Five Classics I Hate
by Solomon Philbrick
Simon and Thomas are on vacation this week because today (Sunday) I am celebrating the unofficial end of my first term as a grad student. Tomorrow it will be official when the papers are handed in, but as of today they have been written, proofed (badly) and printed. Once they are turned in and graded I will know for sure whether the last three months of boredom, anxiety, isolation, and sexual frustration have payed off or will give me the added benefit of academic humiliation.
For the first time since Monday I left my block to put air in the tires and get some change for the laundry room. My God, people actually exist outside of the telephone and computer. Who would have thought?
Anyway, having just written twenty-eight or so pages of researched and documented scholarly bullshit, the last thing in the world that I feel like doing is writing. However, I think of this as a sort of contract, so I’ll meet everyone halfway and put up a list.
So, without further ado, here are the five crappiest books I have had to read due to my choice to major in English.
5. Hard Times by Charles Dickens: Dickens is just plain awful. Here’s a general summary of just about any Dickens novel: The rich people are bad, the poor people are good. If a woman has thick, dark hair she is good. If a man or woman is ugly, he or she is bad about two-thirds of the time. Hard Times is where Dickens lashes out at the Utilitarians, those awful people who brought sewers, public education and the idea that perhaps toddlers shouldn’t work in coal mines to Victorian England. Oh, but their education system wasn’t about feelings and creativity! Hey, Chuck, some discipline keeps the little rugrats from running around Whitechapel. Have some perspective.
4. Paris Peasant by Louis Aragon: I don’t know why I should even have to list this one. It’s not even in English. But I took a class in Surrealism and this was on the syllabus. Reading Surrealism is like watching a mime slit his wrists, only nowhere near as fun. Basically the Surrealists were a bunch of French Communists who seem to have never worked a day in their lives (naturally.) I chose this particular piece of crap because it has a dreamlike sequence where a clown plays an accordion with the word “pessimism” written across it. Merde!
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This quarter I had to read Jane Eyre for the third time in my life. Next quarter I’ll have to read it again. What the hell is it with this book? While it is not the first of the proto-Fabio novels, it is certainly the most popular. Florence King wrote something once about how the formula for the romance novel is to take a mentally unbalanced squire and a young maiden (usually lower class) and have them somehow fall in love. That’s Jane Eyre in a nutshell. Add to that the fact that it has that creepy old dude marries nineteen-year-old girl thing and you’ve triggered my gag reflex.
2. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair: This book is the perfect narrative of a man’s conversion to socialism. Jurgis Rudkus comes from Lithuania with his large family and takes a job at a meat packing plant. What’s that, Jurgis? No one told you that an industrialized economy is not the place for huge families? No one warned you while you were back on the farm that Chicago in 1905 isn’t the fucking promised land? Well, it’s too late now. Jurgis fucks up at everything he does, from factory worker to common criminal to lowlife politician. It’s almost like my life, except that I chose to go to grad school when I failed at everything else. Anyway, most of his family dies in more or less ridiculous ways (I think one drowns in a snowdrift) and one female relative becomes a prostitute. (It’s nice to think that at least one of our protagonist’s family members is contributing to society.) When Jurgis fails to do anything for himself, he becomes a socialist. Think about it.
1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare: I just don’t get why this one is so important. Dude, if you’re gonna murder your uncle man up and do it already. “To be or not to be?” I don’t give a shit, Mr. Prince of fucking Denmark. You’re boring me. Macbeth kicks this play’s ass all over town and yet this is the one we always have to read. At least with Macbeth we get all sorts of murder and intrigue. If I’m some dumb groundling out to hit the theater in Elizabethan England you had better believe I’m going to want some gory entertainment, not some boob philosophizing about the meaning of life. More proof that Macbeth is better than Hamlet: Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh both did versions of Hamlet. Roman Polanski did a version of Macbeth.