Beloved Books I Just Don’t Love

After my post about Harry Potter last week, I was chatting about it with friends on Twitter when my friend Tim asked,

Makes me wonder: what beloved tale do you just HATE?

I had one immediate answer to this question that I’ll share in a minute, but I wanted to spend a little more time thinking about it, to ask myself if there were any others, before I posted.

Before I get into talking about beloved tales I hate, let me just beg you please not to be too offended if I mention one of your favorites here. I know. There’s a really abrasive way that people sometimes have of doing that. Every so often, when there’s something that people just seem to enjoy and then somebody feels the need — nay, the moral obligation! — to pipe up and say how much they hate it.

I think when we feel like outsiders, not getting something that everyone else seems to get, we turn that outsider feeling into dissent. And sometimes it gets mean. The Serial podcast and the Elf on the Shelf are two current examples — my Facebook feed is mostly full of people publicly enjoying one or the other or both of them; meanwhile a cranky hater here or there raises his voice in a self-important bleat, trying to make sure everyone knows he hasn’t “fallen for the hype.” In fact, simply invoking “the hype” when discussing something popular is enough to put me on edge every now and then.

But of course I’m sure I have done this PLENTY of times myself. Sometimes I think we’re blind to ourselves that way. But I try.

At any rate, I certainly don’t want to hurt your feelings if I mention not liking a book you loved. I know I would get hurt feelings or just feel downright indignant over someone claiming to hate Nabokov or Faulkner or David Foster Wallace or Donna Tartt. I can recall those feelings so vividly, thinking back to the times I’ve heard people say that. Please don’t feel that way. Think of this post as me exposing my own inadequacies as a reader– my inability to appreciate these beloved, admittedly good works. They’re good; I fail to appreciate them.

So. I’m just going to talk about the works I personally didn’t like or enjoy — I make no claim about their quality, their social relevance, their artistic worth. I’m not writing as a literary scholar here; rather as a reader who is just looking for that spine-tingle of pleasure a book can so often afford.

But these books, reader, sadly did not:

1. All of John Steinbeck’s Work. This was my immediate gut response when Tim asked me about this (and we talked about it on Twitter already and we are both on the same page here). I read The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl in high school and a short story called “Chrysanthemums” in graduate school, so those are the only texts I’m basing this on. I loathed every minute of the two high school novels and then successfully avoided Steinbeck throughout college. By graduate school perhaps I had mellowed a bit, but I did rather … appreciate “Chrysanthemums,” for reasons. Nonetheless, since that day, I have sworn to myself not to read any more Steinbeck and that’s a promise I take very seriously. Would I appreciate some of his other novels? Or even maybe appreciate the ones I already read, if I read them again at a more mature stage of life? Stubbornly, I won’t ever find out.

2. All of Shakespeare’s plays. I know. I know. I adore his sonnets. I enjoy passages from the plays treated in isolation (the language! the wordplay! it’s all brilliant!), but I just cannot bear to read an entire Shakespearean play. I would rather read Twilight again, no joke. Even the horrible fourth book. This baffling situation is further explained below.

3. All plays. I hate reading plays. I don’t enjoy going to the theater either. Something about the reading experience being all dialogue and no narration, maybe. I want artful and complex prose, narrative and descriptive prose, not just speech. Something about the theater experience being so awkward and full of Loud Stage Talking. I feel uncomfortable on behalf of all the actors (they’re standing on stage, talking at an unnatural volume, with an unnatural cadence, standing that way). PLEASE DON’T BE MAD AT ME. Some of my very dear friends are theatre professors and I love them and I respect their work and I will always see their shows but I swear to you there is something in me, something in my brain and the way I process narrative vs performance that just locks me out. I cannot enjoy it, no matter how wonderful the writing is or the acting or the production. I am incapable. It’s a true defect. But I will not read a play (for pleasure).

4. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. Okay, hold on and please don’t start throwing rotten fruit at me just yet! I know y’all really loved it. This book isn’t on this list because I felt particularly strongly about it; rather because I wanted to include an example of a popular contemporary novel that just didn’t strike a chord with me and this one came foremost to my mind. I didn’t particularly dislike this book in and of itself, actually. I think the reason it came up as I was thinking about this post is really just that the book is so popular. Tons and tons of my friends were talking about it when they read it, and talking about how much they loved it, so I got pretty excited to read it, too. That was really the only issue — it was (and I hate that I am even THINKING of this term) “the hype.” Ugh. I’m sorry I invoked that dreaded term. Honestly, I think if I hadn’t heard much of anything about the book, I would have thought it was pretty good, fine, not life-changing, but okay. As it was, my excitement to read it when it finally became available at the library (BIG!) was so disproportionate to the actual pleasure I got from reading it (modest) that it made me disgruntled. I did really like the character of the angry Dutch writer. I’d read a book about him, for sure.


    1. Glad you are with me on #1! Do you mean you can’t get on board with Shakespeare’s plays, or with my not reading them?

      (And if you don’t read #4, you won’t miss a lot. It’s an entertaining read, but you can find things you’d enjoy MUCH more.)


  1. Your comments about plays and theater make me giggle, because, well, I do love Shakespeare’s plays (although I’m not mad that you don’t — I totally get it) and I like reading plays in general. And I like going to plays. But all the feelings you described about watching plays? That’s me at musicals. There’s just so much unnecessary SINGING, and then whoever’s not singing just has to, like, STAND there. I feel so embarrassed. And then! The people in the audience sometimes want to sing along! Or maybe you married someone who wants to sing all the songs from Phantom in the car and NOPE.

    Loved reading your thoughts on this, though — it’s so interesting to see what does and does not resonate with my friends who I know to be really intelligent and interesting. You just never know!


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