Definitely A Tale of Two Cities. It was terrible, and I usually love Dickens.
There was a book by Gertrude Stein that I detested, but I don’t recall the name. I did like The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, though, and the Gertrude Stein Reader. There was something there that was both brilliant and completely unreadable. I loved what she was doing – complete meaninglessness that forced you to try to give it a meaning – though the idea of it was more interesting than actually slogging through it.
I did hate Great Expectations in high school, but I read it years later and realized it was a truly great novel.
I find much of Henry James unreadable (though I liked Daisy Miller). His later works are utter dreck. He dictated them, which mean they were wordy and full of hot air. In addition, the man was constitutionally incapable of saying anything; he wandered around the point, piling clause upon clause upon clause without ever getting to it.
More modern – Confessions of an Invisible Man – the hero was such an utter moron that I gave up on it.
I have to nominate:
*The Old Man and the Sea * - I couldn’t go fishing anymore after reading this.
*The Diary of Anne Frank * - I kept thinking the whole time that her father edited out the good parts of the diary (ie trips in the closet with Peter, family arguments due to stress). Night is a much more interesting holocaust story.
Contemporary Most Overated: Easily the His Dark Materials crap by Phillip Pullman
Harder to choose classic most overated: I think Alice Walker and Toni Morrison are way overated along with a lot of those dead white guys.
I thought Rabbit Run was way over praised.
I’m reading Of Human Bondage right now. I like it, but I can see how an eighth grader wouldn’t. It’s way to adult for that age (and too sexual, as well). Give it another shot, when you have time.
I haven’t reread The Old Man and the Sea since I read it and hated it in ninth grade, but have read other Hemingway as an adult, and really enjoyed it. Try The Sun Also Rises.
Potential double post…
I’m currently reading Of Human Bondage , and like it. It’s too adult (and sexual) for an eighth grader, IMHO. Isn’t the whole point that the main character gets hooked up with a ‘slatternly waitress’? (I don’t know yet…it’s just on the back of the book). When you have more time, you should give it a shot.
I haven’t reread The Old Man and the Sea since I was assigned it in ninth grade, and I didn’t like it then. But I have read The Sun Also Rises as an adult and really liked it.
Watership Down gets my vote.
I second Silas Marner. When we read it in 9th grade, the teacher who was re-reading it as part of teaching it extended the amount of time we had from three weeks to eventually two months because it took us (the advanced class) and even her so long to slog through this turd of a book. Yet she still maintained it was a great work of literature and if we didn’t like it then we were missing something or just didn’t get it. Static plot once the initial set-up was in place, pointless interludes with the townfolk talking about events unrelated to the story (one of the book’s strengths according to the teacher), and dull, unchanging characters who I hated not because of anything they did or said but because they didn’t do anything for most of the book. Page after page of variations on how miserable Silas was, even when he takes in the little girl I detected no joy or change in the character. I’m convinced now that you could make a case for Marner being not just a miserly hermit, but mentally ill and the last person who should be caring for a child. And the big climax which barely cover a page and a half can be summed up as:
“Give me back my child.”
The worst written non-fiction book I’ve read in the past few years would be Presidental Ambition by Richard Shenkman. Short popular history portraits of several of the US presidents who set good and bad precidents for the office. Could have been great, but the writing and vocabulary was so stilted, limited, and repetative he destroyed the mood he was trying to build in each chapter. I had read his other books which were much lighter in tone and seen his TV series Myth America which had a tone like most of the news reports of ABC reporter Robert Krulwich, bemused but informative. It was just completely the wrong writing style for the subject.
I can’t believe that we’re 25 responses in and no one has mentioned Ethan Frome yet. Talk about painful. Worst part is that my english teacher at the time had some kind of masturbatory obsession with it–we had to read it THREE times! Groan.
Yes! I was coming to post this about very book. I hated this one. I don’t believe I gained anything of value, however slight, from it.
My other pick would be anything by Dickens. I want to like him. I appreciate the stories and know a lot of people who appreciate his works but I’ve never been able to get past the first few pages of any of his books.
