Most Overrated Books (in My World)

The Lovely BonesWhen there is too much of a buzz around a book, I tend to wait for a few years before reading it (I will probably read 50 Shades of Grey when I am a grandmother, at this rate).  I did that with Harry Potter, ‘Life of Pi’ and I am still waiting to read Hilary Mantel’s latest two.  Because, with all due respect to reviewers, online chat forums and book clubs, no one can read a book for you.  Tastes are so different, that only you can make up your own mind! (Thank goodness.)

I finally read Alice Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ yesterday and was intrigued for the first 50 pages or so, then a bit bored, then finally frustrated.  It’s an interesting premise (the omniscient narrator from heaven) and the adolescent voice is charming, but after a while the archness and sentimentality begin to jar.  It just goes on for too long: a novella-length of about 20,000 would have been more than enough.

So that got me musing about other books that I have found highly overrated.  Please bear in mind this is always a very personal exercise, so don’t be offended if I have included any of your favourites!  However, I would love to hear you defend any of my choices (because I am not Miss Know-It-All), or let me know if there are any others I ought to include.

1) Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code

And pretty much everything else he has written.  When I first read this, I thought it was a parody of a certain type of thriller.  But alas, no, it’s deadly earnest!

2) Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat Pray Love

Don’t get me wrong: I think she is very brave to share with readers her early-midlife-crisis and search for fulfilment.  I just find the journey a selfish and not that well-written pursuit of personal happiness, with very little attempt to understand or interact deeply with the cultures she encounters.  Some funny observations, but overall too much bellybuttonism for my taste.

3) Stieg Larsson

Yes, I ‘m sorry, the whole Girl with Dragon Tattos and other tormented characteristics left me cold!  It’s not the violence or misogyny that I complain about (the first is widespread in crime fiction, the second is debatable anyway).  No, it’s the fact that it bores me.  Everyone talks about its relentless pace and it being a page-turner, but I have to admit I skipped entire repetitive passages. It feels completely unedited, a real jumble: just spewing out of odd bits of information, plotlines and shifts in narrative voice.

4) Hemingway’s novels

His short stories are brilliant.  I just find his terseness and übermasculinity grates over the length of a novel.  And sometimes I am not sure he is as profound as his critics make him out to be.

5) Paul Coelho: The Alchemist

Possibly because all the people I despised in high school loved it so much.  Or because fable-type narratives always hit my cynical vein, from which then gushes forth pretentious twaddle.  Sometimes beautiful words are poetry that makes us gasp in wonder… and sometimes it’s a rich cake, giving me indigestion.  (On the other hand, I do like some of his other books, for instance ‘Veronika Decides to Die’.)

As I said, don’t take my word for it!  If you haven’t read these, then you may want to ignore my opinion and make up your own mind. Now I would like to know which books you love to hate!  Although I may shoot you if you dare to say ‘The Great Gatsby’ or Jane Austen…

57 thoughts on “Most Overrated Books (in My World)”

  1. Lol, great post 🙂 I actually liked The Lovely Bones, but I agree that it could have been a novella…

    Never read Eat, Pray, Love, but I did try Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,, I think I got about two chapters in before I got bored and put it down…

    I’ve never read the Alchemist, but the quotes from it that I’ve seen seem awfully pretentious….

    For me A Room with a View is pretty overrated… I always end up rooting for Cecil :p

    I’m just now getting into Wuthering Heights (I tried reading it when I was like 15 or so, but I couldn’t get into it, so I’m giving it another go.) All I can say so far is that Emily Bronte sure likes her semicolons….

    1. With you on the Room with a View – although good observation of Brits abroad. But I too root for Cecil, especially after seeing Daniel Day-Lewis playing him.
      It’s a long time since I read ‘Wuthering Heights’, but adored it at the time. Maybe it’s a feverished young woman’s kind of book…

  2. I shouldn’t even comment as I haven’t felt compelled to read any of those mentioned–except for Hemingway, and that was more years ago than I want to count. But I’m putting in my two cents because I enjoyed your little rant. You’re a hoot, my friend, but I’ll pick up the cudgel with you to defend Austen any day. Isn’t it lovely that we can just shoo everyone else out the door and delve into a book we really do like? Granted, we sometimes have to look behind the flash in order to find that gem, the one that will keep us reading to the end and allow us to ease back with a satisfied smile and say, “Yes!”

