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Amazon Reviewers Take on the Classics 272

Posted by samzenpus
from the eye-of-the-beholder dept.
Not everyone is a fan of great literature. In particular, reviewers on Amazon can be quite critical of some of the best loved classics. Jeanette DeMain takes a look at some of the most hated famous books according to some short tempered reviewers. One of my favorites is the review of Charlotte's Web which reads in part, "Absolutely pointless book to read. I felt no feelings towards any of the characters. I really didn't care that Wilbur won first prize. And how in the world does a pig and a spider become friends? It's beyond me. The back of a cereal box has more excitement than this book. I was forced to read it at least five times and have found it grueling. Even as a child I found the plot very far-fetched. It is because of this horrid book that I eat sausage every morning and tell my dad to kill every spider I see ..."

*

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Amazon Reviewers Take on the Classics

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  • ... and everyone has a particular body part. Did they honestly expect a consensus that everyone thought these classics were, um, classics? If 100 people each read 100 books we'd get a crap load of worthless reviews ... but Amazon would be happy to have sold the 10,000 books to them.
  • by thepike (1781582) on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:54PM (#31735656)

    Just because a book is regarded as great literature doesn't mean everyone will enjoy it. Same goes for movies; you look at the AFI lists and Citizen Kane is always at the top, but I hate that movie. Doesn't mean it isn't a great movie, just that I don't like it.

    Also, a lot of these people might not be the best judges. People who think the Harry Potter and Twilight books are great reads should remember that the classics are on a different level. Don't get me wrong, I like Harry Potter too, but it just isn't the same type of book as Ethan Frome or The Great Gatsby

    On another note, the grammar in some of the reviews is terrible. Doesn't give a lot of faith into their abilities as literature reviewers.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:14PM (#31736024)

      I realized relatively recently that I have two lists in my head: One being the list of the best movies I had ever seen, and another being my favorite movies. What was surprising was how little overlap there was between those two lists. There's even movies on my 'favorites' list that I know are not very good movies, but hey I enjoy them. Personally, I can enjoy both categories, but doubtless there are art buffs who only enjoy the 'good' movies, and doubtless there are schlubs that only enjoy the 'entertaining' movies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Reziac (43301) *

        Definitely the case -- "best" and "favourite" don't necessarily overlap at all. Quintessential film example, that everyone seems to agree on: Hawk the Slayer.

        Almost every review says essentially the same thing (and so do I): "This is absolutely the most fascinating utterly terrible movie I've ever seen. It is B-movies incarnate. It's so dreadful it makes my brain smoke and my eyes bleed. I love it and have watched it 50 times."

        One thing I did notice about the Amazon reviews, is that the negative reviews see

        • by Smauler (915644)

          The trouble is that Hawk the Slayer is only really bad compared to films that are pretty good, or average. If every film was as bad as Hawk the Slayer, you almost certainly would not like it. For a film to be so bad it's good, there's got to be a decent baseline. An example of this is government info films - Now, they're at a relatively (I use the term loosely) high standard. That's why films like reefer madness, and a whole host of other government produced media, look _so_ stupid now.

          Personally, I'm a

        • by Gilmoure (18428)

          Ah, Deathstalker II.

          Yup, grade D schlub but still fun.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Paradise Pete (33184)

      you look at the AFI lists and Citizen Kane is always at the top, but I hate that movie

      I didn't care for it the first time I saw it, but then I got a chance to watch it with Roger Ebert's in-running commentary (based on the class he taught) and I understood why it is so highly regarded. It's worth watching again if you can find a DVD that includes the commentary.

    • by jefu (53450) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:54PM (#31736882) Homepage Journal

      This is one of those things that many don't seem to realize. A book (or movie or whatever) may be great without you actually liking it. You see this in reviews all the time : "Worst movie evar! I was bored all the way through it." Reviews like these conflate the writers opinion with some kind of consensus opinion that has formed over time and usually built from thoughtful consideration of the subject. We all do it to some extent, but with time and education (good self education counts), we can separate out our personal reaction from a considered critical reaction.

      For example, I quite like the movie "Jumping Jack Flash". But I also know that it is far from being a great film. On the other hand, "Rashomon" is a very very good film indeed, but I find it difficult to watch and don't like it all that much, though I can appreciate why it is considered great.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Then there's always the Emperor's New Clothes phenomenon. All these smart people love the classics, so I have to like them too or I won't be seen as smart. But in reality, so many of the classics survive on reputation alone. The only reason to read them is to be able to say you have read them. What exactly is a person supposed to get from a book like Ethan Frome? I mean besides nauseous.

