“A man devoted to his ideals alone is a caterpillar caught in its cocoon.”
– Maurice Lapin, Manifesto of the Nth Generation
There are many things I dislike. It comes with the territory of having strong opinions. Some people say I dislike too many things, and that I should reconsider some of my deeper-held views. These people are probably wrong.
That being said, one cannot dislike a thing without reason — that’s disingenuous and inauthentic. I’m going to lay out the dislikes which come first — last — — first — in my thinkings, and reason out why they are disliked. Again, I do not intend these opinions to be the omega of criticism on the subject, nor is it an assault on the tastes of those who enjoy these works, as opinion is often mistaken for. They are my thoughts, straight and true, presented to be mended, improved, and made whole.
So. Let’s begin.
- Fantasy / Science Fiction
I’ll preface this criticism with the fact that I am an ardent fan of Doctor Who, a touchstone of the Sci-fi television genre. The general whimsy of the series, the character of the Doctor, the philosophy it espouses — they all draw the viewer in, and wrap them comfortably in Gallifreyan thread. That being said, Doctor Who proves an exception to the standard. I find no enjoyment in novelistic works of sci-fi or fantasy. Both genres rely heavily on world-building in order for the reader to understand the plot. The author must explain the particular scenario to the reader so that the plot may continue afterward — this is simply not good writing. Such a wide swath of world is condensed into a single book that the essence of a novel is lost in the details. A Mrs. Dalloway or a V. will give you minimal explanation (if that) as to what’s going on, but they slowly elaborate through the novel’s progression. This is what makes a great novel great — they will not hold the hands of their audience. This is not to imply that hand-holding is inherent in sci-fi and fantasy, but it is often used as a crutch to support the world around the characters. These genres will put the concepts before the people when it should be vice versa. I won’t deny the ambition inherent in fantasy and sci-fi works. I remember enjoying Ender’s Game during freshman year of high school, and a name by the man of Gene Wolfe keeps bubbling to the surface as a reportedly quality writer. I hope one day to be surprised, but here I wait.
- John Green and Young Adult books
Now, I might get some flack for this, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it: I like reading books. I’ll give you a moment to climb back in your chair.
There. Calm? Good. As someone who reads, I’m all too familiar with the phenomenon of Young Adult fiction. YA has become the most advertised, if not to say the most popular, genre in modern reading, spearheaded by John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Reading YA is not a crime in itself, as the genre doesn’t claim to be making deep artistic incursions — but only reading YA is deplorable. It is, by no standard, good. This is YA’s nature — a light, shallow form that younger people can pick up quickly, and perhaps facilitate an initial love of reading. Yet I keep finding people of my age defending YA as anything more than that, and better suited to their lifestyles than “that hard stuff.” I’ve had someone tell me that Stars was the most accurate depiction of a relationship with cancer she’d ever seen. Maybe it was for her, but a book made for younger audiences inherently cannot express deeper themes than mature literature (if you’re on a cancer kick, I’d recommend Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther’s account of his son’s death at the hands of brain cancer, and, though you’ll have to read the whole novel to get the context, the final chapter of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is well worth your time). Perhaps this large support for YA is a case of squeaky wheels getting oil. Those who devote their beings to the cause of YA will make their case loudly, and across ample channels. A simple work can be spread by a simple message. Part of its appeal comes from a loose concept of wanting kids to read, or as it’s often phrased, “at least they’re reading something,” a veiled excuse to stop paying attention. Kids who are getting into reading aren’t familiar with the best books out there, those that best describe man and his subtle tendencies. I’m not advocating we throw Infinite Jest-shape bricks at people, but surely we can move beyond YA into more mature, and thus more rewarding, works.
For further debate on the subject, I recommend this excellent article from The New Yorker.
Upstream Color is a 2013 film written and directed by Shane Carruth, most notable for his 2004 time-machine film Primer. I haven’t seen Primer, so I’ll reserve judgment on Carruth’s total output, and focus solely on UC.
The dialogue is sparse to the film’s detriment, the camera works tries to emulate Malick without the vision or aesthetic beauty, and the plot — which I won’t spoil here — is a romance disguised as a pseudo-philosophical inquiry. Again, UC seems to be more about the concept rather than the people, though it does make a genuine appeal to their shared misfortune and humanity. The film feels as though it’s trying its best to be “modern,” in the sense that it spends the better part of two hours doing nothing in particular. The point of UC, as I saw it, was to illustrate how people come together through a traumatic connection, but the way UC conveyed the idea was unnecessarily convoluted. I know other people highly enjoy the film, but it just doesn’t appeal to me.
- Not Liking The Catcher in the Rye
As with Upstream Color, this is more of a sticking point among friends. Disdain for Holden Caulfield is a phenomenon highly prevalent in our new generation, much like political apathy, or a successful Chris Pratt. The readers I’ve talked with have, on a startling scale, renounced Catcher and its protagonist as preachy, poorly-written drivel best suited for angsty freshman. This denotes a fundamental misunderstanding of the text, of Salinger as an artist, and of other individuals’ ability to cope with tragedy. Holden has lost his younger brother to a brutal struggle with pneumonia (a fact that many detractors gloss over), he’s trying to find some semblance of purpose only to be constantly rebutted by an uncaring world, he wants so desperately to be an adult, but can’t find authentic adults to look up to, and he knows that he is one of those phonies in life, hiding his shame under cynicism and disdain for other people. Catcher is an existential novel, a term which here means “a novel about apathetic whining.” Get over yourself, try and forget all the whining about Holden’s “whining,” and revel in one of the 20th century’s greatest writers.
Do these opinions make me better than you? No. My reading of Pynchon fills that demand. But they are my opinions, and just that.
Thank you, and goodnight.