Books I...Strongly Dislike

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I almost wrote "hate" but early conditioning kept telling me I couldn't say that. Does anyone else remember the teachers who wouldn't let you use the word hate?  "No" they would say "you don't really hate squash, you strongly dislike it."  Huh, really?  I think I hate it.  Anyway, I still feel bad about using the word so we are going with "books I strongly dislike."  Though, I must admit, immediately after having read them I would have said hate. I am not talking about books that are poorly written.  I usually cannot work up a good hate for a book that is not well-written and does not have possibilities.  I am talking about the books that bothered me in some way, the books that made me angry, the books I wanted to throw against a wall.

The first book that comes to mind is Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.  I just checked Goodreads and this book has a rating of 4.1 out of 5.  Huh, apparently I am in the minority.  A friend of mine highly recommended it.  I should have known better.  She likes gloom and doom in her books and I don't.  I understand a book is possibly going to be sad at times but unrelenting depression and misery is more than I can handle. I also found the main character self-centered and completely unsympathetic.  Actually, I don't think I liked a single character in the book and I don't think one positive thing ever happened.  My memory is of babies being born, babies dying, children going hungry, and the main character being supremely annoying.  This is a book I wanted to throw against a wall and just thinking about it is making me angry all over again.  Apologies to anyone who loves it.  I just couldn't.

I love The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.  It is witty and funny and relatable. Her novel, Consequences, did not impress me.  It made me angry.  I read that it was Delafield's favorite of her works.  I understand what she was doing.  The novel highlights the plight of girls who have no option except for marriage.  My problem, again, is that I disliked the main character.  She seemed to be constantly making decisions that just made her life more miserable and there seemed to be a general 'woe is me' feel to the whole thing.  And let's not even talk about the ending. I stayed up late to finish the book.  I had a morbid fascination at this point, convinced that it just had to get better, that something had to go right for the main character.  It didn't.  I was so filled with rage that I went upstairs, woke up my husband, and ranted to him about it.  I read this quite a while ago as a free book on my Kindle.  I was quite bemused when I found out that Consequences is in the Persephone catalogue since I usually love their books.  Delafield wrote another book with a similar theme and I enjoyed that book much more.  I actually thought Thank Heaven Fasting was excellent.  You can read my review here.

My last disliked book is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I reviewed this a while ago.  It had an interesting premise but it never got off the ground.  Again, it had characters I just could not care about and they seemed incapable of doing anything to improve their lives.  I am sure there is a message and a meaning behind that but I just wanted to yell at them for being idiotic.  I spent the whole book feeling like it was leading up to something big but it all just felt so anticlimactic.  This is a book that actually irritates me more and more the longer it has been since I read it.

While writing this I have realized there are several things all these books have in common.  For one, they all have characters I found to be irritating and unlikable. I don't need a character to be perfect but I do need them to be someone I can picture myself talking to without wanting to push them off a cliff.  They can have flaws and defects, we all do, but they have to have strengths too. They have to be admirable in some way.  Second, all these books were unremittingly grim.  I know life is hard and sad.  That is just a fact.  But life is also funny and interesting.  The dark needs to be highlighted by the light or it becomes too one dimensional.  Dickens understood this.  His novels could be heart-breaking but they also were frequently leavened by a good dose of humor.  I also found all of these novels to be too heavy-handed.  When I read Angela's Ashes I felt like yelling "Okay already.  I've got it.  Life was miserable.  You were miserable.  Move on.  What did you do with it?"  I don't need to be beaten over the head with the message.  A light touch is preferable.

With all of these books I felt like I was missing something.  All of them are, as far as I can tell, beloved by many.  I...disliked them.  But that is the thing about reading.  Much as I would like to think that I am the definitive guide for what is and is not a good book, that just isn't true.  I know, I am as surprised as you are.  Though I have to say, if you don't like Jane Austen then I don't think we can be friends anymore.  But I suppose if you back me into a corner and threaten me with no books for a year I will have to admit that you even have the right to dislike Jane Austen.  I think I feel like a traitor even saying that.  But my point is that I can hate these books and you can love them because we all read a different book.  The words are the same but we are not.  Our emotions, our experience, our background, our mood of the moment, all of these combine to make a book good or bad.  Good or bad for us, maybe, just possibly, not good or bad for everybody.

What books have you...strongly disliked? Do you love any of the books I hate?



