Top 5 high-school curriculum books I hated so much, I'm writing a blog post about them.

By  Sarah     2/13/2014    Tags:,, 

Okay, so hear me out. 
I've always been a die-hard fan of the classics. I love Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Keats. And yes, I admit it— I was that kid in AP English classes in high school. I actually read for the fun of it. I loved reading so much that I went on to get a B.A. in English later just so I could read some more in college. (Ironically, this university grind was the very undoing of my love for reading... but more on that some other time.)

But even for a die-hard fan like me, there are some classic works out there that I just can't get behind. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I'll be damned if anyone can tell me honestly that they loved reading any of these books. I firmly believe anyone claiming to do so is a liar. (I said what I said.)

That's not to say that I don't respect the artistry of these works. On the contrary, I'm grateful for them. Without these pieces of literature, I would have never been able to so clearly define a bad classic. Without further ado, let me introduce the top 5 high-school curriculum books I hated so much, I'm writing a blog post about them.

This should go without saying, but there are spoilers ahead.

 1.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


Here's a book I had to read three times. That's three times too many. I didn't know it was possible then, but each read-through made me loathe the book even more than the last. On my third and last reading, I read and re-read several passages several times for several hours before finally chucking this into the after-hours drop-off box at my local library (no, it was not a library book).

I'm sure that most people are familiar with The Scarlet Letter, or at least have heard of it at some point. The story is simple yet intricately done; set in the seventeenth century, protagonist Hester Prynne is released from prison with her newborn daughter whilst wearing a red "A" pinned to her clothes. The symbol marks her as an adulteress, yet Hester refuses to divulge the identity of her lover out of some pseudo noble ideals and misguided devotion.

The plot itself is compelling enough to keep a reader interested. However, Hawthorne's meandering descriptions and rambling attentiveness to the most minuscule details do the plot a great disservice. It's not hard to lose interest every so often when the setting is observed several pages at length. I had to pause time and time again, flipping ahead through the pages, just to see how long the descriptions would take before the plot got moving again. I could be wrong, but I don't think that's what a reader should be doing.

Having said that, one could argue that Hawthorne's signature exhaustive narration is what really complements the story as a whole. I guess. Or do I just have a really short attention span? No doubt a millennial drawback of growing up with ever-advancing technologies.
Another thing I am greatly bothered by is Hester Prynne herself. Talk about pathetic. She has all the makings of a tragic heroine, yet still somehow falls short. She does not ask for any sympathy from her neighbors nor her readers, but her self-induced martyrdom is insufferable to the point of being obnoxious and stupid. Had she been a girl friend in this time and age, I would have dragged her out for a much-needed girl's night intervention — you are better off without him, woman!

Anyway, all I know is that I will not be opening this book again. Sorry, Mister Hawthorne.

2.   Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
This is very Inherit the Wind meets To Kill a Mockingbird.
Snow Falling on Cedars focuses on a discriminated Japanese war-veteran, Kabuo Miyamoto, on trial for a white man's murder. The story takes place around the time after World War II, with many people feeling antagonistic towards the Japanese due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The tale also follows Ishmael Chambers, the editor of the town's newspaper, who is covering the case and dealing with his own moral struggles. Ishmael is torn between his bitterness towards Kabuo (due to both his anti-Japanese sentiment and unrequited love for Kabuo's wife, Hatsue) and his conscience as he suspects that Kabuo may be innocent.
Truth be told, the story itself is not so bad, though maybe a little underwhelming. I think what bothered me the most was the absolute shoddy detective work done by Ishmael - which I can only describe as Sherlock Holmes on acid - and how the "mystery" of his evidence was unraveled, Scooby-Doo style, at the end of the book in front of an awestruck jury.
What a meddling kid!

3.   The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
First: I hate the title, symbolism be damned.

Anyway, talk about a headache. The only screw this book turned loose was the one in my head. Honestly, I'm a sucker for unreliable narrators, but I was not a fan of this one. I was so annoyed by the author's writing style that I had to put the book down several times.

