Throughout my life, I have always been annoyed by people who believe their unwillingness to participate in a mass experience is a laudable and praiseworthy achievement. You know, the asshole who, when you mention the latest episode of AMERICAN IDOL, looks as though you’ve just farted in his dying grandmother’s face before he snidely asks, “Is that some kind of TV show?”
I’m talking about the tedious jerkwad who, when the conversation turns toward the latest cinematic blockbuster, feels compelled to inform everyone that he has no intention of ever seeing that movie and that despite his having never seen it, he knows without a doubt that its popularity augers certain doom for the future of humankind.
As far as I’m concerned, a person simply doesn’t have the right to take pride in anything that didn’t require any actual effort on their part. You must do something before you can claim it as an achievement. If someone had told you that you had to watch FORREST GUMP in its entirety or they would cut off your thumbs, then I might find something admirable in your refusal to endure it; otherwise, you’re expecting me to think you’re a better person than I am just because you were too lazy to drive to the local cineplex or Blockbuster, which really makes you no different than your average 957-pound trailer-home shut-in.
I tell you this because I’m afraid that in composing the following list, you might think I myself am one of these arrogant douchebags, when that is simply not the case. Although I admit that the flippancy with which it is written may suggest otherwise, the truth is that this list serves as much as a document of my faults as it does of any uncompromising individualism on my part. My intention is ultimately to amuse the reader through the use of my standard rhetorical devices of smug smart-assery and cheap sarcasm that does not negate the clear subtext of regret that lingers underneath the glib surface.
I wish that within me there was someone who possessed the complexity required to relish the thought of tackling these famously transcendent works of literary art, but the truth is that as long as they keep publishing books like Adrienne Barbeau’s THERE ARE WORSE THINGS I COULD DO or THE DIRT by Mötley Crüe, these nine classics simply don’t have a chance of ever being scanned by my crooked, shallow eyeballs.
WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy — In the canon of world literature, there is probably no title more revered than Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece, which is ironic, since it’s the book’s title that has thus far succeeded in keeping me far, far away from it.
As brilliant as the book may be, its title is quite possibly the most arrogant in the history of the written word. I mean, think about it! How could one book — even one as freaking long as this one — ever hope to satisfactorily explore both the highly complex concepts of war and peace at the same time. If Tolstoy had chosen one or the other, I wouldn’t have a problem, but both? That’s a level of hubris I just can’t accept.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel García Márquez — Speaking of books with bad titles …
According to Wikipedia, cholera is a disease in which people literally shit themselves to death. Need I go on?
At least LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHLAMYDIA would have implied that it had some freaky dirty sex scenes in it.
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST by Marcel Proust — Dude, the fucker is seven volumes long! Unless I’m guaranteed a freaking doctorate by the time I get through it, I just don’t have that kind of time (especially when I could be watching the episodes of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE I downloaded last night over and over again. Man, I can’t decide who I want to win more: Joshua or Katie! They’re both so awesome!).
Important Note: The above parenthetical aside is not a joke. The author of this piece truly cares about the outcome of this televised dance contest, to the point that it has kept him up nights. By the time this is likely published, the outcome will have been determined and hopefully he will have finally gotten the rest he so badly needs.
Second Important Note: The first Important Note wasn’t a joke, either.
MOBY-DICK by Herman Melville — First, I hate books that take place on boats, and second, I’ve already enjoyed the greatest man-vs.-nature narrative that modern storytelling has ever produced and need not experience another. I am, of course, referring to George P. Cosmatos’ 1983 man-vs.-rat classic OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, starring a young Peter Weller and an even younger Shannon Tweed.
Now that’s my kind of masterpiece!
THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien — Of all the books on this list, this is the only one I currently have immediate access to, having inherited a paperback of the complete trilogy several years ago when a former roommate left to teach in Germany and he gave me everything he had he couldn’t be bothered to take with him. That said, I am never going to read it and not because I have any natural antipathy for the fantasy genre it essentially created.
