Thursday, 14 September 2023

World-renowned 'classic' writers whom I've never 'got'.

 Although there are more than three, there is a certain highly prominent trio of widely famed authors of the past, each of whom disconcertingly enjoys a most significant reputation and a large and ultra-serious band of defenders, admirers and disciples. I've tried repeatedly to understand why it is that I've never been able to get into them, yet the reason still evades me. While attempting to read and become engrossed by their novels my mind wanders away so far that I'm very soon merely reading pages upon pages of words which fail to penetrate my consciousness at all, until I'm suddenly aware of the futility of the exercise.  

1. Rudyard Kipling

I cannot comprehend why this man is so revered - above all for his children's stories, which I find dense and obscure - and boy oh boy, how I've tried! Even his most famous of all, 'The Jungle Book' (both 'Jungle Books' actually), I find indigestible, completely lacking the welcome lightness of touch which Disney brought to his cartoon (helped, of course by some awfully good songs). 

I've identical feelings towards all the 'Just So' stories. Right now I'm currently ploughing through 'Stalky & Co' and what a joyless slog it is! It's my very first attempt at this one, though I have read the aforementioned novels at least twice each. Apparently 'Stalky' is about a misbehaving group of (public)schoolboys getting up to various japes often involving their teachers or other members of the public as victims. It seems one is supposed to be entertained, even amused, by their antics but I'm finding it so hard to follow that it's leaving me cold and unmoved. But got to persevere, even though when I'm through I simply know now that I'll hardly recall any of it.

I've also read the entirety of the man's poetry, all 800+ pages of it. I have to say that most of it is rather more accessible than his stories, but that's probably because they are largely in more digestible, mostly shortish lumps.  (Btw: Some years ago a BBC national poll revealed that his poem 'If' was voted here as being the best regarded poem of all in the English language - and I wouldn't disagree that it at least is pretty good). 

2. Joseph Conrad

Have to confess that it's quite a few years since I last tried to assail this, for me, highly problematic writer - among whose works are 'Nostromo' ,'Lord Jim' and, his most celebrated of all, 'Heart of Darkness'. I'm not even sure that I managed to get right through any of them, his style of writing being maddeningly circuitous. A lot of admiration towards him is engendered by the fact that English was only his second language (after Polish) so it's undoubtedly some sort of achievement, though for me therein lies the problem. I could never get onto his 'wavelength'. If his thoughts were lucid, and I can't argue that they weren't, then to my mind they didn't translate successfully into the written word. He's definitely another author who gets my mind wandering off to unrelated, more captivating, subjects - though I would like to have another bash at 'Hearts of Darkness' before it's too late.

3. Sir Walter Scott

I get the impression, perhaps mistakenly, that this writer is particularly well regarded by non-English readers, presumably translated into whatever language is appropriate - though how translations cope with his terribly tiresome phonetic attempts at mimicking the Scottish accents through odd, unfamiliar spellings I just don't know, a technique which, whoever the writer or the accent replicated, slows one's reading down disastrously till, I at least, want to say "Oh, stuff it! I can do without this tortuous effort to work out what they mean!" 'Ivanhoe', 'Rob Roy' and 'Kidnapped' are some of his works I've tried to rise to, but I think it's only the last of these I managed to get to the end of - and that with one huge sigh of relief - and then craving for something requiring less effort to read. Mind you, like for Kipling, some of Scott's poems aren't at all bad - so long as it's not those in which he's trying to ape the Scottish accent in writing.

I could mention more writers - P.G.Wodehouse is just another who goes right over my head despite his being so adulated by many of far greater intelligence than I can boast, although he's considered by many to be the ultimate 'light-hearted' and 'gentlemanly' writer in English - but I've got to stop somewhere.

Oh, and I'm aware that I've not mentioned any female writers, though shamefully, it did take me some time to acclimatise myself to Jane Austen. Now she's no longer a 'problem' writer, thank goodness.

But never say never! If I'd written this post, say, 50 years ago, my top three 'unreadables' would quite likely have been Henry James, Thomas Hardy and............yes, even Dickens himself. However, through persistence, I gradually came to love each if them in turn. In fact all three would now doubtlessly feature in my Top 10 favourite writers of all. So one can change if one really wills it.  I merely want to experience those same admirations which other people feel, otherwise I sense missing out on something of significant worth.

Do you have any particularly 'difficult' writers? I'd love to hear some names.


  1. Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and Melville’s “Moby Dick” immediately came to mind. I tried Moby three times and never finished. I made it through The Old Man, but it was a slog. I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me...

