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"The book is not that interesting, as tales of desperation and survival are actually quite common."

What do the public really think of literature?

Here are some examples, in the form of reviews culled from the reader comments on Amazon.com.

1984 by George Orwell:

Caitlyn from Atlanta, GA, wrote: "1984 is the worst book I have ever read. I would advise anyone who is thinking about reading this book to reconcider! George Orwell is not a bad writer, however, this book he does not do evry well on, as some of his others. Prehaps he was getting old and lost his touch. Animal Farm was okay, but 1984 was horrible. It took him forever, it seemed like, to get into the accual book. If someone were to take out all of the useless part of 1984, it would be half as long. Why would he wirte so much about nothing? I havent ever meet someone who could wirte such a boring book about the goverment. I have meet many people who have loved this book, but i dispised it. I am not at all intrested in the goverment. This may be part of the reason that I didnt like it. I would advise you not to read this book."

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

R. Vanderhoof wrote: "I spent several weeks slogging through this book and found it to be very repetitive and tedious in the extreme. Keeping track of the family tree is a constant effort. At best, Marquez reveals an egalitarian attitude that seems to pervade the Americas south of the Rio Grande (no wonder those countries are in constant economic trouble). Marquez should study supply side economics as described by Milton Friedman, another Nobel Prize winner, in order to give his book better balance."

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley:

Ashley Lue wrote: "This was the worst book that I have ever read! The way that Huxley wrote the book was awful. He was writing about something that could never happen to our society. Back then he thought that our world would pretty much go to hell and the book portrayed the world that we should be living in today. Nothing that he said made sense. I don't understand why he would want anyone to live in that weird world that those people had to live in. People should have emotions and actual relationships. No one should be punished like that. I advise you not to read this book, unless you want to fall asleep!! :)"

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:

goosedog 69 (New York) wrote: "if you don't like reading books with way too much detail than don't buy this book. when i was reading it i couldn't understand anything it said. if you are older maybe you wouldn't think it's boring, or if you like this author's books, but i thought it was very boring and it took me forever and a half to read."

A reader wrote: "I found this book difficult to follow and hard to hold my interest. I am an English teacher so I don't think it's me. I was revved about the book and started it immediately unpon receipt. I didn't even finish it--which is something I can say about few books..."

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer:

[A — presumably — different] A reader wrote: "his book has potential but fails to deliver the goods. too much time is invested for the pay off. i hated the time machine sequences they were a total waste of time, eventually i just skiped them to help get the book over. this is a shame because there were some very good parts to the book a good editor could have improved it by trimming a few hundred pages."

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

Son of Sammy wrote: "i just read this book. everybody like always talks about how great it is and everything. but i don't think so. like, it's been done before, right?? soooo cliched. omg."

The Quiet American by Graham Greene:

Jorge Frid (in Mexico City) wrote: "AT first you think that you are going to read about some secret agent in Vietnam that was killed, but when you see that the story of the book is not that man, is a journalist from England that doesn't want to go back to his country you will be disappointed, the book doesn't have any main story, it has the story of the journalist, his girlfriend (who was also the girlfriend of the "secret agent") and many more, but you will not be interested in one story at all, a real waste of time this book."

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe:

Newton Ooi (in Phoenix, AZ) wrote: "If imitation is the highest form of praise, then this book must be one of the most praised books in the English canon. A man from a middle-class upbringing leaves it and ends up stuck on a tropical island. This story would inspire Swiss Family Robinson, Castaway, and probably Lord of the Flies. Mr. Crusoe is a white, Englishman with a wife and kids. After the wife dies, he leaves the kids to go on his own and to serve God. He ends up stuck on an island by himself. There he encounters cannibalistic natives, and one of their intended victims. The former scares him, and he essentially enslaves the latter, teaching him to call him Master.

"The book is not that interesting, as tales of desperation and survival are actually quite common."

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy:

A reader wrote: "I love classic novels. Some of my favorites: Gone with the wind/The catcher in the rye/Huck Finn/The Iliad..I adore Shakespeare... this book was B-O-R-I-N-G!!! I stopped reading at 400 pages. I am someone that almost never stops reading books. I couldn't stand it any longer. I don't mind the parts the were actually about Anna and human relationships. I could not stand all of the boring Russian politic talk or Levin and his boring farming or hunting talk. AHH! I do not recommend this book. If I truly hated someone, I would them to read this book."

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:

Jef4Jesus wrote: "So, I'm only on page 478 of 619, but I've been disgusted at the amount of profanity. So far I've found more than 500 uses of profanity! On average every page (with relatively big writing, even) has more than one swear. Yikes! I'm never going to read Grapes of Wrath again, and won't be recommending it to anyone. If you don't like profanity, be careful."

M. Landis wrote: "This book was 600 pages written purly about a bunch of hicks from Oklahoma starving. Thanks, but no thanks."


99 Comments

1:

Incidentally, there's some controversy over whether the Shakespeare review is genuine or a joke.

Just in case you're tempted to write it off and breathe a sigh of relief over the possibility that the Bard might have escaped ...

L. Wright "Musette Wright" wrote (apropos Romeo and Juliet):

Not that I don't like Shakespeare's works, but his tragedies are terrible, especially this one. I can't understand the language real well, so I have to grab one with the contemporary language so that it'll be easier to understand. I just can't understand this love tragedy at all! Here are some things that confuse me:

*How did this feud really begin?
*Why can't this story end in happily ever after?
*Why does Lady Capulet have to be so stuck up on everybody?
*Why couldn't Shakespeare have written in a language we could all understand?
*Why does everybody have to jump to conclusions?

I simply can't understand why people love this play so much. It's ridiculous! If you want a true love story, try reading "A Midsummer Night's Dream". This one absolutely SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2:

I'm 50/50 torn between shaking my head or laughing quietly. Maybe both.

At least those ones knew how to use Internets? :-/

3:

The reader review's of Nabokov's Lolita are a motherlode. Here's a reasonably, and deliberately, funny one, from J.LIN:

The language is INVENTIVE, but in the same way that it's INVENTIVE if I took ten bananas and duct tape and I tape all the bananas together in one big, random bundle. Actually, it is not in that same way. Because my banana-thing is kind of funny. Nobakov's inventiveness is NOT FUNNY. It is extremely academic and DULL.
4:

And while we're depth-charging the fish in the barrel, here's another predictable one of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, brought to us by The Sisters of the Italy "Phlemabel and Raquebel":

This book was SO moving. It brought up a few important issues, like sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, and guess what?Sex!It is disgusting how the world has become nowadays. It's disgraceful! God-fearing people, stay away from this book!!!!

It's trash for your mind and brings up perverted topics. You shouldn't read this book. We didn't. It's a book of scandal, corruption, seduction, and SIN!!!!