15 comments

  1. Oh yes, I was also taught not to say "hate" -- and also "stupid" wasn't allowed, only "silly" (which, I get the sentiment, but I wonder if making certain words verboten is less effective than addressing the sentiment conveyed by those words).

    Anyway, this is a really interesting topic! I haven't read the books you list here, but I totally get what you mean about unremittingly grim stories. If there's no point besides "Life = Pain" then, well, my depressive brain doesn't need any help with that concept!

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    1. Oh yes, I forgot about not being allowed to say "stupid." I think kids want to say things are stupid or they hate them because they want to express strong sentiments. Maybe we need to teach them alternatives that satisfy the need for "good strong words that mean something" without being rude. Calling something "silly" just is not satisfying.

      I don't mind sad things in books. They happen. But yes, I already realize life is hard. Sometimes I read to escape that.

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  2. I have a hard time with unlikeable characters and grim stories too. Sometimes I find other redeeming qualities in books that contain them, but if it's too depressing I have to just stop.

    One of my worst reading experiences was when a friend in high school convinced me I had to read her favorite book at the time, Dune by Frank Herbert. Two words explain why this was a horrible choice for me: SAND WORMS. Ugh! I cannot even think about it without cringing.

    Another set of books I hated was that series, I think by John Christopher about people being controlled by silver things on their heads. (I have even blocked out the title, I hated it so much). This was read aloud by a teacher in elementary school and it gave me nightmares.

    Probably enough for now, but I might revisit some more for a post - interesting question!

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    1. I saw your name and realized where this post idea came from. The first post I read on your blog was a review of Ethan Frome. I hated that book when I read it in high school.

      I have never read Dune. I don't think I will. Sand worms sound horrifying. I also had an elementary teacher who read us a book I hated. It was How to Eat Fried Worms, or something like that. She read us a chapter right before lunch each day. I was a sensitive little soul and it made me queasy, especially when a mean classmate told me that my roast beef sandwich looked like squished worms. I shudder now just thinking about it.

      Sadly, I could have made this post much longer. Maybe I hate a lot of books because I have read a lot of books?

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    2. I think that Ethan Frome attracted the most comments of any review I have ever done. It's definitely one of those books that generates strong feelings!

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  3. hmm..I'm not sure whether I dislike any book I've read.:)

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  4. I don't know if it was teachers or my parents, but we weren't supposed to say hi either. We weren't allowed to say shut up, that was definitely my parents.

    The book I absolutely hated was Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. I liked the first part of it, and then the second half, and especially the ending, made me madder than I think I've ever been at a book. I am holding a grudge against her and have refused to read any of her other books. I also loathed The Girl on the Train, which I know a lot of people loved; it made me feel like I needed to take a shower after just a few pages.

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    1. Both of those are books that I have considered reading. Maybe I won't bother.

      I keep thinking of other books I could have included in this post. There was a children's book about a wagon train attacked by Indians. It left me shaking and sick. I can't remember the title of that. Bad books can be upsetting in so many ways.

      I just ordered King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett. Have you read that? I was ordering some books for my son and it just kind of jumped into my cart.

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  5. Oh, King Herafter! I've read that Dorothy Dunnett thought it was the best book she'd written, and I might agree if I wasn't still in thrall to Lymond. It's like concentrated essence of Dunnett, all six of the Lymond Chronicles boiled down into one book (and some Nicholas thrown in :) you will want to clear some reading time! And then you'll want to book some airline tickets, to Orkney.

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    1. That is quite the recommendation. I am looking forward to it.

      And I would be fine with booking airline tickets to Orkney....

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  6. My pet hate is characters being treated unfairly by authors - the sort of unremitting misery that Thomas Hardy specialised in. I refused to finish Jude The Obscure after the most tragic, traumatising but also ludicrous event. I also clearly remember throwing JM Coetzee's Disgrace across the room after finishing it, because I hated it so much, and then doing the same to Atonement.

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    1. Yes, that kind of unremitting misery makes me feel like the author is trying to manipulate me and that makes me angry. Those are the books that just cry out to be thrown across a room.

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  7. I usually abandon a book that I´m not enjoying. But I´ve tried to read FOUR TIMES "The Sound and the Fury" to finally understand that that thing is garbage for me. Even Faulkner said that he was not capable of writing that story. I think he is an awfull novelist, but his short stories are gold for me.

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    1. I don't think I have ever read Faulkner. Maybe I should try his short stories since you speak so highly of them.

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