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7th December 2022

Books not to fill your stockings with

Not every book should end up in stockings this Christmas – here is just a small selection of the Books that the Mancunion Books section would not want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning
Books not to fill your stockings with
Photo: Annie Spratt @ Unsplash

Christmas is fast approaching, and wishlists need to be written. With that in mind, when book hunting, it can be hard to know what books to avoid. Fear not, as The Mancunion has kindly compiled a list of books worth avoiding this festive season.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

If you haven’t heard of Norwegian Wood (lucky you), it’s a 1987 novel by acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami. With just about every trigger warning you can imagine, the book explores the life and relationships of Toru Watanabe, particularly looking back on his days as a university student in 1960s Tokyo.

What makes this book so painful is that every single character is unbearable. The protagonist is especially loathsome, spending 50% of the book objectifying women, and the other 50% whining. The female characters in question are completely two-dimensional, existing only to orbit the male protagonist. Murakami uses all three of the book’s Manic Pixie Dream Girls to fetishize mental health, trauma, and suicide.

While the lyricism of Murakami’s writing is undeniably beautiful, it masks the book’s deeply concerning scenes, conversations, and ideas. As a result, Norwegian Wood is the perfect gift for anyone who wants to feel especially drained, objectified, and depressed this Christmas.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

You’ve no doubt seen It Ends With Us in every bookshop or all across ‘Booktok’. It even has a prequel out this year called It Starts With Us. Like many, I read it with the assurance that I would love it. That was not the case.

The story follows Lily Blossom Bloom, whose dream, conveniently, is to set up a flower shop. She meets the dark and mysterious Ryle and they begin a whirlwind romance. She soon finds herself looking back at her past relationship with her first love Atlas.

The writing lacked any attempt at subtlety. Every single thought or emotion Lily has is spelt out for us. Hoover seems to think that her readers are completely unable to interpret anything. The romance side of it is just as painful to read. The first encounter between Lily and Ryle made me wince with embarrassment, and it only gets worse as the story progresses.

If the constant references to Finding Nemo weren’t enough to put me off, the last line “You can stop swimming now, Lily” was. Hoover does attempt to explore deeper issues, but it’s safe to say I won’t be picking up another one of her books anytime soon.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

As someone who struggles with horror anyway, having to do Dracula for my A-Level coursework was not the most exciting proposition. Or barely even a faintly interesting one. It was, in fact, one so uninteresting that I only read about 100 pages and then used Sparknotes and the teacher-hated Wikipedia to do the rest.

I will freely admit that the reading of Dracula in this context has probably (definitely) biased my opinion but that’s still no excuse for the unbelievable drudgery of Bram Stoker’s horror (of a book). It’s just not really that interesting to read.

Epistolary novels, I find, really take the wind out of a book’s sails and can often result in a quite mechanical and segmented tale and Bram Stoker’s tale is no different. The long, tedious, and ornate prose obscures a fascinating battle between the evil of Dracula and the valiant English hunters.

For other problems, also see the strong undertones of colonialism in the strong English hunters battling the barbarian of eastern Europe and the use of women as plot devices, mainly seen in a sexual, scary or ditsy manner.

All that said, I’d rather eat a whole bulb of garlic than go near this mis-stake of a book.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Upon a teacher’s recommendation, I first picked up Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness at A-Level. After reading the first few pages, I promptly put it down. While my teacher marvelled in stupefied amazement at the man’s illustrious writing, I could frankly only relate to the stupefying – or rather sedating – part.

Despite my boredom with the book, Conrad’s position in the English literary canon is irrefutable. However, I can personally only think of two literary feats that he firmly achieves. Granted, they are nigh impossible to pull off.

Firstly, Conrad manages to be both dully factual and, at the same time, evasively unspecific in his descriptions. This powerful combination informs his second feat; despite the short form of the novella, Conrad sustains a sense of mystery that feels drearily never-ending. The narrative soon reaches a point where one is indifferent to what this vague miasma of mystery may or may not reveal.

For some, Heart of Darkness has assumed an almost Promethean spirit, with its literary flame burning on past its time through impassioned scholarship, controversy, and debate. For me, burning it in the fireplace at Christmas this year will suffice.

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