By guest blogger Nicole Witkowski
It’s getting colder and colder, which means that long nights reading in front of the fire (or busted radiator) will become more and more frequent. You might be tempted to reach for one of those classics you heard so much about in high school, but be warned: many of these books are more hype than substance. Here are five books that, in my opinion, should be avoided on a cozy night in unless you’re looking to be let down and frustrated.
Alice in Wonderland
No matter what the medium, this Lewis Carroll classic flies off the shelves as quickly as Alice down the rabbit hole. The onscreen Tim Burton adaption, which was released last March, went on to make over a billion dollars in spite of the fact that it was only loosely tied to the original book. This proved that the story’s fantasy can still capture audiences after 145 years, and will probably do so for many more years. It also proved that dozens of retellings, movies and trashy Halloween costumes have turned Carroll’s unconventional, imagination into a series of unrelated clichés.
First off, this novel is difficult to complete without both English and French-English dictionaries. But even when it’s translated and abridged, this classic forces the reader to navigate an unnecessarily complex storyline. Victor Hugo weaves dozens of characters (who he often refuses to name) with 20 years worth of plot, which makes even the most common, shortened versions confusing. The fact that Hugo likes to keep the reader guessing about names and places is also more annoying than endearing. Scholars argue that the novel’s vagueness was deliberate and enriches the experience for readers, but when the reader is baffled by the unknown city of M sur M, or the identity of the Bishop of D, Hugo does the opposite: he creates a brick of a book that takes tremendous effort to stick with from cover to cover.
Catcher in the Rye
This J.D Salinger opus is listed on Time’s 2005 list of 100 best English-written novels since the 1920’s, and people have been “finding themselves” through it and singing its praises since it was first published. Parents and teachers ban the novel for its mature content so often that it places third on the most challenged book list. The average teenager relates to the main character, Holden Caulfield, who hides in New York, getting drunk and waxing philosophical, after being kicked out of prep school. But what most of these people fail to acknowledge, whether they condemn it or cherish it, is that the book is essentially the story of a spoiled rich kid that whines a lot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Ayn Rand’s characters are jerks and that doesn’t take away from their merit), but does it deserve the scorn of petty adults and the reverence of a half of your graduating class? No.
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about the ‘American Dream’, love and scandal sounds like a twentieth century version of Gossip Girl. The narrator, Nick, is an outside character that narrates the story of the rich and decadent Gatsby and his shallow but attractive love interest, Daisy. The book didn’t sell when it was released in the 20’s, but in the 60’s, after a couple of professors wrote scholarly papers on Gatsby, that the novel was thrust into every high school English class. But the scholars who consider The Great Gatsby literary gold cannot speak for the students who were forced to break down and analyze its symbolism.
Lord of The Flies
William Golding’s novel is another mainstay in most high school English classrooms. The book went out of print in 1955 after unimpressive sales, but later become a bestseller. One sentence basically summarizes the entire plot: some British school boys are stranded on an island and unsuccessfully try to govern themselves. I won’t spoil the ending, but the story’s plot is predictable for anyone who has gone through grade school, making the severed pig’s head on the cover of some editions the most exciting thing about it.