5:

And, nibbling at the other end of the shit sandwich, here's what one reader thought of The Da Vinci Code (Special Illustrated Edition):

I received the Illustrated edition of Da Vinci Code for my birthday and I am so glad I read this edition. It was very helpful to have the works of art to see as I read, made it the code much clearer. In fact, I can't imagine reading this book with out the illustrations. The novel it self is awesome, edge of your seat thriller/mystery. I'd never read any thing like it. "The Da Vinci Code" Has been my favorite thriller reads of 2005!
(Where is Tom Lehrer in my hour of need?)

6:

Do not, if you value your sanity, try this experiment on The Bible. This is one of the better ones:

I feel that this book started out well but lacked something of an ending. The writing styles change intermittedly and seem to lack something of a finesse, blatantly stating things that cannot be taken literally or figuratively well enough to purvey a superior understanding of the text. I found it about as entertaining as flipping through a T.V. guide but not owning a T.V. seeing all the shows that you could be watching explained in a summerized detail that never quite lets you know what it's really all about. A true literary flop.

And in the name of fair and balanced reporting (remember folks, we investigate this stuff so that you don't have to!) here's The Quran:
I bought this book as literature and out of curiosity. It was very repetitive and lacked cohesion in some areas. As far as its accuracy in history I have my doubts but I will leave that up to the scholars. I found nothing profound or all that interesting and some passages even disturbing. Read the eastern or western fictional classics and you will get more out of them.

Such incisive insight! Such humanity! Such wit and scholarship! (Exeunt meta-reviewer, stage right, muttering and chewing on beard.)

7:

Due to genetic deficiencies, half the readership evolves to the left of the standard deviation curve, and while many develop the means of writing, few carry the ability of critical thinking as a parallel skill. However, they appear, through casual study, to love spouting their ill formed opinions about things they barely comprehend...and voting (cf. 2k and 2k4 US elections and amazon reviews).

8:

What's really scary is the English teacher complaining about "A Tale of Two Cities"...

Yikes.

9:

OMFG, this article sux0rd. Who cares what other ppl think? I mean seriously. Ur so dumb for wanting tro read any of this anyway, who cares? KK? bye.

10:

The Catch-22 ones show occasional rare bursts of style:

This book is not funny. In my opinion, this book is so so so not funny. The humor is like Saturday night live humor (post chris farley) only without the pretty images you get with TV. The writing is incredibly long-winded (he needed to EDIT, he needed a COMPUTER) and Heller always chooses the MORE OBSCURE word over the more ACCESSIBLE, STUPIDER (Heller probably thought) word. Heller thinks he's real smart just cause he can use big, rarely used words.

A taste of his humor: one of the guys is named MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR, and then, in the army, he becomes a MAJOR. So he's major major major major. This is fine, except it's stupid, and not funny, and probably the simplest humor possible, in the universe. Like in Nobakov's Lolita: HUMBERT HUMBERT. What is with these people? Is this supposed to be funny? To put the same word a bunch of times in a row?

So in conclusion, Heller thinks he's real smart, and his idea of humor is making someone's name the same word over and over again (maybe I would've found this funny when I was 5, though it wouldn't really be funny, EVEN AT 5, I probably would've just thought the author a PRETENTIOUS NERD). Yes, a pretentious nerd.

For a better "anti-war" book, read slaughterhouse five by kurt vonnegut. For another really crappy pretentious, overrated book, read Lolita. This is all in my opinion, of course.

How many people have lied to themselves that they liked this book, just cause it's supposedly a CLASSIC, I do not know. But probably a lot. This and Lolita are the two worst books I have ever read. Think of how many hours people have spent reading this a Lolita. With that kind of time spent, the human race could've probably built a space ship and a space colony on pluto and cured cancer and some other stuff.

I particularly like the way the reviewer couples it with Lolita.

11:

Here's one for Moby Dick:

""Moby Dick" has been hyped far beyond its worth because it was the first American novel with philosophic pretentions. You could read the first ninety pages, then skip to the last ten and miss nothing but a binful of symbols. It's gauche, jejune, primitive, a graphic novel without illustrations--one of the few American novels improved as a Classics comic book. Joseph Conrad covers the same material better, and Persig better than either of them. This is a wearying tome that no one would read if it weren't assigned reading. It will teach you . . . nothing."

12:

Alexander Pope. A little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep...

I don't mind ignorance. I'm ignorant enough myself about a lot of things (brain surgery, tenor sax playing). What gets to me is proud ignorance.

They would all be hilarious if I wasn't so aware of Fred Kornbluth's shade at my shoulder.

13:

Some of those might be from a contest the users at Something Awful did a few months ago. If I recall, they all wrote a bunch of these and then the best were selected and written up in an article. I am almost positive the Shakespeare is from that, and the ones on the Bible that another user posted.

14:

You've got me scouring amazon.com for further sad reviews. Here's one for Jane Eyre

"Jane Eyre is the scourge of literature

"Reading this book was about as pleasant as a throwing knife to the face. I am going to be a senior in high school next year, and I just finished this book for my summer assignments for AP Literature. I literally took a victory lap around my house upon completion. I HATED this book. It was boring and rather pointless. No one cares about the romantic struggles of a fake character. This is basically the chick flick of books. I honestly believe this is the worst book I've ever read. I encourage everyone with a Y chromosome to stay as far away from this book as possible."

No one cares about the romantic struggles of a fake character, sayeth Rebecca's Son. Please remove and destroy all works of an artistic nature created since the Renaissance, so as to avoid intimidating the Y chromosome.

15:

That one about the Bible is quite clearly a parody... I have to wonder about some of the others.

16:

That one about the Bible is quite clearly a parody...

Well d'oh!

Now, what could they possibly be a parody of?

(Old saying in these parts: "there's no smoke without a fire".)

17:

Also see
Lone Star Statements at TMN.

18:

I wonder though, how many of these reviewer are being intentionally funny.I'm thinking that a lot of them are just literate pranksters having some fun. I guess if you went and looked at the other reviews by some of these people you would be able to find out pretty easily.

19:

My all-time favorite review of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone:

* It's Tasteless, Sinister, and Sacreligious, but at least you've got your kid reading it.

Despite the fact that millions of kids have read this book, there is still an evil presence that lurks around this whole literary (scam, rip-off, out-of-the-devil's-lair)...hmm...tom-foolery. Here's the scam: Cough up fifteen dollars, give your kids what they want-witchcraft, try not to be convinced that what you're doing is wrong, and hope to God (remember God?)that your kid doesn't become the only person on the block who has demon issues.

What in the dictionary defines "tasteless"? Well, it means, "Not pleasing to any degree of interest or taste", well, I guess that pretty much sums it up for me, but I am not finished yet. I also hope that one day, it will sum it up for JK Rowling, Tolstoy with a ouji board, flying broom, and a wart on her nose, but lacking the gift of literature.

