5 Books You Think Are Overrated

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.

much love,

Ollin

Now it’s your turn. What books do you think are overrated or overhyped? Tells us why you think so in the comments below.

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47 comments on “5 Books You Think Are Overrated

  1. Martha Miller says:

    Without a question: the most overrated, overhyped book: “The DaVinci Code”. Shallow characters, awkward writing.
    The reason it’ll continue being read: interesting puzzle of a plot.

  2. Pedro says:

    Sorry, but I must assume you simply doesn’t understand “One hundred years of solitude” and its true power and impact, which Is difficult to estimate in translations. Borges is however far superior, as you say. In fact, it’s far superior to any other 20th century writer but, again, that is difficult to leverage when one doesn’t read the original text.

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Pedro. But as I said in the beginning, this is not a book post about the worst books ever {I’ll be doing that post soon} this is about books we think are overrated. That doesn’t mean that the book is bad, it actually may mean that the book is great. It’s just that it doesn’t live up to its hype. For me 100 years is that kind of book. But we can agree to disagree.

      • Pedro says:

        Certainly🙂 But that’s exactly what I say, that book Is indeed one of the best of the century, and is in no way related to the awarding of a Nobel prize but of course, everyone is entitled to his own opinion🙂

        • Ollin says:

          🙂 Okay. But I’m not reading the translation. I’m sorry. Haha! But for those readers who have never read 100 years and are thinking of reading it, then certainly read the spanish translation first.

          That is only fair to Marquez.

          Except I have read Marquez in Spanish, and I still think he’s over hyped.😉

  3. The Historian, by Elizabeth Costova. It was hyped to be the next big thing, because author brings Dracula back blah blah. It was the most boring book ever. It dragged and dragged. I did not care for most of the characters, some, I outright disliked. Nothing exciting really happens and when Dracula finally makes an appearance, it’s just bleh…so anti-climactic, it’s not funny.

    Oh and Wuthering Heights, that is to me, also very overrated, but I cannot comment much, except to say I was so bored with it, I was not able to finish it…

    Cannot comment on most of the books you mention, as I’ve never read any of them…

    Great post Ollin🙂

  4. WRT to “The Great Gatsby”… I think you did miss the point. It’s not so much about a millionaire rich boy who can’t get a date. It’s about the thin and ultimately empty world that the wealthy of the roaring twenties (and, by extension if you think about it, or own time) have created for themselves. It contrasts the new rich and the old rich and the disgusting classist assumptions built into the system that segregates the two (and, by extension, segregates all of us “have-nots” from the “haves”). In that way, the book is probably more relevant today than it was, say, forty years ago (before our time, perhaps, but there you go).

    Which is to say, Gatsby may be the main character, but that doesn’t really mean we’re supposed to sympathize with him, and the book isn’t really about him at all. Take that for what it’s worth.

    • Ollin says:

      Remember: not saying Gatsby is bad, just saying I think it can be overhyped. Certainly its a great book, but for me it doesn’t hold up enough to be one of the greatest books of all time, you know, on the very top of the list. In fact I did get all that which you mentioned. And if that’s the case I still hold by my opinion. Maybe it’s my working class background that makes it hard to identify with the characters, I don’t know. But it is a great book, just needs to be humbled a bit.

      • Similar working class background, similarly can’t identify with rich kids or even with boot-strapped rich folks, because I am neither. Rather, I just get a strong “rich people really don’t get it” vibe from the book, which as a non-rich person really resonates with me.

    • Christina says:

      Totally agree with Stephen.

      Interestingly, The Great Gatsby is also a metaphor for writing – Nathan Bransford did an excellent job of showing the parallels between Jay Gatsby and the writing life. Here’s a link to Nathan’s blog post: http://tinyurl.com/5vb7ar7

  5. I totally agree with you about Tom and Huck. Huck is the man! haha

    Do you ever think that Catcher in the Rye is over rated? It’s funny, because there was a time when it was very uniquely UNDER rated. Now days, however, almost every highschool teaches it. I love the book, but merely from a fascinated writer’s perspective. Seriously, though, what does Holden teach people? What epiphany, exactly, was Salinger intending to reveal/guide toward? Hurt people do stupid things? Huh? I might be exceptionally blind, but even after reading almost every review I could get my hands on, this book still boggles my being-carefully-trained writer’s mind. What do you think?

