5 Worst Books You Ever Read

Two weeks ago, I caused quite a stir when I said that certain classics, including The Great Gatsby, were overrated. This week, I’m up to some more mayhem by listing the books I think are the worst I ever read. I know that people take their favorite books very seriously, so I might be ruffling more feathers today, but for me, it’s all in good fun. Because, believe it or not, we can all learn from the worst books we ever read as much as we can learn from the best books we ever read. And as one reader said, sometimes its discussions like these that drive us to read books we wouldn’t otherwise read, because we are dying to see what all the fuss is about. So if my book recommendation posts encourage you to read more, even if they move you to read books I don’t personally like, then I’m all for it!

So here we go again. Today I want us to talk about the WORST books you ever read. The books you think people should stay away from at all costs. I’ll go first:

Days of Awe by Achy Obejas

This is the story of a Cuban-American woman returning to her ancestral home of Cuba. This was required reading for a course I took in college, and I’m not sure why. The sentences are so simple and uninteresting, and the book seems far too self-aware about being a piece on Cuban-American culture. Also, parts of the story are just plain unbelievable, including a flashback where we encounter the famous Fidel Castro when he was a chubby kid. (FYI: this book is not about Castro’s family.) It’s moments like these that seem so forced they drive the reader right out of the book and into scratching their heads. The book’s attempt at exploring Cuban-American culture failed because it doesn’t tell a compelling story and doesn’t develop strong, memorable characters. The fact that this novel “failed to launch” surprises me because the premise of a Cuban-American family elaborately hiding their secret Jewish heritage, a secret they have been keeping since the Spanish Inquisition, should have made this book a fascinating page turner.

What to read instead: Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, or even better The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. The former addresses Mexican-American history and culture and the latter does the same for Dominican-Americans. Both books do what Days of Awe was trying to do but, instead of failing, Cisneros and Diaz execute their narratives masterfully.

Cujo by Stephen King

I have a confession to make. I hate Stephen King. Why? I blame this book. Now, I am aware that King has tons of books that are amazing, but unfortunately this is one of the only two books of King’s I have read. Cujo is the story about a rabid dog on the loose… and that’s it. At one point in the story, the main character and her child get trapped in their car while the rabid dog is circling on the outside. I was kinda scared for them. But then again, not really. I kinda wanted the dog to just eat the two of them and get it over with. But that didn’t happen. The climax, from what I can remember, involves the woman being stuck in her car for more than a day while the rabid dog is still on the loose and still no one has come to her aid. At that moment, the woman can no longer contain herself and, while her child is asleep in the passenger seat, she forces herself to pee into a cup. Gross. Obviously, King has written a ton of books that people read and love, and I’m sure a tremendous part of his success is due to his brilliance, but I wonder if a small part of that success is due to the fact that most of his fans have skipped Cujo. I kinda wish my first experience with King was reading Carrie, or It, or The Stand, or at least The Shining. But I don’t feel sorry for King. Not at all. I feel sorry for me. I may never read another King novel again. And I don’t blame King for that. I blame the lamest antagonist that was ever created: the looming threat of a bladder infection.

What to read instead: Probably any book of Stephen King’s that isn’t Cujo. In the past, my readers have recommended It.

The Firm by John Grisham

Spoiler alert: it isn’t a law firm, it’s really an affront for the mafia! Which would be an interesting concept except for the fact that the whole book reads like it was a movie script. Not only that, but the most crucial plot point in the whole book revolves around a lot of mundane paperwork. For instance, in order to prove the law firm is really run by the mafia, the main character has to spend a lot of time making copies of confidential documents. A lot of copies. Which is brilliant suspense… if you’re a fax machine. In fact, just thinking about a guy hovering over a fax machine in an empty office, late at night, makes me wish I was doing something far more exciting–like watching golf on television.

Who knew that working for a law firm secretly linked to the mafia was just as thrilling as an unfunny version of The Office?