What do we think of when we here the word, "sinister"? Maybe a rapist, a villain, an evil ghost, a witch? Well, try and picture what this might be about: Witchcraft! Yes, there is magic. Yes, there is spells, potions, and monsters. Is this the kind of thing you want your child or yourself subjected to? Mephysterian fiction, is that your taste? Why don't you just save time: make a huge list of all your rules and morals, and then, have yourself and your child spit and mutilize them, I'm sure the devil will be pleased.

Sacrelige. A word that brings a temporary high to those who embrace it. This is the part when I mention the Bible. Those of you who have already reserved yourself a first class-front-row seat-ticket to Hell, might want to stop reading for now, you know, post-dramatic shock from the labotomy you did on yourself, so society can load your mind with all that crap. But for those of you whose attention I have captured, might want to remember the part when it spefically says,"DON'T WORSHIP THE DEVIL!" Yes, that's always a good one. Or, you could read the part where it says, "DO NOT PRACTICE WITCHCRAFT!" Both excellent choices, actually.

So, you've got you're kid reading it, so what? FIX IT, NOW. Also you might want to take yourself to church and drag your kids there, hopefully they'll learn that church is...well...not a drag.

Black magic. White magic. Monsters. Witches. Ghosts. Demons. Devil. What do all those things have in common? Witchcraft. Any proclaimed literary genious should know better then to poisen children's minds with Witchcraft. This whole story actually, doesn't deserve a rating.

20:

Going by the first sentence, I'm guessing the bible entry is a parody of Neil Stephenson's reviews.

21:

All-in-all most of the criticisms don't seem too far off. In many of these cases where the reviewers take issue with length and lack of cohesion in the plot they are not necessarily wrong, nor are the works they criticize beyond reproach

To argue that you were consummately engaged with Anna Karenina or The Naked and the Dead from start to finish seems a bit of a stretch.

22:

A majority of reviews of the breakthrough film "2001: A Space Odyssey" were negative. Then, and now, a vast army of critics hated and misunderstood Science Fiction. Hence the comparison of bad reviews of canonical Classics is a useful calibration of Sturgeon's Law.

That's Another Fine Mess - How to Read the Bible, By: Rev. Daniel Schultz
... As in many anthologies, the Bible contains a wide range of genres: songs, stories, history, science, law, poetry, politics, humor, letters and theory. There's even some horror and spy stories!..."

I can imagine someone saying "hey, I read this blurb, bought the book, and boy was I disappointed. The songs suck -- and there's no CD or MP3s or anything, the science is wrong (creation in 7 days? How long was a day?), and there was not enough of the horror stories and spy stories. Okay, some giants, some witches, but not as cool as Neil Gaiman or even Ray Bradbury. And the spy stories? Puhleeze. Closest was in the 2-part Samuel story, with Jonathan and his homies climbing a cliff the night before battle to check out the order of battle of the Philistines, and Jonathan being fired by his king, the father, Saul, for disobeying orders, so his buddy David gets the Crown Prince job? This was so feeble, compared to James Bond. Or even Our Man Flint, or Austin Powers. OMG, how about a mash-up of spy stories AND horror? Like the secret service against demons, or James Bond against creatures from another dimension, or something? Maybe written by one of those geek guys of that stuff that came after cyberpunk. Now THAT's a bible I'd want to download."

I can't find the famously damned with faint praise first review of Bob Dylan in The New York Times, that helpfully suggests that he might have a future as a harmonica player.

23:

I never did like Romeo and Juliet; it was an idiot plot, in that there'd have been no plot if everybody involved hadn't been an idiot.

I don't do well with mythology, either; I don't find the characters believable.

24:

A writer, on first encountering the considered opinions of a critic, is most like to be startled by what discoveries have been mmade in his work. He is a little like the householder learning of the ground under his feet, and suffereing the revelations of what is the foundation on which his substantial investmment stands. Yes the critic himself is a writer, whose woprds are as well-founded as those he writes of. Moreover, when he writes of an author from a different time and place, he builds a lofty bridge, one end set on his own precarious ground, while the other gropes for solid footings.

Some critics, at least, have attempted some survey, and have plotted some map. "Here," they say, "Stands Airstrip One, aligned with these prevailing winds. And there Yossarian flies, tossed by storms and bound by the instructions of faceless men for who the world is mere words."

Such critics build a web, from book to book, and on their fragile structures set up lights.

But there are others, less crafty, who reveal more of themselves than of anything they claim to write of. And this is a world in which their words can be published. There is no more significance in their sound and fury than in any other tale told by an idiot. They speak, and so may any man, but who listens?


25:

Probably not a prescription for a cheerful morning to check out the reviews of The Turner Diaries or Mein Kampf, I suppose.

26:

My favorite, from the BRAVE NEW WORLD review:

"He was writing about something that could never happen to our society."

Does this comment indicate that

A) Clueless readers think all books should be "non-fiction", and dislike fiction in general?

B) Clueless readers are terrified of thought experiments and what-if scenarios?

C) Clueless readers are thin-skinned about the flaws of their own societies, and see every satire as an attack on their own Way Of Life?

D) Clueless readers prefer watching Nancy Grace to reading books?

:-S

27:

E) Clueless readers don't realize that half of Brave New World is already a reality.

28:

Charles Stross writes: "(Where is Tom Lehrer in my hour of need?)"

The good news is that Henry Kissinger hasn't outlived him yet.

Professor Lehrer is still listed in the banana slug's directory as a faculty lecturer. His music is finally available in a boxed set of CD's now— just in time for the format to die an ignoble death, so buy it and rip it now while you still legally can.

29:

Well, if they are not writing reviews on classic, Amazon readers like to review something as mundane as:
http://www.amazon.com/Tuscan-Whole-Milk-Gallon-128/dp/B00032G1S0/ref=pd_sxp_f_pt/104-0072133-6808737

You do wonder how much time these people have..

30:

What you say about a book is largely a reflection on you, not the book, and that extends to all art.

31:

Catch-22
3 of 13 people found the following review helpful:

Interesting in a bad way, you might say., March 22, 2006
Reviewer: Janet M Hanson (Salina, KS USA) - See all my reviews

I am using my mom's account and so this review is by me, not my mom.

I read this book for a book project. I must say that I was misled by the short description of the book that said that it was "full of witty humor". This book makes very little sense. The order of events is screwed up to the point that I was strongly tempted to rip out the pages and put them in some kind of a rational order. The "humor" in the book is really not that funny to be honest. The rare moments of true comedy were so scarce as to not be able to justify this books existence. Any morals or "big ideas" that you were supposed to get out of reading this book are lost in the nonsensical ramblings that I guess were supposed to be the plot. I gave this book a star rating because I was required to. Actually, I have mixed feelings about its contents and can't decide on a good rating. I guess the absurdity of the book could be a comparison to the absurdity of war.

32:

Nothing like posting your ignorance online, is there???

