Monday, 18 July 2011

'Great' novelists whom I just don't 'get'.

For over 40 years I've been something of a bookworm, avidly reading both 'classic' literature and contemporary authors. (Some months ago I passed the milestone of having read 1,500 different books.)
But, though everybody's tastes shift this way and that over a lifetime, there has been a handful of renowned writers, generally considered in the pantheon of the 'great', which I've never been able to 'tune in' to, though, as in a piece of music I can't understand, I feel the loss is mine, and am really envious of those who are able get onto their particular wavelength. 

So here are three authors off the top of my head which I've tussled with all my life, having read several books of each, but every time feel my mind wandering - reading the words but the meaning isn't penetrating. I always get to the end off their books but, immediately on being finished, I'd be hard pressed to describe what I've just read:-

Joseph Conrad
Rudyard Kipling

There would be more, but these stand out as writers, reading whose books I feel is like water being poured into a sieve - the sieve, being my mind. Nothing, or very little, is retained.

I say that tastes change, and that certainly has been the case with me. I never really saw the light with Dickens, Jane Austen and Henry James until into my forties - and Iris Murdoch has been one of my more recent 'epiphanies', this latter only occurring about 10 years ago. Now all four of these would be included in my Top 20 writers of all time without a doubt. (Strange that I've never had a problem with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, generally regarded as being among the 'heavyweights', liking both of them a great deal since my first encounter with them before I was even 20.)

I'd be interested to hear of anyone else's 'blind spots' in authors. If one can't appreciate them I don't think it's anyone's 'fault' in reality, and certainly not the writer him/herself. It all depends on one's own pysche on whether there's a connection or not. I'm not sure that liking an author can be actually 'taught', though having said that I'm very aware that in my school-days it was a particular priest-teacher who revealed to my class the awe-inducing wonder of Shakespeare, when up to then I'd thought him dry as dust. That young priest is whom I am indebted to more than any other in my entire life for helping me discover an appreciation of, not just literature, but culture generally. But that's all veering off the subject. Maybe another time.

As I finish this blog I'm thinking of yet more writers whose works are somehow closed off to my mind, but the list would just go on and on. Anyway, it makes a change from listing one's favourites!


  1. This is an interesting perspective Ray. I could never get into John LeCarre books. I always felt as if I should like them because they were so well loved and reviewed but I couldn't get past a couple of chapters!

  2. Ah, John LeCarre! Have to admit I've only read 'Spy...Came in..Cold' (which I liked a lot), which is a shameful admission. When the Smiley books started being televised in the 70s and 80s, that put me off reading more of his, which is unfair, though I really ought to go back. But I take your warning.
    Another author I always have problems with, in vaguely the same area, even though I have read 5 or 6 of his books, is Len Deighton. He's one of those writers who makes me feel I'm not clever enough to keep up with him.

  3. Wow your house might be full of books and books I guess. I've srarted to read books on my iPhone but it seems I'm really distracted by other things LOL. Beside books for my career, I haven't touched a real book this year :)

  4. Every one has his own priorities, Tai. Books don't give the same pleasures to everyone - and anyway since I retired I have time for reading.
    I tend to read paperback books which, if I don't think I want to read again, I give to charity shops to sell on to other readers cheaply.

  5. nothing gets people going who are book lovers sharing their authors, and hearing another say 'sorry, I don't care for that one". WHAT DO YOU MEAN??? hohoho

    I am going to read my first Jane Austen this summer- I want to know what all the fuss is about.

  6. Yes, Spo, it's a very subjective subject. The big problem is that people tend to think that THEY alone have the best tastes (and I plead guilty myself to some things along these lines I've said in the past) and that anyone who doesn't share their own particular values is therefore inferior in intelligence or lacking in discernment.

    As for Austen, as I say above, I was mystified for many years why she was praised to the heavens by so many readers. I'd read maybe two or three of her novels, starting, unwisely perhaps, with 'Persuasion'. Then after much persistence, I finally got it. My fault had been to read her too quickly. Her prose needs to be allowed to 'breathe' itself into one's mind.
    Of course the whole Austen reputation has been called into question recently by the revelation (which I tend to think was probably correct) that a very significant part of the quality of her style and prose is due more to the grammar and syntactical corrections and re-writings of her publisher than to her own talents. Pity, but if that's the case then so it is. But best of luck with the novel you are starting with, whichever of the 6 it is. If it hits you first time, which I hope it does, you're one lucky fella.