits in it… it just wasn’t my favorite reading experience.

What books did you dislike that you still like to discuss?  Comment and let me know!

33 thoughts on “top 5 wednesday: Books I Disliked But Love to Discuss

    • I’m glad! Likewise I do understand why so many people love it… there are a lot of pros and cons to that book but the cons outweigh the pros for me. But I do see why it’s so beloved.

      Liked by 1 person

    • This was a topic that I’d been looking forward to because I love discussing books even when I dislike them, but then life got in the way. I was glad I was given a second chance!

      Like

    • I’m so glad to hear that. I do understand why some people love it, but… SO MANY PEOPLE LOVE IT and I feel so alone on this island, haha. There were things I really did appreciate about it, but there was a lot that didn’t sit right with me, especially from a contemporary perspective. I think it’s possible to recognize its accomplishments as a feminist text in the 80s while admitting that it doesn’t completely hold up today.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s exactly how I felt. I could see its merits and there were things about it that I really liked, but as much as I wanted to love it I just couldn’t fully connect. Like you said, I think a lot of that came from the dated perspective it offers. Whilst it may have been revolutionary for its time, a lot has changed over the last 30 years. I get its place as a prominent stepping stone in feminist literature, but I don’t regard it as a contemporary commentary on the subject, which some people still seem to.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! And it’s frustrating that so few fans of The Handmaid’s Tale are willing to have this conversation. I mean, like I said, I do think it has a lot to offer, but for some reason a lot of people who love it (not everyone, obviously) will shut down criticisms because it’s ‘an important feminist text.’ Which it is in some ways but… there are even more relevant feminist texts (especially by women of color) that we should also be looking at in 2018. Not that we should stop reading The Handmaid’s Tale, but… we are allowed to be critical.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So true! I think we all need reminding sometimes that even our favourite things are often flawed, and that accepting those flaws doesn’t mean we have to stop loving them (Harry Potter being a prime example).

        I think with this book there’s also an element of people almost being afraid to not love it – as though you’re a misogynist or a failed feminist if you don’t. I think that’s another reason why it took me a while to figure out how I felt about the book and why I struggled to put it into words. I wanted to love it so badly going in and almost blamed myself for being underwhelmed.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Harry Potter is the BEST example. I think my soul dies a little every time I see bad Harry Potter discourse on the internet. People are so hellbent on defending every aspect of the series at all costs or denouncing it as entirely #problematic garbage, and it’s like, guys, did you miss the entire point of the series??? Things aren’t always black and white. You can love something and criticize it at the same time. My life became so much better once I realized that.

        SUCH a good point and I felt the exact same way. I used to be a lot more reticent about my dislike of it because I assumed it was something wrong with me that I wasn’t able to connect with it, but the more I’ve reflected (i read this I think in 2011 so I’ve had many years to meditate on this) the more I’ve been able to put into words what bothered me about it, and also realize that nothing is above critique.

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      • Absolutely! We always talk about how nothing in life is perfect, and yet when it comes to any kind of media, SO much of the conversation revolves around the split between those who think something is flawless and those who think it’s utter garbage. What happened to all the nuances and the interesting discussions on something’s strengths and weaknesses?

        Liked by 1 person

      • YES. This is something I complain about so much, but I’m so sick of people chasing after ideological purity in media. If everyone has to be 100% good or evil all the time that’s a Disney movie, and if everyone just has to be 100% good there’s no story in that at all. I have this one friend who also loves Harry Potter and we talk about Snape and Dumbledore a lot – she LOVES them both and I don’t particularly like either – but we both recognize that they’re absolutely essential to the text and it’s like… why is ‘I like Snape’ automatically interpreted as ‘I hate abuse survivors and I support abusers’ rather than ‘I’m fascinated by moral complexity in characters’??? I think it’s so often a mis-guided sense of activism that drives that kind of thinking, but it’s like… you guys are aware that you’re not actually helping anyone in the real world for recognizing that Snape would be a terrible human if he were real, right???

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! It would just be plain stupid if there weren’t some people who liked Snape and Dumbledore, and some people who didn’t like them, because they’re easily two of the most morally complex characters in the series. So depending on where you sit re: the ‘the ends justify the means’ kind of approach, you’re going to feel differently about them. BUT THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT! Discussing their moral ambiguity is what makes them interesting characters – like them or not. This idea that you not only have to 100% love or hate them, but that anyone who disagrees with you is WRONG AND EVIL is so stupid.

