You might be wondering why I, Gus Harrington, renowned book critic, had not previously read the literary and cultural classics featured on this list. The reason, quite simply put, is because as a rule I do not read an author’s seminal work. Without exception I have found these “masterpieces” to be overblown, pompous dreck which often fail to hold up to enlightened modern scrutiny (i.e. mine). I hold no esteem for the doe-eyed masses who clamor incessantly about the glorious merits of these works.
If the majority held the best opinions then I would no doubt already be a widely renowned author myself. But the fact that all nine of my completed novels remain unpublished only serves to further convince me that the publishing industry (and the world at large) is populated with gutless hacks who would rather plod along the safe lines of mediocrity than step out of their comfort zones and embrace my potentially genre-defining works.
However, as is often the case with the excessively vocal, eventually one tires of their ramblings and is forced to humor them. Many around me have recommended certain books to illustrate some critique they had of my own writing. Thus I grudgingly pushed myself through a handful of these books and, as expected, found them wanting.
1) Moby Dick
by Herman Melville
One of the crowning achievements of the written word, they tell me. Nonsense, this book is pure drivel. Pointless and self indulgent with every word, I cannot for the life of me understand the magnitude of its cultural impact.
Nearly all of the editors I have hired throughout the years have told me that this book is an example of “the proper way to construct a metaphor in a narrative.” Hogwash. Moby Dick is nine hundred pages of delusional, self-absorbed ramblings whose plot holds less weight and significance than an Arby’s drive-thru menu.
It is no wonder that Melville was ridiculed upon the release of this misguided tome. In that respect, at least, I can identify with him as a writer.
2) Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes
What overwrought melodrama. I will admit that the premise is intriguing – a man, formerly mentally retarded, struggles to come to grips with the rise and fall of his new scientifically engineered intelligence. Though everyone goes on about how emotional Flowers is, it failed to move a stoic such as myself.
Did I cry when I read it? Of course not! In my hateful desire to be done with this wretched book, I flipped through the pages so vigorously that my fingers suffered numerous paper cuts. These may have elicited a drop or two of moisture from my corneas, but I was NOT, as my wife might tell you, “bawling like a baby the whole way through.”
Truthfully, the only part of the book that makes me sad is the fact that it won the Hugo Award, whereas my own epic sci-fi trilogy has failed to warrant me so much as a courtesy response from a single publisher.
Would that I could have my genius stripped from me like poor Charlie, so that my own brilliance no longer taunts me.
by Joseph Heller
“THIS is how you craft a non-linear plot,” many past agents have told me whilst shoving a copy of Catch-22 into my hands. “You can’t do stuff like make all of your characters have interchangeable names and refuse to use punctuation just to be different. There still has to be a flow to a story.”
Well, if anyone could make sense of the flow in such an illogical novel as Catch-22, then it certainly isn’t me! And I’m a genius! No, what we have here is a book that is more poorly constructed than this analogy. Any attempt to drive toward a point, be it comedic or otherwise, quickly falls apart in this Hindenburg of the written word.
And don’t tell me (as my wife often does) that I have no sense of humor! I have written many a comedic screenplay and short story, and every member of my family who has read them has declared them positively uproarious! In fact, sometimes when I leave the room, I can overhear them discussing my writings and laughing loudly together. How else do you explain that?
4) The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas
Of the novels on this list, this is the only one which managed to catch even a spark of my interest. Perhaps it is because I can identify with the protagonist in a way few others can. Edmond Dantes is a man of inspiring purity and potential for greatness. Unfortunately, those envious of his genius conspire to ruin his life and thwart his ambitions. Consequently, like other great men burned by the system, he begins to hatch plans for revenge.
This is where Dantes and I align. I too have been wronged by the vicious jealousy of my so-called friends. Dantes and I have both endured years of rejection and isolation, forced to watch others reap the fruits of successes they do not deserve. Who can blame a man for thoughts of revenge when society has so viciously cast him aside? Who can blame him for his implementation of increasingly detailed plots to destroy the lives of everyone who has wronged him? After all, what other course of action remains for him now? They laughed at him. Rejected his brilliance. Called him a hack. How little they know of what is to come.
Edmond Dantes exacted his vengeance. The downfall of his enemies is the stuff of legends. If nothing else, he provides a template that can be followed to hold wrongdoers accountable for their transgressions, and for that I am grateful.
Still an overrated book by a talentless hack, though.