Of the books mentioned which I’ve read, I gotta say I liked Frankenstein and Ethan Frome, very much. But I didn’t read them until I was old, and I think as you age, you look for different things in your books. I liked His Dark Materials but agree that they might be overrated.
My nomination for a “good” (prize-winning even) book to hate is Paris Trout by Pete Dexter. However, I might hate it because I’m supposed to hate the main character, which I did, so perhaps the book was actually very well-written. Hateful book though, hateful. Shudder.
I had to stop reading Wuthering Heights because the edition I had was so full of stupid punctuation! Commas and semi-colons everywhere, the book was unreadable. It was like riding in a car with a driver who doesn’t know how to shift gears, all herky jerky.
About everything I read by G. E. Lessing, IMHO the most overrated of the German literature titans.
Emila Galotti, Minna von Barnhelm, Miss Sara Sampson and even Nathan der Weise
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Only good part of the entire book was when she died at the end.
I second this one. This book came highly recommended by my college’s head librarian (who I assumed knew something about books). If the book hadn’t ended when it did, I probably would have clawed my eyes out rather than read another page. For a long time after reading it, I held a grudge against anyone that said they liked that “book.”
After enjoying Anthem, I really thought I’d like Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead. About halfway through the Fountainhead, I was screaming for Ayn Rand’s body to be dug up so that we could do something nasty to it. It took 6 months before I could suppress the gag reflex long enough to begin reading Atlas, and reading that felt like rubbing sandpaper on my skin.
I had this running argument with my roommate from grad school (he was a literature major in college). Why does an author need to “dumb down” his/her work to broaden the appeal? Just because something is too complex for most people to understand doesn’t make it less wonderful for those that do understand it. Complexity can be beautiful and precise, too.
I’m still on the fence, but I’m starting to come around to the your (and his) point of view.
Anything by Dickens or Henry James. Uh, can I just have a shit sandwich instead?
I agree that if the writer can not communicate with the audience then the book as a work of art suffers. They say not to read books like “Finnegan’s Wake” and “Absolam, Absolam” unless you are prepared to make sevral readings over several years. What good is the book then? If the book is too complicated to understand then the writer is at fault. I will say that after one reading of “Absolam, Absolam” (Faulkner) I hated it and did not know what the hell happened in the story. However some really stark images stuck with me from it – I couldn’t get those images out of my head and it eventually caused me to read the book again.
Can you hate a book so much that you end up liking it? I hated “Rabbit, Run” so much I read it again so that I could seethe over it some more.
So much hatred for Dickens – I love every single thing he wrote. I think part of the problem is forcing kids to read books in High School before they are mature enough to appreciate the books. I didn’t like Great Expectations in high school either.
I know I’ve already posted, but I keep thinking of Worst Good Books: (Someone else mentioned Ayn Rand’s bilge, so I won’t) The very very worst of all so-called good books was The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kozinsky (and yes I know I probably misspelled the author’s name. ) So many other books make a point of man’s inhumanity to man, of man’s brutishness, without being so, well, awful. And yet it’s praised. Beats me.
I really liked my Highschool English teacher, Wendy. She was entertaining, she loved her work, and she was patient with me when I had trouble with my assignments.
Then, she made me read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man .
I still haven’t forgiven her
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It won the Booker prize the year it was released (my wife had bought it several months before that). She made it to page 25, I think I made it to triple figures, but could not finish it.
I can generally finish a book once I start it. The Blind Assassin is one of only 5 or 6 books that I’ve been utterly unable to finish.
Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. The plot’s actually reasonably good, it’s just that in a roughly 400 page book it takes up at most 100 pages, the rest being horribly dense descriptive passages, usually about the landscape. In our English class we once noted that it took almost 2 pages to describe the main character as: “In short, he was 28 and a bachelor” - the line that appeared at the end of that description.
Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye was dull and I despised Holden. The whole thing just seemed pointless. Or maybe that was the point.
And of course Lord of the Rings. Again, good story, just so damn difficult to find it amongst all the description. And way too much friggin’ singing…