What to read instead: Native Son by Richard Wright – I have yet to read a book with as much suspense and action as Richard Wright’s classic. The first part of this book is so thrilling that you can forget about walking on pins and needles–it’s more like you’re walking on knives and hatchets.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Something stinks. And it’s not just those time traveling, multi-dimensional monsters who serve as one of the antagonists of this book. Let’s see, what do we have here… Mythical creatures including a Pegasus-like horse? Check. Time travel? Check. Cross-dimensional travel? Check. 8th grade-level science, including journeying into the mitochondria of a cell? Check. Lucid dreaming? Check. Metaphysics, philosophy, cloning, social and cultural commentary, allusions to religion and the ancient battle between heaven and hell, and an after-school-special-type conflict and denouement? Check, check, check, check, check, {big inhale} and check! What doesn’t this book do? Oh yeah. It doesn’t have powerful story or any profound, relatable characters. There’s a lot of ideas in this book, but not so many deep connections. There’s also a lot of wonderful fantasy in this book, but not enough “real stuff” to ground it all into something we can truly relate to. This book is all over the place, and sometimes its “weird for the sake of being weird” mentality can get in the way of the reader’s enjoyment. I think this book proves that when it comes to great storytelling, less is more and more is definitely less.

What to read instead: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia – there’s a reason why they’re classics.

Aztec by Gary Jennings

I think that taking one of the most fascinating cultures in all of human history and giving it this dry, painfully slow, and uninspired treatment should be a crime–and Gary Jennings should be arrested. This book doesn’t deserve this title, and the Aztec culture, whose descendants still live in Mexico today, deserve a far more superior treatment in literature than this. If you’re fascinated by Aztec or Mayan culture please please avoid this book at all costs. Instead, take a great class with a good Mesoamerican archeologist or history professor. I promise you that the final exam for that class will be far more fascinating than reading Jennings’ pre-Colombian dud.

What to read instead: The Maya by Michael D. Coe – this isn’t a work a fiction. It’s a work of fact by a prominent Mayan archeologist. I’m recommending this book because I believe the true story of the Mesoamerican peoples is a lot more fascinating than Jennings’ dull, stuffy epic.

much love,


Now it’s your turn. What are the worst books you ever read? Share them with the rest of us in the comments below.

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56 comments on “5 Worst Books You Ever Read

  1. Yikes — still recovering from you listing A Wrinkle in Time here — one of my favorites that I continue to re-read. The worst books I’ve read are those that I can’t even remember the titles to. However, I think you can learn a lot from them — what NOT to do. 😉

    • Ollin says:

      Of course you’re welcome to disagree, and you can provide your coutner-point to the book here if you’d like. That’s what the discussion is all about! Many readers disagreed with me last time and told me why. I’m curious to hear your point of view. Why is Wrinkle in Time one of you favorites?

  2. kaleba says:

    Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story. I read a few King novels, and was mostly terrified of them, and thought they were ok — just ok. It wasn’t until I read Lisey’s Story that I became a King fan. Give King another chance by trying Lisey’s Story. If you aren’t a fan after that, well, ok then. Who cares? Not everyone has to like Stephen King novels.

    • Ollin says:

      Okay, I’m putting on my list. Certainly. I am looking to give King another cry. But you know, I’m a little traumatized from Cujo, so if I take some time don’t blame me. 😉

  3. Unabridged Girl says:

    I can still add The Great Gatsby here, too. I am simply not a fan of the book, or maybe it’s just that I’m not a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald? I don’t know. A Farewell to Arms is another book I think is highly overrated and boring. I will say that I liked Hemingways, For Whom the Bell Tolls a lot more.

    Other books I have no interest to ever read ever again:

    Moby Dick
    Oliver Twist
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Water for Elephants

    Though I always feel bad for saying I dislike these books…Because, honestly? Who am I to say something is good or bad? I guess it’s just my opinion, obviously.


    • Ollin says:

      Wow, bold move to make The Great Gatsby one of the worst. I personally wouldn’t go that far. But like you said it’s all about sharing your opinion. Again, I’m hoping it shows that it’s okay to say what we don’t like and not offend anybody. We just have different tastes is all.

      Moby Dick I always here is on a list like this. Interesting. I still might read it to see what all the fuss is about. You see? Even worst books can still move people to read! So it’s all good.

      • Ollin says:

        I just realized: Oliver Twist! And you’re a HUGE Dickens fan. I better avoid that one then. Don’t want my high after Great Expectations to get killed. What do you think of Tale of Two Cities?

        • Unabridged Girl says:

          I love a Tale of Two Cities! Oliver Twist is probably the only Dickens that I really dislike.

