As a writer, I hesitate to slam a book. I know how difficult it is to write one. I know how many hours, days, months, and sometimes years it took to get a book out there. Every day, a writer sits down and beats out words that he or she hopes will tell a fine story. A writer does it whether the mood strikes him or not. It’s his job. When it is finished, he takes a few seconds, breathes a satisfying sigh of relief, and then starts a new project.
That’s the creative process. Add in all the business and marketing, and publishing a book can be overwhelming. So, I tread lightly. Which is why the five books I’ve chosen as the most overrated were written by people who are now dead.
The Great Gatsby
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925, literary critics have called Fitzgerald’s tiny book his greatest creation.
In its initial printing, the book only sold around 25,000 copies. Fitzgerald was deeply disappointed. However, after he died and during WWII, the military handed out free copies to soldiers. They gobbled it up and after the war, the book was resurrected. It is now required reading in many schools. Six movies were made, a few stage adaptations, and a few radio plays, too. And it is often referred to as the greatest American novel of the 20th century.
The Great Gatsby is a glossy overview of the 1920s. It’s a fast read because it was written quickly. Fitzgerald was known to chase the dollar, which is why he freelanced in Hollywood. He had to pay for the lavish lifestyle he and his wife Zelda were so used to living. It was a money grab using Fitzgerald’s fame as an unmatched short story writer. He had hoped it would be a huge financial success. It wasn’t until the military found cheap entertainment for the men on the front lines in Europe and South Pacific that it saw a steady increase in sales.
After the war, the book was beloved by many of those that returned. After all, it kept them sane during an insane moment in their lives. They told people how meaningful the book was to them and interests sparked. Many of those fighting men went on to teach and therefore, continued the nostalgic look at a book that saved their sanity. Today, we now have a thin story, with vague direction, and wooden characters that people declare the greatest book written.
It’s a nice little book, but it’s no masterpiece. Fitzgerald was a much better short story writer and The Great Gatsby pales in comparison to his shorts. You want to read a masterpiece? Then I suggest F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story Babylon Revisted. Now that will get your blood boiling!
For Whom the Bell Tolls
What can I say about Ernest Hemingway that hasn’t already been said? Plenty.
First, he is my favorite writer. I’ve read everything this man has written. I’ve read letters he wrote as a boy and, most recently, a hamburger recipe. I cannot get enough of Papa Hemingway. That is, unless we’re talking about For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Not only is this a terrible book, it was made into a terrible movie starring the terribly boring Gary Cooper. It’s as if the powers that be were dead set on killing society with boredom.
The book was published in 1940 and it takes place during the Spanish Civil War. The main character is dull, the rebels are dimwits, and the women are simple. The pacing of this story is as fast as a jaunty reading of the Book of Leviticus and Numbers. The drama is equally the same, too.
Many call For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway’s greatest work. Snobs full of hogwash! Try Farewell to Arms or that hamburger recipe. Anything is better than a long, drawn out story about the Spanish Civil War.
Written by James Joyce and consider the most important book in modernist literature, Ulysses is about… Well, I’m not sure. I’ve never been so confused and frustrated in my life. Call me a dimwit, but this book reads like it was written by a mad man who couldn’t quite make up his mind.
I’m not so sure what is meant by “important”, unless it is meant to show what not to do. After reading Ulysses, I have no doubt that Joyce was a nut that struggled with the English language. If I’m missing something, that’s all right. I can live with it.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Written by the much talked about, but rarely read science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick, this book was first published in 1968. Fourteen years later, Hollywood would make a movie based on Dick’s book called Bladerunner.
Yes, Phillip K. Dick was a visionary, but he wrote like a sophomore in high school. Whew! That was harsh. I apologize and that was probably unfair. However! I challenge you to read one of his stories, any story, and walk away from it thinking, “I’m glad I spent my time reading that.”
I don’t know, maybe I’m not reading his stories in the context of time that they were written. But, to me, they are simple little tales told by firelight for the tribe, this book included. Hollywood has improved on his written tales considerably.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Written by Mark Twain and published in 1884 (UK) & 1885 (US), Huck Finn is a much talked about book. Ernest Hemingway himself even said that “All modern American literature comes from” Huck Finn, and that it was “the best book we’ve had.” However, he went on to say that the reader should “stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is cheating.”
So what’s wrong with the book?
Huck Finn is a dirty little rat of a kid with the mind of a marble. He’s a racist, a liar, a cheater, and a hooligan. When people saw Huck Finn coming, they locked their children up and hid their valuables. He played with dead cats, and was lazy and shiftless. I hate this kid.
Yes, the book was a social commentary on the times, but who gives a dead cat’s behind. You feel dirty after reading the book and Hemingway was right, the story does end when Jim is stolen.
Instead, I prefer The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s fun and it’s funny. Yes, you put up with Huck Finn for a little while, but it’s worth the time. Skip Huck and go for Tom.
That’s it. What are some of the most overrated books you’ve read?