33:

I think a fair number of these comments could have come from students like mine (at-risk adolescents). These are people who never quite get the hang of fiction. I think that because fictional narrative has a voice that is clearly coming from a particular person, they think that everything that happens in the book is endorsed by the writer. They can watch a movie with the same events and get into it. Or not, but they don't hold the movie maker responsible, and they can distinguish it from fact more easily. This may be because they are more conversant with the story-telling language of film, or it may be because they are more visually-oriented in the first place.

34:

Charlie: I think that last from "jack" is comment spam.

35:

Lucy, how many of the gags in Animaniacs would they get?

Not zero: as I recall there's a whole mix of references in those, from recent to movie classics. And it's not just a book/film difference. What I'm not sure is how much might be ignorance--not knowing the work being referenced--and how much might be an inability to make a connection.

36:

That Charles Dickens review "if you don't like reading books with way too much detail than don't buy this book" is a pretty good review of Dickens' work though. Tedious wordy bugger that he is.

37:

Clifton: it was spam, I nuked it. (It's pretty rare for the pink stuff to get through ...)

38:

I think people can have some problems with older classic works if they don't understand the context of the times the book was written in. I love Romeo and Juliet, but if you're looking at it from a modern stand point you pretty much have to wonder why they don't just tell their parents to fuck off and move out on their own. Or else get over themselves and find someone else.

39:

I think the saddest part of any of these "reviews" are those who are attempting to seem bright, or capable of even understanding that which they are reviewing...and then can't spell simple one-syllable words.
How much weight can someone's opinion on ANY literature hold when that same person can't spell words like "skipped", "own", "create", or "bore?"

This was all just sad. :-(

40:

It's one thing to be in high school and be unprepared to handle historical context, but then there are these kinds of reviews (this one by "A reader" regarding Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_):

"The innocence of children is routinely destroyed in American classrooms with books like this. The fact that imperialism (although a lot of colonialism brought many good things to various cultures also) and evil people exist in all cultures is true. But books like this seem to promote the idea that evil is somehow European. The incredible negative focus in classrooms has devastated America as well as Europe. It is just part of more than a century of self destructive western writings beginning wih Karl Marx. Upton Sinclair wrote the Jungle as part of a self admitted promotion of Socialism. Unfortunately, Heart of Darkness is just another in a long line of books that promote self hate, or bitterness and rage, and event anti western sentiment that even people such as Stalin or the current terrorists use as motivation to kill "evil western imperialists." Ironically Communist countries use this literature to teach hatred of the west. And here in the U.S. this literature is forced on American youth by the left wing. But also this type of literature is used by Christian and conservative schools. The destruction of western youth is coming from all sides. And I have seen many statements frm young people that their self mutilation and horrible self image stems from 12 years of chronic darkness taught to them by a decrepit school system that thrives on darkness. Heart of Darkness is just dark."

41:

It's sadly not uncommon. My mother read Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin and, when I asked her why she was reading a sorta-kinda SF novel when she doesn't like SF, admitted she skipped over the skiffy bits.

42:

...and the inevitable, somebody-had-to-say-it pun for the above reviewer is...

"Brain Of Darkness".
;-P

43:

A Reader's Bill of Rights:

1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes

-Daniel Pennac

44:

I can't be the only one who thought to look for idiotic/illiterate/uninformed reviews of Charlie's books, can I?

For "The Clan Corporate": "I am not going to put in a spoiler but this book ruins the series. The first two books are great, I couldn't put them down. On the other hand this one was so bad that I was forced to skip ahead. All the sudden our heroin started acting stupidly. She freaked out over something for no reason. It seemed that she became so much of a jerk the even the author couldn't stand her so he started focusing on other characters. It seems that the author believed that the series would make him rich if he could keep the series going so he trashes the whole concept of the first two books to do it. The first two books were great but this one is so much of a disappointment that I would advise people not to start the series."

Apparently, Mr. Stross, you have a heroin problem.

45:

I'd have to agree with at least some of these, if you consider the personal perspective.
Many American teenagers are not given any historical context with which to then use as a sort of lens to understand these books. Unless you understood the Enlightenment, would Pope's Essay on Man really make sense? Or would it be some of the most exhausting and terrible use of the heroic couplet imagineable? And there's so much subtextual meaning in Shakespeare that not only is it a struggle for a beginning literary student just to understand it, but one always has the feeling of not being aware of certain plot events.

46:

Misguided opinions and dreadful spelling apart, I will defend to the death the right of anyone to point out the tediousness of Moby Dick. Dreadful nonsense.

47:

Lucy, how many of the gags in Animaniacs would they get?

Dave, one of the ways I sold The Odyssey is by asking "Does it ever happen to you that you're in the movie theater and everybody starts laughing, and you do too, but you're laughing because everyone else is and you really don't know what's so funny about it? When you study literature in high school, you get the jokes."

They all said it happened to them. Of course the other thing I said was:"Sex, violence, monsters . . . it's got everything."

48:

there's so much subtextual meaning in Shakespeare that not only is it a struggle for a beginning literary student just to understand it, but one always has the feeling of not being aware of certain plot events.


It's this attitude towards Shakespeare that makes the work inaccessible -- and it's wrong. There are 400 years of culture and language change to deal with, yes. There are lots of references that don't mean the same thing, if anything, to the modern audience. But: Shakespeare is lowbrow entertainment at its core. It's got slapstick, and screwball comedy, and thriller plots, and soap opera characters.

It's also untrue, in the schools in which I have taught and in the schools in which I have had children, that no historical context is given for these things. Maybe some schools don't do it, but I've never met one.

49:

The sad coincidence is that I just came out of a philosophy of technology class in which I was arguing in the minority against a majority of students declaring that declining readership and general literacy in Generation Y are a "media myth".

I found these two utterly golden:

Journey to the West
"chinese classic?, September 25, 2002
Reviewer: A reader
If this is a classic, then I am Buddha. A complete waste of money. very difficult to read with a revolving theme ( you know whats going to happen a long time before it does! ). I would advise anybody thinking of buying this to browse through it first. The quality of the print is also very bad. Sorry to put down a book so badly, but it is the worst book i have ever bought and everyone I have let it to, returns it within a couple of days. You have been warned."

