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Let’s buck the trend: over the next few weeks reviewers all over the blogsphere and beyond will be posting Christmas and end-of-year round-ups of their favourite books of 2017.

Personally, I’m always glad to be reminded of the lovely books waiting to be read.

But what I don’t need – and I’m sure you don’t either – are those depressing listicles where m’learned friend presents a catalogue of GOOD BOOKS that everyone should read at least once in their life.

The lecture – for that’s essentially what it is – usually begins by claiming that the curated collection has stood the test of time for a reason. jane-eyreThe implication, of course, is that these books speak universal truths and are astonishingly well-written.

Certainly, that’s true of one or two of the listicle regulars – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, for instance, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

But an awful lot of them are dull, fiendishly long and/or plodding and written by white men. For other white men.

So, to help you keep a lid on your TBR pile AND save you from being guilt-tripped into reading books that don’t even belong on the bookshelf of Orwell’s notorious Room 101 torture chamber, here are my top seven classics that if you’ve made the mistake of reading once, you really shouldn’t read again.

And, if you haven’t read them: DON’T.

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

Can I also include Lady Chatterley’s Lover here? And Women in Love?

Once, long ago, when I was in my teens and early 20s I thought a well-read young woman should read the classics.

To be fair, I read Sons and Lovers because it was an A-level set text and I had no choice.

And it is a good story for a sixth form discussion – partly because of the insights it provides into pre-World War One working class life and partly because of its Sons and Loversexploration of a man’s relationship with the women in his life. And the way he uses – and abuses – them sexually, emotionally and intellectually.

I got a grade A pass too so, though it’s hard to get past Lawrence’s appalling chauvinism, I do have some residual affection for Paul Morel.

His mother Gertrude too: her mantra – what cannot be altered must be endured – has helped a lot during difficult times.

Okay, that’s my excuse for reading Sons and Lovers.

The others I read because I thought I should.

Which is never a good reason for reading anything.

However, like the princess who needs to kiss a few frogs before she finds her prince, every reader needs to read a few duds in order to work out what rocks their boat.

And Lawrence definitely doesn’t rock mine.

I know he was writing pre-television so, apart from the music hall and the pub, readers had no other competing distractions, but his long-drawn out descriptions and the self-centred, introspective internal monologues of his characters would send a hardened insomniac to sleep.

Highly recommended for the sleep deprived.

Available to buy on Amazon.

The Road by Cormac Murphy

I don’t mind books that are difficult and challenging – in fact, as an English Literature graduate (First Class Honours!) a complex and complicated story is food and drink.

The RoadLoad up the plate and fill the glass to the brim.

But, I do think a writer should at least pay lip service to the idea of encouraging readers to want to keep turning the pages.

And I’m not sure Cormac Murphy, author of this 2006 post-apocalyptic Pulitzer prizewinner, described by critics as a modern masterpiece, adequately bridges the gap between those of us who read to be entertained, enlightened or informed and those who believe the function of a good book is to confirm their superior intelligence.

The plot is thin to non-existent – unnamed man and his young son plod across an America reduced to dust and ashes in an unspecified catastrophic event – and the writing is self-indulgently, self-consciously clever.

No chapters. No quotation marks. No apostrophes.

Their absence, one presumes, is meant to symbolise loss and the near impossibility of making sense of a world that no longer follows established conventions.

In reality, it’s an unnecessary nuisance that probably alienates as many readers as it engages.

Very, very glad I read The Road on my kindle – it would have been a crying shame to have felled even a single tree in the service of this disappointing tale.

Available to buy on Amazon.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Another American classic, praised for its elegiac writing and metaphorical punchiness.

In other words, another book for clever people as opposed to ordinary folk.

The Crying of Lot 49Unfortunately, I didn’t have a kindle in the mid-90s when this was one of my university set texts so apologies to the tree that had to die so I could lose the reading will to live.

This one was so good I can’t now remember the basic plot other than someone went on a long trip across the United States – travelling seems to be a key trope in American writing – and not much happened.

I think there was something about the US postal system too and a mislaid letter.

But I could be wrong.

However, according to the current Amazon listing: the book is a highly original satire about a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, meets some interesting characters en route and gains some self-knowledge.

Who’d have thought it?

Only read this if you like the challenge of knowing at any given point in your reading journey exactly how many pages you’ve read and how many more you have left to read.

Available to buy on Amazon.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Truthfully, I had no great expectations about this book when I first read it aged nine-or-so.

And, I wasn’t disappointed.

In retrospect, it wasn’t a suitable book for such a young child – the story’s grim, not to say downright terrifying in places, and young Pip is just the sort of hero that any sensible girl would want to smack.

Great Expectation 2Grown-up Pip isn’t much better.

Since then, I’ve tried not to let youthful prejudice – and ignorance – cloud my judgement.