It sounds mildly interesting at first: a governess caring for two eerily perfect children, mysterious deaths, rumors of ghosts haunting the place, etc. I was expecting (or hoping) that it would be something like Jane Eyre, but I was so wrong. After a few pages in, it was perfectly obvious that everyone was on crack - from the governess, to the kids, to the uncle, to the staff. Everyone was clearly tripping on something but no one was sharing.

There was also a very strong vibe of predatory attraction from the governess that could be felt in her over-the-top adoration for the kid, Miles. She was really into the kid. It's weird and disturbing, but only in a flat and pointless sort-of-way. Why on earth would a young and well-to-do governess be pining for children? None of it makes much sense.

The kiddos gave infuriatingly vague dialogue throughout which the governess questioned, but never directly asked about. What sense does it make to not have children make their meaning clearer? Is it so hard for an adult to comprehend the meaning behind a kid's words? Granted, you get the impression that the governess was not the sharpest tool in the shed. She preferred to psychoanalyze the kids' brainless babble with the depth of a needlepoint rather than have any meaningful conversation with them. I have to say, for a hundred-paged book, it sure felt much longer. The ending was as unsatisfying as the rest, leaving behind more questions than answers.

4.    A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
It was the best of times (not reading this book), it was the worst of times (reading this book).

Charles Dickens is an acquired taste. His works always takes some work getting into, but not all of them are worthwhile investments. Unfortunately, I did not love this classic as much as I had hoped to.

I am aware that given the time constraint that I had to acquaint myself with this book (about a week, with a lengthy essay due at the end), I was probably not in the best mindset to be reading a Dickens novel. I have since found that when read with patience, Dickens is quite enjoyable to read. In the light of a deadline, however, he's quite annoying.
Dickens loves his caricature characters. He creates tons and tons of them, squishing them all into two hundred pages with hard-to-remember names and rather insignificant little details and giving them two or three lines of dialogue in the entire book (which you will be quizzed extensively on). How the hell am I supposed to remember who little whatshisname is when was banished on page 1 and never mentioned again until his surprise reappearance on page 546? Inconceivable!

A Tale of Two Cities takes place both before and during the tumultuous era of the French Revolution. The main story revolves around the discrepancies between the French Aristocrats and the peasants and bourgeoise, the central focus being on doppelgängers Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton and their rather perplexing interest in the garden variety Lucie Manette. Her one-dimensional goodness bears zero internal conflict and is the epitome of a Mary Sue.

All in all, I think I'm willing give this book a second chance, now that I won't be reading it for schoolwork. Some books do get better as you grow older. 

5.   Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier 
Never again. Not only did I have to read this book, but I also had to write a twenty-page paper on it. Can you imagine writing twenty pages about a book you didn't even like? Probably wasn't my best work.
Many may disagree with me. Hell, this book even got a movie adaptation starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, which earned numerous accolades - including the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe.
Well, the movie was fine. The book is another story. Techinically speaking, Cold Mountain is a great book. It ticks off all the right boxes. It is well-researched and impeccably detailed with genuine American history; not a single detail out of place and factually neat as a pin. I am impressed with how historically accurate Frazier's work is - from the era and spatial setting, down to the little things like household items and their functions.

However, it is this same greatness that undid it for me. At times it just went on and on and on. It was a vicious cycle of plot and details - the author incorporating as much of his research into the story that it became tedious to read.

After doing a backbreaking amount of research on the book, scrutinizing every letter of every word of every line in each page for possible hidden symbolism and subtext and basically just forcing myself to read the damn thing without falling asleep, I developed an anti-Cold Mountain sentiment that I am sure will last my lifetime.
I also found both female protagonists, Ada and Ruby, to be insufferably annoying. I feel as though I should love Ruby, as I'm all for women's empowerment and such, but I just didn't connect with her overdrawn character. And Inman, the main male protagonist, served mostly as the relationship piece for that dolt, Ada.
I did enjoy all the picturesque imagery of the setting. I could really picture it in my head, the beauty of Cold Mountain. But then it just went on and on and on.

Some 'honorrible' mentions:
As I lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (if I have to read this book one more time, somebody will die.)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Crucible and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller


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