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Who’s Afraid? Me

November 18th, 2017

If This is Consciousness, Knock me Out

I just finished Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. This is the second-to-last book in my painful slog through the Columbia College Literature Humanities Syllabus (as modified by yours truly).

I should have finished this book in ten days, but it took weeks. The reason is clear. I got so bored with Lit. Hum. books, I got to the point where I only read them in one room of the house, if you get my drift. It’s not a place where I spend a lot of time, so my pace was glacial.

I’m sure you don’t want to read Virginia Woolf, but just in case you’re insane, let me point out that this blog post contains spoilers. Not that it’s possible to spoil this book. That would be like ruining the intestinal flu.

There is a philosopher (i.e. person who has decided to waste his existence) named Ramsay. He has a wife named…I forgot her name. They have 8 kids. The wife is incredibly beautiful, even though the book starts when she is 50 and presumably fairly well stretched out and saggy in all respects (8 kids). They have a house on an island. For some reason, practically everyone they know hangs out at the house. It is not clear whether they help pay for groceries.

Ramsay is very selfish. He feels bad about his life, as he should, so from time to time he interrupts what his wife is doing so he can share his self-pity with her and get some sympathy. He says snotty things to people for no clear reason. Everyone always has to do what he wants to do.

Mrs. Ramsay is stupid. She spends her time pondering about things like the lengths of socks. She does not know what a square root is.

Mrs. Ramsay dies, and the house falls apart. Then Mr. Ramsay has it fixed. Some of the remaining members of the family (2 kids have died at this point, perhaps to avoid appearing in the second half of the book) go back to the house with their dad and some of the entourage. Mr. Ramsay and two of his kids make some peasants row them across the bay to a lighthouse.

The end.

I just saved you 8 dollars.

There is no plot. There are no characters. Everyone is pretty much the same. No one ever says anything funny or interesting. There are ZERO laughs in the book. There are no clever lines you will want to memorize or underline.

Why? Why does this book exist?

It astounds me that anyone could enjoy this book or think it worthy of publication, especially after reading good books. Think of 1984, Catch-22, or even The Catcher in the Rye. Read one of those, and then try to force your way through To the Lighthouse. The difference is day and night.

Is it affirmative action at work? “Come on, guys, we have to find a woman to publish. People are starting to talk.” Surely not. There are some decent female writers out there. Surely female talent is not so rare that the publication of Virginia Woolf’s meanderings is in any way justified.

I’m a smart guy. I’m not the problem here. If this book was good, I would have seen something in it. It’s just not. It’s horrendous.

Virginia Woolf was mentally ill, so maybe that explains the book’s badness. She put rocks in her pockets and walked out into a river to die. The book is packed with internal monologues, and it was written by a tortured individual who was borderline insane. Maybe it’s bad because people with Ms. Woolf’s type of mental illness have boring, chaotic inner narratives. Virginia Woolf may have assumed the rest of us thought the same way she did. A writer can’t connect unless he has something in common with the reader, and apart from breathing oxygen, I have nothing at all in common with Ms. Woolf. I have a sense of humor. I am smart. I like books with plots and characters. I like books that have themes. I could go on.

It’s sad that people encouraged her.

Am I wrong? Are most human beings this boring, inside? My inner monologues are highly entertaining and full of relatively intelligent notions. If I had Mrs. Ramsay’s inner voice, I’d have to smoke meth to stay awake.

James Joyce was also a stream-of-consciousness perpetrator who wrote inner monologues, and his were as boring as Woolf’s. Maybe this is how most people think. I don’t know. I’ve never been in anyone else’s head. Why would you write the boring thoughts of a boring person, especially if the person were fictitious? Wouldn’t it make more sense to write interesting thoughts? Just my take on the matter. But then I always wonder why manufacturers design ugly cars, when good-looking cars cost the same to produce.

The book isn’t all bad. It has the shining virtue of being shorter than other bad books Columbia has inflicted on its students. I took that into consideration when I chose to include it in my list. The Lit. Hum. syllabus varies from year to year, so I felt entitled to make changes.

I am finally free to move on to Lord of the Flies, which should be entertaining, if only because of the violence. Sad that it comes down to that. I doubt the book will teach me much about life. My understanding is that it’s about kids who commit atrocities on each other in the absence of adults. I know about that. I have an older sister.

I used to enjoy literature, but then I chose books that sounded good to me, not pretentious crap recommended by grey-souled academics who live in denial. The Lit. Hum. experience is almost enough to turn me off literature entirely. I do like Shakespeare, though, and there are a few other things I would like to re-read. St. Exupery. Dumas. Orwell, the secular prophet. I might even go through Ayn Rand’s comic-book novels again before I die. Virginia Woolf…no. It is a complete waste of effort.

If you’re buying presents for friends who like to read, scratch Ms. Woolf off the list. Her work is too appallingly dull even for regifting.

3 Responses to “Who’s Afraid? Me”

  1. Mike Says:

    You are a strong person. I can’t force myself to read anything that don’t hold my interest from the first few pages on. Just started Orwell’s Animal Farm, can’t remember if I read it in shool or not. I think after that I may as well go for 1984 again. IIRC Orwell was dying while finishing it.

  2. Martin Says:

    I agree with you about “To the Lighthouse”. I read it years ago after having read “Mrs. Dalloway”. “Mrs. Dalloway” is actually very entertaining, and it contains a chapter viewing the world from an insane man’s mind that is fairly breathtaking. I heard that Woolf would alternate writing “serious” books with “frivolous” ones. You get the impression that “To the Lighthouse” was a “serious” books turn and was a chore to write. If you want to give Woolf a second change, I recommend “Mrs. Dalloway”.

  3. Tondelayo B Says:

    Read the Henrik Ibsen plays “A Doll’s House ” and “Hedda Gabler.” He is credited w giving rise to the likes of Arthur Miller. Then go and drop an anvil on your foot to distract you from the pain of having read those plays. As for Ms. Rand, that would be an author that impressed herself over writing hundreds of pages of dialogue where a simple economy of language could have gotten her message across in a paragraph w less than 5 sentences.