Some people hate reading and books of all kinds, their sweaty minds confused and enraged by symbols.
Curse you and your strange magic, runes!
But even life-long readers have certain books that they don't like, books they've shouted at and tossed across the room. Oddly, if you go to the places on the Internet where readers hang out, you see that many of their most hated books are classics, novels famous for how good they're supposed to be. When you dig a bit deeper, you can see that the probable source of all this ill will is that most of these books were forced upon those readers in school -- "forced" being one of the less preferred verbs to use when encouraging someone to love something.
"How was your meal? Was it good? Tell me it was good.
You tell me it was good right now in your own words."
But that doesn't explain all of it; even if they were forced to read them, how is it that so many people missed the good points of these books, the reasons they became classics? So I decided to dig a little more into this. I'll admit to having an ulterior motive, what with the release of my first novel, Severance (it's out today and is incredible, awe-inspiring, a tour de force), and the natural concern I have that everyone is going to hate it.
So here then, for your hating pleasure, are some of the most hated books in the world, and also maybe why we should be nicer to them.
5The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye is the poster child for books we're forced to read in school. In the various 1-star, spittle-flecked reviews I've seen for it online, most of the complaints center around its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, a famously self-involved dickhead. "I hate that self-involved dickhead," is a typical example. It seems that having to spend hundreds of pages in the company of an obnoxious asshole grates on readers. One writes:
Someone found it helpful.
And although I appreciate the compliment and wonder how someone was able to read my novel in advance of its release date (which is today, incidentally), I don't know if that's really fair to poor Salinger. Not everyone has the skill or the courage to write likable characters that leap off the page clutching for your throat, like I do and have ably demonstrated in my latest and first masterpiece.
Joshua Ets-Hokin/Photodisc/Getty Images
Fun Fact: An under-appreciated part of the authorial process is complete shamelessness.
More important, the debate about whether a character should be "likable" or "relatable" is kind of a false one. More than just being a dickhead, Holden Caulfield is an interesting dickhead. Take his dickheaded confidence, for example, and his hatred of "phonies." He loves talking about how the world works and especially how it should work, and then he spends the entire novel getting the crap kicked out of him when the actual world doesn't cooperate. For all his confidence, he doesn't have a clue how anything works, and when alone, we can even see brief moments when he wavers and questions whether he might know anything at all. If there's a better portrayal of a teenager's mindset -- supreme, utterly misplaced self-confidence -- then I haven't read it.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Blend Images/Getty Images
The difficulty setting on the world's way higher than you've been told, kids.
This book isn't about liking or not liking the protagonist. The guy's a dick. But it's discovering how he's a dick, and why he might have become a dick, and whether he will remain a dick in the future that makes this book so great. That's what you're supposed to get out of it, you silly disillusioned teens.
4The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is a classic of American literature, one of the primary contenders for Great American Novel, and yet another book whose reputation suffers from being forced upon teens. My book, Severance, hasn't been forced on anyone yet, which probably explains the nearly unanimous levels of praise it's received so far. It's a shame that that will result in it too becoming a classic and being forced on the teens of tomorrow, making them hate it. Yet another reason to pity and despise the future.
Hope you like your poisoned atmosphere, future.
But back to The Just OK Gatsby. Some reviewers have complained that the book feels oddly sterile, the central characters aloof and unknowable. Everyone's kind of mean and horrible to each other, but we never really dwell on why or what they think about it. And the "love story" at the heart of the novel is fully deserving of the scare quotes I put around it earlier in this sentence; we're told that Gatsby and Daisy are in love with each other but are never actually shown it or given any hint why they might care for each other at all. Other, less generous complaints suggest that the book is "boring" and that "nothing happens" and that "it just ends with some dude sitting on the beach, thinking?"
But that's a little unfair, I think. The Great Gatsby's main focus is above the characters, concerning itself with lofty themes like aspiration, the shallowness of consumption, and, I think, pedestrian safety. And it discusses those issues quite well, putting together a coherent statement about the American dream and the way we pursue it; this exploration of theme is where its Great American Novel cred originates. Although, that often leads into the second main criticism about the book: that it can be a little self-serious at times. Consider this review:
A pretty laser-clear analysis IMHO. And, by happy chance, my lyrical and compelling new novel Severance contains all of those things, making it in some ways a better and more complete work than Fitzgerald's masterpiece.
What an odd coincidence.