I can no longer hold this inside: I've been re-reading some classics lately and been astonishingly disappointed at what feels like very dated literary techniques, particularly when it comes to characterization. It's not that I can't see how these books blazed a trail and laid foundations and whatnot, it's just that I can't read them and enjoy them because I am spoiled with newer, better written books now.
I feel horrible admitting that.
I tried to read Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" last year, having fond memories of the abridged version as a child. I was gobsmacked at how dreadful the writing was in the B&N Classics translation. There is almost no action, and the entire novel seems consumed with proving that no, really, this is totally possible. I don't care. Get on with it. The hired servant they bring along for the trip is a cavalcade of race/nationality fail, given that he's willing to go forth into certain doom even after it becomes clear that his employer is a suicidal stubborn fool, because he needs the money for his family. Pro-tip, Bob: if you die in the center of the earth, your family doesn't get the wages you've been lugging around. And the characters are criminally stupid, doing things like taking months worth of food, but only days worth of water because they're sure to find natural springs! And they climb down a precipice by doubling a rope, sliding down to a ledge, shaking down the rope, and continuing on. How are you going to get back up? Never mind, I don't care. Have a nice death, annoying characters. And lest you think me harsh, this is after the main protagonist forcibly detains and starves his household servants for a week because no one is allowed to eat until he works out the solution to a puzzle. Isn't he charming?
I also tried to re-read Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" last year and while I think it works great as a parody of American values, I also think the reader is being asked to forgive a lot of turgid prose and questionable characterization on the part of the Arthurian characters. I got past that by deciding that they are parodies of the American view of Arthurian characters, but I had to strain my "benefit of the doubt" brain-muscle a few times. Ouch. I do love the concept, though. And the whole "Americans pollute the world because they worship industry at the cost of all other considerations" theme is something that resonates with me. So I guess that one was alright, but I didn't love it.
Now I'm listening to Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and marveling at how apparently it was once considered appropriate narrative technique to "characterize" children by having the parent monologue at the reader about how one boy is reckless and the other boy is plucky for something like thirty minutes worth of spoken reading. Like, really? Just tell me that in one sentence and move on with the story, please, I believe you. Heck, name them that way, since I've already lost track of which one is the reckless one and which one is the plucky one because at the 20-minute monologue mark my brain decided to crawl out of my ears and whimper quietly around my feet.
Bah. I'm giving up and listening to "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" again instead. So clearly I fail classical appreciation studies. I'm not giving back my degree in English, though.
I had to get that off my chest. Yours,