  4. Ollin, Ollin, for someone with such am imagination I am surprised at you. The two books on the list I have read are among my favorites. Okay, Cujo is not my favorite King, but still weren’t you fascinated by being inside of the mind of a rabid dog? It changed the way I thought about rabid dogs.
    My favorite King books are probably The Stand and Needful Things, but I think I would recommend DIfferent Seasons of collection of 4 of his novellas including 3 which have been made into movies. The Apt Pupil and The Body,which was the movie Lean On Me, are my favorites. Maybe a small dose of King is what you need.
    And A Wrinkle in Time, OMG, maybe you weren’t an 11 yr old girl when you first read it. I re-read it last year and was astounded at how much my life as an adult has been ordered by that book, I guess that would scare you.

    My least favorites are The Eight by Katherine Neville – it gets this ranking for one line. The book is set in the cold war. During a crisis, the VP looks at the predictions and decides that first-strike is the country’s best hope. I never want first strike to be our best alternative. Instead I would recommend any of the Jack Ryan – Tom Clancy who allows found away against aggression.

    Any of the Willa Cather/ Edna Ferber novels. I found them boring. Not sure what I would offer as an alternative

    • Ollin says:

      I was young when I read it. I think I was in middle school. I thought it was okay then, but now that I’ve read more books I can honestly say that for me, it was one of the worst. Maybe it’s my personal taste. As you might have noticed I’m big on character and story, and also there being something real to relate to. So if a story lacks this, even if it has great fantasy, it sort of turns me off. But hey, we can agree to disagree. Thanks for sharing your worsts with us!

  5. Liana says:

    Wow A Wrinkle in Time? That’s harsh. 🙂

  6. I don’t dislike Cujo, but I can totally understand why you dislike it. I much prefer Salem’s Lot, Pet Cemetery and IT, those for me, are the best 3 King books, at least as far as my taste goes.

    Not familiar with any of the other books you mention so I cannot comment.

    Worst book I ever read? The Ruins by Scott Smith. It was HYPED to the limit, and I read it and could not believe what a bunch of bollocks it was. Some of it was actually comical, though it was meant to be scary.

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks for sharing Alannah! Yes I believed you were the reader who recommended It. I’ll have to try that one out.

  7. Lisa says:

    I’m so glad you asked. The Bridges of Madison County is far and away the worst book ever. Imagine naming your hero after yourself, and spending pages upon pages explaining why he (you) is the greatest, most virile, most handsome, most sexy, cleverest, most brilliant man ever born to woman on earth. It got to be laugh-out-loud funny, in a skin-crawly, gaggy way.

  8. Ollin, I forgot to ask: Did you finish reading the Portrait of Dorian Gray? Just curious to hear your opinion on it 🙂

    • Ollin says:

      Haven’t finished it yet. I enjoy it so far. Do you know if Oscar Wilde intended it to be homoerotic? Was he trying to hide the gayness of the novel, or was it supposed to be obvious? I remember he was supposed to be out when he was alive, right?

      • I think he made no secret it was homerotic, I believe there were parts deleted though as they were too homoerotic for the times. Yes, I believe he was out, though he was married once. I adore him, he was a brilliant man, and nobody has described male beauty better than him. It’s pretty clear both Basil and Lord Henry are smitten with Dorian, and who can blame them…

  9. nancy says:

    Any three from the long list of formula novels, entitled “[Letter of the alphabet] is for ________ “[a word that begins with the same letter.]

    Number 4 is Eat, Pray, Love

    Number 5 is Bridges of Madison County. I’m embarrassed to say that I read it to the end. Even worse, my mother loved it. Now I have family issues.

  10. jeri says:

    Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I thought it was awful. I didn’t care about a single character in the whole narrative. The characters seemed incomplete. So did the story. I finished the book, but I don’t know why.

    • Ollin says:

      I got his book The Corrections. I’m having trouble starting it, much less finishing it. I thought there was something wrong with me since he’s been given the title of “The Great American Novelist of Today.” I’m gonna bet you disagree?

  11. To be a world citizen, I believe you must read A Wrinkle in Time. You will miss too many conversational gambits if you haven’t. I’m not judging its quality–just its impact.

    The greatest writer I’ve never read: James Joyce. Can’t can’t can’t get through him.

    • Ollin says:

      I’ve heard that some people think Ulysses is not that great. But I’m still curious to read him. He’s always on public lists of best books. Thanks for your thoughts!

