The Not-So-Great Gatsby: Hating the Classics

With The Great Gatsby movie out this week, even non-English majors are talking about the book. I was particularly interested in one article about hating the book, even though it’s considered the Great American Novel:

“I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent; I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains. None of this would matter much to me if Gatsby were not also sacrosanct. Books being borderline irrelevant in America, one is generally free to dislike them—but not this book.”

Kathryn Schulz goes on to explain why she finds Gatsby lacking, and I can totally see her points, even though I don’t agree. I grew up in a house of Gatsby-haters. When I read the book in eleventh grade, I already knew that everyone in my family thought Gatsby was foolish and Daisy was brainless and the story was pointless. I didn’t expect a lot from the book, but ended up loving it–I thought it was dramatic and shocking and had a powerful ending about how fantasies and goals are so easily destroyed.

Does that mean I went on to change the minds of everyone in my family? Nope. I’m firmly in the camp of You Don’t Have to Love All the “Great” Novels. If you don’t love The Great Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice or Moby Dick, that’s okay. Not every book necessarily connects with every reader, even if it’s beautifully written and revered by lots of very knowledgable people. It’s not a moral failing for not loving a particular book. It just means there are probably other books out there you’ll like more.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try lots of classic novels. Schulz has given Gatsby five tries so far. I think she can cut her losses. A few years ago, I read Anna Karenina because I thought, “Hey, there’s a novel I never had to read in school. People seem to like it?” I spent the whole thing waiting for Anna to get hit by that train. Not the book for me. Sometimes I think maybe I should give it another shot, but there are so many other wonderful books in the world–I think my time is better spent moving onto one of them.

Which “great” novels do you hate?

(image: “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” by American artist Russell Patterson, via Wiki Commons)

15 thoughts on “The Not-So-Great Gatsby: Hating the Classics

  1. I was a Gastby-hater (until about a week ago) and finally decided that I could not, in good conscience, go see the movie without giving the book a second chance. I read it in high school under duress and I think I missed how great the writing is. I feel more sympathy for Gatsby now than I ever did and even a smidgeon for Daisy. But really, what redeemed it for me was the beautiful language. It is simple but poignant!

    I hate everything by Dickens without fail. I may try to redeem A Tale of Two Cities…but I’m making no promises

    • Glad you gave Gatsby a second chance! The language is so precise. I’m in the middle on Dickens–enjoyed what I’ve read well enough, but not so much that I want to pursue more of his work.

      • After Gatsby, I’m really thinking I need to go dig out other required reading from high school—much more enjoyable to read knowing you don’t have to dissect it or write a paper over it!

  2. I dislike the characters and story of Gatsby, but respect the prose.
    I actually find Mark Twain’s non-Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn works over-rated. I read a book of Twain’s short stories and could barely finish.
    I also find it hard to get through much of Edgar Allen Poe’s work either, even though I do think he had a lot of great things within his works.
    I do, however, love Charles Dickens. His wit combined with the dramatic arcs of his stories makes his books some of my favorite classics to come back to.

  3. I’m a Gatsby hater but after watching the movie, I’m considering giving it another try. I’m Canadian so we had to read a lot of Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler in school. I hated Atwood until I read one of her books (Oryx and Crake) voluntarily. I also hate Of Mice and Men and Oliver Twist.

  4. I LOVE Gatsby. And it’s mostly for the writing… Fitzgerald just did wonders for me with his words, so I echo the sentiment of you (and many of the other commenters!). I personally find myself shaking my head at Nick of all characters… something about his moral high horse makes me angry.

    As for classics I don’t love, I just have such a hard time with Robinson Crusoe and books like that/from that genre… just don’t make me trudge through pages and pages of a man accounting for everything he found in a shipwreck.

  5. Melville and Dickens are on my not-so-great lists. I very much appreciate how they have contributed to the landscape of literature. I, unfortunately, cannot embrace the heaping of words style they enjoy wielding.

  6. I loathe Wuthering Heights. I think when I was younger people always described it as a dark, gothic, romantic love story, when instead it’s about some of the most terrible, manipulative, hateful, creepy, awful people in the world. I read it in college and was seriously disturbed, and then I tried it a few years later and thought after a few chapters “wait, why do I want to spend MORE time with these wretched people?” and went back to Jane Eyre.

  7. I remember reading “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck in school and just suffering through it. I would be curious as to whether my adult self would be as bored by it. Not classics, but some recent award winners have fallen very flat for me: “Olive Kitteridge” and “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” both Pulitzer winners, I simply could not get into. On the other side of the coin, I really wanted to dislike Jonathan Franzen’s writing, as he does sort of come off as an arrogant so-and-so, but I loved both “The Corrections” and “Freedom.”

  8. Gatsby is like that great novel, in a way, because Nick aside, the characters and content are pretty “Blah” but the writing is so amazingly perfect… It’s my favorite book for that reason alone.

    Russian literature, for sure, is something I can’t stand.

  9. I can never get past the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice without wanting to set fire to something. I did manage to get through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but got monumentally bored at the bits that weren’t zombies.

  10. Pingback: Happy Weekend! Links / May 18 | The Fete Blog

  11. Gatsby wasn’t my favorite when I first read it, but I saw the movie, thought it was interesting, and really want to give it a second try. In addition to some of Fitzgerald other novels.
    As for other hated classics? “Hate” may be a bit strong but I just can’t get on the never-ending Pride and Prejudice bandwagon. Sorry, Darcy. I find Heathcliff far more compelling.

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