The Criteria: books you couldn’t finish, books you hated, books that left you cold, books you threw across the room, books you stared at wondering how on earth did this get published.

All genres apply, so don’t feel limited to fiction.

These aren’t listed in a ranked order or anything… just as I think of them. I suppose you’ll be able to tell how much I loathe each one based on the length of the rant that accompanies it. 😉

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I had this one forced on me in high school. I loathed every single one of the characters as they were all selfish, lazy, and mostly immoral. My teacher held the narrator, Nick, up as some kind of moral compass for the book, but I found him just as self-absorbed and blasé about everything as the rest of the characters. I think I reached my limit with the book when Daisy hit Myrtle while driving Gatsby’s car, and then just drove away. Oooooh! Infuriatingly infantile woman! Now, I know that this was written as a satire, but that didn’t make the characters any less detestable, the story any more interesting, or what little insights into life that could be gleaned from this torturous read any deeper.

2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you 870 pages of angst! By the time I was a third of the way through, I had hurled the book against the wall at least twice, yelling at Harry, “What are you – the Chosen One or a Mewling Little Girl??” The other thing that got me was how all the adults in Harry’s life turned away from him… to “protect” him. Riiiight. How is refusing to give the boy ANY information on the deadly wizard who just happens to want Harry dead and has managed to circumvent the blood protection that had kept him safe for the past four books gonna keep him safe? No wonder Harry loses it! Still, as much as I can sympathize… the constant bombardment of rage, hate, resentment, fear, and uncertainty through the book really wore me down. All that being said, the Weasley twins’ exit from Hogwarts and the teachers’ response to Umbridge’s panic was a scene of pure genius that restored enough of my faith in the series that I checked out the sixth book.

3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

Let’s start out by saying that I saw the movie first and fell in love with it. When I heard it was based off a book, I let out a squeal of joy, logged onto the library website, and promptly put a hold on it. Within a week, I was curled up in my bed, reading away, expecting a fun adventure story full of wit and charm and sparkling dialogue. What I got was an adventure story to be sure, but one that was cynical and sarcastic with characters that were far less likeable and far bitterer than they had been in the movie. And, to add insult to injury, my favorite character had all of three lines devoted to him in the book itself. That was enough to make me curl up in a corner and growl. I guess, to be fair, this book was not badly written, I just had pretty high expectations and it utterly failed to meet them. I read another book, Neverwhere, by the same author and loved it.

4. Twilight by Stephanie Meyers.

Twilight-book-coverOk, this one I hated before I read it. After reading it, my attitude became slightly more charitable as it was semi-entertaining at the very least. Then the Craze hit. Twilight here, Twilight there, Twilight, Twilight everywhere! Within a week, I was back to hating it, not only because of the abysmal failure that was the movie, but also because I made the mistake of re-reading the first two chapters. The awfulness of the writing struck me then (I guess reading it at midnight the first time had clouded my inner editor). This has got to be one of the few books that I swear made some of my brain cells die, shrieking in a microscopic cacophony of agony. The grammatical errors, flat characters, inane dialogue, and the abject fangirling that the author did over her male lead made me cringe. Tip on writing, Stephanie: you do not tell your audience that your main character is cool (repeatedly, in this case), you show them that he is cool by what he does, by how he carries himself, and by how he speaks to others; telling me that he is cool ad nauseum not only insults my intelligence as a reader but also makes me doubt his coolness (methinks the lady-writer doth fawn too much…). Anyways, long rant cut short, I now hate this entire series on principle – there are so many well-crafted books out there… how did this one become a best-seller?

50-book-pledge-5-albert-camus-the-stranger-L-8Rkbjj5. The Stranger by Albert Camus.

I’ll be brief. I do not like existentialist writing. I do not like stream-of-consciousness writing (though, if I find I must read it, Virginia Woolf does it best, IMHO). Lastly, I do not like being trapped in a first-person narrative when the narrator has no shred of human emotion. Since this book was the embodiment of all three of these things, I did not like it at all.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.