Shadow of the Torturer
"Rambling and incoherent, September 27, 2003
Reviewer: "apriladam93" (Bedford, tx United States) - See all my reviews
I have never been of the opinion that any book could be considered truly BAD until I read the first book of this series! On multiple occasions this book started to develop one point or another only to change direction never to return. So much was left unfinished in this story with its random changes of direction and useless description of pointless objects and abstract concepts that I honestly could not keep reading. On several occasions I had to put the book away until I was bored enough to go back to it. Usually I will read a book from cover to cover in one or two sittings with breaks only long enough to let my eyes unblur. The only thing blurring my eyes while reading this book were the tears of pain! To make it more difficult the author felt the need to create half of the vacabulary used in this story and fish the other half out of unused portions of his thesaurus. I purchased a hardcover version of the first three books all bound together and forced myself to read the first book...as painful as that was. It ended as randomly as it progressed. I suspect this was to leave me in suspense, waiting to read the next book. Unfortunately the second book started in on yet another story all together. I never made it to the second chapter. If random unfinished thoughts, shallow character development, indecipherable vocabulary, and a weak plot appeal to you as a reader then this is the book for you! However, it is my personal opinion that your time might be better spent reading a book by authors like Glen Cook, Michael Stackpole, or Terry Pratchett. As for my unfinished copy of The Book of the New Sun....I suppose I could always use it to replace a missing leg on my couch. For this one useful function I give one star!"

50:

There's a distinction between being intelligent and being articulate. We writerly types and other word-pushers tend to forget this.

Anyway, I'm off to World Fantasy Con for the next week, noshing at publisher's expense and other perks of the trade. See y'all!

51:

Perhaps we have all forgotten the greatest review ever made? The Story About Ping

52:

Oh, yes... spend some time in Education and you'll see any number of articulate people who have nothing intelligent to say. :)

53:

I like this one on Catch-22

Reviewer: M.Besselink (Purmerend, The Netherlands)

"I always wanted to read Catch 22 because it was a famous book (and of course the term was used in a Metallica song). I began reading it three times but after 50 pages or so, I always lost interest. I never could discover a story and the many dialogues and events are strange, to say the least. Someone once told me it is a great book after page 100 but I never got that far. So I can only say: don't even try reading Catch 22', read '1984' by George Orwell and listen to Metallica."

54:

Jonathon said,

A majority of reviews of the breakthrough film "2001: A Space Odyssey" were negative. Then, and now, a vast army of critics hated and misunderstood Science Fiction. Hence the comparison of bad reviews of canonical Classics is a useful calibration of Sturgeon's Law.

The capper on this joke is that all but one of them (Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice IIRC) recanted after a few months of steady box office showed that no one outside the critic industry agreed with them. Some of them were rather sullen about it, but they recanted.

55:

Jamie, I wish I could be around in fifty years to read some person of youth's take on Metallica...

Lucy Kemnitzer, Exactly how many schools have you had children at? Is there a reason you don't have them in hospitals or at home like most women? (Shakespeare, I tell you he didn't know from lowbrow and slapstick ;-))

56:

Sure, it's a bit of a shock to see what regular people have to say about literature, especially when it's so honest, transparent, and non-academic. I doubt that many of them wil feel pressured to "recant" based on the success of the work; indeed, many of them lambaste works whose previous success would have us think them beyond reproof.
I'm an English teacher myself, and God forbid I not love everything in the canon. If you want to read Moby Dick, don't let me stop you. But don't expect it to be adored by a room full of 30 teenagers "discussing" it for a half hour a day.

57:

One of the problems I have is one mentioned above : the reader stupidly assumes the author is approving and condoning everything that happens in the book. I'm writing an ongoing, episodic, comedic Viking story; I get told, and I quote : "It's harmful to women, and it glorifies rape and violence". I suppose I'll have to write a story about politically-correct Vikings...sigh. How a piece of fiction (in which there isn't actually a single female character, yet, in which no-one has died, yet, in which there has been no male-female rape, yet, etc.) can be "harmful to women" I'm not sure. Paper cuts, perhaps - but if they want to print it out to read that's their problem. I was also told it was "too vivid". Charlie, Stirling, is that a crime a writer can actually be accused of?

58:

I found this on Amazon, many years ago:

"I think the book Alice in Wonderland is a very good book. While it can be confusing at times, it makes you wonder. For example, when they were talking to the turtle, it didn't make very much sense. Also, the trial over the pastries, it was very idiotic, and if that trial happened today it would get thrown out. Lastly, at the hare and mad hatter's on going tea party, it was very senseless. The author's use of language was very unlike our language today. For example, when she said so many times the words, "shot up", it sounds English or something. The book has this tone a lot throughout it. Maybe the author has English back round. But it was in very easy to understand language, accept for the times people were talking non-sense. The main character is Alice. At sometimes she can seem clueless, and go on rambling like while talking with the turtle. She even pointed it out her-self. A lot of her decisions during the book make no sense. Like to just walk off with that little pig at the Duchess' house. And why would she follow the rabbit to an unknown land to begin with. There was many times where she confused me sometimes. Like when she talked with the caterpillar and said she wasn't the person she started as at the beginning of the day. One thing of the book I did not understand was the theme. In fact I did not see a theme. The only thing close to a theme was a girl trapped in an unusual world, with no way out. One other thing I didn't see in the book was a plot. The entire book was was a girl going with the flow and seeing where the adventure took her. The cat that kept disappearing and appearing even asked her why did she need directions to somewhere, if she didn't know where she was going. In my opinion this book had no effectiveness. It also had no meaning. It had no moral, and nothing to learn from it. So I think the book was very pointless, and just something to read for fun.'"

What makes it art for me is "if that trial happened today it would get thrown out" and "Maybe the author has English back round".

59:

Colin: the first law of writing is that Readers Are Stupid (that is: in the aggregate, if you take a big enough sample of them, you will find gems of stupidity, such as the quotes above). The second law of writing is that a Writer who Argues with Critics is Stupid. You need to grow a thicker skin, basically. (This doesn't mean you should ignore criticism, exactly, but you need to develop a finely tuned critical bullshit detector and ignore the critcisms that are plainly idiotic. Like being told your writing is bad because it's "too vivid".)

A large proportion of the people around us have never learned to understand the concept of fiction. I suppose it shouldn't surprise us -- classical mythology and biblical stories tended to assert the authenticity of the original events, subsequent stories and fictions were constructed as "tall stories", extended and exaggerated burlesques of something that happened to the narrator, rather than as overt fiction -- but people who're not sufficiently exposed to the idea of fiction don't really get it. We see it with TV soap stars who get lambasted for the behaviour of their characters by members of the public; and we see it with readers who don't understand what they're looking at.

And then we get to deal with a whole bunch of lesser comprehension problems. Many readers who kinda-sorta understand the existence of made-up-stuff (fiction) nevertheless can't understand that the opinions expressed by the characters may not be the opinions of the author. (The idea of the author creating a sock-puppet enemy in order to publicly administer a wedgie hasn't occurred to them, although they might get it if you put it in such blunt terms.) Then there are the readers whose grasp of narrative structure has been trained by visual media to expect story uber alles; they don't get any of the other, more abstract literary attributes, so that something like the review of Gene Wolfe's "Shadow of the Torturer" (above) gets written. Finally, you get readers who can't tell when something is a narrative to be taken literally, or a metaphor for something larger -- be it a theme the writer is exploring, or a dissection of a certain type of character by way of an unreliable narrator, or whatever.

