The Most Overrated Books

(In no particular order…though, let’s be honest, the first one is probably the worst)

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A Visit from the Goon Squad | Jennifer Egan

The fact that this book won the Pulitzer actually made me question my sanity. I just simply cannot understand how this took top billing at one of the biggest awards in literature. Aside from relatively interesting characters, and some well-placed details (like the man who eats gold dust), I felt like this book was tainted by an overzealous attempt at originality. So desperate was Jennifer Egan to show herself as a true literary innovator that she threw every technique she could think of into one book, and hoped for the best. I mean honest to God there’s an entire section written in the form of a Power Point. You have to turn the book sideways to even read it. In my whole life I don’t think I’ve read a book more disjointed, and I’ve read The Pale King which was basically one giant compiled rough draft by David Foster Wallace. Even now, as I look at its list of accolades: National Bestseller, National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, Pulitzer Prize Winner I can’t help but think I’m missing something.

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The Scarlet Letter | Nathaniel Hawthorne

In terms of classics, The Scarlet Letter has to be one of the more difficult books to read. The story itself is not terrible, that is if you can get past the incredibly dense prose. For example, below is one sentence (one sentence!) from the book:

“Planted deep, in the town’s earliest infancy and childhood, by these two earnest and energetic men, the race has ever since subsisted here; always, too, in respectability; never, so far as I have known, disgraced by a single unworthy member’ but seldom or never, on the other hand, after the first two generations, performing any memorable deed, or so much as putting forward a claim to public notice.”

And, the whole book is like that! Who honestly, has read every word of the Scarlet Letter? Because I can’t think of a book more poised to be skimmed. I am a classics aficionado and it pains me to admit I couldn’t get through Hawthorne’s most famous work.

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Freedom | Jonathan Franzen

I read this book during thanksgiving. I remember because it gave me such a phenomenal existential crisis that at one point, while my mom basted the turkey she told me to pipe down about how life is pointless, and we’re all doomed because people are having too many children. I am not a Franzen fan to start with. I think his books are pretentious, and purposefully bleak. I don’t think he’s an exceptional writer, and while he’s above decent at character building, that seems outweighed by his nihilistic tendencies. Even for Franzen, though, I’d have to say this book is grim. Must we be reminded of our folly at every page? If he’s going to take on the work of the Bard, who famously wrote: lord what fools these mortals be, then he’s going to have to give us a better protagonist than Patty.

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A Clockwork Orange | Anthony Burgess

When I hear people say they like or love this book, what I really hear is that you’re a Stanley Kubrick fan and either like or love the movie. This book is short, if I were to guess I’d say it’s about 180 pages, but it takes eons to read—mostly because of the strange made up dialect, but also because it’s kind of just a dreary story, if you don’t believe me here’s a synopsis. This book is important in Western literature…for some reason. I just don’t know what that reason is. If you like this book, I’m eager for you to prove me wrong.

I had initially intended for this list to be a top five list, but I actually couldn’t think of a fifth book on par with those previously mentioned. I suppose that’s a good thing. What do you consider the most overrated books?

Top Five Books of All Time

 

(In no particular order…)

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All the Light We Cannot See | Anthony Doerr

When I think about the books of our time that will be remembered in the same breath as the classics, I think of All the Light We Cannot See. The first time I read it, I had that dreadful combination of envy and awe that only other writers will understand. It’s a unique form of story telling, a collection of vignettes that can at times be a bit jarring, but it’s easy to see why this book took ten years for Doerr to write.

Whereas The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (another tome that took ten years to complete), left me questioning her productivity (hurry up Tartt!), Doerr’s novel delivers decadent storytelling, and exquisite language. It reads almost like poetry, and you can feel how deliberate each word is as you read. This book won the Pulitzer Prize, so I’m not exactly alone in my opinions. If you are looking for more of Doerr’s work, I would definitely check out The Shell Collector, it’s a wonderful short story collection.

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A Confederacy of Dunces | John Kennedy Toole

When I get into reading slumps, which lately is more often than not, I always go back to Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. A slight disclaimer before I continue, I actually hate the ending of this book—it feels like a cop out, which honestly if you know Toole’s back-story is probably not too far from the truth. That being said, it is a perfect piece of satire—a brilliant representation of the self-righteous, and incomparably witty.

His main character is so completely defined that you begin to feel something akin to love for him. He is a dope, an offish, disgusting, arrogant fool, but Toole’s writing is so honest that despite all of that you learn to care for Ignatius J Reilly. There are iconic scenes in this book of Ignatius sucking down hot dogs in the street, of belching while reciting Boethius, or scooting around on a tiny stool.

It’s an easy read, and probably the best representation of contemporary satire.

