I Am Allowed to Dislike Books

The year is almost over and I am one book away from having read forty this year—and I think I’m going to make it. I was thinking back over my books of 2013, because one of my friends said it was funny that according to my goodreads profile, I’ve never read a book I didn’t like. (This isn’t true, of course, I’ve read plenty of books I hated—one particularly stands out to me: it was basically this retelling of Dick Whittington and his cat, interspersed with random bits about a boy who couldn’t read. I can’t remember the title, but I think it won a Newberry. Ten year old me was less than impressed.) (Ooh, found it. Thanks, Google.)

Thinking it over, it’s true—I haven’t rated any book less than 3 stars all year, even though there were a few I honestly didn’t like. The most recent of these was Emma, by Jane Austen. I really didn’t enjoy it at all, but after I finished it, I struggled to find merit so I could rate it more highly. It’s a Jane Austen novel—and I love Austen! But I didn’t love this. All the characters were annoying—but it had a good message! Sort of? I disliked it, but I couldn’t admit it to myself, so I marked it three stars and tried to explain all the good things about the book whenever I was asked instead of just admitting I didn’t like it.

All of this reminds me of this video I watched last night.

Carrie says something about not getting out of the book what the author put in. It really stuck with me, because why am I unable to say that I dislike a book? Is it because I know how hard the author worked and am desperate to find merit? Is it because it’s supposed to be a good book?

I realized that just because I dislike a book doesn’t mean it’s not good or that the author isn’t a good writer. Literature is so subjective, and what does my opinion matter to anyone? And generally I dislike books not because of the writing, but just because that particular book didn’t speak to me. (Though sometimes it’s because of the writing, let’s be honest.)

In the spirit of being honest, I’m not going to be afraid to say I dislike a book any more. I went through and gave two stars to the books of this year I didn’t like. I’m resetting my 50 Books Challenge page to prepare for next year (though forty is my 2014 goal), and I’m going to tell the truth of what I thought of a book. I’m going to allow myself to dislike books, knowing full well that I much more frequently fall desperately in love with them, so I shouldn’t worry anyway.

Are y’all doing a reading challenge next year? If so, what’s your goal? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

Best wishes,
Hero

In Which I Analyze My Own Character by Means of Fictional Ones

Two orders of business: firstly, if my language sounds stiff it is because for the past week I’ve been studying St. Thomas More for school, and having both read a book by William Roper on the subject and finished watching A Man for All Seasons less than an hour ago, using contractions seems… odd.

Secondly, I am writing this in a notebook on the way to Algebra tutoring, as I have limited my computer time to an hour a day for Lent – because of which the blog has suffered. Suffice to say, it’s Holy Week now, so I should be back in the swing of things post-Easter. (Speaking of, I’m so excited!)

On Saturday I got into a discussion about my favorite characters in books and movies, and how they all tend to be grouchy or unpleasant. It’s not the case 100% of the time, but it seems that more often than not the characters I like the most are the endearingly (I think) cranky ones. I think it’s interesting to contrast the characters I most relate to with the ones I most admire – I think it says something about who I am.

When I was younger, I always loved the fiery characters: the ones with the bright red hair and the sizable tempers – usually in the form of princesses who refuse to marry and go off to be knights or something instead. I admired feistiness. (Still do.)

Aside from this, I’ve always had a love for the snarky and slightly cranky characters: Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street, Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh (funnily enough, I was never too fond of Rabbit – I liked Tigger too much, I guess: “T-I-double-guh-errrr…”), Lucy from Peanuts, Miss Piggy from the Muppets, Grumpy from Snow White, Constance, the sleepy, grouchy, hyper-intelligent three-year-old from The Mysterious Benedict Society…

I think I loved them because they were a little like me: sarcastic, a little bit pessimistic, and overly fond of scowling. (I like to pretend I’m more mature now, but as I routinely make displeased groaning noises, roll around on the floor in protest of things, bare all my teeth like an uneasy chimpanzee when someone pulls out a camera, and frequently use the word “Pooh!” as an expletive, well… I perjure myself if I deny the evidence.) As I’ve grown, this affinity for the characters everyone else thought were mean grew with me – I still have it.

I love Artemis Fowl and I have loved him from book 1, even when he was kind of a jerkface who, despite his genius, didn’t quite have any common sense. I love Holden Caulfield, who’s a little annoying. I love these characters not only because they personify my lack of patience with a good 90% of society, but also because they have hearts, and big ones – you just have to look for them. The crankiest people are really the biggest softies…. You just have to crack the shell. (But you knew that, I’m sure you’ve seen Up.) Artemis and Holden are scornful by nature, and big sissies inside. I love them.

Looking to literature, the characters I identify with speak volumes about me, but the characters I idealize speak just as much.

