Believe it or not, I’m not actually all that picky about what I read. I read a lot, and much of what I read is total garbage. And I love it. Romance novels, bad science fiction, hell, bad science fiction romance novels – I’ll read just about anything. There are a number of books out there, though, that receive critical or popular acclaim, and I just don’t get it.
1. Pride and Prejudice: The recent resurgence in nostalgia and love for all things Jane Austen just perplexes me. Her stuff bores me to tears. Her characters are one-dimensional, and worse than that, they’re fucking boring. Elizabeth Bennet isn’t interesting, she isn’t complex, and her interactions with everyone are stilted and unnatural.
2. A Tale of Two Cities: I have nothing against Dickens. I just don’t get why this is so often held up as his best work. Honestly, Bleak House or even Great Expectations are so much more interesting to read. A Tale of Two Cities is both simple and mediocre, something that Dickens at his best should never be.
3. Catcher in the Rye: Everyone else, ever, has already covered why this book sucks. The annoying anti-hero protagonist. The godawful fucking prose. The total lack of plot. Holden Caulfield is annoying, obnoxious, and whiny, and yet somehow, I don’t relate to him at all. Way to go, Salinger.
4. Jane Eyre: I don’t hate the BrontÃ«s on principle. It’s actually pretty fashionable to be anti-BrontÃ«. Jane Eyre, in particular, bothers me because while I can put aside viewing “classic” literature through a modern feminist and classist view, I find that even in its proper historical context, it’s still obnoxiously simple and irritating. I don’t object to Victorian lit completely, but so much of it is just so tedious.
5. Moby Dick: OH MY GOD MELVILLE YOU ARE SO FUCKING BORING PLEASE JUST SHUT UP ALREADY. Too many words to describe a whole lot of nothing happening.
Contemporary (or contemporary-ish)
1. Atlas Shrugged: Listen up, Randians: feel free to be self-absorbed centers of your own fucking universes, but just be honest about it. Don’t pretty it up as “objectivism.” Just call it what it is: Mommy’s Special Little Snowflake Syndrome. No one matters but you. Fine. Great. Oh, but what’s that? You have this absurdly long, overblown piece of total shit novel, trying desperately to be “allegory” and falling somewhere around “cow vomit,” and you’ve declared it your bible? Awesome. Do me a favor and carry it around with you everywhere, so literate, intelligent people know to stay at least fifty feet from you at all times, or else risk losing IQ points and the ability to think critically just from standing too close to you.
2. Eat, Pray, Love: Seriously, this self-congratulatory pile of shit is three hundred pages of the author getting off on what a fucking amazing person she is with her amazing journey and all the amazing things she brought to those funny foreign people. Here’s a clue: it’s easy to have an amazing trip around the world when you’re living off an advance for the very book you’re writing describing your amazing trip around the world. It’s like a circle jerk of authorial arrogance. Plus, Gilbert’s prose is so self-consciously “casual” and “spiritual” that it makes me want to jam a fucking fork in my eye.
3. The DaVinci Code: It’s crap. I feel like I shouldn’t even have to waste any more words on this. It’s total and complete crap, and people actually take it seriously, which is both terrifying and unsurprising.
4. The Secret: Speaking of people taking things seriously. I get that people want to believe in this. I understand the concept of the power of positive thinking, but this is just too far. The power of positive thinking in and of itself is not dangerous or damaging, but the level to which The Secret takes it is just scary. It’s not a simple positive concept, it’s a marketing juggernaut that has millions of people believing that they can cure their cancer and make a million dollars just by “putting it out into the universe.” That’s kind of counterintuitive and frankly, a little dangerous. I should note that “self-help” is not “literature,” but I’ve been so inundated with fawning love for this book that I felt it necessary to include it.
5. Twilight: I went back and forth on even including this. Mostly because no one but moronic tweens and their creepy horny-for-vampire moms would ever consider this steaming pile of complete excrement “literature.” The trouble is, this shit’s pervasive. It’s everywhere. And leaving aside the thinly-veiled Mormon allegory, the rampant misogyny, the glorification of stalking and abuse, and every other disturbing theme, besides all that, it’s just a crappy book. (I’m assuming they all are, but I wanted to slit my wrists after the first one, so that’s the only one I can definitively insult.) Stephenie Meyer needs a goddamned thesaurus. HOW ABOUT NEVER USING THE WORDS “ADONIS” OR “COLD” OR “STATUE” AGAIN, YOU HACK? Her protagonist is a boring empty shell without a personality, just perfect for all those barely-literate little girls to project themselves onto. And, yes, I get that vampires aren’t real, but there’s a pretty well-established set of rules in common vampire lore. Most notably: THEY DON’T SPARKLE IN SUNLIGHT. THEY BURST INTO FUCKING FLAMES. Good supernatural/paranormal YA fiction exists; in fact, there’s a lot of it out there. Why couldn’t any of the good ones have reached that level of insane popularity?
Sorry. I just really hate Twilight, from a literary standpoint, and from a “why does this exist?” standpoint. How about you, readers? What books do you find totally overrated? Anything that everyone else seems to love that you just can’t get into?
(A version of this post originally appeared at Nice Girls Don’t Swear)