Saturday, June 14, 2003

the Independent had a list of famous(?) people state the name of the worst book they'd ever read and explain why. Interesting, although I'm flummoxed (no: I'm dumbfounded) as to why people heap such scorn on "the Lord of the Rings".

Maybe it is just because of the current resurgence of LOTR and some people like to take a poke at really popular things just to seem cool somehow (I must admit that I've been guilty of that from time to time: I recall a period of Nirvanna hate that I've never quite been able to explain to myself).

I will say this about worst books:

-- I am really underwhelmed by Ernest Hemmingway and think he's way overrated.
-- I've tried, several times, to read "The Catcher in the Rye" and have always been distracted by shiny things, or an itch on my toe, or the sound of grass growing. I finally read the Cliff's Notes in hopes of finding out what the hubbub was all about. I still don't know.

But wait! I'm history boy!

-- Most non-fiction books on the US Civil War were written by people who should not be allowed near a publisher (see William Bryant's "Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster").
-- The same thing is true, to a lesser extent, of books about the US Army in Europe during WW2 (see Peter Allen's "One More River: The Rhine Crossings of 1945").
-- Daniel Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners" is just. plain. awful. However, it did spark a nice wave of new thinking among academics about the Holocaust, so it isn't all bad.
-- Paula Fass's "The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s" is not so good. It suffers, among other things, from being about a tiny slice of what it claims to be about (it is really about rich, urban, WASP youth) and has some big holes in it's research (one section of the book lifts it's title from the novel "The Plasic Age" by Percy Marks, but there is no evidence whatsoever that Fass read the novel: it would have made her book better had she done so).
-- A hundred years ago, a gang of folks gathered around Columbia U professor William A Dunning wrote histories of the Reconstruction which were so packed with lies and racist horseshit (but trussed up in lovely prose and Columbia cred.) that they STILL influence peoples' understanding of that part of US history. Hard to read: must be read and attacked. My personal favorite (not!) is Walter Flemming's "Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama".

What say you?


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