Confession time: We do love books, but we do not unconditionally love all books. Loving something—promoting it, recommending it, upholding it—makes us all the more more responsible for recognizing and interrogating its flaws. In fact, we find some books so deserving of criticism—and, implicitly, attention—that we can’t help but rant about them time and time again. It’s not that we hate these books; it’s that we love to “hate on” these books: Just like you’d judge your friend for enthusiastically sticking their hand into a drift of jellyfish, sometimes caring about something means acknowledging and engaging with its bad choices. So, since it’s National Book Lovers Day, we’re looking at ten of the books that we absolutely love to “hate.”
1. The Twilight Series
Yes, you might think this is low-hanging fruit—and maybe it is—but we can’t help it. Meyer gives us a love interest who is a stalker, a narrator who’s so blank she makes Harry Potter look complicated, and vampires that sparkle in the sunlight. (Not to mention the gruesomely evacuated vampire baby and the fact that a werewolf instantly falls in love with said vampire baby.) Other blogs have saved us the trouble of breaking down the writing on a sentence level, but we can assure you that even the commas are cringeworthy. Romance readers, young adults, you all deserve better.
2. The Harry Potter Series
OK, since we brought up Harry, it’s only right to bring him and his world in here. For example, Hogwarts uses candles but also apparently modern plumbing? (Plumbing so big a basilisk can move through it!) Uses slave labor but makes the point that the house elves prefer this situation? Misguided attempts at whimsy aside, this story about fighting against oppression is driven by characters who possess—inherit—massive privilege and are largely incapable of recognizing that; in that context, the more insidious racism and sexism of its world starts to make uncomfortable sense. (And…don’t look into what Rowling has said about why Hogwarts has plumbing. Or anything she’s said about wizards post–Deathly Hallows. Or anything she’s said on Twitter, ever. Really. You’ll thank us.)
Gone are the days when we could call Holden Caulfield an outcast genius, if we ever actually did that. Revisiting this book time and again shows just how sad and closed off he actually is, which is infuriating. For a narrator, all we get is a “mopey white guy” view of the world in which everyone is phony for arbitrary reasons. Maybe there’s value in interrogating Holden’s self-deception, but we’d rather hang out with someone less whiny (even if he does like ducks).
It’s no surprise what William Golding thinks happens when the trappings of civilization break down. Considering that he wrote this book about young boys, you have to wonder what was going on with the young men he taught when he was a teacher—or what baseless evil he projected onto them. At least this book is a fast read, useful for shoring up a case of teenage nihilism and enjoyable for the trainwreck that Golding wants it to be. Just don’t mistake it for anything approaching a realistic account of probable outcomes. Humans, alas, are much kinder than that. Oh, and thanks to Golding, you’ll never see pigs the same way again.
We’re well aware that Ayn Rand has a strong following, but we’re not entirely sure why. (Perhaps her work’s useful as a justification for having no friends?) Anthem is a quick and easy read but it so blatantly advertises the value of unjustified exceptionalism and individualism—at the expense of any likability or interest—that it’s almost no wonder why American publishers picked up Rand’s work when she left the Soviet Union. It’s almost as if they elevated her poor writing solely to show the world that “Hey, even some Russians think communism is bad!” It certainly wasn’t for any literary merit. (Bonus tip: someone lists Ayn Rand as a favorite on their dating profile? Trust us. Swipe. Left.)
Just to get this out there: we really like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing. It’s evocative in its imagery, it’s captivating in its dialogue…but it’s heartbreakingly annoying in its plot execution. (And some of Hawthorne’s character names are way too on-the-nose. I mean, “Chillingworth”? We get it—he’s a cold dude.) We just wish that the guy could have focused on some happier stories! Allow Dimmesdale to confess and, you know, not die so that he and Hester get the chance to live a happy life together. And sure, maybe the miserableness of life is the point—but if you’re going to go grim, you might as well make Pearl an actual demon child and really shake things up a bit.
Jumping forward to a contemporary work, Charlie Jane Anders’s stand-alone novel (a Hugo nominee!) was something we couldn’t put down—even if we often rolled our eyes at narrator Sophie’s interior monologue, bland metaphors, and unhelpful concepts of time. We’re also hard pressed to think of a reason why a superintelligent savior-like–pill-bug race of aliens couldn’t conceive of a way to show the humans that they’re not food. Plus, there is also some kind of thing called ankle skirts, and while maybe those could be ankle-length skirts, we’re left with the impression that they’re more like socks-but-skirts. Someone please help. (It’s worth noting that our editorial team is pretty split on disliking this one. And All the Birds In the Sky? Great time.)
And while we’re in contemporary fantasy, can someone please explain to us the fuss about The Night Circus? According to our Goodreads account, we devoured it in five days and even bothered to rate it (three stars), but we can’t remember a single thing about it except a lingering sense of “eh.” How does one engage in critical conversations about a book that so completely erases itself from one’s memory? That’s got to be a problem, right?
No single book has garnered more lectures about being wrong for not liking it than Dune. Simultaneously, no book has offered fewer reasons to like it than Dune. Get past the subtle racism of Dr. Yueh’s characterization and the homophobia of the Baron’s, and you’re left with a story entirely reliant on what TV Tropes calls “Informed Ability”: you’re told that these characters are incredibly skilled, but you never see that fact demonstrated in any meaningful way. Then consider the fact that the (admittedly engaging) plot is given away by chapter headers before you’re even a quarter of the way through. Now struggle to justify spending more time with this insufferable kid and the adults who inexplicably consider him the best thing since mined spice. Maybe if you’re in Paul’s demographic—arguably precocious teenage boy—you’ll be empowered by the hope that someday your most banal and obvious deductions will be as lauded as his. If you’re not, though…good freaking luck.
10. Fifty Shades of Grey
Umm, while we do like it when Seattle editors are stars of the show (but we’re biased, anyhow), we’re going to let this one stand on its own without explanation. You know why, Inner Goddess.
So, have we riled anyone up? Feel like coming to the defense of one of your favorites? Please do! Let us know why we’re wrong in the comments below. Spirited defenses will definitely earn our attention, and maybe even a surprise offer!