    1. Oh, dear, was I ranting? I just feel a bit upset when I feel I’ve wasted my time with a book…
      And it really annoys me that Jane Austen is regarded as the precursor of chick lit. Never mind the fact that I don’t like chick lit as a term (and there are so many different sub-groups within that), but it kind of misses the whole subtlety and universal truths of her novels.

      1. Absolutely. No one seems to remember the whole comedy of manners genre in which Austen and Balzac both excelled, one focusing on English country life and the other on French. I adore the subtle references, humor that had nothing to do with slapstick.

  3. Yes, I’ve got a few of these. ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hossein, irritated me beyond belief – sentimental and clunky writing. ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett, was another – just ridiculous. ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ by Jon McGregor – language disappearing up its own a***. And ‘Fasting Feasting’ by Anita Desai – I know, I know I should like it, but I didn’t. Sorry.

  4. Oh, Leigh should see this. She is voracious and not afraid to say something sucks. I’ll see if I can get a list from her.

    As for me, I read non-fiction almost exclusively. So unless it was shoddily written or poorly researched I usually enjoy it.

  5. Ah Marina, I feel the same way – I hold off on the buzzy books too. The one that I didn’t do that with was Eat, Pray, Love which I picked up, unaware of the buzz, only to get it home and see the Oprah sticker! I enjoyed the first couple of chapters and then thought…what? Too much bellybuttonism indeed!

    I’m sorry that I haven’t taken a better look at your blog previously. So much great content!

    1. It’s lovely to have you over here! I read Eat Pray Love at a friend’s house, when there was nothing else on her shelves that I hadn’t read. Although I don’t think we should be apologetic about reading buzzy books: as writers, we have a duty to keep ourselves informed about all types of writing, right?

  6. Bless you for your candour. I’m with you 50 S.h.a.d.e.s, I just can’t get myself to get a copy and the whole premise doesn’t appeal. I did read Harry Potter, as you know, but have to say that each successive one kind of lost its magic for me a bit. I greatly enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, although the violence was horrific and the last one needed editing down by half (at least). I adored the Da Vinci code but the ending let me down; that quite often happens, so I don’t discount the book for that reason. My most over-rated reads include The Alchemist (I probably just didn’t get it) and The God of Small Things (Ditto). There is one author who I won’t name whose books I haven’t managed to finish, ever, which is unusual for me becuase I give the benefit of the doubt and usually persist.

    It’s just one of those things. But as an author myself, I have to say I couldn’t exist without review sites. I agree that you have to read a book for yourself, but if you find a reviewer who’s on your wavelength, a bit like a friend you know very well, their recommendations will be worth their weight in gold. X

    1. I love review sites (and, as you know, I do some crime fiction reviewing myself). And when there is a reviewer whose opinion I generally respect, I will listen to him/her. But I still need to read and make up my own mind – call it bloody-mindedness or else a reaction against Communist brainwashing.

  7. I totally agree with The Lovely Bones and Eat Pray Love. Especially with Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, aside from great choices of words, the entire story revolves around “me, myself and i” theme where she could have saved her marriage in the first place. But no, she wasted time and money in pursuit of so-called happiness. She could have make her life happy in the first place if she only looks at every corner in her life all the bits and pieces that make her happy.

  8. Just going through your list to see which I agree on:
    The Lovely Bones – agree with you entirely. I got bored and then felt guilty for being bored cos I was clearly supposed to be moved. Left me wondering if I was a callous human being…
    Dragon Tattoo – yes, again, I was bored. And repelled by the misogyny, which felt extreme even for crime writing. I don’t know if it’s a clunky translation, but at times I felt like the writer was taking just a little too much gratuitous pleasure in certain descriptions and expecting the reader to be complicit in this. Unusually, the films are better.
    The others I’ve not felt compelled to read…
    50 Shades can still be found for free on the internet with a little searching if you want to try a few extracts – that’s what Idi and decided it was not for me. Not because of the sex (hey, I’m all for a bit of raciness!) but because it’s appallingly written and because the author admits she ripped off Twilight to create her two protagonists. I mean, if you’re going to be a copyist, then at least be a copyist of something that was good in the first place (I won’t even start with how the first Twilight book made me react – suffice to say, I decided life was too short for the other three!).
    Love this post – there are so many of these books that “everyone” says they’re reading… 🙂

