With three months left to finish the Read Harder 2018 challenge, I’ve been putting off the toughest category on the list: an assigned book you hated or never finished. For obvious reasons — who wants to reread a book they hated?
My mind immediately jumped to my own book-nemesis, Jane Eyre. So many bloggers count this one among their favorite classics, but it’s one I never cared for, and can’t even say for sure I finished. It’s one of those stories you know whether you’ve read it or not. I want to give it another shot, but here it’s almost October and I haven’t picked it up yet. Sigh. At least its gothic setting will make it a suitable October read.
My dislike of Jane Eyre began in middle school, when a teacher assigned the girls to read Jane Eyre and the boys to read All Quiet on the Western Front. I’ve always hated having to do anything because I’m a girl, and to this day I find it hard to believe a teacher would actually assign books by gender. But that’s what I remember.
For those on Goodreads, there’s a great discussion group for Read Harder, which is very helpful when one needs suggestions. This got me thinking about assigned books other than Jane Eyre I didn’t like or didn’t read. Here’s what I came up with. As someone who took years of literature classes in high school and college, I had a fair amount to choose from. (As a side note, I was quite surprised by the number of people who said they grew up in educational programs that didn’t assign books.)
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – a book I was supposed to read in my high school AP class and didn’t read much of. Ditto for The Brothers Karamazov. I want to appreciate Dostoevsky, and having successfully tackled War and Peace, maybe these books would be a little less daunting today.
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – I’ve been assigned a few books by Hemingway and I can’t say I ever cared for his writing. What am I missing?
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – I really liked East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. And today I know a lot more about the Depression and the Dust Bowl than I did as a teenager, so I’d probably appreciate this book more.
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – as with Steinbeck, I’ve come to really appreciate Dickens (David Copperfield is a favorite). I thought about re-reading A Tale of Two Cities, but this is about re-reading a book you didn’t like, and I’m forcing myself to be honest here. I never liked Great Expectations, from having a main character named Pip to the over the top Miss Havisham. But maybe I’d like it better today.
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – it’s an iconic work but I hated reading it, even though I can appreciate the issues that are raised.
I’m also not a big Henry James or F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, but I’ve read those on my own, not for assignments. And don’t really feel the need to revisit them.
For the record, I’m treating the term “assigned books” as classics because I always want to read more classics — clearly an assigned book doesn’t have to be what we think of as classic.
I will also note that when I looked at the ReadHarder 2018 list of suggested books for this category, their list was surprisingly like my own! So maybe this list wasn’t quite as original as I thought — either (1) these are commonly disliked books, (2) I read and internalized their suggestions, or (3) they somehow KNOW what books I hated.
I’ll throw this out to my readers – first, what’s an assigned book that you hated or didn’t read (and today wonder if you’d feel differently?)
And second, is there a book on my list that you think I should read? Anything that makes you say “Give that one another try!”