Urgh. I pitched this book across the room at least six times over the course of reading it. I hated the entire segment of the book devoted to tearing down Dumbledore – it would be like finding out that Gandalf had lied about being imprisoned by Saurumon, had actually been plotting on how to get the Ring for himself, and upon realizing that it was impossible, only aided Frodo so that no one else could possess it and gain greater power than he himself had… wasn’t this one of the people we had trusted the most?? Ron’s constant complaining and his (albeit, temporary) abandonment of his friends (I don’t care that he was under the evil influence of the Horcrux) ticked me off royally and I also hated that Rowling killed off every single one of my favorite characters. I had four… they ALL died. Ooooh! *snarl! ‘Scuse me, I must go rend something now…

7. Eragon by Christopher Paolini.

One word, dear friends – overrated. I wanted to like it… I really did, but it was painfully obvious the Paolini merely copied every other book in the fantasy genre instead of coming up with his own ideas:

  • Elves who live in a secluded forest, are basically immortal, infinitely wise, and in possession of lore lost to the rest of the world (Can we say, Tolkien, anyone?)
  • Evil overlord who is threatening the entire known world and whose right-hand man just so happens to be the main character’s father (Welll… hel~loo, George Lucas!)
  • Hidden sibling that he didn’t know about (Lucas again!)
  • Special sword (Sword of Shannara, Zelda, the list goes on… this is nothing new… goes back to Norse myths, for crying out loud!)
  • Psychic bond with your dragon that causes great emotional pain and even madness if broken (Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern)
  • Naïve small-village farm boy stumbling across some mystical item and being inadvertently thrust into the path of the Enemy (Need I even start the list? Tolkien did it, Terry Goodkind did it… with wit, zest, and originality, I might add… just about every fantasy author out there uses this plot device)

These are just the horribly obvious ones that I can think of offhand; there are many others. I should say that I don’t mind writers using traditional components from their genre, but I do take issue when it is done in so wholly an unoriginal way. In my opinion, the only reason that Eragon received the hype that it did was because Paolini was 15 years old when he wrote it… and trust me, in the mechanics of writing and choppiness of style, it showed. Paolini wrote like a 15 year-old would, with just the basics of writing down. Sure, he had good grammar and spelling, but he had very little sense of timing, of suspense, and of what truly makes for good characters, something that he will hopefully gain as he gets older and reads more books – both in and outside of the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

8. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

No offence to Dickens lovers out there, I too love British literature and hold Dickens up to be one of the great icons of writing throughout the ages. That does not change the fact that Pip was a self-absorbed little brat with delusions of grandeur who had no sense of gratitude towards Joe, the one person who truly loved and cared about him. If I had my way, Miss Havesham should have gone (more) psycho and really taken some strips out of Pip’s ego once he got older. But nooooo… he has to go leading Estel out into the light and getting a happy ending. Well, I said “pppthpppptttt” to that, and promptly beat the book against my mattress in frustration the first time I read it.

9. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

This was my first experience with completely incoherent writing. Each chapter was a separate vignette written in a semi-stream-of-consciousness style, wholly unconnected to the chapters surrounding it. She focused on legs, hips, the laundrymat, anything and everything. It’s heralded as great coming-of-age novel, but – even at 14, when I had to read it – I felt that it was overly simplistic and well below my reading level.

10. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Come on, people! It’s an adventure story that takes us into deepest, darkest Africa – into a world unknown! There’s madness, murder, espionage, even a slave revolt (if I remember right)… it should have been interesting… it just… wasn’t. Much like Moby Dick. Not to mention that, as English was not Conrad’s first language, the tone is very flat. The dialogue all sounds the same and the narration, while in amazingly good English, does not have the innate rhythms and cadences that native speakers expect in certain situations… think monotone, but written rather than spoken. Made for a very disappointing and rather dull read