      1. Lol. Yes, I don’t hold back! Though interestingly a friend who was at a conference thingy last weekend informs me that 50 Shades, etc. has opened doors for publishers to accept erotica manuscripts… It’ll be another fad like the vampires thing and the bubble will burst sooner or later to make way for the next big thing (whatever that might be), but it’s curious to see what happens while it lasts…

  9. It is amazing to me that certain books get the hype they do. Really it is. Honestly, the bigger a “blockbuster” a book is, the more wary I am that it’ll live up to that hype. It’s a really interesting point, and I’m glad you shared these books that you think are over-rated. Definite “food for thought.”

    1. I don’t expect people to share my likes – I love the fact that we are all different and have different tastes. It’s the herd instinct that troubles me…

  10. I agree with you on over-hyped stuff. In fact, I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned for those reasons. My tastes tend to run to the Sci-Fi/fantasy side so I’m always on that aisle looking for things I haven’t discovered before. I am the same way with movies. In fact, it’s a joke between my husband and I that if something’s gotten bad reviews, it will be the perfect movie for us to see, and if it has an Oscar nomination, we will avoid it. 🙂 The other night I was in Books A Million, and one of the workers asked me if they could find something for me, and I said no—that I was disappointed they didn’t have any Pyr books. That’s my latest project, reading every Pyr book out there since the editorial director of said company lives in my hometown. Luckily, I found a lot of them at the library.

    1. I wouldn’t say I have a deliberate policy of ignoring the hyped ones. I always thought that it was because I had so many others on my To Read list. But I think that subconsciously I must be avoiding them. And I know what you mean: when I find something I really like, I want to read everything in that series!

    1. I agree. Harry Potter is like a potted version of all the favourite children’s literature (school stories, magic, Lord of the Rings etc.) Something Diana Wynne Jones had already done very well. But anything that gets children passionate about reading is OK with me!

  11. Gatsby was never really my cup of tea… Shall I stand and face the firing squad? I’ve taught Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird six times and it gets my vote for over-rated book. I won’t bash it hear, but mostly I find the choice of narrator troublesome for a book that speaks to what the south was like in the 1930s.

    Glad to have found you blog. We certainly seem to have similar tastes (Gatsby aside). Eat, Pray, Love appalled me every step of the way, especially when I saw products inspired by the book being sold on the Home Shopping Network!

    1. No, really? What products? (scratches head in amazement)
      I’ll forgive you the Gatsby lapse… as they say in ‘Some Like It Hot’: ‘Nobody’s perfect!’

      1. From what I remember the items were all schmaltzy “love yourself” stuff like lotions. You know, stuff that really brings inner peace and serenity while putting more dollars in the author’s pocket!

  12. Haven’t read any of these, but this really makes me want to do a post on overrated albums. I’m the same way, if people are raving about a book or a movie or an album, I actually CAN’T read/see/listen to it until the hype has died down. I’ve found this is because, when I know that something has been hyped up, I actually involuntarily search for flaws in it. Which makes me not enjoy it at all.

  13. It fascinates me that lure to want to read something that the millions have read, quite often I read those books just so I can participate in the conversation, but I have to say I will resist the 50 shades phenomena, when you know its not your thing sometimes we just have to not go there. But books that get the ordinarily non-reading population to pick up a book and immerse do have my vote for that reason.

    Interesting that you mention Hemingway, probably my worst teenage book reading experience and never went back, but recently read a couple of short stories I liked and I do want to read ‘A Moveable Feast’ even though I lost it, was that the younger me inside rebelling 🙂

  14. I’ve never read any of these because, I think, I tend to veer away from something if there’s a lot of hype. I agree with what Nicky said re Harry Potter; after the 3rd one I thought they were ridiculously padded and too long, and I skip read like mad. With the Game of Thrones books, ditto with the last two, to the extent that I wonder if I’ll even bother to get the next one, if it ever really does materialise, and might just find out what happens via the TV series!

