You ever looked at a Top 100 list of “The Greatest Books of All Time” and come across a book that makes you scratch your head and think: “Why is THAT book there?” You may think the book is bad, or that it’s actually good, but just not good enough to be on the list.
That’s because some books just don’t live up to their hype. So that’s why today I’d like us to share the books that we think are overrated.
I’ll go first. Now, before I do, let me remind you that I don’t think the following books are bad necessarily (in fact some of these books I think are really good) it’s just that I don’t think they live up to their own hype. I actually may be doing some of these books a favor by humbling them so that the next person who does read them is not disappointed.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Why I think it’s overrated: It’s about a millionaire who lives in mansion and whose biggest problem (as far as he’s concerned) is that he can’t get a date. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to relate to Gatsby in any deep and profound way. Maybe I’m just not getting it, or maybe it’s because I’m living in an era when a millionaire who has a mansion and has no proof of how he got that money in the first place is not a guy I want to root for–but a guy I want to see thrown in jail. A book like this goes out of touch whenever there isn’t a golden age for the economy, and a book that can go out of touch whenever the economic climate changes may be a great book, but it is certainly not one of the greatest books for all time. Even if it is written impeccably.
Why I think it will continue to be overhyped: It’s short, everyone is forced to read it in high school, it remains the go-to book to let everyone know that you’re cultured, and who doesn’t love to read about the 1920’s if only to dream about a time when big financial collapses seemed like a far away myth. Plus, people just LOVE to make movies about it.
What you should read instead: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – now that’s a book about class issues that can never go out of touch and deserves to be on the top of anybody’s list.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Why I think it’s overrated: This is a story that is supposed to be a microcosm (or metaphor?) of all Latin American history and culture, which is a far too ambitious task for any author, much less Marquez. I think it would have been better if Marquez focused on being more specific and allowed the general, more universal, Latin American themes to come in all on their own.
I also can’t remember a single character that made a deep impression on me, or a single scene that deeply affected me. Not to mention that the genre Marquez is supposed to have created, “magical realism,” still confounds me to no end. I mean, can you really explain what “magical realism” is and what purpose it serves, other than to give fantasy fiction a more elevated–and snobby–name? The novel is a fantasy, but no we can’t call it that. We have to call it “magical realism.” What the frak does that mean? Apparently, no other author besides Marquez really knows what the genre means, because no one else besides Marquez seems to have had any success with it.
Why I think it will continue to be overhyped: The book has earned the title, whether official or not, as The Latin American Novel with Gabriel Garcia Marquez representing The Latin American author. We have the Nobel Prize committee to thank for launching the book and its author to their current status and popularity, but I believe there are other Latin American authors who were far more deserving of the prize–and never got it.
What you should read instead: Short Stories by Jorge Luis Borges – talk about a Latin American writer who has been robbed of the high status and widespread popularity he so greatly deserves. He’s a writer who talks about the Latin American experience by being specific to a location, and doesn’t try to fit the complex genealogy of Latin American history into one general, overreaching magnum opus. Borges doesn’t try desperately to be great, he just is great. He’s by far a bigger genius than Marquez ever was, and oh yeah, he writes fantasy and is not ashamed to call it that.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Why I think it’s overrated: Far too much emphasis is put on the culture of the characters than on the characters themselves and their story.
Why I think it will continue to be overhyped: Similar to 100 Years, this book seems to have been crowned The African Novel, and similar to Gatsby it is standard reading in many African schools. It’s popularity and status will drive people to go out and read this book, but then they’ll scratch their heads afterwards and ask: “Why is it on a list of the greatest books of all time?”
What you should read instead: Farewell to A Cannibal Rage by Femi Osofisan – Osofisan is a Nigerian playwright who illustrates the rich culture and history of Nigeria but doesn’t shortchange the use of moving characters and really great storytelling. I think his specificity reminds us that Africa is not a country, but a continent; and that, out of the diversity of the many countries within this African continent, no work of literature can really be dubbed “The African Novel.”
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Why I think it’s overrated: There’s not much depth to Tom or his story. He tricks other kids into doing his work for him and he fakes his own death just because he thinks its funny. Let’s face it, if any of us knew this character in real life we wouldn’t hold him in quite as much fondness as we do Tom Sawyer. In fact, in many ways, we do know this character in real life, and let’s be honest–we all think he’s a jerk.
Why I think it will continue to be overhyped: It’s standard reading and its a great slice of good ol’ Americana. Also, just because a real life Tom Sawyer would be a jerk, it doesn’t mean that we can’t have loads of fun with the fictional version. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that this book is the prequel to one of the greatest books of all time–that actually deserves its place at the top.
What you should read instead: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – it’s almost as if the person who wrote Tom Sawyer was Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain’s given name) and the person who wrote Finn was Mark Twain. The difference between the two books in terms of depth and meaning is staggering. Also, in my opinion, a book that still faces censorship is a book that has done its job and deserves its place at the very top.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Why I think it’s overrated: It’s depressing. No really. It is. It leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth (pun intended) and you almost feel betrayed. You invested all this time into these characters and its like the rug is pulled out from under you and you wonder what was the reason behind it all. It seems that Flaubert only accomplishes writing about a mood, and we leave the book with this mood in our hearts: deep, biting despair. Flaubert doesn’t give anything more, he just leaves the reader hanging for his dear life and, in my opinion, that’s irresponsible storytelling. A great book? Yes. One of the best books of all time? Maybe for others, but not for me.
Why I think it will continue to be overhyped: Despite the somber ending, the characters are as fleshed out and as compelling as they get, the story is as impeccably plotted out and executed as you’ll ever find. Also, Flaubert touches at the core of something in all of us that no other author succeeds at touching: a sad, unsatisfying despair that we didn’t even know we had until Flaubert shows it to us. Lastly, a well-executed unhappy ending is something critics love to flaunt because it can be so rare.
What you should read instead: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – similar story line as Bovary except it’s executed ten time better. With genius and skill, Tolstoy takes a sad story and makes it better… better-better-better-better! Unlike Flaubert, Tolstoy leaves you with something that you can use, something that’s more than just a mood. He leaves you with an impulse to transform your life for the better and avoid the unhappy fate of the book’s protagonist; and a call to action is a lot more worthy of praise than a license to brood on life’s darker side.
Now it’s your turn. What books do you think are overrated or overhyped? Tells us why you think so in the comments below.
To follow the Courage 2 Create and find out what happens to Ollin and his novel, you can subscribe by inserting your e-mail into the subscription box in the top right corner of the sidebar! Subscription is completely free! Thank you for subscribing!