Editorial Notebook

Everything I Hate About My Favorites

Of the many novels I’ve read over my lifetime, a fair few have made an impact on my life. From classics such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to more modern texts such as Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, works of literature have significantly changed the way I view the world around me. And yet, those I refer to as my favorites are also home to my biggest pet peeves in the world of writing.

The first is The Great Gatsby: an all time classic, and an almost requirement of high school English curricula. The story encompasses Jay Gatsby and his pursuit of Daisy Buchanan, someone he has waited for for five years. In a sense, his hope is empowering because it gives hope to the readers who can relate. Then again, I’ve always believed that hope is only valid to a reasonable extent. The fact that Daisy is married to Tom Buchanan and her and Gatsby’s drastically different social backgrounds lead me to personally be less sympathetic towards Gatsby’s insistent pursuit. Set in the 1920s, there is also this notion of the American Dream, which encircles this idea of chasing something unattainable. In a sense, this perfectly describes Gatsby and Daisy. But throughout this “American Dream,” there is also the advertising aspect of it: the notion that people at the time were led to believe America held the dream they desired. So, by extension, this comparison between the advertisement of the American Dream and Daisy being Gatsby’s dream implies that Daisy is an advertisement of sorts: a gateway into the richer classes of America to add to Gatsby’s personally gained wealth. This novel is still prevalent today, and deservedly so in my opinion. But its portrayal of the female characters is not something that I think I can ever support, despite those standards’ relevance in their era.

Next, one of my favorite texts is Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. From the first time I read this novel, I could tell its well-told plot and structure were worthy of its fame. However, to me the most important things in a piece of writing are the title, the opening line, and the closing line. And though this novel’s opening line is timeless, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”, in my opinion it is one that works better separate from its novel.

I’ve always loved how the plot of Bronte’s Jane Eyre moves from one setting to another, covering the span of Jane’s life and the many struggles she encounters. Writing-wise, it’s one of my favorites; plot-wise, Bronte had me hooked until the ending. Jane’s compulsion to come back to Rochester after everything he put her through reinforces the sexist standards of this era. It reiterates the idea that men are justified in lying to women, as Rochester did when he proposed to Jane and almost married her while neglecting to inform her that he already had a wife, and women simply forgive them and they live happily ever after in the end.

Delia Owens’ Where The Crawdads Sing is what I have notoriously referred to as my favorite novel of all time. And to be completely honest, my main issue with this book is that the ending is not a happy one. I have always appreciated both positive and negative endings in books and movies and loved to see how each scenario was appropriate for its accompanying plot. However, reading this novel, I’ve always believed that its ending should have been a happy one. With the murder mystery reveal at the end and all the hardships the protagonist Kya endures over the course of the novel, I think that her happy ending was well earned. I suppose she did get her happy ending in the context of the plot, but for the reader, the novel concludes with her death, which for me was the saddest moment of the entire novel.

Ishiguro’s Klara and The Sun was a recent find and a cool twist compared to the genres I tend to prefer. The author’s choice to tell this sci-fi novel from the robot’s perspective enhances the plot and emphasizes the characters of the humans within the text. Specifically, the protagonist Josie is someone that I’ve always disliked. Her entitled attitude throughout the plot aligns with the class of rich children who can afford to buy the sentient robots called “artificial friends,” or AFs. In a sense, this entitlement was probably intentional to emphasize the vast differences between the AFs and humans in the text. But in the end, the narrating AF, Klara, doesn’t even get a happy ending. After everything she sacrifices for Josie and all the other humans she encounters on her journey, she is disposed of, forgotten like all her peers in the end.

Finally, Malinda Lo’s Last Night At The Telegraph Club is a contemporary historical fiction novel about a lesbian couple forced to meet in secret in the 1900s. From the plot of the writing style, I’ve enjoyed this book every time I’ve read it. In fact, my main pet peeve with regard to this book is that it is the only one on this list which was not introduced to me in an English class. It, like many contemporary texts, encompasses values that have only recently become socially acceptable to talk about. However, the author's intent in looking at the presence of the LGBTQ+ community was to draw attention to its unknown presence in history. And this history, at least from my educational experiences, is not one that educators are either ready to or allowed to present in their classrooms.

In the end, both the novels and their authors predictably fail to meet the perfectionist expectations of their readers. In a sense, this just shows how constant perfectionist striving in western culture is an endless battle. No matter how long novels, or any piece of art, are worked on, they are always fraught with imperfections. Imperfections which, while strongly disliked by some, make them quite simply human. And being human is better than being perfect, anyway.