  12. Jillian ♣ says:

    I love A Wrinkle in Time AND The Bridges of Madison County – ha! 😉

  13. Andrea says:

    So far there wasn’t a book giving me a trauma, but a few that gave me a headache. The Twilight saga. I know it’s a huge success but after reading the first two and a half books I had to give up. To me it was just always the same. It bored me to death. Man, I consider myself actually as brave to have made it through the first books.

    On King: I’ve read only one book of him so far, “Gerald’s Game”, and it was quite good as I must admit. Also it’s not too thick. Maybe, in a few years when you got time, you give that one a go. 😉

    • Ollin says:

      Looks like there’s a whole lot of King’s books to chose from. I was right. Only Cujo was a dud. Why did I read it!?

  14. Amy Buchheit says:

    Dante Dante Dante. O.k. … Inferno was alright. I think I made a huge mistake, choosing to read the entire “Divine Comedy”. This was the one and only book I absolutely could NOT force myself to finish, no matter how hard I tried. I clawed my way about halfway through “Purgatory”, decided this book was the Eighth level of hell, and gave up.

    • Ollin says:

      You know, I love the concept of the story, but the actual story itself was really cumbersome to read. I much perfer Paradise Lost by John Milton if you’re going to go for a classic about hell.

  15. I wasted a perfectly good summer reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. To this day, it’s my least favorite book I’ve ever read.

    • Ollin says:

      I can understand that. Don’t love it myself, but I can respect it. I think The Brother’s Karamozov is much more superior and that’s the one people should be required to read over C and P. That one of Doestoyevsky is one of my favorites.

  16. The two worst books I ever read: A Separate Peace (Good lord I wanted all the characters to just die. And the one that did die wasn’t enough to sate my lust for character blood. I hated them all so much, and I hated the plot of the book, and I hated the movie version just as amply), and The Redemption of Althalus. The first makes sense, because it’s not in my favored genre (fantasy) and it’s a boring book. The latter wants me to like it, but fails utterly to deliver the goods that a fantasy novel should deliver.

    I’m betting you’ll get flak for listing A Wrinkle in Time but I honestly never finished reading it, myself, so can’t comment on what little I remember of it from my memory.

  17. I enjoyed “A Wrinkle in Time”, but I also read it when I was 10 or 11 years old. I liked the adventure of it, traveling to different worlds, and the fact that Meg was mousy, bookish, wore glasses, and was not very heroic, but she ends up saving the universe, her brother, and getting the guy at the end. Being a mousy, bookish, glasses wearing, awkward girl, it was something that resonated.

    Worst book ever: Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. So much misogyny, so much wrong. It still makes me angry to think about it.

  18. Carol says:

    You don’t know bad writing, bad characterization, bad plot until you have read any of the Left Behind books by LaHaye and Jenkins. I read (skimmed after the first two) a bunch of them because I just had to see how many more dei ex machina those two could pull out of their asses. These are bad books by which all other bad books should be judged.

    Although I used to really like Stephen King, I have to say I never cared much for Cujo. My favorites are probably It, The Shining, and ‘Salem’s Lot.

    Usually, if I really hate a book, I don’t finish it so they tend not to stay in my head.

    • Ollin says:

      Good to know. Honestly, this probably aren’t the worst of the worst books I ever read. Like you said, those I don’t remember. So in the end, maybe these books still had something redeemable to them, or else I would have totally forgotten about them. Although now I’m recalling a book about how the moon crashed into the planet. But of course it was so bad I don’t remember the title or who wrote it.

      Maybe it’s best that nobody knows the worst of the worst we ever read. Haha!

  19. A Wrinkle in Time is one of my top five favorite novels and Great Gatsby is one of my five least favorites. Go figure.

    For me, the characters in WIT were relatable and lovable. I think I saw a lot of my young self in Meg, and I liked the way the book depicted relationships, loyalty, and family. I was probably around seven when I first read it, and I credit WIT with making me a science fiction fan and sparking my interest in (and respect for) science. My favorite stories mix science and fantasy, so WIT is right up my alley.

    Other popular classics that did not impress me include Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Lolita, and Heart of Darkness. The problem with every one of these stories, for me, was that I couldn’t get behind the protagonists. It’s not that I disliked them; I just felt ambivalent towards them.