    1. Good mentions, Mitch. I've only ever read one Hemingway - A 'Farewell to Arms' - and that was well over half a century ago! I think that at that time I was put off by his then reputed homophobia, which may be more debatable/disputable nowadays, as also his clear support of enjoyment of bullfighting which is beyond doubt. So those are the two reasons that I then gave up on him. Maybe I should give him another chance and try again.

      'Moby Dick' I've read twice and didn't find it an easy read though on some level I did quite admire it. It was heavy, though. Over the years I've heard it mentioned as being several celebrities' favourite novel of all time, so I think I might have another shot at it.

  2. James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. I think everyone in my Irish family of huge readers worships them but I just can not. Beckett is better than Joyce, but I honestly think I just don't care for their writing. (My grandmother is spinning in her grave, I can just tell.)

    Hope you and your gang of cats are doing well!

    1. I'm a bit of a fan of James Joyce, Elle, though have read only three of his works - 'Ulysses' (but of course! - FOUR times to date), 'Dubliners' and 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' (which I like a lot). I don't have a particular problem with his writings and look forward to getting round to 'Finnegan's Wake'.
      If anything, I'm an even greater fan of Beckett and have seen a number of his plays and 'playlets' live on stage. The first time I saw 'Godot' I was completely perplexed though not disliking it. But I've seen it several times again and now actively love it. I've not actually 'read' anything of his on the page. Maybe I should.
      I'm not surprised at your (or anyone else's) negative reaction to these two writers. I'd agree that both are very much acquired tastes, but there you are. (I hope your grandmother's revolutions are slowing down now!)

      Cats are okay, thanks, but concern growing for Patchie, the eldest, now 18, who has in a short time lost quite a bit of weight and increasingly now in the middle of the night, will start pitifully wailing for some unknown reason, then eventually return to sleep. It's most upsetting to be woken up and hear him, but I'm sure you'll know all about that yourself. One of the downers of having pets, I suppose. But thanks for asking.
      I trust you are well and in health yourself.

  3. I agree about Melville and I now have a new word to describe trying to get through some of these books: "slog."
    Thanks for that word!

    1. Re: the word 'slog' - because your being unfamiliar with my use of the word in the context of reading I thought it might be peculiarly British, but can't find anything to that effect in my dictionaries or via Goggle. It is widely used here, usually within the phrase 'a hard slog'. Maybe it's a localised use in whatever country it appears or is heard.

  4. I seem to be like this with a lot of great writers. There's many I should probably enjoy and regard higher yet I just cannot get into reading some of their stories. I have to agree with Mitchell, Hemingway was one of those for me. I sure hope you're been doing well, and your cats. I hope you're looking forward to kissing summer goodbye and welcoming in autumn.

    1. I can't lecture others on their reading tastes. M.M., when I myself am an avid Bardophile. I've read a Shakespeare play every single month (not one month missed!) now for nearly SIXTY years. And I'm quite aware of how many utterly detest him So, each to her or his own.

      I'm fine, thanks, though my eldest pussycat, Patchie, is causing some concern as I say above in replying to Elle's comment.
      As for seasons, we've been welcoming Autumn since about last May, though the last two weeks we've had a late surprising splurge of true Summer .It's been an awful long wait!

      All the best to you and yours.

  5. I think that because times change our tastes change too. I couldn't be bothered with reading any of those authors I'm afraid to say. I think they were of their time and I like more modern writers. I think that reading should be enjoyable and entertaining and not a slog. I can't off the top of my head remember any authors I like now though. I go by the subject matter of books rather than authors most of the time. I do find that I have to read a lot of books to find just a few really good ones but the same can be said for films too.

    I am glad you are doing okay but sorry to hear of Patchie being a worry. He is a great age for a cat.

    1. Yes, writers, rather like composers, do tend to go in and out of fashion so it can be unfair to be categorical about their quality and standards when we readers are subject to the same time- changing vagaries in our tastes. Speaking of modern writers, I've just recently re-read, the 1984 Booker prize winner, 'Hotel du Lac' by Anita Brookner, 15 years after my first reading. Not only did I fail to recall any of it, I'm ashamed to say that my mind wouldn't stop wandering off the page - and furthermore, I'll go so far as to say I don't recognise what qualities it had to earn it the prize. I'm annoyed with myself more than anything, in failing to see what features it contains which people far more learned than I am deemed it worthy of such a prestigious award. Maybe I'll see it on a third reading?

      Yes, when our pets get aged and start ailing, it's distressing to see them suffer. But it's something one knows it needs taking on in order to enjoy their company. That's life - and more, I suppose.