      I'll say it. I don't get fiction. As far as I can tell it serves no purpose besides idle entertainment*. When I exp

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by neonmonk (467567)

        Not everyone has asperges.

      • by residieu (577863)
        So what's wrong with idle entertainment?
      • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday April 05, 2010 @03:56PM (#31739620)

        I'll say it. I don't get fiction.

        Then why do you talk about it? Here's why people tell you that they pity you when you them that: because they really do pity you. You have absolutely no idea what role stories play in human development. It's a sad state to be in, doubly so because you have no idea what you're missing.

        Here's a quick introduction to why fiction is important, and why classics are classics: they allow you to share experiences that you could have never possibly had. From that, you get to build yourself a more complete image of the world, and you get to bond with those who have had those experiences, or who are telling and listening to the story. Sometimes, those stories are short, as in the many fables. Sometimes, they're long, as in the many creation myths (or Ulysses).

        If you don't understand the value in that.... I'll have to agree with another poster: most people don't have Asperger's. You can either deal with that, or continue to live in your own world. Your choice.

    • “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Mark Twain
    • Just because a book is regarded as great literature doesn't mean everyone will enjoy it.

      You know, it can be even simpler. Just because a book is regarded as great literature doesn't mean that it actually is that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PCM2 (4486)

        You know, it can be even simpler. Just because a book is regarded as great literature doesn't mean that it actually is that.

        Yes, I suppose that can be the case, but it's unlikely. A great many of our greatest writers didn't come to be regarded as "great literature" until after they were dead. If it's all just a popularity contest, why would that be the case?

        Great writers are often judged by other writers, who recognize their skill in comparison to their own. For example, I'd count Hemingway as an author whose style is so deceptively simple that many readers won't realize how difficult it is to achieve -- until they try it themse

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Great writers are often judged by other writers, who recognize their skill in comparison to their own.

          And therein lies the problem. The same work can be brilliant from writers' perspective, but absolutely awful as far as readers are concerned. It's just that the factors on which it is compared are different in those cases.

    • by Brandee07 (964634) on Monday April 05, 2010 @03:50PM (#31739526)

      In my opinion, the worst thing you can do to the Classics is to foist them on children.

      Children aren't mentally prepared to tackle the deeper issues that earned these books the title "classic." They don't get anything out of them- I certainly didn't. At best, a kid slogs through the book in order to memorize enough names and events in order to pass the test/write the paper, and then moves on. At worst, the child extrapolates the displeasure to be found in reading *this* book to *all* books.

      I am a total bookworm. I always have been. I read probably 50 novels a year through middle and high school. I had a city library card before the school made us sign up for them. But required reading in grade school put me off of the Classics and nonfiction and any books with real substance until just recently, and I graduated from high school seven years ago. Even children's books were ruined for me, in some ways. I was first introduced to the Chronicles of Narnia hand in hand with a lecture about identifying symbolism in literature. We read the book as a class and pointed out every Christian symbol and motif to be found (and there are many). I was never able to enjoy those stories as just stories; to me, as a non-Christian, they are and have always been Christian propaganda. To my classmates who found those books before English 2, they are cherished childhood memories.

      I recognize that there might be some deep and important message to take away from The Grapes of Wrath, All Quiet on the Western Front, or Lord of the Flies. But all I remember are stories so boring that my classmates prevailed upon the teacher: "If it's so boring that even she (me) won't read it, why do we have to?" I recall little to nothing of the events or characters of those books, but I do get a bitter taste in my mouth thinking about it.

      Few people ever enjoy something they have been forced to read.

  • by quantumplacet (1195335) on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:56PM (#31735696)

    "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith:

            This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD.

    • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:00PM (#31735756)

      "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith:

      This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD.

      I'm assuming you started counting at 'zero'. Once again the halo effect of arrays haunts our daily lives.

      • by oGMo (379)

        "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith:

        This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD.

        I'm assuming you started counting at 'zero'. Once again the halo effect of arrays haunts our daily lives.

        It wouldn't matter, it still has 4 words. An array counted 0..3 still is said to have four elements, not three. If he'd said "word 3 is BAD", he could have gotten off with this excuse. ;-)

        • by Splab (574204)

          Yes, but off by one could mean he started counting elements at position 1 till the end, which would yeild 3.

    • by middlemen (765373)

      This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD.

      Your math is bad!

      • by Jer (18391)

        Not his math, the math of the reviewer he's quoting. Which is quoted in TFA. Which was the point of his posting the line under the subject "Greatest Opening to a book review ever:".

    • by Tetsujin (103070) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:42PM (#31736580) Homepage Journal

      "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith:

              This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD.

