Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I hate when this happens--Classic books

someone a long while back suggested I should read Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, said it was a wonderful book. I got almost all the way through it, and have to say it was not what I would call her best work, being as it is a slangy version of Penelope's side of things, from the grave, 'the way it really happened". It comes across as condescending (asides meant to inform, with the assumption that most readers won't have a clue about Odysseus), flip, and a sorry attempt to portray--somewhat lightly-- the whole messy business in modern terms. I was alternately bored and irritated. If someone is going to take a book like this on, it's up to them to find out who Penelope was and who Odysseus was without the author carrying the entire weight of explaining in gratuitous language.

The other disappointment was A Canticle for Leibowitz, which was written in 1959 and is considered a classic science fiction novel. At the time people were concerned about 'the bomb' and were building bomb shelters and considering the moral and ethical points of who to let in, who to keep out, all of that. This was gripping reading back then, and I can understand why. But now it's just, for me, anyway, old history that never happened, and overdone around the edges as well. I got through one chapter and gave up. Sadly. It's been sitting on my stash shelf for years, and now it will probably go to someone who will enjoy it more than I did.

It's like finding out your long awaited trip to a place you always wanted to see involves too many poisonous insects, the shots give you a rash and a blinding headache, and the scenery you wanted to explore is closed for the next six months because of renovations.


  1. Canticle ;)

    Actually I have a copy -- I think it's better than you give it credit for. Then again, I also think the Travis McGee books are one of the best examinations of late 1950s to mid-60s culture and society... ;) so YMMV

  2. oh I didnt say it wasnt good, anymore than I could say that Jane Austen was a lousy writer, but some books just fall flat for me now, and although it may be a classic, it's not my classic, if you take my point.

    In the fifties I read nearly everything I could find in the way of Science Fiction, and it has always seemed to me to be the golden age of the short story and novella, in Science Fiction writing. I just never got to Canticle. Probably if I had, then, it would have blown me away.

    I suspect that anyone who reads as hugely as you and I seem to do has their own shelf or collection of 'classics' that may not fit anyone else's mold, for whatever reasons. Im always surprised when I see '100 Classics you must read" and discover most of them I've never even heard of.

    tis a most subjective category, and a dangerous one.

  3. Oh, and I read MacDonald's books, or at least half of them. A friend loaned me her stash. By the fourth or fifth one I was starting to feel a bit queasy, and by the start of the seventh one I knew just what was going to happen, and it started me thinking about the author, more than the hero.
    In every book I read, Travis McGee finds and beds at least one or two beautiful, sexy, amazingly gifted and intelligent women. He writes of them lovingly, eloquently. John MacDonald can definitely write, I'll give him that. But every single one of those talented, gifted women ends up dead. someone murders her, or them, and Travis mourns, hoists up his jeans, and moves on to the next one.

    and I started to think, somebody really really dislikes women, if he has to kill off all his perfect female characters so regularly and thoroughly...and right about then the fizz went out of the sody pop for me and Travis McGee. He is, I suspect a guy's hero, surely not a woman's. *g*