DAY 8: MOST OVERRATED BOOK
Today’s topic is another difficult one for me. As I mentioned yesterday, I really don’t care what others think about the books I enjoy — it doesn’t bother me if someone else reviewing it thought poorly of the book and it doesn’t change my opinion if they thought the book was exceptionally good. I’ll still have the same feelings about it as I did upon the initial reading. However, on those rare occasions when I re-read a book I’ll almost always feel differently about it the second (or third time around).
There are certain books that are highly-regarded, even universally so, that I just can’t seem to get into. Are these books overrated? Well, I suppose so if we use the definition of “being too highly regarded” if I don’t feel the same way. But then they are only overrated according to my own opinion. This can be frustrating when I seem to be the only person to not enjoy these particular books (so, yes, other readers’ opinions do matter to me sometimes). I want to enjoy these books as much as the majority does and I feel there must be something wrong with me if I don’t.
I’ll give two examples of this:
The first book I’ve been struggling with is at the top of virtually every list of “best American novels” I’ve ever seen. That would be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. While I enjoyed reading Tom Sawyer when I was a kid and teenager (and it may actually have been the only book I’ve ever read more than three times), I just can’t seem to concentrate enough on Huck Finn to get past the first few chapters. I was particularly upset recently when one of my favorite blogs included the book on a list of “20 Classic Novels You Can Read In One Sitting.” Does my inability to enjoy this book mean it’s overrated or that there’s simply something wrong with me? If I were to pinpoint why the novel is giving me problems I believe it would have to be the speech used throughout — the colloquialisms of nineteenth century northeastern Missouri. I should be used to the slang and ruralisms as they aren’t much different to those used when I was growing up in northeastern Kansas in the late 1970’s. Most reviewers mention that Twain’s writing style chosen for Huckleberry Finn aids in their enjoyment of the story. It certainly has created a lot of controversy over the years, including many subsequent school and library bans. I do plan to try again very soon (I feel it’s much more likely that I’ll be able to complete this book than say, War and Peace or anything by Shakespeare).
My second example of a work that is extremely popular that I haven’t enjoyed to a high degree would be Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. The five novels (and offshoots) have received a fair amount of praise over the past few years and I was excited to start reading them. I started out with book five of the original series, The Last Olympian, and while I enjoyed it I just didn’t feel it deserved the high position that so many people had elevated it to. Yes, I was left wondering “what did I miss?”. I felt it was good, but it wasn’t the great work I was expecting. This is the very definition of “overrated.” But then it’s just one person’s opinion. I feel my experience with the novel would have been much different had I not read it so soon after completing the Harry Potter series. I’m sure that, subconsiously at least, I was looking for something to take the place of J. K. Rowlings work — to give me that degree of satisfaction. And that’s truly an unfair way to read any book. One should enjoy something on it’s own merits rather than comparing it to something else; one can never repeat that initial experience to the same degree (but can surpass it if they aren’t thinking about it). That’s why, after reading another Riordan book, I’ve decided to give it a bit of time before I continue with the series so that I can approach the next installment with a clear mind.