    • Ollin says:

      You know I do LOVE Catcher in the Rye, but you are right. I think it is starting to get overrated. I hope people understand the difference between me saying a book is bad, and me saying a book is just overhyped. I think overhyping a book can be dangerous to it. We go in with all these high expectation and we leave disappointed. And that’s not the author’s fault. He wrote a good book, it’s just that people think it’s the best thing since Jesus, when it’s not.

      But, for what its worth, I do think Catcher in the Rye IS one of the greatest books of all time. But let’s not overhype it too much.😉

      • That’s a great way to put it. Obviously “Catcher” is a really good book: look how I’m obsessed with it! haha! I just think you summed it up perfectly, “it’s just that people think it’s the best thing since Jesus, when it’s not.” True that.

  6. I have not read the whole thing, but the first four or five chapters of “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss left me wondering why on earth people say it’s such a life-changing, blows-out-of-the-water-all-other-fantasy book. I mean, the writing was fine if a tad heavy on passive voice, but when I thought, “there’s 700 pages of this?” I decided not to mess with it. People tell me it picks up speed, but seriously, if you can’t hook me in four chapters, I’m not giving you any more of my time…

    But to each his own…🙂

    For what it’s worth, I loved “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” But then someone said “oh, you should read Faulkner if you love Marquez.” I’m still confused over that recommendation. Faulkner makes me want to claw my eyes out.

    Oh, and anything by Steinbeck. Seriously, why do we give Steinbeck to angsty high-schoolers? There’s nothing happy in his books. Stop making high school kids read Steinbeck and “Romeo and Juliet.” Let ’em read “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Twelfth Night.” I was in college before I realized that people didn’t die in every Shakespeare play.

    Great post. I thought I had nothing to say, but then as I started thinking about it, I realized how many books (and plays) I did think were overrated…🙂

    Amy

    • Ollin says:

      You know, I’ve only read one Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury, and I think I was well too ill prepared for it. I would like to read more of his books before I make my case for him.

      All Shakespeare plays are a must read, and I think he lives up to his hype when it’s not Romeo and Juliet, which I DO think is very overhyped.

  7. I love your post, Ollin, and feel much stimulated to do the same, using your post as a model. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time, complicated by the fact that I have been puzzled by the ‘great’ status of so many books that I’d have a hard time selecting just a few. So what I’ll say instead is that I’m deeply depressed (because I care so much about literature) at all the poorly written novels that today receive rave reviews (who the hell ARE these people writing reviews?) and even win major literary awards, and suggest this as another breath-of-fresh-air post you might do.

    The most recent ‘rave’ one I’ve quit reading before getting halfway through is The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordana. It won literary awards in Italy. Although the primary traumas of the two main characters are believable enough, a lot of the subsequent action, including tons of gratuitous cruelty, would only make sense if Giordana bothered to give his characters reasonable motivation – but he doesn’t. Contradictions in character are not explained and don’t seem reasonable. On Amazon this book gets rave reviews from readers as well. I must be seriously out of step; I find myself in this position often.

    • Ollin says:

      I usually don’t read contemporary novels for that reason. A lot of these books get hype that they don’t deserve. I’d rather spend my time with books that have had many people say they were really good. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Yeah, feel free to copy my idea and then let me know what your readers say are the most overrated books. I love to hear what they come up with. To me it reminds me that we all are entitled to our opinions and that just because a critic says a book is the greatest thing since Buddha, doesn’t mean we believe it too.

      • I ‘misspoke myself’, Ollin. I didn’t mean I wanted to do the same thing on my own sites, I meant I wanted to do it in comments here to add to what you did. It would be such a fun thing to do, but I just don’t have the time. By the way, I sent the URL of this post to a friend in Texas, and she loved it and forwarded it to all the members of the board of a literary group that supports readings in Houston so you will perhaps gain a few more subscribers. I was delighted when she told me that.

        • Ollin says:

          Oh wow! Thank you so much Toni. That’s great news. I don’t know if you read about my challenge, but that’ll put my readers closer to reading a new short story for me. So thanks from me and from them!🙂

  8. I agree with all of your “should read intsead” books. I LOVE, love, love Great Expectations. It’s my favorite Dickens novel, and the wonderful thing about Dickens is that he is still relatable today. I also hate the Great Gatsby with a purple passion. Ugh. But I’ve never been a big Fitzgerald fan to begin with.

