10 Epidemically Overrated Books


Last week, we read a fun article over at PWxyz entitled “We Fix the Top 100 Novels List,” wherein the Publisher’s Weekly staff sounded off on which novels they’d add to the Modern Library’s ubiquitous Top 100 — and which they’d take away. The article got us thinking about which novels we think are lauded entirely too much, whether by the press or the public at large. Now, keep in mind that this isn’t a list of bad books — it’s a list of good books that (to our minds) just seem to get more accolades than they deserve — and it is, and can only be, based on our humble opinion. Click through to read our list of terrifically, epidemically, perpetually overrated books, and add to (or subtract from) our picks in the comments.

The Catcher in the Rye , J.D. Salinger

Whenever we tell people that we didn’t like The Cather in the Rye, they immediately demand, “Well, when did you read it?” The prevailing wisdom, after all, is that it’s one of those novels you have to read at the right time — that is, the pinnacle of your own self-pitying, frustration-filled adolescence — in order to really get its brilliance. Well, we tried at the right time, and still thought Holden was totally obnoxious (he is, after all, one of the most divisive characters in literary history), and we tried again later and came to the same conclusion. That doesn’t leave the book without merit of course, but it does beg the question: why do high schools (and young men) everywhere revere this tale of the wanderings of a bitter, privileged slacker so much? As South Park’s Kyle complained, it’s “just some whiny annoying teenager talking about how lame he is.”

Finnegans Wake , James Joyce

Not only is anyone who claims to have read this book all the way through probably lying, they’ve also probably wasted a lot of hours that could have been better spent elsewhere. There is merit to be had here, but you can pretty much read fifteen pages and get the gist — nothing else will materialize if you keep slogging on, so if you read any further, it should just be for fun.

Wuthering Heights , Emily Brontë

Why is this book considered one of the most classic romances of all time? All of the characters are despicable and cruel to one another, the plot is awkwardly structured, and it’s all very boring and depressing, if you ask us. We realize that at the time of its writing, the book was groundbreaking, and we certainly thank the Brontë sisters for their contribution to women being recognized as great authors, but seriously, it’s 165 years later, so why are we all still reading this book?

White Noise , Don DeLillo

We hate to say it, but we expected more from this novel, after everyone and their skinny jean clad sister suggested we read it — the concept is good and there are a few scenes that stick with us, but as a whole we found it disappointingly plotless. We suggest Mao II instead.

On the Road , Jack Kerouac

We’re afraid we mostly agree with Truman Capote, who when asked about On the Road, famously sniffed “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” Again, we definitely get how this novel made a splash with its uncommon form and call to freedom, but was it really, as the Times wrote, “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is”? As we read it now, it’s an endless, pointless, drunken road trip spattered with some charmingly outdated slang. We liked The Subterraneans much better.

Moby Dick , Herman Melville

Is there any chance that this book would get across an editor’s desk in its current state today? We think not — all the good stuff is buried under Melville’s endless self-indulgent verbiage. In our literary culture, the book has become a behemoth to slay in itself, and such a quest would obviously be cheapened by skipping all the bits about the specifics of whaling tools, but that said, wouldn’t it actually be a better book if those were left out?

A Passage to India , E.M. Forster

This is one of the few points on which we agree with Jonathan Franzen. We know that at the time of its publication, its discussion of race relations was incendiary, but it doesn’t seem so now — and the retroactive knowledge of it just doesn’t make up for the thin characters and plodding plot.

Twilight , Stephenie Meyer

We really don’t think we have to explain this one to you, but the fervor for a series of books this banal bothers us every day.

The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald

Oh, put away your pitchforks. We know this is a great book — the prose is impeccable, and the setting of the mood divine — but we just don’t think that it’s truly the be all, end all epitome of the “Great American Novel” as everyone seems to claim. Or at least it’s not anymore.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull , Richard Bach

Several people we knew in college were obsessed with this novella, a spiritual classic about unlocking your potential — as a seagull, and it had an impressive run topping the New York Times bestseller list in the ’70s, but it just never quite resonated with us. We prefer our allegories slightly more disguised, thank you.