Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don't like it? Or don't "get" it?

Yes, that's an otter scratching his head. I'm sure I could have found a photo that better evokes the sense of being confused, but... LOOK! OTTER! Awwwwwwww.

So, yesterday I briefly alluded to my belief that there is a difference between not liking a book and not "getting" a book (although I imagine the frustration associated with the latter often leads to a sense of the former).

I think that I "get" The Great Gatsby. It's a Jazz Age cautionary tale about the glittering temptations of money and ambition, with some love and new beginnings thrown in, that reveals the dark side of the American Dream. I DON'T CARE. Those horrible characters deserve every bad thing that happens to them, and I can't stand reading about them, it's like being trapped at a cocktail party with people who think they're better than you simply because you have the basic decency to nod and listen when they talk.

The Liberated Bride, however, is a book I don't "get." The language is beautiful, and there is so much of interest going on (it is set in 1990's Israel and explores political elements as well as personal)... and I just have no idea what I was supposed to get from this book. I want to like it, but it eludes me.

And I'm going to have to move into the realm of films to come up with an example of a story that I both dislike and don't "get." Napoleon Dynamite. What the hell is up with that movie? It's boring, annoying, stupid, and so many people seem to think that it's genius. I hate it AND I don't get it. You don't want to just punch every character in the face? Really? Why not? Because I really, really do. I can't imagine why anyone would want to write about these people. At least I know why someone would, in theory, want to write about Jay Gatsby and Daisy.

Which is worse? A book you don't like, or a book you don't get? Wait, I think I've got it. The worst is a book you don't like because you don't get why everyone ELSE likes it.

Let's start going back to the good stuff. What is a book that you like, but you feel like some part of it is just beyond your reach? Is there a book you love where you're just dying to go up to the author and ask, "but what did you mean by that?" Any endings you want to have explained?


  1. This is a *hard* question. I'm going to start with one that comes immediately to mind: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

    I laughed and laughed and laughed at that book. I loved a lot of it while I was reading it. And, at the end, I was left with this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach because, at the end of the day, I couldn't decide if it was a good book or an okay book with some really good parts. I couldn't decide if Ignatius was a character I was rooting for or was simply pathetic and disgusting. And was that the point? What *was* the point?

    I was a literature geek through LOTS of schooling. I should know the answers to these questions.

    I'm no less confused knowing that the author committed suicide before the book was even published. Does that make it easier or harder to understand?

    I put the book aside and vowed that one day, when older and wiser, I would pick it up again and try to figure things out. Maybe now is that time...

  2. Honestly? If I don't "get" a book, I'm probably not going to stick with it. Now, I've read books where I don't "get" how they were published in the first place but if it's completely out of my realm of interest when I'm reading, I'll just put it aside and find something else.

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  4. I don't think there is a book that I like although I don't get. Unless I don't realize I don't get it.

    Maybe I'm limited, but I don't like to feel stupid and frustrated. I do like books a little hard to get, but you know, in my intellectual range. Otherwise, I just hate the book and the author for making me feel stupid, and I tend to suspect them of just trying to prove that they are smarter than most of us.

    I like a book which I get, which surprises me in simplicity, which makes me think: wow, this is so obvious, this is something I felt so many times, and yet I never saw it like this, I never understood it as well as this. I don't know how much sense that makes, but I don't think I can put it any other way. I like to feel enriched by a book, not put down.

  5. My problem is that I'm kind of an idiot so I tend not to "get" many famous great books. I mean, I recognize that many people at some point thought it was a great book, otherwise the book wouldn't be so famous.

    I hated Anna Karenina, and I can't think for the life of me why I stuck with it--and it's a thick one. What an absolute shite story. Blah blah blah, then they all die. Great. Thanks for that. (I'm sure I missed the deeper meaning of the book, but there you are.)

  6. I enjoyed The Great Gatsby and I laughted my ass off at Napolean Dynamite. But that's how it goes, tastes vary. I don't "get" chick lit. I don't care for vampire tales, and I'm not much for genre fiction in general. A book I read recently that knocked my socks off is "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. I was truly blown away by how good this read was.

  7. The worst is a book you don't like because you don't get why everyone ELSE likes it.

    Aw, that's pretty much how I feel about The Great Gatsby. I found it boring and plotless with characters that weren't really that interesting or engaging. I didn't hate it, but I just don't get what all the fuss is about. I'd love for someone to explain, but mostly people just get flustered when I ask "What's so great about The Great Gatsby?"

    I mostly "get" what I read, even in cases where I didn't particularly like it. I'm currently listening to Atlas Shrugged on my commute, and it's keeping me interested enough to keep changing CDs, but I won't be ranting and raving about it either.

    I think the Napoleon Dynamite question is mostly answered by considering audience. Movies, just like literary fiction, are being created for an audience, and sometimes the audience is more or less inclusive. The people that "get" Napoleon Dynamite are the people who grew up with those characters, or even were those characters growing up. Man is the creature who laughs at itself, but sometimes people just can't relate.

  8. For me, a book that I don't get is worse than a book that I don't like.

    If I don't get it, I don't know for sure whether or not, I truly don't like it. And that kind of ambiguity just eats at me.

    I keep re-reading Beloved,Sula and the Bluest Eye over and over again. I feel like I got them when I first read them, but each re-read gives me to something deeper and more meaningful.

    I've recently started re-reading The Sound and the Fury and I feel like I'm reading it even more slowly this time than I did the last time and I feel like there's so much more to get. I would love to know how it was written and why.

  9. I hated the book Twilight and I hate the movie just as much.