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On the Road | Jack Kerouac

I am restless by nature. When I stay in one place for too long I have a nagging sensation to run away, to travel long dusty roads with the windows down, and music playing. Because real life rarely allows for existential crisis-related breaks, I turn to Kerouac for the same sensation.

When I was a bookseller, I used to sell On the Road as the “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” for adults. There is that sense of bewilderment on every page, and the true conviction that if you cross state lines, if you jump in the backs of trucks, and kiss pretty people who don’t speak your language, life will work out.

You can feel the sense of frenzy that went into writing On the Road. The battering of the typewriter as Kerouac smoked cigarettes to the butt, and taped pages together to churn out this book in just three weeks. I like the reckless, youthful disregard that saturates each page. It’s a book that reminds you to be young and stupid while you have the chance. Not to mention the fact that it’s filled with great lines. We are all, after all, mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.

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Wuthering Heights | Emily Bronte

I have a proclivity for atmospheric books. Books that paint such a vivid depiction of time and place that you feel cold from the descriptions of icy banks, or windy moors. The Brontë sisters I’m sure grace many a top five lists, and Wuthering Heights often battles Jane Eyre for top billing. For me, Wuthering Heights has always been the book I return to when I want to fall back in love with reading.

There’s something haunting about this book that stays with you well after the last page. There’s the tragic romance, the landscape, and the idea that like in life, the ending will always be a little unsatisfactory. Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is destructive, and imperfect, and feels messy like real romance.

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Suttree | Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is probably the greatest living writing of our time, and Suttree is his Magnum Opus. Suttree is moderately autobiographical, and infinitely brilliant. The story is challenging, no way around it. He often forgoes plot for a dripping, sensual devotion to language. My God the words in this book are phenomenal. Lines like the opening line:

“Peering down into the water where the morning sun fashioned wheels of light, coronets fanwise in which lay trapped each twig, each grain sediment, long flakes and blades of light in the dusty water sliding away like optic strobes where motes sifted and spun,”

Are not only why the comma was invented, but prove why no one well ever be as good a writer as Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read this book close to ten times; I struggle with it every time, but I always learn from it. I’m always in awe of his effortless talent as a writer, and his mastery over the English language. If you do read this, keep a notepad handy to write down words you don’t know. If you’re like me you’ll find your paper quite full by the end.

review of exit west | mohsin hamid

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

I read this book when ICE raids broke out around the country. I read this line as a woman in Colorado barricaded herself inside a church for protection from deportation. Hamid’s book takes place at an unspecified future date, but it’s timeliness makes for uneasy reading.

A quick synopsis for those have yet to read Hamid’s latest novel: A young woman in an unnamed town that closely resembles Syria, falls in love with a young man down the street. Around them, war has broken out–buildings crumble, bombs echo, the city falls. But more than war, Hamid’s book focuses on love. How relationships are born, and how they fade. The book dabbles in magic realism, subtle to the point that it seems potentially true, and it deals with a good deal of difficult subjects–of growing older, enduring, of being an outcast, of immigration, of home, and most of all loss.

my review:

I read this book in one sitting, which may sound impressive but shouldn’t as it rings in at a measly 100-something pages. I tend to stay away from short books, under the whole “bang for your buck” premise, but Hamid is an expert storyteller, and there is a lot of value packed inside this novella. Some of you may be familiar with his first novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was turned into a movie starring Kate Hudson in a really bad brunette wig. That book dealt with a Pakistani man in a post 9/11 America, and when I say “post,” I mean immediately following the destruction of The Twin Towers. Where the Reluctant Fundamentalist shows a man returning to a home that is not really home, Exit West deals with the opposite. In fact, he could have called it the Reluctant Immigrant, and been just fine.

what i liked:

I am not an immigrant, I will hopefully never know what it’s like to have to leave my home involuntarily. It can be difficult at times to empathize with scenarios that are so fundamentally different than what you have, or ever will experience. This book, though helps illustrate the humanity often wrongfully stripped from immigrants or refugees.

It shows that war zones were once the site of loving homes. That behind boarded up windows, exist lives attempting to continue on as normal. It also shows that for every immigrant leaving home, there are countless men and women left behind. That with any form of immigration is an unfathomable degree of loss.

Aside from that, Hamid does a really cool macro/micro exploration of immigration. He shows the broader picture, he depicts civil unrest, countries closing borders (or in this case doors), massive refugee villages rising up over night to the disdain of the host nation. But he also shows it on a small scale. It’s interesting to watch this couple interact as they move from place-to-place. It is interesting to watch them grow and change outside of where they are. Love blossoms and fades even while you endure a larger hardship. He doesn’t marginalize the importance of a small relationship in the context of something much larger.

what i didn’t like:

Honestly, I found this book pretty close to perfect. I give it five out of five stars. What did you think?

Buy it here.