    • Ollin says:

      You know what, I agree with Heart of Darkness. I just DO NOT get why people like that book.

      Interesting that you mentioned Lolita. You are the first to dislike that book. Most people rave about it, I have yet to read it but am curious to check it out.

      Other readers have mentioned their distaste for Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

      Thanks for sharing!

  20. misty says:

    Such great advice… perhaps I am too quick to dismiss horrible books i read… maybe they are worth taking a deeper look/analysis of…

    • Ollin says:

      Maybe… or maybe not. In the end its all about the reader and their unique relationship with a book. It’s like romantic relationships, just because a guy is great with a friend of yours, doesn’t mean the same relationship with you and him would succeed. Food for thought, I guess.

  21. Cris says:

    Because of the recent resurgence of interest in Ayn Rand, I have to bring up The Fountainhead. Awful.

    • Ollin says:

      I’ve noticed Ayn Rand gets listed a lot in book lists. Good to know he’s not that great.

      • Cris says:

        Her philosophy that she spouts in all of her books (“objectivism”) touts a lot of values that are really impossible for me to get behind.

  22. Alexis Jenny says:

    Great idea for a post!

    I’m on the fence about Stephen King. Typically, I don’t like to get involved with series… something about the commitment they require, I think. I prefer books that tell a whole story between two covers. My husband, however, adores series, so in an attempt to become more open-minded, I picked up the first two King novels in the Dark Tower series. I thought that if anyone could change my mind about a type of story-telling, it would be a famous writer like King. I struggled through The Gunslinger with hopes of improvement to come… But The Drawing of Three left me disappointed as well.

    That being said, King’s novel, Lisey’s Story, is wonderful and probably one of my favorite books of all time.


  23. RS Bohn says:

    Anne Rice’s “The Mummy.” I don’t think anyone will step up to defend her writing anyway, but there is something to be said for her vampire novels — such as, they’re better than “Twilight.” 😉 But as for “The Mummy,” it has a magnificent premise that is written in such a way as to be THE book on “How Not To Write.” It’s almost laugh out loud, hilariously bad.

    I wish I could think of a counterpoint for it. But while you’re talking about King, let me express my admiration for his son. Joe Hill’s first novel, “Heart-Shaped Box,” is hands-down the scariest novel I’ve ever read, and it’s compulsively readable. My sister hadn’t read a book in fifteen years (sigh…) but I asked her to give it a try, and she started HSB at 7 pm one evening and stayed up to 4 am to finish it. It’s very good.

    • Ollin says:

      I actually liked Anne Rice’s work. Haven’t read The Mummy though. Good to know. Thanks for sharing! Didn’t know King had a son who wrote horror! Fascinating.

      • Alexis Jenny says:

        The only Anne Rice novel I’ve read is Servant of the Bones… and I read it when I was much younger. That being said, it always held some magic for me. I can’t recall if I liked the writing style or not (I’m sure I did, but what did I know?) I think I should probably reread it soon.

        • Leslie says:

          I actually liked Servant of the Bones. I haven’t read any of her other books, but I haven’t really heard any glowing reviews (except for the people who say “you like vampires? so you must be a big Anne Rice fan” – um, no.)

  24. Leslie says:

    I have to confess I’ve never read a Stephen King book. I’m not sure I ever will, because he’s mostly on my list because I feel like I should read a Stephen King book, not because I want to. I’ve recently decided that life is far to short to read books I’m not interested in just because other people think I should.

    I don’t know if it’s really among the top five worst books I’ve ever read, but I hated Jane Eyre. I found the protagonist annoying and couldn’t relate to her at all. There were also at least three places in the book where the author abruptly shifted into present tense for no reason that I could discern.

    I also intensely disliked the one and only James Patterson book I ever read (I don’t remember the title). I just thought the writing was really bad and the story wasn’t good enough to make up for it.

    The number one worst book I’ve ever read though has to be the “official” Dracula sequel (Dracula: The Undead), penned by Bram Stoker’s great nephew, Dacre Stoker, and Ian Holt. The story was trite and over-sensationalized, the characters were not true to the original and the writing was definitely not high quality. I am so disappointed that I actually spent money on this book.

    • Ollin says:

      I like your thinking. That’s why I’m not sure if I’ll read Stephen King. I want to focus my life on reading GREAT books. Life’s too short on wasting time on just good books as you say.

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