Do I really have to read this? The books your teachers made you read

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Literary Blog Hop

This week’s blog hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase asks:  “Discuss a work of literary merit you hated when you were made to read it in college or university.  Why did you dislike it?”

You can join in the blog hop by going to The Blue Bookcase or clicking on the button above.  This hop is open to all literary blogs.

So, I find that almost all of the time when I read a book, play or poem in college or university, I ended up loving it.  I think this is testament to the skills of the professors who taught me at wonderful Millsaps College.  Even Moby Dick and Clarissa became really fascinating with my undergraduate English professors, and those could be some potentially painful books.  I read Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives in a philosophy and literature class, and I guess that’s one book that just didn’t take.  I couldn’t really tell you even now what the point of Three Lives is supposed to be.

But the book that really came to mind for this question is one that’s slightly more popular than Three Lives, I think.  In graduate school, I took a class on 1950s American literature.  I don’t remember what the class was called, but it was very fun.  We did a section on the Beats, and I love Allen Ginsberg“America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel!”  But we also read On the Road, and in the context of this class, I came to really dislike this book.  Our professor grounded our reading very much in the social context of the 1950s.  And Kerouac and the Beats had this weird relationship with what you might call the Other of that particular time period.  For them, that meant black people, Hispanics and women.  Think about Kerouac’s poor mother and all the women he meets along the road.  I came out of that class feeling that Kerouac and the Beat’s (and for me, Ginsberg would be the exception) were nothing but another version of Elvis–a white guy who took something from black culture and capitalized on it in a way that black people were largely not able to do.

Then there’s also the whole story of William Burroughs shooting an apple off of his wife’s head.  The Beat’s took a beating (ha, ha) for me in that class, and I’ve never felt the same about On the Road again.  The kind of spirit of rebellion I think it represents for a lot of people just seems kind of derivative and adolescent to me.

So, I’m sure I’ll hear from some Kerouac fans, but what books did other folks grit their teeth through? 


  1. You know I read On The Road and it really wasn't my favorite Kerouac book … and I can completely see your dislike of the beat lifestyle and had probably had I learned more about them I might have to. That being said … my college literary classes were very few and very far between … I was focused on math and science in those days … so I had little room for anything else. I did cherish those classes though and from that perspective I can't think of disliking from there so I had to go all the way back to I believe middle school reading to think of a book I really disliked (To Kill a Mockingbird). I know there were others, but none stood out to me like that one.

  2. HUCK FINN. Maybe it's because I was in 7th grade, but . . . oh, man. I could not stand that book.

  3. I haven't read Kerouac but my brother loved him. That is enough to convince me that this is a horrible book. And I certainly agree with you about the Stein. I tried really hard to get excited about the book because there were things I loved, but in the long run I just felt a bit lost.

    For me, it was Ethan Frome, believe it or not.

  4. dragonfly419, good point. I think in the end I disliked Kerouac and his book probably equally, but really enjoyed the class itself. To Kill a Mockingbird? Really? Do you still not like it?

    Rachael, I don't remember feeling much about Huck Finn one way or another, though maybe we hate everything we're made to read when we're in 7th grade.

    LifetimeReader, I used to have Ethan Frome as a book on tape to listen to on the long car ride from Mississippi to Kentucky, so I've ever only listened to it, and it was oddly engaging…but maybe anything is on a long drive.

  5. I haven't read Kerouac. I think if I did now it would be so out of context it would seem dated, unless I did a whole sociological study of the time– and I don't want to invest that much effort, especially not after reading your impressions!

  6. I've tried to read On the Road a few times but have never been able to make it all the way through. I get bored about the same time Kerouac gets to Chicago. I've heard people say that this is THE BOOK that changed their lives. I just can't see it.

  7. I have that book– On the Road. I started reading it during a car trip, but got annoyed with it after the first ten pages or so. My friend positively adored Kerouac, so I want to give it another go, but I'm still weary about reading attempt number 2.

    For me, I hated Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It almost made me cry tears of boredom.

  8. I never really “got” the lure of that book. To me, the Beats were just a whole lotta hype by non-literary types who were happy they'd found something to read. Now that I'm older, I'd like to see what I missed out on, but I know I wouldn't form an attachment to it, for the same reason you cite, which is that it's sort of juvenile and derivative.

  9. I hated, hated, hated On the Road but I was terrifying of saying anything because the director of the Masters English dept. at my University (and the man singly responsible for admitting me to the program) was a Beats scholar and HUGELY adored this and all other texts from that misfit gang. So, I muddled through with my head held low and my opinions hushed. But this book was just awful.

  10. I don't have any experience with Kerouac, but now I'm curious! The only thing I knew about this book was the title. 🙂

  11. I enjoyed this book, although my favourite of the beats was the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

  12. Seventeen years later, I'm still reading it. No, I gave up a long time ago, but I'll try again. I think I did manage to finish one of his book but I can't be sure. It's all very blurry…

  13. I loved On The Road although it is not really an easy read. I plodded through it.

    Some books are so difficult to get into. And those put us off that author too, for always.

    And my teacher spoiled A Passage to India for me. But I did go back and loved it!

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop: Disliked Book post!

  14. My read was STONEHENGE DECODED…uggh. Did anyone else have to suffer through it?

    Stop by my blog if you like to see my full answer…I also have a giveaway that isn't very literary, but check it out.

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