        And speaking of people totally missing the point, have you seen the article getting shared around a lot at the moment with the headline: ‘Snowflake students claim Frankenstein’s monster was misunderstood – and is in fact a victim!’ I’m not even paraphrasing. The person who wrote it is really THAT stupid. And again, love or hate Frankenstein as a book, how can anyone not know that skewed moral compasses, being misunderstood, and discussing the extent to which Frankenstein is the real monster is the ENTIRE POINT of the story?! 😭

        Liked by 1 person

      • Omg yes exactly. In tumblr fandoms in particular I feel like there’s this obsession with chasing moral and ideological purity and denouncing every single character who doesn’t fit neatly into that good vs. evil dichotomy. I’m not into Star Wars but I also see a lot of this with Kylo Ren, and it’s always mindblowing to me that people can’t seem to distinguish between personally not caring for a character (which is totally fine!!!) and seeing that character as like… a weirdly personal threat to real-world social justice. I’ve actually seen anti-Kylo discourse that’s like ‘he is irredeemable because he has COMMITTED GENOCIDE how can anyone condone that’ and it’s like… WOW…. you know this is science fiction, right?! Obviously fiction informs reality and vice versa to an extent but argument is something you would hear from an 8 year old child. Can we bring a little more nuance, people.

        YES I DID SEE THAT 🤦🏻‍♀️ it is so strange to me that anyone can miss the point of that book so spectacularly?! I think this also comes back to how no one on the internet puts any thought into their arguments, it’s all big statements and accusations, lest we actually have a civilized conversation about literature and other media for once 🙄

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ugh, yes! As a ‘person’, I wouldn’t exactly be sending Kylo a Christmas card, but as a character I think he’s great, BECAUSE he’s morally complex, and BECAUSE they try to flip your perception of how irredeemable he is/isn’t. How dull would fiction be if every villain was 100% evil, and every hero some kind of unattainable saint? GIVE ME FLAWS AND UNCERTAINTY!

        Yep, and that’s a very good point about how this is a problem that has risen so much with the internet. It’s like everyone’s opinion on something has to fit into a single tweet, so they’d better come down hard on either love or hate, right or wrong, etc. I think that’s why blogging is by far my favourite form of social media/online interaction. There’s just so much more room to let your ideas breathe, and far less people (though they do pop up occasionally) trying to shut you down with a single sweeping statement purely because your opinion differs from theirs.

        Liked by 1 person

      • omg yes my favorite characters always tend to be the complex ones, like I am all about antiheroes and antiheroines because they just make for such a more compelling narrative. And I LOVE complex villains too, or villains with tragic backstories, I feel like the ‘cool motive, still murder’ meme has gotten a bit out of control, like, yes, murder is bad, we all know that, but do we want our fictional villains to just be cardboard cutout bad guys???

        That is such a great point about blogging vs. tweeting, and actually why I wasn’t a fan of twitter for the longest time. I do find that there’s a lot of simplified discourse on there because of the site’s format… but I’m happy with the people I follow now, I feel like I don’t see too much of that anymore. Blogging is definitely my preferred platform too, I struggle with brevity with this kind of convo (clearly) but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, there is a lot to be said! I’m really happy with the WordPress community too, I’ve had so many great convos like this which is my favorite thing about blogging. If I were just shouting my opinions into the void it wouldn’t be half as fun. (And then tumblr is just a horrible twitter-blog hybrid where I spend approximately 99% of my time, when will I be free from that site.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! Where’s the fun or the conflict if every character is one dimensional?

        Same here. I’d always sooner have proper conversations like this than just watch people trade shouty statements about how wrong everyone else is 😂

        Liked by 1 person

    • My friend who noticed the possibility of the narrator being gay pointed out the following:

      – Joe Bell’s bar is described as having a mirror that faces the street, which was a common feature of early 20th century gay bars
      – Early in the novel there’s a throwaway line like ‘if men don’t like baseball and horses, they don’t like women,’ and later when ‘Fred’ is at Holly’s apartment he’s noticing that all of her books are about baseball and horses, and he’s not interested in them.
      – The character also has the same birthday as Capote, so maybe we’re meant to assume he’s a stand-in for Capote?

