I love reading the classics. I feel like those books which were popular for several decades or more, through many generations, must be good. Otherwise, why would they stay popular? Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Some classic books that are pretty popular are actually horrible, in my opinion.
Just because I didn’t like these books does not mean you won’t, so don’t be offended if I mention one of your favorite books. This is just my opinion. Alright, so let’s get into it!
The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald
This one is probably the most famous entry on my list. Let me just say this before I rant about it: it is a beautifully written book. The descriptions are lush and the settings are gorgeous. However, where this book fails is in the plot and characters, not the writing. The characters are foolish and most of the time brings disaster on themselves. This like a poorly written Shakespeare tragedy.
Published in 1925, the book follows Nick Carraway, who tells the story years later of his friendship with a wealthy man named Jay Gatsby, who is super obsessed with Carraway’s married cousin Daisy Fay Buchanan. So obsessed, in fact, that he spies on her from his mansion across the lake. Creepy! Daisy herself is just as ridiculous, having left Gatsby for her husband but then is completely happy to engage in an affair with him. It all ends in tragedy, of course, as Daisy drives Gatsby’s car into her husband’s mistress and the woman’s husband, believing it was Gatsby driving it, goes and kills Gatsby and then himself.
The entire plot is so absurd and pathetic. All of the characters act selfishly. I will say I didn’t mind Nick as a narrator, but even he seemed fine with allowing his cousin to engage in an affair with his friend. If you want to read a book with lush details of the 1920s, than you can read it. I, however, have difficulty comprehending why it’s so popular.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
In my defense, I was required to read this in my Mystery and Detective Fiction class in college. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.
This is a noir crime novel originally published in 1939, although it is probably more famous for its movie adaptation in 1946 starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauran Bacall. The book is said to be more about the procedure of solving a crime than the crime itself, but it still felt disorganized to me. The plot is impossible to describe because it is all over the place, but if I were to boil it down into my most apt description it would be that it follows detective Philip Marlowe is several slightly related cases.
Like The Great Gatsby, the descriptions are beautiful. However, also like my previous entry, the plot was horrible. It felt as if the reader was pulled from fast-paced scene to fast-paced scene without little relation between the two. Most of the things Marlowe figures out are through guessing or stumbling upon a clue by luck. Halfway through the book, Marlowe’s motivations takes a 180 degree turn, making it feel even more out of place. It is the most disorganized, frustrating plot I have ever read. Marlowe’s character himself is bland, as are all the characters. I understand this is a noir novel (and the frontrunner to the modern thriller), but none of the characters stood out more than by their names. I was constantly going back to figure out who was who.
I have not watched the movie, and after reading the book I don’t want to.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This is more of a short story than a novel, but it’s also extremely popular to be read in schools (I read it in college, but many people I talked to read it in high school) so I had to include it on this list.
Published in a magazine in 1892, the plot follows the diary of an unnamed woman who is forced to remain in her house by her husband to recoup from her “mental issues.” Of course, she slowly loses her mind as she becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper inside her room.
Honestly, I have yet to figure out why this short story is so popular. It’s supposed to illustrate a feminist message that women were treated horribly in the 19th century, both physically and mentally. Let me say, her husband is pretty horrible. However, I personally don’t get it. So, her husband’s a jerk or at the very least he doesn’t understand his wife and lives in his own reality. However, it’s one example. Never does it indicate that all men treated their wives like this (in fact, most of them didn’t). It’s a surreal book that, while her descent into madness is interesting, doesn’t seem to have much of a point to it.
I was bored with this short story and I don’t even want to know what would happen if this was an entire book.
The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Burroughs is probably most famous for his Tarzan series, which I also tried to read and couldn’t even finish the first book. I would have that book on this list, but since I never finished it, I don’t think it’s fair to judge it. However, this one I did finish and I couldn’t stand it. I only read it because I had recently finished The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and I absolutely loved it. So I read this one hoping to find something similar to it. I was mistaken.
Released in three parts in 1918, the plot is narrated by Bowen Tyler, whose ship is sunk by the Germans in WWI, and the few survivors discover an island where dinosaurs and ancient flora and fauna still live.
As this is a classic, I expected it to be slow-moving (as was The Lost World), but nothing could have prepared me for how boring it would be. They didn’t even get to the island until halfway through the book, and the majority of characters (save for Bowen himself) were extremely shallow and predictable. Lys La Rue (the token female character and Bowen’s love interest) was completely irrational. I stuck around hoping it would get more interesting at the island, but it didn’t. There was no suspense, and barely any dinosaurs. And just when I thought it might get interesting, it ended with Lys and Bowen remaining on the island and building a home, preparing for the next book. Fortunately, I will not be reading any more.
To Build a Fire by Jack London
This one is the least annoying book on this list, because I do believe the short story itself has merit. I just personally couldn’t stand it.
Originally published in 1902 (though the version I read was published in 1908), the story follows an unnamed protagonist who goes to visit the Yukon Territory. Believing himself above nature and ignoring the guide’s warnings, he goes out on a hike with his dog and, without any knowledge of survival, ends up freezing to death. The great news is that the dog does survive!
The original version of the story does have the man survive, but with major frostbite, and learn from his mistake. However, since I have not read that version, I’m sticking with the 1908 one.
The whole point of the story is to examine the conflict between man vs. nature. How the man believes he is more powerful than nature and, in the end, he misunderstands its force. But let’s face it, that guy is an idiot. I hate when modern scholars compare the average man (or woman) to this fool. Most people are cautious of nature. They aren’t like this narrator. Yes, maybe most of us don’t know how to light fires (as he tries and fails several times). However, most of us would probably listen to the guide in the first place!
Again, the story itself isn’t horrible, I just don’t like it.
Are there any popular classics you don’t like? Let me know down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness, and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,