My students sometimes expect me to only say difficult things about important books—books they find hard to read or understand. My children’s literature students, especially, are surprised and sometimes shocked by my tirades against the books I can’t stand to read. I’m supposed to have read everything, and worse yet, they seem to think I should like all of it.
The fact is, I’m a reader first. Teaching is the vehicle for imparting knowledge and understanding, and it’s best when that knowledge arrives with passion—and perhaps joy. But reading is the initial exploration into a book that has the potential to set your world on fire. Many do. But some books, I can’t stand.
I’ve always thought my inability to appreciate a particular book to be a shortcoming—practically a moral failing. A lifetime of reading, and I still sometimes question my judgement when a book leaves me cold.
Worse yet, I sometimes encounter a book I can’t stand. I will often read them again, and I still can’t stand them. The problem is, you can’t unread a book. Once read, a book is in your head forever, and if you hate it, all you can do is try to forget it.
Unfortunately, I never seem to forget books. I can’t always say why a book bothers me, but I know when I don’t like it. So here’s a list of five books I can’t stand, in no particular order, and with no particular ranking.
1. Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Sure, I know it’s a classic, but I can’t stand this book. I’ve read it a dozen times, taught it several, and I still don’t like it. I find it weird, creepy, over rated, and don’t understand why people insist on calling it a classic.
2. Lemony Snicket’s, A Series of Unfortunate Events
Yes, I know I said books, but I can’t stand this series—and I’ve only read the first four books of thirteen. I don’t have a problem with dark fiction, but these books are excessive. They’re not even dark for any reason I can discern.
3. E. B. White’s Stuart Little
I wouldn’t say I can’t stand this book. I think I just don’t get it. Is he a mouse or a boy? He’s a mouse—or maybe he’s a boy/mouse. The book has always left me baffled.
4. Gail Carson Levine’s, Ella Enchanted
I love fractured fairy tales, and I whole-heartedly appreciate novelizations of fairy tales. More than that, I love strong female characters in such books. So why don’t I like this Cinderella story? In part, it’s the world Carson Levine builds I find preposterous. But when I read the scene where Ella encounters the centaurs, I almost stopped reading.
5. Suzanne Collins, Mocking Jay
More than any other, this book tested my ability to sympathize with a character I began by liking. Katniss is an absolute train-wreck by the third book in the series. Her self-serving, self-involvement nearly put me off the trilogy. But I read it anyway—several times.
There you go—a few books I can’t stand to read. You no doubt have your own list. Don’t get me wrong. All of these books are worth reading and worth discussing. We can’t, after all, only talk about the books we love. Keep reading, and keep sharing.