      It's hardly surprising. The tree referenced in the title is Ailanthus altissima [wikipedia.org] - a tree foolishly nicknamed "The Tree of Heaven" (why??) To me, they are known, and always shall be known, as "Accursed Devil Trees". (We have one in the backyard and every now and then more sprout up... We called them "Devil Trees" before we identified them - so imagine our surprise to learn that they're called "Tree of Heaven"...)

      So why the hate campaign against the Devil Trees? A couple reasons. First off, they stink. Literally, I mean. They smell bad, especially if you cut them or handle them. Second, they spread like wildfire... Particularly in areas where there's not a lot of established tree growth. One mature or semi-mature devil tree will send out root suckers to start more new devil trees. And once they sprout, they grow quickly. We had one that grew to about ten feet tall in about six months. It doesn't take long for new growth to grow tall and strong. And if you cut them, they only spread themselves more aggressively...

      They're basically obnoxious, disgusting, and aggressively invasive. If you look around at the sides of highways and in people's yards and so on, they are very common. Fortunately, this is why we have herbicides.

    • by Alinabi (464689)
      I think these guys have a skewed idea of what exactly is a classic. Shakespeare is a classic. Betty Smith is just some lady I never heard of, who, I'm guessing, grew up in Brooklyn.
  • Yelp (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:58PM (#31735730) Homepage

    People have meaningless, petty opinions that drive their review? Wow, this would be news except that Yelp has been demonstrating this for years.

    "The soup was great, but the waiter gave me a dirty look the third time I sent it back. 1 star."
    "There was gum on the sidewalk outside the bookstore and it stuck to my shoe. 1 star."
    "OMG I like totally ran into Tom Cruise at the Wendy's on Third St, 5 stars!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098)

      Pretty much. The article could also have been entitled "People suck - reviews prove it again."

      That said, I always find these articles entertaining - and a useful reminder of how petty, small-minded and stupid some people can be. There is no need for everyone to like every classic out there, but people should have at least the cognitive capacity to understand why classics are classics. Sadly, that cognitive capacity is exactly what's missing in these dismissive reviews.

  • Bible review? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:59PM (#31735738)
    Two points

    The Bible "review" looks more like an attempt as a bad joke than an attempt at real review.

    Bigger point - I'm not sure that some people realize when they're reading a classic that they may actually be reading something that SEEMS derivative, but may have been pretty innovative for its day. Lots of Victorian novels are like that - boring, plodding reads, but with certain concepts and styles that were original and fleshed out in later works.

    The same could be said for early sci-fi. Some of HG Wells' stuff is a yawner.
    • by eddy the lip (20794) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:09PM (#31735914)

      Bigger point - I'm not sure that some people realize when they're reading a classic that they may actually be reading something that SEEMS derivative, but may have been pretty innovative for its day.

      It entertained me that the review for "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" had this to say:

      "It's exactly the same as any other book about a poor family with an irresponsible father and a child who manages to be alright..."

      Followed by a list of three books that were written later.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      One man's "bad joke" is another man's "epic troll!" Rarely is making fun of The Holy Bible appropriate, but in this case, it was hilarious.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by PitaBred (632671)

        One man's "bad joke" is another man's "epic troll!" Rarely is making fun of The Holy Bible inappropriate, and in this case, it was hilarious.

        There, fixed that for you

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      Well, the bible has no dramatic arc, a completely chaotic interest curve, way too many characters that are usually killed off, a horribly convoluted language, and more plot holes than an unpatched IE 6 has attack vectors. It’s just all-around bad fiction. A typical popular mass media production with way too many authors and script doctors. And on top of that it tries to transport a very unhealthy agenda for a particular delusional world provider company.
      If it weren’t for the religious schizophre

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by retchdog (1319261)

      I remember when I was looking for a Bible, the reviews were invaluable. In particular the one for the Oxford World Classics edition which described it as a satanic trap placed by the world's secular elitist intellectuals, and to be avoided by all true Christians at all costs. That pretty much clinched it for me and I've been quite satisfied with my purchase. :-)

  • Diary of Anne Frank (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wjousts (1529427) on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:59PM (#31735742)

    Actually, I remember as a kid writing a particularly scathing review of the Diary of Anne Frank in English class (no Amazon back then). No, I'm not proud of it. But honestly, I do stick by my assertion that it's a boring book to force a teenage boy to read. I just wouldn't use the same spiteful language to express that thought now days.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, I remember as a kid writing a particularly scathing review of the Diary of Anne Frank in English class (no Amazon back then). No, I'm not proud of it. But honestly, I do stick by my assertion that it's a boring book to force a teenage boy to read.