Most people will be familiar with the plot: Pip Pirrip, brought up on the Kent marshes by his fierce sister and her gentle giant of a husband, escapes to London where he forgets his humble beginnings and becomes a gentleman.

Along the way he encounters a range of extraordinary characters including Magwitch, an escaped convict; Miss Haversham, a thwarted bride; and her ward, beautiful, arrogant, selfish Estella.

Frankly, Magwitch is probably the most likeable of the lot of them.

If Dickens were alive today he’d probably be churning out episodes for television’s Casualty or Holby City.

Instead, he kept his Victorian body and soul together by writing cliff-hanging episodic stories in newspapers and magazines – Great Expectations, for example, (1860) made its first appearance as a serial in the journal All the Year Round.

All of which explains why Pip’s story is dragged out over 479 densely-packed pages (my 1994 Oxford World’s Classics edition – another university set text).

You’ve got to admire Dickens for his inventiveness and his ability to stretch a story as far as it can go but life’s too short – and Great Expectations is a stretch too far.

Available to buy on Amazon.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The book jacket description with its references to Wilde’s philosophical exploration of ‘the inter-relationship between art, life, and consequence and Wilde’s self-conscious experiment with the notion of sin as an element of design’ is a hint of what to expect.

Clever clap-trap dressed up as literary fiction.

The Picture of Dorian GrayFirst published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890, the magazine’s editor deleted around 500 words from the original manuscript of The Picture of Dorian Gray on the grounds of indecency.

I’m tempted to suggest these might have been the best bits…

Even so, critics were outraged and called for Wilde to be prosecuted for violating public morality.

It’s hard now to see what all the fuss was about since, by modern standards, the plot is quite tame and none of the key characters – Dorian Gray, who’s selfish and narcissistic; portrait painter Basil Hallward, who adopts him as his muse; and their mutual friend cynical aristocrat Lord Henry Wotton – are particularly sympathetic.

However, the trio do exchange a lot of witty repartee.

And I mean a lot.

Far, far too much – think being force-fed seriously chocolatey, chocolate cake.

The first taste or two is wildly [sic] delicious. But the witty aphorisms come too thick and fast. You’ve barely swallowed one before the next is dished up.

Before long, you’re not really enjoying any of it.

You just want Wilde to stop showing off.

And, perhaps, take on board the notion that not everyone likes the sound of his voice as much as he does.

Only for people who like too much of a good thing.

Available to buy on Amazon.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Now I feel a bit guilty including this one on my never-to-read again list because it’s a beautifully written, complex and thought-provoking metaphorical and allegorical exploration of what it really means to be both man and beast.

That sounds a bit of a mouthful but actually it’s a short (just under 32,000 words) exploration of the question: is civilisation really only skin-deep?

The Call of the WildThe answer, suggests London, is yes.

Is he right?

I don’t know: long before I’d reached any firm conclusion I’d become heartily sick of Buck, a St Bernard-Scottish shepherd cross, who’s been stolen and sold to work as a pack animal in the Yukon in north western Canada in the heyday of the Klondike gold strike.

It’s a brutal and unforgiving environment and Buck is no Black Beauty, grimly enduring in the face of countless human cruelties.

Instead, he becomes what one master describes as ‘a red-eyed devil’ who eventually escapes captivity to join a pack of wild wolves.

Hope he lived long and prospered – but I doubt it. The call of the wild is no less forgiving than the gold diggers who brutalised him.

Animal lovers will, no doubt, feel justifiably outraged by man’s inhumanity to beast – I thought the treatment of Buck and his canine workmates was pretty awful too.

But too many fights. Too many treks across frozen wastelands. And too many dogs.

However, out of respect for Buck’s snarling refusal to be beaten into submission, I’ll concede that, though I’m not going to read it again, if you haven’t, perhaps you OUGHT to read it just once – if only to savour the wonderful prose.

Available to buy on Amazon.

Dubliners by James Joyce

Confession time: this is one book where the I’ve-started-so-I’ll-finish rule didn’t come into play.

There were mitigating circumstances though: a long-standing aversion to James Joyce.

DublinersI blame Charles Dickens and all the teachers, friends, and critics who’ve described him as a writer of unparalleled genius. And he’s not: at least, not in my book. (See comments on Great Expectations above.)

So, when these same people use the same words to describe Joyce…

No, not touching him or his works with a bargepole.

Except earlier this year when a new bookshop opened in town, I joined their readers’ group.

And our first read? Joyce’s Dubliners.

You’d have been proud of me. I bought the book and even got about a quarter of the way through.

Didn’t enjoy it. Couldn’t see the appeal: the language was tortured and the plot – what plot? Couldn’t discern anything tangible.

But, then, two of the group’s six members dropped out for reasons unspecified. It was too tempting and I jumped ship too.

And Dubliners now languishes on my kindle. Unless anyone can tell me how to delete it.

Available to buy on Amazon.

By Sue Featherstone.