I think at each step on this ladder you can probably discard 20% of your readership. And yes, I am bloody bitter: I've left easter eggs in some novels that nobody has ever button-holed me about. Sigh ...

60:

Ben: you just made my morning!

61:

Some readers are very, very stupid. I used to know a fellow-student who was also into SF, but had a somewhat more right-wing view of it. For example, he reckoned that Starship Troopers was unquestionably Heinlein's finest novel. As an experiment, I lent him The Forever War, which he enjoyed greatly and returned with the comment "I liked the nova bombs!" He hadn't even noticed anything wooshing over his head...


62:

Colin: good luck trying to write a story/novel about politically correct Vikings!

"Olaf Bloodaxe raised his arm and said: 'By Odin's eye-socket, this hand shall crush the skulls of our civilized European brothers and sister nevermore. Let us pay tribute to Freya and ponder the ways of peaceful agriculture!'"
(From VIKING WUSSIES, to be released in 2007.)
;-P

63:

What kills me about that Alice in Wonderland review is that the reviewer is so close to actually capturing something but doesn't even realize it. You can see the lead-up to a good, deep thought, but then it just stays surface and is glossed over and dismissed, like the part about Alice telling the caterpillar that she is a different person than she was at the beginning of the day or the cat asking her why she needed directions to somewhere if she didn't know where she was going. Also, the part about the "English back round"...sorry, I can't keep a straight face. That part was just dumb. But the others had potential.

64:

I think a review should tell you what sort of book it is to give you some idea of whether you want to read it or not (subtly different to what a critic does which is so aptly described by Dave Bell). All the ones complaining about length, dullness etc. are actually proper reviews, even if they aren't reading the same book as I am. Still, it's where the review gives away more about the reviewer than the book that make amazon reviews truely fascinating.

Since I'm currently reading Crime and Punishment I had a quick look for that. Sadly, almost all the reviews seemed to be reading the same book I was but there were a couple of intresting comments:


It is a crime that I was punished by this wordy tripe!

After reading this indulgent garbage I had to bore a hole in my head with my 7v Black and Decker cordless drill. This trefening technique will be of use to you should you make the fool hearty decision to read C n'P.

----

Lessons this book teaches us: "You are not superiour to other people, do not kill other people, God is the answer to all your problems"

Good. now let's go after some teletabbies.

65:

I've been doing a little digging. to settle a question that had occurred to me. The Victorian magazine "All The Year Round", a weekly edited by Charles Dickens in which some of his novels were first published as serials, had a circulation of about 100,000. At that time, the population of England passed the 20 million mark

Analog is apparently running at around 33,000.

Readers' Digest: 11 million (but is that a US-only figure?)

Playboy: 3 million.

Current UK population is 60 million, and current US is 295 million.

So Charles Dickens was being bought by about 0.4% of the population (making some allowance for Ireland and Scotland), compared to 1% for a piece of fiction in Playboy, and 3.7% for Reader's Digest.

So what am I getting at? Well, it seems to me that the Victorian idea of a wildly popular author was a bit different to ours. For one thing, while there was a lot of teaching in the England of his time, his career preceded the 1870 Education Act which really started universal education.

And, while ASF is selling to a tiny proportion of the US population, it's a third of the magazine readership that Dickens got, which is hardly trivial.

So there's Dickens, writing for an educated middle class imbued with Christian values, and he is writing with at least some campaigning intent.

How unlike the life of our own dear author, but are his numbers so out of reach?

66:

Dickens did not have to compete with TV... but there was music hall (a.k.a. vaudeville) entertainment for the masses, and theater for the upper and middle classes.

Newspapers ran serials in those days, and people read mass-produced "penny dreadfuls", the precursors to the pulp-magazines. The origins of 20th-century SF are probably more related to the "penny dreadfuls" than to Dickens (no offense intended).

Are there any sales figures for the "trashier" magazines and books in the 19th century?

Wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_dreadfuls

67:

What seems to be lacking, even from some of the readers commenting here, is the simple appreciation that what works for one reader does not work for everyone. I loved most Dickens, with Tale of Two Cities being a favorite, had a terrible time plodding through Moby Dick, and have never been able to finish any Jane Austen or Dostoevsky. I do not therefore conclude that Melville, Austen, or Dostoevsky are terrible writers or that their books are awful; I know people who equally do read them for sheer pleasure.

Why is it so hard to understand that tastes differ? Oh that's right, we're dealing with people. Never mind.

68:

I can't seriously be the only person who couldn't stand reading more than 20 pages of Heart of Darkness in High School.

69:

I liked Heart of Darkness, but once discussed the book with a teen girl in a court waiting room who hated it. She was cute though, so I humored her.

70:

Problem must be that I'm a girl...or long celtic fantasy novels were way more interesting at the time.

71:

"She was cute though, so I humored her."

First time I've heard it called that.

Cheers!

Jim

72:

I can't seriously be the only person who couldn't stand reading more than 20 pages of Heart of Darkness in High School.

I seriously doubt it.

My experience with Conrad and many of the others (except D.H. Lawrence) who wrote in the early 1900's was that the books occupied a different mental geography as I got older. Dickens, I could read at nine. I probably didn't get everything that was in those books at nine, and I admit I skimmed the descriptions of rain and fog and, well, rain and fog, ad infinitum. I could read Jane Eyre at nine (I think because I could reader-identify with the child Jane). I -couldn't stand- Lawrence at nine. Unfortunately, Lawrence did not, for me, improve with age (and it gave me odd ideas about sex -- as in why would anyone bother with anything so boring).

Some of the books that are "dull and impenetrable" rely to some extent on life experience to evoke images from literary nuance; where the experience is lacking, the book is impenetrable, and at best makes no sense.

73:

Colin: I think A.R.Yngve is on the right track but I'd keep it bloody while at the same time trying to make it P.C.:

"Olaf Bloodaxe--the irony of whose name never failed to escape him--raised his well used war club that bashed, but rarely made others bleed, high over his head. As he fought for his life no thoughts of the different customs and regional traditions went through his mind, for he was born into a culture that eschewed the practices of other's beliefs. Olaf strode into battle with the self confidence that can only come to a man who has overcome his esteem issues through direct confrontation, that for his culture meant bloody battle, sometimes to fatal intentions and endings.

But if Olaf never wondered at these things it was not as if he couldn't lay the cause to just his culturally biased perceptions, Olaf had been abused, as many young men of his generation were, by his father who only wanted Olaf to achieve even greater bloody success than his ancestors. As his club caved in the skull of another Euopean southlander the only thought to roll through his mind was, "bring on the next!"

The tides of blood were great that night beneath the feet of Olaf and his brothers, with whom he shared a special bond; a growing bond of love and care that only comes to those who share in lifes joys, sorrows, and also its banality; ecstacy and ennui: brothers for life."

