Books I read this year which I really did not enjoy as much as I would have wanted to

beach26I usually don’t really do negative reviews, but once a year I make an exception, so I can list some of the books that frustrated and annoyed me.

Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas – I read this right after reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which might’ve been a mistake, since this is a very different sort of book. Where Monte Cristo has a very focused narrative and a strong throughline, Three Musketeers is just a set of loosely connected incidents that I, in most cases, found rather dull. Maybe this was just because none of the characters really charmed me; they all seemed insubstantial and foolish. I got 2/3rds of the way through the book before abandoning it.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – I abandoned this one about 20% of the way through. I’ve read lots of books by Dostoyevsky, but nothing in the last three years. Maybe I’ve just outgrown him, or maybe this wasn’t his finest. I really just couldn’t get into it. None of it seemed at all alive.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Oh my god, this book was so boring. At the time, I pretended to myself that I enjoyed it because that was the only way to get through it, but in retrospect I find nothing in it that was redeeming. It’s a history about a fascinating figure and a fascinating time…but it doesn’t include any of the actual fascinating stuff about that time. Rather, all the good stuff takes place off-stage, and all that you see is a lot of waffling about and misdirection.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton – I had to read this for class, and I hated it, which is weird, because I love Edith Wharton. She is a fantastic writer: subtle and thrilling and full of interesting characters. But this novella had none of those things. It was a big lumbering Gothic horror story about doomed love. Which, in my opinion, doesn’t really play to Wharton’s strengths. I have no idea why they teach this. I suspect that it’s simply because the book is short and teachers are always looking for things that students can read in a week. However, that is not a sufficient explanation: Wharton is famed for her novella-length work, and I think that something like The Touchstone is much better and more representative look of her virtues.

Antifragile by Nicholas Nassim Taleb – I forget how far I got into this, but I couldn’t finish it. I loved The Black Swan. It was a brilliant and eye-opening book. But even in that book, Taleb’s posturing got on my nerves. In this one, the posturing has been dialed up to eleven. It’s absolutely unbearable, especially in a book that’s as light on content as this one.

Mercedes Lackey – I tried to reread several books by Mercedes Lackey and just couldn’t do it. The writing is terrible.

Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Halliday – Oh my god, this book has zero content. Do not buy it.

The Annales by Tacitus – Do you really care which general invaded which Germanic province in which year of Nero’s reign? No. Nobody does. What put the boringness of Tacitus into such stark relief was that immediately afterward I read Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars, which covered exactly the same years, but was much more fun and personality-driven.

Still not quite sure what to think about Dostoyevsky’s THE IDIOT

I love this cover. Isn't that dude just so adorable with his widdle moustache?
I love this cover. Isn’t that dude just so adorable with his widdle moustache?

I’m about a fourth of the way through Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I’ve read a fair amount of Dostoyevsky, but I read almost all of it during about a year-long period (2009-10). He was one of the first serious authors that I really tried to tackle. I believe I started with Notes From The Underground (which is such an unbelievably bizarre book that I’m surprised I read anymore) and then read Brothers Karamazov, The Double, The Gambler, and Demons.

I really enjoyed Demons. Much more so than Brothers, actually. I thought that Demons was one of his more human works, particularly in the relationship between the professor and his patron, Varvara. But, weirdly, I wasn’t able to read any other Dostoyevsky for the next four years. I mean, I tried, on a number of occasions, to begin Crime and Punishment, but it never clicked for me. I also tried, at various times, to read The Eternal Husband and Other Stories and House of the Dead. I don’t know what it is, exactly. I think it’s just that Dostoyevsky is full of grotesques and at some point I lost interest in grotesques. It became hard for me to see any humanity in his characters or in his work.

That’s a common criticism of Dostoyevsky, but perhaps not a fair one. I don’t know.

The Idiot is different, because the hero, Prince Myshkin, is just so darned good. Apparently, its Dostoyevsky’s attempt to create a positive ideal: a person that we can look up to. I actually really enjoy the Prince’s artlessness. He’s so funny. It’s like he doesn’t know what kind of novel he’s in. People will come in and tell him things that you know are supposed to be secret, and he’ll just blab them to the next person he talks to. And although he sort of plays along with peoples’ intrigues, he also stays above them. He remains uncaptured and uninterested in the outcomes of these schemes.

But I’m still not sure about the book. Right now it’s just been conversations. Interminable conversations. I’m a fifth of the way through the book and less than one day has passed. Oh well, I’m withholding judgment.