      Definitely some food for thought! Especially since Holly’s story is all about inventing and reinventing oneself – it’s interesting to think about how that ties into sexuality in the 20th century.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Completely agree with you about The Buried Giant, I felt slightly confused about what I was reading and vaguely bored the whole time – but I adore everything else I’ve read by Ishiguro. I guess I got my hopes up a bit much for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! By the time it came out I’d already read all of Ishiguro’s other novels so I had really high hopes and was curious to see how he’d handle the transition to fantasy… but now I hope he sticks to literary fiction going forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think criticisms of The Handmaid’s Tale are completely legitimate, particularly regarding the way women of color are treated by the author and her narrative. But it’s one of my favorite books anyway, mostly because I read it in my sophomore year of college and somehow found it incredibly empowering. It was one of my first real feminist reads and the class I read it in is the best class I’ve ever taken, so that certainly gives me some bias. I reread it again a year or two ago and it definitely didn’t hit as hard a second time, but I think that’s because my worldview and politics have developed so much since then.

    Anyway! What I’m saying is I appreciate what it did for me, but can also acknowledge that it’s not for everyone, and it’s not THE feminist book.

    Have you seen the Hulu series yet? I really like how they chose to expand upon the story and didn’t mind the liberties at all. I think it helps that a) the performances are amazing, b) the audience is left with fewer unanswered questions, and c) going into it knowing that it was going to be a TV series and knowing how the book is relatively short meant that I wasn’t expecting purism at all. The Boston references were also super cool for me, personally.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this comment, this is exactly what I mean when I say I like discussing this book!!!

      I absolutely agree that it’s a fantastic ~gateway~ feminist book, and I’m sure it’s a great one to teach in schools. I’ve read feminist books that are great but aren’t nearly as complex as The Handmaid’s Tale and wouldn’t make for particularly interesting discussions. So it definitely has a lot of merits, and it would be interesting too if class discussions brought up the exclusion of women of color from the narrative.

      For whatever reason I am abysmal at watching tv, and usually I’ll watch one episode of a tv show and think ‘that was good, I should keep watching it’ and then I just… don’t, which is exactly what happened with The Handmaid’s Tale, but I really liked the first ep! I liked the inclusion of woc (though that raises a question about how a society founded on misogyny managed to become post-racial??? – but again, interesting to discuss) and I thought the television format suited the story better than the novel. Maybe I shall return to it one day!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really like Ishiguro, and I was planning on buying one of his books when I saw a lot of negative reviews about The Buried Giant. I heard it’s too long and winding, and it’s just not for everyone. I’ve never read it till now! I don’t think I want to spend my time and money reading something I’m pretty sure I won’t like 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I’d seen reviews before I read it, but because I’m such a massive Ishiguro fan I pre-ordered it and was sure I would love it, alas 😦 I’m not sure which of his books you’ve read, but my favorites are Never Let Me Go, The Remains of the Day, and A Pale View of Hills. But I like literally all of them more than The Buried Giant.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. I know it’s supposed to be considered a classic, but a satire, but it was really dry. Not his usual dry humor dry…more like humid summer where you just wish the day would end already, dry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that’s too bad, I haven’t read that yet and was looking forward to it! The only Oscar Wilde I’ve read is The Importance of Being Earnest which I thought was hysterical, so it’s a shame that Dorian Grey was not 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow I didn’t see the notification on this comment till now….*blushes with embarrassment*
        The Importance of Being Earnest was my favorite of his. Dorian Grey is the opposite with humor. Where TIoBE is witty and fun…Dorian Grey is dark and poetic. You should definitely read it because it is still worth reading…but…just don’t go in there with the hype that it’ll be like his other works. It stands out for a reason.

        On an unrelated note, I saw a play where they did gender reversals on the Importance of Being Earnest…I wasn’t sure how well that would end up but the cast was hilarious and they made it work.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No worries! WordPress makes it hard to see replies to comments in other people’s blogs. That’s good to know about Dorian Grey, I definitely do still want to read it but it’s good to know what to expect. A gender swapped Earnest sounds SO interesting, I’m so curious how that would work but I’d love to see it!

        Liked by 1 person

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