Thursday, June 27, 2013

Boring Books: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Adam C. Zern shares some thoughts on an exceptionally boring book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:

"Overall I haven't read too many books that were so boring or so dull that they would put me to sleep. Generally speaking I'm very good at directing my attention to what I'm reading with a reasonable level of interest, and I've read some hefty and difficult books—A Wealth of Nations, A Hero with a Thousand Faces, Democracy in America, to name a few. I enjoyed all of those books, but there have been a handful of books that were so dense or dull they tested my attention and sometimes my wakefulness.

Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an extremely well-known book, a 'classic' even according to some, and I could barely get through it. I understand the book was written during a different time and expectations of what is entertaining and what is not looks a little different today, but it doesn’t change some of my modern sensibilities. Furthermore, Verne's Around the World in 80 Days is most definitely not like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in its obnoxious cataloguing of things that don't matter. Also, a somewhat contemporaneous novel of adventure, The Time Machine (published in 1895), didn't fall into the same trap as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which was published in 1870. As I waded through page after page of non-critical and superfluous information I longed for the moment when I could turn the last page of the book.

And perhaps the most frustrating part of the book is that it could have been incredible. Captain Nemo is a truly fascinating character who is utterly wasted. The visual template and mood established in the book is really quite striking; the haunting visuals Verne creates, which include the infamous giant squid and a sunken ship with her drowned passengers, are extremely poignant. It's just not a part of the story enough to salvage the book from itself.

I would rarely classify a book as 'boring,' but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fits that definition in my opinion. It's hundreds of pages of wasted characters and a wasted story, and it's one of the most boring books I have ever read."

Other topics of interest:
Overrated: The Da Vinci Code
Reflections: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

1 comment:

  1. I hate to agree (since I love classics in general)...but I kinda do. I'm nearing the finish line of this book--first read through--and it hasn't been close to as exciting as I'd anticipated. Overall, it's just what you said: unfortunately a bit boring to my modern sensibilities. Some standout moments/chapters along the way--the sunken ship, A Few Days on Land/Nemo's Lightning, The Coral Kingdom, The Pearl Worth Ten Million, then particularly Vigo Bay, the whole South Pole saga, and Squid--are scattered between what seem like interminable numbers of endless lists of fishes and plants and landmass descriptions and other such information which--maybe cause in this post-Cousteau day and age we're sadly too jaded--take me completely out of the narrative and make me have to skip through them.

    Wish I could get into a 19th century mindset in approaching the book...but I haven't studied enough history of that era to be able to do that :P

    The enigmatic teases/glimpses into Nemo's character, however, are superbly enjoyable.