I’ve been reading books, usually classics, that I never read in school. Lord of the Flies, Cat’s Cradle, Fahrenheit 451, Swann’s Way, and the current The Jungle. For some of the ones I did read in school, I couldn’t help asking “What’s the big deal?” I simply lacked the life experience to understand the implications of some of those books. Other books I just dismissed as overhyped. At the end of the term we asked undergrad- and grad students to vote for the books most worthy of their esteem in literary history.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. I have never read Beckett let alone hear of this one. The book plays out just as the title implies: a whole lot of waiting. While waiting everlastingly for a man the reader is never actually introduced to, the story’s only four characters kill time by bickering with one another, talking incessantly about seemingly deep topics of conversation and wondering whether or not Godot will ever actually reveal himself.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I trudged through this one in high school and didn’t care for it. Melville proves to be indulgent in his writing, dedicating entire chapters to such topics as the color white, a whale’s tail and endless descriptions of the sea.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I enjoyed this one and have re-read it over the years. Salinger’s iconic novel proves to be extremely depressing, unnecessarily lengthy and whiney. Though it is undeniably well-written, the book is simply the epitome of teen angst.
The Stranger by Albert Camus. It’s trying to be existentialist but not quite. The writing is bland, the story moves at a glacial pace and the protagonist, Mersault, fails to express any real emotion throughout the entirety of the novel, making it difficult for the reader to feel a connection to the character.
Ulysses by James Joyce. I’m not surprised but nor am I fazed. I have this one on my list to tackle. Joyce is to be commended for pushing the outer limits of fiction in his epic tome, and perhaps redefining the entire genre, but he seems to have been writing for a very small audience of like-minded people, as were most of the Modernists.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Probably the most controversial pick on this list, since it’s influenced so many writers. But it suffers from the same flaws as that plague novels. There’s no plot, and the characters are all surface. Sal Moriarty is supposedly a fascinating, well drawn character, but, if you met this guy in real life, you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes in his company. He’s a deadbeat who impregnates women and abandons them and tries to distract you from all the damage he’s causing by talking about the beauty and mystery of life.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It draws me at first because the protagonist interned for a fashion magazine in New York. She experienced a nervous breakdown during this internship. Majority of students deem it a relentlessly depressing work that goes entirely nowhere.
White Noise by Don DeLillo. It’s plotless. Reading it is the literary equivalent of 18 paranoid hours of non-stop channel surfing while chain-smoking and nursing a migraine in a smoggy, over-crowded city. On meth.