      Perhaps the teacher should have assigned you a picture book to review instead.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by wjousts (1529427)
        Perhaps they should have assigned you "How to Not be a Pompous Asshole"? Then you'd learn not to insult people's intelligence just because they didn't like a book that you liked.
    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:23PM (#31736186)

      I have no doubt that the book was boring, plodding, and pointless to you. Let's face it, it was written by a teenage girl who never expected anyone to read it, 95% of the book is detailing spending time in close confines with her family, locked in a small room and experiencing nothing new and nothing exciting.

      The book only becomes interesting if you know and appreciate the 'back-story'. I assume that most people reading it, even those stuck in high school lit or history classes, will at least know the back story. Intellectually, they understand what the book is about and why they're confined and why they must be quiet. But I have my doubts whether the average high school student takes that information into account when actually reading it. It is only through that knowledge that there is any real tension in the book. Saying "We heard the troops downstairs today, it was scary" isn't very good literature, unless you appreciate that while she was writing it, there actually were troops downstairs that would have arrested and eventually killed her and her family. If the voice you hear in your mind when reading it isn't a terrified 13 year old girl, you'll never really understand the book.

    • I find books each have their own time. How we read and relate to a book has a lot to do with where we're at when we read it. Unfortunately, when most of us our first exposed to the classics has nothing to do with this. I had a hate on for Stenibeck for years because I had to read "The Red Pony" and "The Blue Pearl" in grade 9. There was nothing I was going to relate to in these at the time, and the subject matter bored me to tears. I got over it, but it took me a while.

      Some of the book selections made by th

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by General Wesc (59919)

      It was initially rejected by publishers as 'very dull' and 'a dreary record of typically family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotion' (Source: 'The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives' by Leonard Mlodinow, pp 9-10).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dbet (1607261)
      It's okay, she doesn't want you reading it anyway [theonion.com].
  • Standards change. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RightSaidFred99 (874576) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:02PM (#31735790)

    A lot of those books are simple and boring as hell to modern readers, just like music from 1950 will sound simple and cheesy to most modern listeners. Their themes and literary devices may have been super-unique and exciting to people of the time, but we've all read them (or seen them in film, on TV, or Christ in comic books) over and over. Many of those books may get points for doing it first, but in most cases it's been done better since.

    In a lot of cases those books are circularly beloved classics. They're classics and people love them because they're...classics, and people think they should love them lest they be labeled philistines.

    There are way more "classic books" than there are great, unique, timeless books.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      I was thinking the same thing. Citizen Cane was revolutionary as well, but boring and slow-paced today.
    • Your superficiality knows no bounds.

      'Classics' are examples of many things that you can learn from. One of this is that you don't like the lesson.

      Instead, you eschew the lesson, believing current media is ideal. Those that refuse to learn from history are doomed to make its mistakes again.

      I get sick and tired of listening to, as an example, The Beatles. Each song has been played for me about 2000 times. Yet I recognize them as classics. So is Monk, REM, Led Zep, Tupak, Prince, Kraftwerk, and a thousand othe

      • While as Pliny the Younger said, "Nullum esse librum tam malum ut non aliqua parte prodesset." ("No book is so bad that no part of it is useful.") That is a terribly low bar for classics.

        If you believe as you appear to say that literary mistakes must be read in order to avoid literary mistakes, I suggest you try to teach art from the scribblings of toddlers. Of course when experience presents us with our own mistakes or the observation of others' mistakes in natural course certainly one should try to lear
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by postbigbang (761081)

          You have a silly line of reasoning. Most people eschew the classics because they'd rather do something else. It seems as though it might be torture to learn what Blaise Pascal said, or delve into Vonnegut.

          Hemmingway isn't for everyone. Nor is Dante. To blithely avoid classics as boring represents an incredibly dismissive attitude. You don't have to masochistic and expose yourself to needless pain, rather, learn something.

          • by Hatta (162192)

            I don't avoid classics because they're boring. I avoid them because they're pointless. I didn't learn one thing from Slaughterhouse Five. Now, Max Bohm's book Einstein's Theory of Relativity [librarything.com] which I read around the same time was fascinating.

            When I read, I *want* to learn. That's why I read non-fiction mostly. It's full of facts, you know things that actually happen. Fiction is full of made up stuff, which can be entertaining, but not really informative.

            The worst is when people try to interpret fictio

    • by Hatta (162192)

      A lot of those books are simple and boring as hell to modern readers, just like music from 1950 will sound simple and cheesy to most modern listeners.