    And you know that I think Twilight is completley over-hyped. BUT it is hard for me to complain about ANY book if it gets a person to read, especially youth. I figure if one book catches their attention, they are more likely to pick up another and another.

    Fabulous post, my friend!

    xoxoxo

  9. Christina says:

    Funnily, Ollin, anything by Dickens makes me want to never EVER read again.

    The characters seem like caricatures, which truly puts me off.

    Sorry to disagree!!

    • Ollin says:

      No, don’t say sorry. You are allowed to disagree! I love Dickens, but I can see why people might hate him. I’ve heard people hate Tale of Two Cities, which I have yet to read, but I love Great Expectations, maybe they are different. The characters are incredibly complex in that book, but who knows.

  10. jeri says:

    I am mostly in agreement with your list. Huck Finn is a better read than Tom Sawyer and I don’t get Marquez. If Anna Karenina isn’t the best book I have ever read, Steinbeck’s East of Eden is. I think everything written by Hemingway is over-rated, but I would keep The Great Gatsby on the must read list.

    • Ollin says:

      I’m curious about East of Eden. Especially since you say its as good as Anna Karenina. I haven’t read it tough. You know I think Hemingway is overrated too. Didn’t like The Sun Also Rises very much. But I’m still not sure, I would give him another shot. Maybe I wasn’t paying too close attention to the first book I read of his.

  11. Mollie says:

    My husband and I were just discussing what a wonderful book Great Expectations is the other night. I liked Gatsby when I read it way back in high school, but you are right about Dickens being a better novel about class. For one thing, the characters are more endearing. It’s like Flannery O’Connor said,

    “It seems that the fiction writer has a revolting attachment to the poor, for even when he writes about the rich, he is more concerned with what they lack than with what they have”.

    I find it hard to recall any details about Fitzgeralds characters because they are for the most part all so shallow. I realize that is what his stories are about, but the fact that I can’t really relate to them makes them less memorable.

    • Ollin says:

      Yes! You hit it right on the button. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I think a book should leave a deep impression on you, and when it doesn’t, I hesitate to call it one of the best of all time, even if it is written well and everyone says it should be at the top. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts!

  12. Maggie says:

    Anything by Hemingway. I can’t stand his short, choppy sentences!

  13. Christina says:

    What an enjoyable exercise! I think that just about any book that gets put on a “world’s greatest” pedestal is just being set up to be knocked down. It’s a hard title to live up to, especially because literary taste can be so subjective.

    While I do think “The Great Gatsby” is a classic in every sense of the word, it probably isn’t relevant to everyone, although I think its overall view of society is still pretty pertinent today. But I think that “Babbit” by Sinclair Lewis does a lot of the same things equally well, and is more relatable to ordinary folks, IMO.

    While “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is on my all-time favorite list, I had the advantage of reading it before I knew anything about it, so I didn’t really have any expectations. I just thought it was incredibly unique and the whole feel of it was so compelling. Borges however, has got to be one of the most underrated writers out there, in any language.

    And when it comes to “Madame Bovary,” I totally agree. I always tell people, “just read Anna Karenina instead.” But then, I’m a huge Tolstoy fan, so am biased in that direction anyway.:-)

    Great post!

    • Ollin says:

      I wonder if I might have liked 100 years more if it wasn’t so hyped up for me. Maybe I would have. Yes, GOOO TOLSTOY!😉

  14. Rae says:

    I don’t think these are in the top 100, but they still seem to be a big deal: Mitch Albom’s Tuesday’s with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I liked the second one a little better, but still, both were just a little too sweet. No, way too sweet. And I understand that that may be why they are loved, but it’s not my taste.
    And I could not agree with you more on The Great Gatsby! You said it all.

    • Ollin says:

      I did remember reading Tuesday’s with Morrie. Yeah, it didn’t leave an impression on me, because I don’t even remember what it was about. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Jacqui says:

    Unfortunately, we all must read these books even if they are over-rated because they’ve become part of the fabric of our culture. Allusions are made to them–Tom Sawyer makes an allusion to Robin Hood. What if you hadn’t read that book? Some actions have become synonymous with childhood (like Tom persuading his friends to help paint the fence). An entire dinner conversation can be built from Things Fall Apart’s allusion to Yeats’ Second Coming.

