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Tim S.

"Last of the Mohicans." Couldn't finish it, even in my teenage years when I would theoretically be interesting in rousing woodland adventure stories. Trouble is, the prose is Melville without the characters, Conrad without the imagery, Dickens without the drama. I could barely remember what had happened on a page once I'd turned it. It was the first book I intentionally put down without finishing.

Karen

I'm incapable of reading either Proust OR Virginia Woolf. Or Henry James, for that matter. It's tragic. I'm painfully well-read, otherwise, honest. But those three--[shudder]--can't do it.

Ken Muldrew

"Don Quixote". I tried to read it when I was in grade 5 or 6 but I was unable to get through a single page without being placed into a deep coma. I remember finally conceding defeat somewhere around page 100, or so. I figured life was just too short for reading important books. What a shame.

I didn't care for "On the Road" either. All that ultra-frenetic activity for nothing. At the time I read it, I was enthralled by the Yosemite climbers of the 60s and 70s. They were all on the bum, but definitely not beat. "There is a leisure class at both ends of the social spectrum". These guys lived a life of leisure and they knew that it just didn't get any better than that. It probably wouldn't have made for great literature, but sure served to show up the folly of Kerouac's gang.

My favorite road book from my adolescence was "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". I just loved the wild power of the language and the lucid deliberations over such obviously insane behavior. Now that's a book about freedom! Or at least it was; I don't know how well it would play these days, but for a young lad with whiskey and car keys it was excellent.

Rana

Lovely post, Lance!

The book I found most disappointing was Moby Dick. I think trying to read it on my own, without some sort of guide to all of the allusions and allegory, worked against me. I came to the end having enjoyed all the stuff about whaling (I'm a nature geek, what can I say) but uninspired by the human story that is supposedly the important part.

mac macgillicuddy

Yes, Moby Dick! I agree. There, I said it; it's out.

It's a whale of a tale, but I can put it down, every time.

Maybe it's got something to do with the fellow grad student I knew who was taken to impromptu reciting of random passages, anywhere, anytime, whether anyone wanted to hear them or not.

Linkmeister

Let's see. My junior year of HS we had A Separate Peace, As I Lay Dying, Billy Budd, and one or two others assigned.

The first was ok.

The second put me off Faulkner for life (so far). "My mother is a fish," indeed.

The third, not bad at all.

K2

"Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"....and pretty much all of Tom Robbins. People I love love him. LOVE him, laugh with him, nod sagely at his bons mots. I read Robbins and I am sober as a judge. I am bored. Even though I read him as a young, restless and arrogant teen, there were simply not enough drugs in my life for me to find him even close to amusing. My lack of hipitude shames me to this day.

Campaspe

Not only have I never been able to muster enough interest in On the Road to read it, until today I had never managed to finish a single piece of critical writing about it. So your post is an accomplishment, for you and for me.

My big disappointment was Heart of Darkness. Conrad's prose just forms this wall between me and him. Even after reading King Leopold's Ghost, and having the historical background on all that Conrad was writing about, the book left me stone cold. Every few years I re-attempt to get something out of it, every few years I admit defeat. It is the only novel I was forced to read an adolescent that I was not able to return to as an adult and read with some pleasure.

Mike Molloy

Yeah, On The Road was it for me too. I was never even able to get why it was supposed to be highly regarded, let alone share the appreciation. I'm glad to have read this essay, in particular I'm glad you included the excerpts from Menand's essay, which at least help me with the "why is it so well regarded" question--maybe I'll give it another shot one of these years.

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues left me cold too--well, it was amusing and pleasant enough to read, so I guess it left me cool. On the other hand, since I didn't have any great expectations for it, it was no great disappointment to me.

I loved The Portrait of a Lady for about 150 of the 800 pages in the edition I read; after that James's style of long, compound, complex sentences began to grate, and by the time it was done grating 650 pages later, I really hated that book. Watching Isabel drift so enthusiastically toward the obviously ill-fated marriage to whatsisname didn't help either (Gilbert Osmond--thanks Wikipedia!). I guess James gave the reader access to scenes that she could neither see or hear, but still.

sfmike

I have nothing but fondness for "On The Road" because it was a serendipitous, perfect reading experience. I had left home at age 16, been hitchhiking throughout the country since the age of 13, and read the book in one long afternoon gulp at age 17 while getting drunk on cheap Gallo red wine in my parents' backyard in Southern California on a short visit.

Kerouac got all of it down correctly, including the yearning for transcendence, the homoeroticism and fraternal love, the crazed need to see what's around the next point. I've never really wanted to go back and read the book again, but I remember being enormously happy and impressed with it. (But then again, I felt the same way about "Moby Dick" at age 16.) By the way, I don't disagree with a word you've written about the depressiveness and loneliness and anxiety in the subtext of "On The Road," but the attempt at transcendence was real and it sent out many ripples on many ponds throughout the world, and overall it's a very good book.

As for being disappointed by a reputedly great book, I figure the fault is either with myself or the author, and I actually give most praised authors the benefit of the doubt. "I just don't get it because I just don't." That doesn't mean I have to finish the boring books, however.

JD

"Finnegan's Wake". Oh, I finished it, protesting all the way. I think it was because I was in no way interested in being bathed in any of the characters' streams of consciousness. Haven't given it another go.

Chris the Cop

"Love in the Time of Cholera." Had to be 20 years ago. Took me 8 weeks to wade through it and I hated it every step of the way. Somewhere, I read it was a Great Book and I gave it a shot and it was awful. Wordy, boring, slow-paced even for a European novelist and more than a little pretentious.

Then again, it might have been the translation...

almostinfamous

funny, i read 'love in the time of cholera' last year and it barely took me a day and a half to read. it's a nice enough book, but maybe since i haven't yet read 'cien años de soledad' i dont get the whole vibe that it has...

oh, and the most disappointing book i have ever read, period, is Atlas Shrugged. for a novel that is supposed to be oh-so influential and philosophical, i found it severely lacking in anything near attraction. i don't need Ayn Rand to be my mom, so why does she write a 90-page speech? (of course i skipped almost 85 pages, a similar percentage to how much of mom's advice met with the same fate)

and even more disappointing was the fact that it came highly recommended by dad.

Kit Stolz

You're not alone, Lance. The Los Angeles Times talked to a number of writers about "On the Road," and shockingly few of them liked it, and explained why, forcefully:

http://tinyurl.com/3y9857

Tom

"When Jim Morrison was fourteen, he copied passages from On the Road into his journal, and tried to imitate Dean Moriarty's laugh."

I think that's from Todd Gitlin, The Sixties.

There's something claustrophobic about it, for sure. Paragraphs in which characters jostle for recognition – human, river, road, houses – nothing has priority.

Dean – ahead of any possible sense, any known thing – quest – but without questions – always on to the next – the quest reduced to something more viral than human. But yet, one never knows what will inspire who, and that who, if it's Morrison, in turn, what.

Ken Houghton

Four words in rebuttal: Doris Lessing. Nobel Prize.

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