Worst Book I Can't Help But Love


Over the weekend, I was asked for my “worst book that you can’t help but love”, which is always a fun bookish question. ⁣

Readers can take such questions about “worst book” to mean books we love but we know are problematic (ahem, Jane Eyre), or to mean books that we know aren’t perfectly written but that we love anyway. ⁣

My answer to that version of the question is “Little Women” (or, one of my answers, rather). ⁣

Because, there is no denying that Little Women is a didactic novel. It is, in fact, literarily speaking, in the Didactic Genre. ⁣

Its purpose is to teach moral lessons, and that negatively impacts its dialogue, characterization, and plotting. ⁣

It is also extremely moralistic, with Alcott’s personal transcendentalism dripping off nearly every page. Linguistically, this cheapens and dilutes much of its construction.⁣

Critically speaking, the reader is told rather than shown what Alcott wanted to convey, and the way to “goodness” is reduced to behavioristic platitudes. ⁣

Statements like those above provoke some readers to proclaim “No, I LOVED Little Women.” ⁣

But, ones own affection for Little Women isn’t a rebuttal to its didactic writing and moralistic aims. ⁣

I articulated every one of these literary criticisms as one who loves Little Women. I’ve read it multiple times and although Marmee gets on my nerves more and every time (sorry, not sorry), and I’ll never forgive Alcott for…. Certain choices, my nostalgic affection remains intact. ⁣

As a reader, I love the story and (some of-ahem) the characters. ⁣

As a thinker and critic, I know that the book hasn’t maintained its popularity on the merit of its writing. ⁣

I can feel affection and also evaluate the quality of something simultaneously. ⁣

This is a vital skill for critical thinking (not just when it comes to books), and it is also the bedrock of literary criticism. ⁣

We don’t have to examine every book that we read as a critic, but if we truly want to be good readers, we *should* know how to think about books beyond “I liked it” or “I hated it”. ⁣

In order to be extremely good readers, we actually have to be more than readers… ⁣

Stay tuned for more on this topic.

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