    If you haven’t read the books, you seem less intelligent, less rounded, less cultured. If that’s important to you as a writer, it’s worth the time to read even books you don’t necessarily like. Having said that, I’ve never read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Maybe I should.

  16. 83October says:

    I’ve read all the books on this list and I do agree in the idea of “over hype,” but I also think maybe during the time they got their recognition they held some significance. The over hype is more a result of people who read these books and simply took them as good (praise them with exaggeration) just because someone else said so and the sick cycle persist leading to their current state. I remember enjoying all of the books mentioned above and i remember reading them because i wanted to as oppose to required. Living so many miles away in an archipelago the hype isn’t so evident, but I do get what you mean by how each book could have been praised too much.

    I find the top 100 list of great books or books you should read before you die to be a strange thing as i feel books come to the reader in their proper time. While some ‘great’ books may be lost to a person who cannot relate to it at any level in their lives. I think some of the comments have covered other books you can include in this list. I agree with dan brown. If i were to add one its Eat, Pray, Love. It’s a memoir, but the whole idea of it being ‘inspirational’ to the point of changing a reader’s life is an over hype. I think.

    Great post. I really enjoy your posts on books.

    • Ollin says:

      Haha. I love “Eat, Pray, Love” and I’m one of the people that did think it transformed their life for the better.

      That’s what I loved about this post, i think it reveals just how important perspective and personal taste is to each person, and maybe that books are far more mysterious than top ten lists?

      Maybe it’s like you said, we should value a book only according to its value for an individual person, not at its value for the whole. If that makes sense.

      • 83October says:

        Haha. Amazing…of all the books I could think of. But I’m glad that i know someone who was indeed transformed by the book. I guess i can’t call it over hype anymore. haha. Ah well, that’s why I wrote a post about fearing book recommendation. I rarely recommend because books are a personal preference. I believe that the books we read at a certain time in our life (and even declare our favorites) reflect a connection beyond good writing and entertainment. Most of the time, its finding ourselves or our potential within the pages of that book that give books their value.

  17. Deana Birks says:

    Oh, no! I expected to like this post, but I didn’t make it past the first two books. I haven’t read the rest of the comments yet, but:

    I think you really did not understand Gatsby. The point was definitely something we can relate to in bad economic times — the rich really don’t care about anyone, not even their lovers, and they get away with any behavior, even murder.

    I could not get into One Hundred Years of Solitude because the opening scene said “firing squad” and I had flashbacks to some horrifically violent films I had to watch in college Latin American History classes.

    However, magical realism is my favorite genre. It’s not fantasy — it takes place in the real world but has magical touches (ie., there are no elves or vampires, but a recipe can make everyone in the room cry). So many people have done well with this genre: Louise Erdrich, Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Joanne Harris, Sarah Addison Allen. Sorry if you don’t like the genre, but to say it doesn’t exist or that no one else writes it is absurd.

    • Ollin says:

      Hi Deana. You know I’m not sure if its so much I didn’t understand it, is that I didn’t think it was as memorable as other books. If you read the comments above, you see that I don’t hate gastby, nor do i think it is a good book, I think these are great books, but they are not the greatest books of all time. Does that makes sense. I worried that people might mistake what I am saying for them being the worst of all time. I’m going to have that post in the future – the worst books of all time. But this isn’t it. I’m just saying these books are overhyped and overrrated and they need humbling.

      I disagree. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I’m saying it does and its called “fantasy.” Saying something has “touches” of something is like saying a person is not an alcoholic they just take tequila shots every night at the local bar. Why can’t they just call it fantasy? All fantasy has realistic elements. What the term “magical realism” seeks to do is lower works of fantasy, but I think that is elitist. I’m sorry, but we can agree to disagree.

  18. Deana Birks says:

    Oh, and to answer your question: anything by Hemingway.

    (Dodging tomatoes) I don’t like his ultra-masculine close-lipped refusal to use enough words to say what he’s actually saying. I don’t like all the clones his (akward lack of) style created. I especially don’t like the way taking a sentence and cutting out 75% of the words has come to be considered “good writing” because of him.

    And he wrote women as though he never met one.

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