My reading tastes aren’t too terribly unusual. In genre fiction, I loved Ender’s Game, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hyperion, Neuromancer, and Books 1-6 and 11+ of The Wheel of Time. (Currently reading and liking Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.) If you want to talk classics, I enjoyed Animal Farm, My Antonia, Peter Pan, White Fang, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Lord of the Flies. (Just finished Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which was good, though I thought the first chapter could’ve used a little cutting.)
I could give countless other examples; the theme here is that, to a large extent, I do enjoy the books you’re “supposed” to like. But every so often – more often than I would expect – I come across an anomaly: some universally beloved book that does absolutely nothing for me.
Below are my top five. No disrespect meant to the authors or readers of any of these books; they just weren’t for me.
5. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. The first few pages absolutely hooked me. I was enthralled; I raved about this book to my friends. But the more I read, the more the plot wandered, and the ending fizzled. Strong writing style and vibrant description throughout the whole novel, but I never felt like it went anywhere. Gaiman’s fans treat him like a rock star, and there’s no question he has enormous talent, but this one just didn’t do it for me.
4. Idlewild, Nick Sagan. Again, this is one of those books that people rave about; again, the beginning was cool; again, never seemed to go anywhere.
3. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. From what I can gather, this seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel, but it felt very “meh” to me. Okay, I’ll admit, it contains one of my all-time favorite lines. “Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” I mean, that’s just fun to say. And there’s no doubt the characters in the story have depth. But the constant language gymnastics and obscure references got old very quickly; they felt like the author was showing off, and in my opinion, they got in the way of the story.
2. The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle. This book has over 200 reader reviews on Amazon, and almost all are five-star. The Editorial Review at the top says, “The Last Unicorn is one of the true classics of fantasy, ranking with Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Beagle writes a shimmering prose-poetry, the voice of fairy tales and childhood.” I’ll tell you right now: I hated this book. It was torture. It was awful. The last hundred pages were an exercise in sheer willpower, just to see if maybe something changed at the end; it didn’t. The story was okay, but the author absolutely drowned it in prose so purple it practically defines the term. Again, nothing against those who liked it, just not for me.
1. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. I would be hard-pressed to think of any recent book that received as much praise as this one. Editors, agents, and authors all gushed about it; literally every one of my friends who read it, loved it. Even the Penny Arcade guys can hardly contain themselves. I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t stand this book. I read the whole thing out of some sense of duty, but nothing else. Two things, I think, killed it for me. One: I really, really didn’t like the main character, Kvothe. I think I might’ve liked him better if the book hadn’t constantly shoved in my face that I’m supposed to love him; as it was, he just seemed boring. And two: in my opinion, the story desperately needed tightening. The hardcover is 662 pages, and it easily could’ve lost half of that. I distinctly remember thinking, when I got to around page 50, “Everything before this could have been cut.”
I know, I know, I’m a stick in the mud. Can’t help it. But if you, too, have ever been a stick in the mud on some beloved story, tell me about it in the comments!