74:

Charlie, A.R., and Drstevew, thanks for the comments and the excellent satire. I do have a small number of reviewers who loved it so far, so I'm encouraged enough to continue with the rewrite I've been planning. The irony of Drstevew's use of the phrase "brothers for life" is interesting - I'm using plenty of male-male, um, bonding episodes. The initial quest concerns raiding Ireland for virgin sheep, for sale as "slightly used" back in Norway. The main character is also pursued, on occasion, by a sexually aggressive lemming. Hmmm - I begin to see why 85% of the reviews were negative. I'm writing for a very limited audience, but I'm having great fun. Thanks for the encouragement.

75:

Charlie, merely because no-one's buttonholed you about a given Easter Egg is no reason to believe it's gone unnoticed. Some of us are shy retiring types, not given to brouhaha *ahem*.

76:

Bruce Cohen: Much the same thing happened to Bladerunner. Critics mostly hated the film, which heresy they recanted only when the rabid enthusiasm of audiences rubbed their noses in the obvious.

77:

I first read Brave New World at sixteen or so, in a supernally beautiful French translation [1], with footnotes pointing out the (many!) Shakespearean allusions throughout the book. It was somewhat of a shock to find out how much I didn't know, but after the initial bit of wounded pride (see age above) the footnotes turned into good friends.

That would be a natural use of hypertext, one would think, which definitely would repay multiple readings: the first pass to enjoy the story on its own merits, the second to follow the links and appreciate the connections. Might have to work on the UI a bit, maybe have a link on/off tab someplace to cut down on distraction, but that's a SMOP.

Even omitting that bit of technical help, with G**gle there's little reason to be stymied: the first third of Thomas Harris' Hannibal is a love note to the city of Florence, referencing bits of Renaissance history one might not know, but search engines find the appropriate pages quite neatly. It's not the same as being incredibly well read, of course, but still rather better than having references sail over one's head.

[1] C. L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories also benefit, by the way, rather as Poe's works do: French seems to convey decayed ambience better than English does, outside the works of Jack Vance - for him one imagines the Paris editions likely crumble to dust of their own volition.

78:

Popular fiction is popular because its readers feel it speaks to them, about their current reality (or some aspect of it, real or imagined).

The same goes for the style and idiom of the written material. Maybe Shakespeare's contemporaries didn't exactly speak like his characters, but the theater-going audience should have had no problems following what they actors said on stage. He wrote for his contemporaries, not the high-school students of today.

Instead of judging a book in abstract academic terms, you can judge it by the standards of its actual audience: How does a story and its themes, characters and style speak to the readers of today, this very moment?

Of course, today's reading audience may be more diverse
than you think. The person who has time to write a reader review for Amazon.com could be almost anyone, including:

A) A kid
B) A high-school student
C) A housewife
D) A retired old woman
E) A soldier stationed overseas
F) A retired old man
G) A bored mental patient readin in the hospital library
H) A rival author of any age
I) Your Mom

It's impossible to please that many different critics with a single book.

79:

These are parodies. I refuse to believe the alternative.

80:

This is just further evidence that the Internet is FAR TOO accessible.

81:

Review: The good soldier Svejk by Jaroslaw Hasek
Monday, May 24, 2004

Funny, but boring. That pretty much sums up Jaroslaw Hasek's Osudy dobreho vojáka Svejka za svetové války, or at least it's Finnish translation Kunnon sotamies Svejk maailmansodassa. I think it is called The good soldier Svejk (with various spellings) in English.

The book tells the story of how Svejk gets drafted to the Austria-Hungarian army during World War I and what happens to him during the war. The story is written as a political satire, and contains many funny twists. Svejk is a peculiar character, a simple-minded genius, and all sorts of funny things happen.

Actually, herein lies the problem: not all sorts of funny things happen, instead only a fairly limited set of funny things are repeated, with variations, and though they are funny in isolation, I got tired after about three hundred pages. With about 400 pages still to go, I quit.

This is, or so I'm told, a classic book. I can see why. It is long and it requires a great effort to finish it. If you go through a great effort to suffer for a long time, you are allowed to sneer at people who can't be bothered. That's the surest sign of classic art.

On the other hand, the good soldier's story isn't bad, if portioned in suitable pieces. Perhaps if you read about a chapter at a time once per year aloud to friends it would be hilarious.

(Due to character set problems, both experienced and anticipated, I have removed significant parts of some letters in this entry.)

American Studies
by Louis Menand.
review by E.A. Lombardi

"... Menand starts off his collection of essays by saying, 'The only reliable lesson the past teaches us is how locked we are in the present.' The past in literary history reminds us of the many threads in the stories we tell, probably because we tell the stories of our lives. Our experiences interweave through our fictional offering, and even our non-fiction ones, until it's hard to say what's 'real' and what's not."

"Menand writes, 'We want to play with yesterday's cards, but yesterday has already unraveled past reconstructing. Today is the only day we have.'"

82:

The Svejk review: Aaaaagh, make them stop! (The reviewers, that is.)

83:

After reading Francois' comment, I'm even more puzzled by the Alice in Wonderland review about having an English background. If I'm on the internet and speculating on an author's nationality or background, why not stick their name in a search engine? (Note: depending on which page you go to from the first page of google "Lewis Carroll nationality" you get the confusing choice of British or English).

It's not just the blurring of fiction and non-fiction that bothers me; it's the incuriousity about the issues within and surrounding the book and the confusion between what if and should as well. If someone finds a classic dull, longwinded, uninteresting or irrelevant, fair enough, and feel free to say so. If you're puzzled or confused by something, why not look it up, or find a group of people talking about it?

Slightly off topic, I find Shakespeare easy to read, but that's partly because my Mum comes from Stratford-on-Avon, and I was introduced to the plays on stage at an early age. (Definitely off topic: One thing I took away from the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet was how many of Shakespeare's plots are ruined if only they had mobile phones.)

85:

Charlie: I know a bunch of people who got the references of casting Grubor and Boursey in Singularity Sky, if that's one of the Easter Eggs you mentioned.

86:

Now check the reviews on this one. And be sure to get the point, what this book is all about. It just contains numbers, nothing more. But the reviews are brillant. And behold the useful ratings!

http://www.amazon.com/Million-Random-Digits-Normal-Deviates/dp/0833030477/sr=1-6/qid=1162511874/ref=sr_1_6/103-5762496-8919064?ie=UTF8&s=books

87:

It might just be me but I can't remember any time machine sequences in`The Naked And The Dead.' Although there is an absolutely cracking, and justly famous, naked and dead sequence in `The Time Machine...'

88:

Having read the Good Soldier Svejk in the original Penguin abridged version and the full more modern translation would have to say that in this case less is more...sorry!

