This week’s blog hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase asks: “Discuss a work of literary merit you hated when you were made to read it in college or university. Why did you dislike it?”
You can join in the blog hop by going to The Blue Bookcase or clicking on the button above. This hop is open to all literary blogs.
So, I find that almost all of the time when I read a book, play or poem in college or university, I ended up loving it. I think this is testament to the skills of the professors who taught me at wonderful Millsaps College. Even Moby Dick and Clarissa became really fascinating with my undergraduate English professors, and those could be some potentially painful books. I read Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives in a philosophy and literature class, and I guess that’s one book that just didn’t take. I couldn’t really tell you even now what the point of Three Lives is supposed to be.
But the book that really came to mind for this question is one that’s slightly more popular than Three Lives, I think. In graduate school, I took a class on 1950s American literature. I don’t remember what the class was called, but it was very fun. We did a section on the Beats, and I love Allen Ginsberg. “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel!” But we also read On the Road, and in the context of this class, I came to really dislike this book. Our professor grounded our reading very much in the social context of the 1950s. And Kerouac and the Beats had this weird relationship with what you might call the Other of that particular time period. For them, that meant black people, Hispanics and women. Think about Kerouac’s poor mother and all the women he meets along the road. I came out of that class feeling that Kerouac and the Beat’s (and for me, Ginsberg would be the exception) were nothing but another version of Elvis–a white guy who took something from black culture and capitalized on it in a way that black people were largely not able to do.
Then there’s also the whole story of William Burroughs shooting an apple off of his wife’s head. The Beat’s took a beating (ha, ha) for me in that class, and I’ve never felt the same about On the Road again. The kind of spirit of rebellion I think it represents for a lot of people just seems kind of derivative and adolescent to me.
So, I’m sure I’ll hear from some Kerouac fans, but what books did other folks grit their teeth through?