And what you can read instead
When it comes to not enjoying books that are widely loved, I am often terrified of speaking about them out loud, for the fear of being called someone who tries to be different just for the sake of it.
But then again, there are some popular books that I did not enjoy at all, and I felt writing about them would help. For one, such a post would help new readers pick their books better and also assure them that it is okay to not like something that is considered a societal standard.
Here are four popular books I didn’t enjoy with a short description of why I think they didn’t work as well as they were intended to. I have also added books of a similar genre that are better written and you could read them instead.
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1. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Genre: Coming of age
The coming-of-age story of a seventeen-year-old school dropout who navigates through various struggles of life and finally comes to terms with an identity for himself.
This sounds like a lovely premise, but the biggest problem of this novel was the highly unlikeable protagonist. I felt the narrative tried to present an obnoxious character as admirable, rather than presenting the narrator as obnoxious. Apart from that, the storyline is repetitive and monotonous, and pretty much nothing happens, even at the climax.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t understand why this book is considered life-changing by many. To me, this felt like the ramblings of a self-absorbed whiner who thinks everybody apart from himself is either a phony or a moron and doesn’t shy away from reminding the reader every two pages.
I have no reason to recommend this book.
What you can read instead
If you are looking for young adult coming-of-age stories, there are a plethora of underrated gems, but the most famous among them that comes instantly to my mind is- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn By Mark Twain
Set in the mid-nineteenth century and dealing with issues such as racism, friendship, war, religion, and freedom, this book traces the story of Huck, a barely literate boy who flees his abusive, alcoholic father by faking his own death. He travels the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers on a raft and meets Jim, a runaway slave. Huck’s gradual awakening to the struggles Jim has had to face is subtle and touching, never overly melodramatic. Along with his sensitivities, the story chronicles Huck’s growing conscience.
The narrative is the perfect combination of lightheartedness and solemnity. The story is heart-warming and there are several moments in the book that are hilarious, but when you finish reading, you would understand that you have read something profound.
I have to agree with what Ernest Hemingway famously declared in 1935,
“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn. It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, this book shows the shades of America in the 1920s through the lavish parties on Long Island.
For a book that’s supposed to be an “important” literary novel, I couldn’t get the hype of what made this novel so well-loved. The writing felt monotonous, with unrealistic characters failing to strike a chord. This book is supposed to portray unconditional love, but to me, even the romance felt toxic and claustrophobic.
In short, a not-so-great romance made unnecessarily melodramatic and put to fruition by a string of coincidences.
What you can read instead
If you would like to read a middle-aged love story centred around unresolved trauma, I have the perfect recommendation for you: Jazz by Toni Morrison.
The story starts with Violet, a woman in her 50s, attacking the corpse of a teenager, who happens to be the former lover (and murder victim) of her husband. From this passionate funeral scene, evolves an emotional story that strikes the right chords with the readers.
The writing is lyrical and sublime and the author does a brilliant job of capturing the vibe of the post-slavery period in America. The most fascinating part about this book is how the author uses the backdrop of the city to contrast with the rural areas the main characters grew up in. It is almost as if the city has a life of its own and carries its own energy.
Jazz is an emotional and a very beautiful read, subtly touching on childhood trauma and how it can change a person forever.
3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical fiction
With a story spanning over 40 years, this book chronicles the tumultuous lives and relationship of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women. Mariam, an illegitimate child, carries the stigma surrounding her birth like a millstone around her neck all her life. Her life intersects with the comparatively privileged Laila when the latter is forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband.
While this book brings to light the plight of the Afghan women, especially under the Taliban rule, there is way too much melodrama. The author seems to have utilised every misfortune he could think of to make the characters suffer (and the reader sympathise with them).
What you can read instead
If you are looking for a book that tells the story of how much women can suffer in a patriarchal society, and how insurgency can take away everything for them, a more touching book is Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa.
Set in Palestine, this book tells the story of the shattered “holy land” through four generations of the Abulheja family. Starting with the glorious days in Palestine, the story shifts when Israel is formed in 1948 and the Zionists force all Arabs from the village to leave their homes and flee. The book deals with how the broken family makes a new home for itself in the refugee camps of Lebanon, and how they struggle to find happiness, even though all odds are stacked against them.
There is a lot of loss and death, and too many broken dreams. It makes you marvel at the strength of will of the people suffering these terrible losses in refugee camps and living through it all. There is a thread of hope running through it all, and in spite everything terrible that befalls the characters, the book ends on a note of hope.
The book is educative, especially for someone like me who didn’t have much idea of the history of Palestine, Israel, and Lebanon.
4. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
Genre: Young adult fantasy
When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he has no idea that the stone would bring a dragon hatchling, putting a chain of events into motion that would shatter his world forever.
This series is popular among lovers of fantasy fiction because of the heartwarming dragon-rider bonding. However, when it comes to tropes used in fantasy fiction, I felt these books fall flat. They have all the tropes you can think of — a boy from a poor background destined to bring down an evil overlord, an old man who is his friend-cum-mentor and dies mid-way, a family member who works for the evil overload, and so much more.
Granted, the author was only seventeen when he wrote the first book, but I felt there is very little originality in the plot.
What you can read instead
If you want young adult fantasy and adorable dragons, I couldn’t recommend Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series enough. Go ahead and pick up The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett right away!
This is a quest story, set in a world supported on the back of a giant turtle. There’s Rincewind, the avaricious but inept wizard, and Twoflower, a naive tourist whose fiercely loyal Luggage follows him around and protects him from all dangers this strange world throws at them. The two embark on a delightful journey to several parts of the wonderfully captivating Discworld and have some thrilling adventures. There are dragons too, but they only exist as long as you believe in them.
The plot is amazing laugh-out-loud funny. Pratchett’s wit never fails to impress, drawing the reader in right with the first sentence-
“Disc philosophers agree that the First Men, shortly after their creation, understandably lost their temper.”
Hope you liked this list. Do let me know if there are any famous books you read and didn’t enjoy. For more book reviews, follow me on Goodreads.
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