Nor have I been put off by Peter Jackson’s mega-successful movie adaptations, all of which I own and enjoy watching at least once a year. No, I will never read THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS or THE RETURN OF THE KING for one reason and one reason only: When I was 12, I tried to read THE HOBBIT and the shear, excruciatingly terrible agony of that experience forever convinced me that I would rather (insert the closest Elvish phrase for “drink a frappé composed of milk, strawberries and my own testicles”) than ever attempt to read this author’s work again.
HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad — In truth, I did actually attempt to read this highly influential jungle tale of the terrible evil that lurks within the heart of men not once, but twice — neither by choice. Back in high school, I was in the Accelerated English program — or, as I liked to call it, “English for kids who could actually read” — and somehow managed to end up with not one, but two teachers who had spent their entire careers waiting for the chance to teach a class of students savvy enough to appreciate Conrad’s short, but inexplicably dense novella.
For those of you who unfamiliar with Conrad’s writing style, it should be noted that he had the strange ability to create a seemingly normal length paragraph filled with entirely average-sized sentences composed of perfectly ordinary words that when you tried to parse it, made you feel like Paris Hilton attempting to read passages from the Torah in the original Hebrew. Both times I failed to get more than 20 pages into it, but luckily my first attempt coincided with the 1991 theatrical re-release of APOCALYPSE NOW and I was able to fake my way to an A not once, but twice.
Movies are awesome.
ULYSSES by James Joyce — To be honest, I can’t come up with a single good reason why I shouldn’t read this book, beyond my completely irrational and unjustified belief that were I ever to go back and time and meet Joyce, I’d want to punch his toothless Irish face in.
ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac — If there was any creature more annoying and loathsome during my 20s than the wannabe hippie who constantly lamented having been born two decades too late to enjoy the Summer of Love, it had to be the wannabe beatnik who hid their similar disappointment under a thick veil of existential angst. To these sullen manglers of free verse, there was no greater god than the dickish alcoholic who composed a rambling travelogue that took thousands of words to sum up the same sentiment Kris Kristoferson so easily evoked in the mere chorus of “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Call me a craven member of the cult of Capote if you must, but I’ll leave this collection of typing to the other beautiful losers out there and spend the rest of my life the happier for it. (See also: anything by Charles Bukowski.)
THE HOLY BIBLE by a bunch of dead dudes — Now I could go the usual route and list all of the clichéd reasons others bring up when they want to dismiss North America’s all-time favorite bestseller as a work of literature (i.e. books with multiple authors never work; the main character doesn’t show up until the second half; it tries to be all moral and preachy, even though it’s filled with sex and violence; all those freaking “begat”s; etc.), but I think a single personal anecdote best sums up why I’ll never read this book.
A few years back, the Canadian government required us citizens to take part in a major national census, and one weekend, I walked into my parents’ house just as my mom was completing the necessary forms. Filling in the information for both herself and my dad, to whom she had been married for 30 years, she found herself stumped by just one question and needed his help before she could write in the answer.
“Bill,” she shouted out to him from her seat at the kitchen table, “what religion are you?”
There followed a brief moment of silence as my dad pondered this question.
“I don’t know,” he admitted from their bedroom, where he was watching television. “Protestant,” he guessed.
My mom considered this and looked down at the options suggested on the form.
“They want you to be more specific,” she told him.
And thus I witnessed the longest and liveliest religious debate to ever occur in the home I grew up in, which I think explains why I lack the spiritual curiosity required to properly dig my way into this particular title.
Okay, so that’s my list. Again, it’s not one I’m proud of and its existence probably does a good job of explaining why a lot of people consider me to be something of a prick, but if the critic’s job is to tell the truth as they see it, then it should be one all BOOKGASM reviewers should endeavor to create.
Not that I’m trying to start something … —Allan Mott