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Great books they love to hate

December 24, 2012|By Hector Tobar
  • "On the Road," the beat classic by writer Jack Kerouac, shown, gets some harsh criticism from a contributor to "The Spectator."
"On the Road," the beat classic by writer Jack Kerouac, shown,…

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may likely make a New Year’s resolution related to books. You might announce that you will read a great book that’s defeated you before. “I will read ‘Ulysses’ this year,” you might say, as I will this New Year's Eve.

Over at "The Spectator," they’ve rounded up a bunch of writers who’ve made that kind of promise to themselves and then regretted it. They’ve tried to read that great book, and given up. They’ve decided, finally, that the problem isn’t them -- it’s the book. They hate that “great book” so much, they’ll never try to read it again. 

“In a word, I hate Jane Austen,” writes the novelist Florence King. “Trying to read her novels reminds me of putting up with the girls at school who were always yammering about who was dating whom, who was about to get engaged...” She adds, tongue in cheek: “My aversion to Austen proves that I’m not feminine, which, of course, is the great tragedy of my life.”

"The Spectator" is a proudly irascible publication, and looking at their contributors’ list of despised books, just about every devoted reader is likely to find one they actually love. It’s hard to hear someone trash a book that’s like an old friend. I’m put off, for example, by A.N. Wilson’s disregard for “Don Quixote,” one of my favorite books.

“It is a one-joke book, and it goes on for hundreds of pages,” Wilson writes of Cervantes’ masterpiece. I’d like to recommend to Wilson the recent, very lively translation I bought for my father, but I’m pretty sure he’d hate that too.

In a similar vein, Jonathan Meades appears to hate Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece, "On the Road," with great passion.

“Like all of the beats, with the exception of [William S.] Burroughs,” Meades writes, “Jack Kerouac was an artless, undisciplined, unfunny solipsist wrapped in a mantle of cosy outsiderness, comforting self-pity and snug alienation.”

When you hate a book that much, there’s no way back.

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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