Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Sunday Salon: Classics that Suck (or how I am a horrible, no good, very bad person)

The Sunday

What Caught My Fancy

This article from the Salon talks about Amazon reviews of classics. Classics that suck, or at least that the reviewers thought sucked. This article has made the rounds in the past week or so but I still wanted to talk about it because it made me think (I mean I read it over a week ago and I am still thinking about it). You see the author of it, to a certain extent labelled me a horrible, no good, very bad person.  The author writes in response to a review that labelled Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl “a very [and they used multiple ‘very’] boring book:

“Can you imagine being this person? It seems like a life completely devoid of any subtlety, introspection, caring or empathy. Or am I reading too much into these few sentences? I hope I am. Maybe this "reviewer" was just having a bad day. But, just the same, I hope I never actually meet him or her. It might get very uncomfortable.”

Well I wasn’t the reviewer but, I too, found Anne Frank to be a rather boring book. I can appreciate what it says about humanities ability to do good in the face of evil and of humanities capacity for that evil. I can appreciate it for its place as a historical document. I think it is an important book. But just because I think it is important doesn’t mean I can’t say that thirteen year old me wanted to hit Anne over the head with a frying pan for being a rather whiney person (and I had formed this opinion long before they went into hiding). Now admittedly the last time I read Anne Frank  was when I was thirteen (or there about) but my overall memory of that book was that I thought Anne was rather whiney. Yes she had a horrible time. Yes I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. But still I was left feeling that she was not someone I would have been friends with. I read this book at the same time as I read several books written by surviviours of the holocaust that impacted on me a great deal more (although now I can’t for the life of me remember any of the titles).

Question mark Image credit TSS 2010 4 11 Image Credit

So apart from the fact that I wanted to say that there are people out there who did not like Anne Frank (and thus forever labelling myself as a horrible, no good, very bad person) I wanted to discuss the concept of negative reviews of classics. Why should a classic be immune to a negative review?

Personally I don’t believe that classics should be given a free pass just because they are classics. What makes something a classic in the first place? Did it say something profound about the times when it was written? Does it say something profound about life or humanity? (lets leave aside the discussion of whether or not there is such a thing as the human condition). Is it a rollicking good entertainment. For me Anne Frank falls in the first category. It says something about the times. It is a historical document and as such is important to read. I feel much the same way about the “I Have a Dream” speech or any other speech (although I feel a lot more inspired by “I Have a Dream” than I do by other speeches), but I digress. A classic that is a classic because it has continued to entertain should not be given a free pass from a discussion over its merits just because it is a classic. People like what they like. Some people like Dickens, others do not, just like some people like the Twilight series and others do not. I personally believe that we must have discussions about classics just as we do about new books.

Now all that said, some of those reviews were just a little bit silly (anyone want to ghost write for the apostles?) but still the discussion should be had.

What do you think, should classics not be negatively reviewed because they are classics?

Reviewed, Read and all that Jazz

saxophone flickr image TSS 2010 04 11Image Credit 

My first draft of my thesis is due on Tuesday and I have to admit reading for pleasure has thereby fallen on the wayside this week, my brain is rather mushy from reading to many angry feminists and trying to bash said thesis into submission. I am hoping that I will get back to reading for pleasure within the next week. But because of this I only have one review up this week and I will include that in a larger link up hopefully next week.

What I did see this week was a link from Cym Lowell to the most amazing library ever! So those who coveted my high school library :) take a look at this one! What possibly makes it even better (and it is amazing as it is) is the story that goes with it. Truly inspirational!


Copyright ©2010 Zee from Notes from the North.clip_image001This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.


Amanda said...

I give classics negative reviews all the time. I read a LOT of classics, and there are those I like and those I don't. I dont' think there's anything wrong with that. I don't mind acknowledging what's good in a classic I disliked, or why it was an important work, but just because it has good things in it or is important doesn't mean I'm going to like it! I can appreciate, for instance, why Don Quixote was groundbreaking, but I hated every minute of the book. And I said as much. Nothing wrong with that at all!

Nymeth said...

I love Anne Frank, but I don't think disliking it makes you a horrible person at all! I grew up to that book, and my reaction to it was pretty much the reverse of yours. I first read it when I was 9, and I didn't know THAT much about WW2. I knew the basics, of course, but I didn't read it as a historical document about a Jewish little girl - I read it as the diary of a girl growing up; a girl who, despite her radically different circumstances, was VERY easy to relate to. She made me feel less alone. I loved the book exactly for its universality and its humanity (still do) and I wasn't bored for a second. This was probably the book I re-read the most growing up, and the reason was not its historical relevance - it was what it meant to ME personally, just like any literature.

Having said that, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion, and it doesn't make me think any less of you. I don't want to live in a book in which any books, classic or not, are untouchable. I want people to feel comfortable expressing their likes and dislikes :)

Zee said...

Amanda~~I never finished Don Quixote. I just couldn't. It wasn't my kind of book. I agree that as long as you say why you didn't like it then it is fine to dislike a book. :)

Nymeth~~I'm glad you liked it. I really wanted to like it. I felt like I SHOULD like it. But I just didn't :). And I agree with you, no book should be untouchable.

Jenny said...

I'm so glad you posted this! I had the same response to that article, only mine was in relation to the review of Grapes of Wrath. I mean some of the Amazon reviews were clearly written by people who can't spell and I guess we can make fun of them for that. But the Steinbeck reviewer - I liked Grapes of Wrath better than that person did, but I think the reviewer made some fair points. Why should we be less entitled to our opinions on books just because the books are considered "classics"?

Aarti said...

GREAT question, Zee! I definitely don't think classics are immune to bad reviews. In fact, I feel like for a book to be a classic, it has to provoke some sort of discussion. Otherwise, what's the point? In that way, I don't know if Diary of Anne Frank would be a classic if it weren't so poignant at the end or if other books had been published before it that tackled the same subject.

I almost think it's BECAUSE of Anne's whinyness and complete TEEN-ness that this book gets such an emotional response. Her youth really shows.