Stories have to sustain a bang per buck level in whatever currency you set and it seems that certain authors having become popular become difficult to edit to an effective length either because the editors don't have enough clout relative to the writer or because the publishing house simply want more words to publish as part of the public will buy whatever an author writes regardless of quality.

I could name names, but you all know who I mean...

-- Andrew

89:

One thing to remember of about 19th century England is that not everyone could read on the level Dickens wrote to. Furthermore, his circulation was mainly London, not the country at large, so percentage of population reached would have to consider the population of just London, not all of Britain.

90:

Heather, that is part of the point I was groping for. The classics, while they might have an image of popularity ("Is Little Nell dead yet?"), didn't have the same mass market that modern media have.

And I'm not sure exactly what popularity measures. Plus there is the complexity of the modern markets. TV, for instance, is far more fragmented, so the raw audience figures for Doctor Who seem small compared to the 1960s.

What, perhaps, makes Shakespeare so strong, and yet so misleading in this context, is that it is drama. We have the actors interpreting the words. And there's a huge range: Branagh, or Olivier? A schoolgirl Titania squelching through a rain-soaked open-air performance, or King Lear transported to the black ash of Fujiyama?

91:

I think one part of what makes Shakespeare so strong is that from what little I've read of the theater in his age, audiences were drawn at times from the masses of the street, and at times from the royal court. Shakespeare - at his best - was writing to appeal simultaneously to the poor and illiterate of his time and the richest, wisest, and most powerful. Thus Bottom clowns, grabs his crotch, and bawls his way through Pyramus and Thisbe, while Theseus struggles to find some kind of justice for lovers and Oberon and Titania warily stretch towards reconciliation. With his best plays, you can always connect to some part of it on some level, and when you have even a modest education you begin appreciating parts of the plays on multiple levels.

It's worth keeping in mind also that Shakespeare has not always been so revered. As I recall, his plays were held in relatively low regard by critics during the 17th and much of the 18th centuries; it was the 19th century that saw him permanently enthroned. Taste is not universal.

92:

"John Atkins": post deleted for gratuitous advertising.

93:

Dave & Heather: I agree with what you're both saying.

I think the true lower class having any time at all for entertainment is a relatively modern phenomenon - mostly 20th century. I would guess the entertainment of the true lower classes in Dickens' London, in as much as they had any, would have been blue ruin (bad gin) and perhaps laudanum if they could scrape the money together for it. If you've just worked 12+ hours of hard physical labor and are fortunate enough to have a few pence left over after buying food for the family, you don't want your mind challenged with a good read, you want your mind obliterated.

Nowadays even most of the poorest have significant leisure time and while we still have cheap booze, we have progressed to a choice of cable TV, meth, or crack to take the place of the laudanum. It's hard to make any meaningful comparison between the role of any entertainment medium today and over 100 years ago.

94:

I should point out that spoof Amazon.com reviews are something of an Internet sport. Viz this RAND publication, A Million Random Digits with Normal Deviates, which is criticised among other things as "predictable".

95:

Dave Bell:

"So Charles Dickens was being bought by about 0.4% of the population (making some allowance for Ireland and Scotland), compared to 1% for a piece of fiction in Playboy, and 3.7% for Reader's Digest."

Bought>read. How many people read each copy of Playboy or RD today, compared to how many read each copy of "All The Year Round" in Victorian times? Families were bigger. People probably kept magazines around more, and passed them around and along more.

Of the literate population, I'd guess more of them actually read the articles than any particular article in Playboy or Reader's Digest. And I'd also guess that a lot of illiterate people heard it read by a literate family member.

(And...Playboy? Despite the protestations, not everyone reads it for the articles.)

96:

Oops, realized I didn't add the following gem of a review of the Bulgakov classic, _The Master and Margarita_, combining paranoia and literal-mindedness:

Bulgakov is doing his time now...., May 4, 2001
Reviewer: Colton Richards (Milwaukee, WI) - See all my reviews
Everyone, let's forget about the analogies to Stalinist Russia and all the other subterfuges used to acclaim a book that is nothing more than a devil-worshipping treatise. I simply dont understand how people can give accolades to this novel when it shows innocent people being driven mad, and even has a physically sickening scene of satan rejoicing at the violent and gruesome death of a young child: "He was too young to have sinned." What is that? What does it even mean? I can understand all the clever references Bulgakov makes to Stalinist "purgings" and the like, but what his book boils down to, quite simply, is that Christianity is for the weak and insane, whilst satanism is for the strong and admirable. But how admirable does Woland (aka the evil one) show himself to be when he takes joy in a child's death? Oh, and I really dont believe the Gospel NEEDED to be retold; especially from the viewpoint of one who obviously doesnt believe. The fat old Russian was simply fooling around, dabbling recklessly in witchcraft, and doing all he could to disparage the name of our Lord. I wonder why no one here has noticed the blatant attack on Christianity this book represents. The truth is, however, this book, though trying desperately to invert the Faustian myth, has only succeeded in further establishing it: the devil can only ever be a deceiver, and destroyer, a loathsome creature who hates mankind...such is Woland's character.
Im not here to push my religious views, and I know that my one star stance on this pernicious piece of literature will get me lots of "NO"s as to whether this was helpful (if it is even published). But I felt I had to get this out there, because it appears so many people are missing the essential point of Bulgakov's "classic": to besmirch the Church and anything holy because he, through his black witch wife, was messed up in the occult. But given all the praise heaped on this book, I think I should be allowed to differ, and should be given voice among all these amazon posts.
No matter what the outcome, however, Bulgakov and the Mrs. are doing their time. Justifiably so.

97:

JoAnne is right; the way people "consume" media can vary considerably with the income situation (read: poverty) of the readership. (I've heard from China that a single issue of the magazine SF WORLD is often shared by many students, which means the actual readership is several times bigger than the circulation.)

James B. Twitchell, who researches popular culture, mentions that the cheap "penny dreadfuls" in 19th-century England were read over and over until they literally fell apart -- which explains why so few copies have survived.

98:

I just found these reviews of Homer's aptly-named "Illiad" - that Homer, he was just one sick puppy, if you know what I mean:

"hard version":
this book was ok because of the graphic violence, and because of the killing, the greek gods and the trojan war, most of this book is hard to understand and personally i thought it was very hard to read, my teacher said it was hard for me to understand because i got the hardest version of the book, to understand the book you have to pay attention through the beggining.

"One sick puppy":
The Illiad was one of the hardest books that I had to read all year. It consisted of words that i have never heard, much less being able to pronounce them. The story line was an adventures one, but was hard to follow as i read since it was in a poem format. The scenes of death were preety interesting. The way Homer tells you specifically how each character dies is cool, but also a little disturbing. I encourage people who are into the whole greek mythology to get into this book. As for me, I don't ever want to read this book again.

99:

Hello Alex, thank you for copying my posting... :-) Also a special form of review... :-)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 31, 2006 11:05 AM.

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