I was usually the kid that didn’t mind required reading in school. I didn’t mind reading the classics, and I could usually find a redeeming quality in almost any book set in front of me. Usually.
A Classic I Loathe:
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A quick glance at Wikipedia (about all the effort I’m willing to put into this book some 10+ years later) tells me this book won the National Book Award in 1953. Modern Library ranked it #19 on it’s top 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. (That list, by the way, was released in 1998. Didn’t want to give the end of the century a chance, eh?) Time Magazine put it on a similar list.
At over 500 pages, I consider it a damn good doorstop.
The Amazon blurb for this book says, “The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.”
I have no issues with the subject matter. It could have made for a very interesting read for a white girl born in the Bible Belt of America in the 1980s. I’m all about expanding my horizons and understanding of people and places unfamiliar to me.
But the writing was like pulling teeth. If you haven’t read it and you go looking up quotes, it doesn’t seem so bad. There were some good one-liners and paragraphs in there, for sure. Some great insight. But then you read the whole thing and the incessant droning of an unidentified narrator speaking in first person for OVER 500 PAGES becomes… bad. First person is rough when it comes to novels. It can be done really, really well, but you better know what you’re doing. I don’t feel like Mr. Ellison knew what he was doing. I feel like this book took off due to subject matter and not writing finesse. Ouch.
And before you ask? Yes. I did finish it. The whole thing. I started playing a game with myself where reading whole pages, single sentences, and at one point, even words themselves, became tiny challenges and accomplishments, like someone building a house brick by brick and knowing there are only so many bricks in that pile and eventually there won’t be any more.
A Classic I Want to Avoid:
Anything by Ayn Rand
No, that’s not the title of the book, that means I don’t want to touch anything the woman has written. These make for even better doorstops than Invisible Man when it comes to size, and if I’m going to devote this much time and effort to a mammoth of a book, I’d rather pick up something like Anna Karenina.
Rand’s book themselves pose no interest to me, and I’m not particularly fond of her own personal philosophies and ideals that she pushes in her work, so I’ll go pick up 1000 pages of something else. Anything else. I think I have War and Peace around here somewhere.