      Music by Charlie Parker or Louis Armstrong sounds as fresh today as it did in the 30s. Why can't literature do the same?

    • just like music from 1950 will sound simple and cheesy to most modern listeners

      Modern listeners (who like rap or country western) aren't exactly experts in the field of appreciating music.

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:07PM (#31735900)
    Innovation is not always the same as entertainment. I had to read Madame Bovary as a college student, and while it is considered both a classic and an example of the great novels of its time, it has all the excitement and interest of being fed a heaping bowl of broken glass, one tiny spoonful at a time.
  • LOTR (Score:5, Funny)

    by CompressedAir (682597) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:07PM (#31735904)

    Why does it take three books for some guys to walk to a volcano?!?

    • Re:LOTR (Score:4, Funny)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:23PM (#31736178) Homepage

      Why does it take three books for some guys to walk to a volcano?!?

      Because they are vertically challenged, you insensitive clod. They don't walk very fast.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Why does it take three books for some guys to walk to a volcano?!?

      And its such a rip-off of DnD and pretty much every paper and pen or computer RPG...

      Seriously though, I did overhear in a bookstore, one patron telling another, "look, they turned the LOTR movie into a book!". Then again it was 1/2 price books, which is kind of the Walmart of the book world.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        If I had overheard that, they would have turned to find out what the loud smacking sound was... I probably would have facepalmed hard enough to leave a mark. And I don't even like LOTR.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MiniMike (234881)

        Seriously though, I did overhear in a bookstore, one patron telling another, "look, they turned the LOTR movie into a book!". Then again it was 1/2 price books, which is kind of the Walmart of the book world.

        Was it the 'movie version' of the LOTR, with the story converted to dialog from the movie and 20 glossy pages of pictures in the middle? I've seen such atrocities, though I can't recall if it was for LOTR or just other movies. I can see how, through shock and disgust, one might utter such a line not realizing how it would sound out of context.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Obviously, with it's obvious obsession with jewelry, the book's target audience was women.
      (My wife didn't care who won the Superbowl until she found out all the members of the winning team get rings!)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Shivetya (243324)

      The same reason it will take three or more attempts to get the Extended version out on Blu-Ray

      Because there is money in it.

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:11PM (#31735974) Homepage Journal
    Frankly, bad reviews like that smell a lot like trolling. Someone is trying to make people angry and have them post counter-reviews just because they think its fun. An asshole is still an asshole be it on the Usenet, in the Youtube comments section, or on an Amazon book review.
  • What? (Score:2, Interesting)

    What world did I wake up in where Charlotte's Web is considered "great literature"?
  • by bareman (60518) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:20PM (#31736134) Homepage Journal

    Poorly articulated angry tirades aside, it's good to see that some vestige of varied opinions might remain despite our overly homogenized wal-mart, mcdonalds, abercrombie & fitch society.

    I learned a lesson a while back that just because millions of people like something, it's not necessarily good. "I know what you did last summer" was a horrible awful film and yet millions loved it.

    I also find it more valuable to look at the reviews from people who hated a product I'm considering buying to see if their reasons for hating it might be a reason I might not like it.

    • by glwtta (532858)
      Poorly articulated angry tirades aside, it's good to see that some vestige of varied opinions might remain despite our overly homogenized wal-mart, mcdonalds, abercrombie & fitch society.

      I love your optimism, but I'm pretty sure that hating anything that the Ivory Tower Elites try to shove down your throat as "classics" is firmly part of the psyche you describe.
      • Except I've talked to many of those same elites in that tower and many of them find many of the classics just as boring as the plebes do.

  • Just because it is a, "classic," doesn't mean I have to like it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by klapaucjusz (1167407)

      Just because it is a, "classic," doesn't mean I have to like it.

      No, but you're expected to understand why it's a classic. Not just say "it's got too many pages".

    • by julesh (229690)

      I'd say any book people are still reading in significant numbers over 50 years after it was originally published is a classic, so, yes, Charlotte's Web is a classic.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:53PM (#31736860) Homepage Journal

    "I was forced to read it at least five times and have found it grueling."

    Reviews by somebody who failed the same class four times are probably suspect.

  • "To be or not to be? What the hell is that, a room number? Text message? Do I look like a texter too you? Here's my texting device [waves gun]. Or is that some of that, what's it called, Boolean logic? Do I look like a logic professor to you? You want logic? The logical question here is to be dead now or to be dead later."

  • A book that everyone calls a great classic book. But that actually is a really crappy depressive shit of a book. Just because everyone says it’s s great, everyone else parrots it on.

    Sometimes, that old perception is just wrong.

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