For example, in my favorite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, I am very much like Beatrice – a little rude, witty, always looking for a laugh… and sometimes I can be unintentionally mean. However, as dear as Beatrice is to my heart (especially how she melts for Benedick), I long to be more like the Lady Hero. (You’re getting insight into my name, if you haven’t caught onto that yet.) Hero is cheerful, goodnatured, mild, and polite… She is liked by all, laughs a lot, but can pull off a wicked prank when she wants to.

This says nothing about myself that I didn’t already know; when asked what I would change about myself, I always say I wish I wasn’t quite so loud. Gentleness and a cheerful temperament are things with which I was not born, just a desire for them. I am not Snow White, I’m a bit like Alice – tripping over my own feet as I get lost in my insane Wonderland – shouting at things and being clumsy. It’s a bit of divine irony, that I was born as a Beatrice who wants desperately to be a Hero. (Though, if memory serves, the original Beatrice wants to be more like her cousin, too.)

At the same time, I do recognize that while this divine irony exists, God made me as I am for a reason. My mom told me once that when other homeschool moms said they wouldn’t let their daughters do this or that because they wanted them to have a “quiet soul”, she thought it was frankly ridiculous – some people are born with quiet souls, but others are not… After all, becoming a saint takes audacity as well as humility. That being said, let’s keep going with this analysis.

The next character is Jo March, from Little Women. I love Jo – I love how she’s tomboyish and loves to read and isn’t always a little ray of sunshine. She accidentally sets things on fire and isn’t afraid to scowl. She’s got a big heart and an even bigger personality. I relate to Jo very much, but I relate to Meg as well, in her love of pretty things and, well, her vanity. Of the “little women”, I most admire Beth – once again, for her quiet, cheerful gentleness.

I want to be a saint and I want to be meek and ladylike. I’m not – I try, but I’m not predisposed to it – so my track to sainthood looks more like the track of St. Athanasius, who used his stubborn and argumentative nature to debate and defeat heresy, or St. Thomas More, who stood true to the Church in difficult times. A Man for All Seasons portrays St. Thomas as stubborn, resolute, and a little bit of a crank. I am more like him than St. Therese of Liseaux or St. Bernadette – I’m loud, and I think I’m loud for a reason. I need to figure out how to be a saint in my own boisterous fashion.

The rest of this post is devoted to Jane Austen, as she’s been on my mind thanks to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries ending and the fact that I worked a quote from her into my Richard III paper and I am exceeding pleased by it. (“The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man.”) There are two Austen characters that I’ve been told I’m quite similar to: Emma, from the novel of the same name, and Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice (specifically in the incarnation of Lizzie from the Diaries –  Frankie once asked me if I’d gotten some of my mannerisms from her; I hadn’t.)

I’m like Emma & Lizzy both in my frequent inability to think before I speak. Emma likes to meddle – I’m kind of meddlesome. My friend Nick calls me a matchmaker: I don’t like to sit and watch things happen if I can help along the process. I am, as D says, a mite “pushy”. I also see a similarity to myself in the way Emma acts rashly and then bitterly regrets it. “It was badly done, Emma.” Boy, do I know the feeling. As for Lizzy, I am predisposed to judge – all too quickly, it seems – only to have my opinions change upon further inspection. Like Lizzy, I am sometimes injured by those of the male race – and have to cope by proclaiming them losers and laughing at them, vowing to become an old maid, like Lizzy does, because there’s not really anything else I can do unless I want to go mad. I also see myself in how Lizzy always has a snappy comeback and isn’t afraid to admit her shortcomings. I wish I was Jane, but I’m not, and that’s okay. In 16 years of life, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s to like who I am. If I don’t, everything becomes grey and miserable. In fact, there’s a St. Catherine of Siena quote that fits the situation quite well: “What is it you want to change? Your hair, your face, your body? Why? For God is in love with all those things and He might weep when they are gone.” Why do I want to change myself? Adopting virtue, growing in grace, those are good things to change about myself. But to throw myself over entirely and become someone else? Would God weep?

So I’m me: Emma/Jo/Lizzy/Meg/Alice/Thomas More/Mr. Frederickson/Holden/Oscar the Grouch. I am loud, stubborn, hardworking, snarky, outgoing, unabashed, meddlesome, clumsy, spirited, and I never shut up. But I have a heart so big it sometimes makes me wish I had otherwise, and like Lizzie, Jo, and Beatrice, I can see when I need to step back and strive for the virtue of Jane, Beth, and Hero.

Well.

I try, at least.

Best wishes and much love to you all,
Hero

Late Again

I wasn’t home yesterday, so that’s my excuse for not posting, and now it’s Thursday and I have nothing to say except that today I’ve watched Much Ado About Nothing, Emma, and now A Room With a View. Three of my favorite movies.

I’m also eating ravioli.

Hope you had a great Independence Day! Go eat some ravioli and enjoy yourselves.

~Hero