I really debated over what to call this post. One possible title was just “Why? Why do professors set these trainwrecks?” or just “Why god why??” Some of these books are specific to my uni, but that doesn’t change the fact that these books should not be on any reading list- *anywhere*.
1. Robinson Crusoe– why do they still teach this? No one, not even the lecturers, like this book. Its main claim to fame is that it was the first novel written in English. That’s all very well and good- but does that make it a good read? Nope. It could just be a footnote in the University syllabus, but instead they make countless students endure this interminably dull book every year. All I can say to people that study English Literature in the future is you have my deepest sympathies.
2. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography– while this isn’t truly as godawful as some of the other books on this list, it is realllly dry and very boring. I cannot quite understand why it was set because it’s not really known for being of any literary merit.
3. Pilgrim’s Progress– this could be another footnote in literature. In my opinion, it’s overzealous claptrap designed to indoctrinate. I wouldn’t recommend it- if you want to know more about the New Testament, I’d recommend you just read the New Testament- ironically it’s better written, more entertaining and surprisingly feels less like you’re being hit over the head with religious propaganda. One plus is that both the author’s name and title is admittedly pretty epic.
4. On the Road by Jack Kerouac– Yeah… so I’m not a fan of this. Sorry- but I just don’t like things where I have no idea what’s going on or what the point is. And while we’re on the subject, I don’t much like the Beat Generation either. This book was weird, boring and had no plot. I did not enjoy reading it and I think the only reason why people are into this stuff is because they think it’s really deep and meaningful. Sorry to burst your bubble- it’s not deep and meaningful- the Beat poets were just really, really high. And when you’re high, lampshades become deep and meaningful.
5. Mrs Warren’s Profession by Bernard Shaw– I. Am. Not. A. Fan. Of. Bernard Shaw. Period. Seriously- this play was such a waste of time- I don’t know why we were set it. I reckon Shaw is one of *the most overrated playwrights of *any century*. His writing is very staid and his plays read like novels. There’s just no action in them. On top of that, the characters are bland and there is no drama! Don’t go into it expecting anything like the My Fair Lady musical, that’s all I can tell you.
I also have to say that I don’t know why we were set this when the other play that week was Waiting for Godot– which is incredible. Sometimes tutors just have no taste.
6. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf– I have no shame admitting that I have never finished any of her books. They’re just boring as hell. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an especially big fan of stream of consciousness writing, but Virginia Woolf has my particular ire for being the worst. It’s pretentious, dull rubbish and I’m not a fan. On a side note- no one actually likes James Joyce either- I’d say luckily I was set this book instead of Ulysses, but I didn’t enjoy (what I did manage to read of) it- so it’s not like I escaped the horrors of this movement.
7. Sentimental literature– I could probably fill a book with why this is dumb. For some reason, in the 18th century people decided that creating an emotional response from their reader was the most important thing, so they set about making the most contrived cases of so-called “catharsis” known to man. Or something like that. They actually used to go to mental institutions and watch crazy people, so that they could go away and cry afterwards. Apparently it was very cathartic. Most of the books involve some weird retelling of somebody’s tragic life story and a main character that feels the best response they can have to hearing someone else’s problems is to have a good cry. And spying on people with mental health problems a lot. I’m not kidding. I read a couple of these lousy books for my course- I don’t remember the titles, but it’s not like I’m going to recommend you read them, so it doesn’t matter. Just avoid this genre at all costs. And if you ever get set anything from this period, go off sick that week- it’s not like you’re going to learn anything useful from it.
One positive thing that did come out of this movement, however, and that was Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which was a satire on this genre. But that just goes to show that this could be another footnote in University to preface teaching more Austen- which would actually be worthwhile.
8. Phantastes– just what is even happening in this book? I mean, it made literally no sense. It just jumps around from one scene to the other with no logic or explanation. It’s a really confusing read. And (if I remember correctly) it’s got one of those “it was all a dream” endings. You know, the type where, basically nothing in the book actually mattered because they return to the real world as if nothing happened. I vaguely recollect this being taught because it had something to do with the birth of fantasy- but I honestly can’t remember what. I pretty much switched off because the book was so weird. I’m pretty sure they just set it because it was Scottish, and my uni, being in Scotland decided they had to ram as much Scottish stuff down our throat as possible- whether it was good or not. (Not that I’m complaining about the good stuff, cos who doesn’t love some Robert Louis Stevenson?)
9. House with the Green Shutters– This is another one that was particular to my university, because they just *had to* have a Scottish book to set that week. And my tutor *had to pick this* over Jude the Obscure (I swear that woman had no taste). Basically, it’s just one of those books that could have been done better in every way- the message is too obvious, the characters don’t have good enough motivations and the foreshadowing is about as blatant as a foghorn. It’s not the worst book on this list by a long shot, but it’s not great, and if you were looking for a dark, Victorian book, I would recommend, well, Jude of course.
10. De Montfort by Joanna Bailie– “What’s that? I’ve never heard of it,” I hear you say. Well that’s because no one has. We did this cos my tutor hated romantic poetry (basically they were an idiot) so they chose this book instead. That being said there is *no way* this play should be on any reading list- ever. If I want to pinpoint the exact moment when I realised academia was a load of nonsense, it would be when I was told to read this dumb play.
Basically, the premise is it’s a tragedy about hatred. There are no other emotions or anything of note in the play, just endless monologues about how De Montfort hates some guy for some reason (it’s never really clear why). It was part of a series of plays by the self-dubbed genius Joanna Bailie, who had the bright idea of writing plays about a different emotion each time. Yup, she had all the genius of a 12 year old. Understandably, the play was a complete flop when it was first performed, only running for eight nights and was poorly received by critics. And since it’s so unpopular, there aren’t any pictures on the internet for it, so I’ve just put a picture of an angry cat.
So yeah, I have no idea why this play was set at my uni- other than that it was written by someone both Scottish and a woman. Which is not the best reason to read a book- they’d have been better off setting Catherine Macphail. Undoubtedly, this is the worst book on this list, cos it is truly godawful.
Bonus: Imagism- just cos. (See- that’s nice and precise, an imagist would love me).
That’s it for this list. Have you had to endure any of these books- either at school or at uni? Have you encountered them anywhere else?
And on a side note- did anyone else have to lug around those nightmarishly big Norton Anthologies?