  15. Of those I’ve read (The Da Vinci Code, The Lovely Bones, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) I agree, overated. Some books are understandable raved over, Harry Potter being one. But I do tend to wait until the hype has died down as well- or pre-hype.

  16. Totally agree on The Lovely Bones – I don’t think I got half-way through before losing patience and giving up. I didn’t mind The Da Vinci Code, but that’s perhaps because I went in assuming it was nothing more than a mindless thriller and that’s exactly what it was.

    I find Ian McEwan’s books quite over-rated, everyone seems to over-react to everything. Also saw a list today which called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close unmissable but I found it fairly average.

  17. Don’t shoot me but Gatsby may be on my hyped list! And Harry Potter definitely would be. But with Fitzgerald no longer with us and Rowling comforted by her millions I don’t think they’ll be too upset with the revelation. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is high overrated in my opinion and I couldn’t even bring myself to finish We Need to Talk About Kevin.

    I have read a few ‘must read’ books recently & have come away decidedly underwhelmed. The conclusion – like you I’ll wait a while before reading any future hyped books. Except the Grey books. Those I can’t ever face reading.

    Fab post 🙂

    1. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever read the Grey books either. The short passages I’ve come across have been more than enough… And I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin for the Greek connection, but was not enamoured with it.

  18. Great post and I admire your frankness, especially as I am very wary of admitting to not liking a book online! I will always regret the three or so weeks apiece it took me to read the final volume of Dragon Tattoo (can’t even remember the title!) – stupefyingly dull and overlong – or Night Train to Lisbon, a book I’d hoped to love but ultimately found rather pretentious and boring, but that was a matter of personal taste. These days I don’t feel obliged to soldier on – it’s not the reader’s fault if they’re not enjoying it!

    1. Yes, I used to be very conscientious about finishing books, but am learning to let go… Time is too short to waste on things we don’t care about or enjoy, right?

  19. Great post! I can’t remember any of my feelings about Lovely Bones – it didn’t stand out for me. But I did end up reading another of Sebold’s called Almost Moon about a woman killing her elderly mother and it was just horrible. A long tirade of self-pity and revolting details.
    I have just finished reading a novel which fell so short of the hype it has left me baffled and disappointed. I don’t want to name the author but it was Irish Book of the Year a couple of years ago. Go figure.

    1. Ah, don’t even get me started on book awards… most of them are baffling to me! But it just shows how we all like very different things, which is good, otherwise there would be a real monotony in publishing (and sometimes there is already in certain areas).

  20. Hi, what an interesting post! It took me years and years before I finally read Harry Potter, though I ended up loving them 🙂 But you’re right, people have their own tastes, we cannot read & like books for others. Hmmm, please don’t shoot me :p, but I found Jane Austen a bit overrated. Because, IMO, her type of narrative is just like that of historical romance novels, minus the sex scenes of course. Oh, maybe it’s the other way around, but all the same to me 🙂

    1. You are safe, I am a pacifist, really! With Jane Austen, one is rewarded by very close reading. Every sentence almost is a masterpiece of precision and wit. One of the most polished and controlled of writers, which is what amuses me when I see her being touted as romance or chick lit nowadays.

    1. He makes me feel inadequate about being a woman after a while… which is OK for about the length of a short story or novella, but grates over the course of a novel. Perhaps that says more about me than about Hemingway, though!

      1. No, I think it’s all Hemingway. And I agree about the way he treats/describes women. His writing style is what keeps me in love with the novels–and I know that’s not a very feminist thing to say. But I do get angry about the way his male characters treat women, and wish that stuff weren’t in the books.

  21. Brilliant piece.

    Most books (and movies – especially movies) can’t live up to the hype, so it’s better to (A) discover them early – nearly impossible, or (B) wait and read them when the hype has died down, doing your best to regain the mindset you had about it before the hype, as in NO expectations. Then it can be good.


Do share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.