We’ve all done things we regret, and in the age of social media, it can be hard to erase the memories. But what if people could buy your big mistake from Amazon? What if they could find it in a Little Free Library? What if it had its own record in the Library of Congress? That’s the situation that these poor souls found themselves in: here are seven books that authors regretted writing.

7 Books That Authors Regretted Writing - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You won’t regret buying a book through an affiliate link on this page, to send some support with a small commission!

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could regret writing one of literature’s most beloved detectives, but Arthur Conan Doyle was kind of an odd duck. He believed in fairies, he believed in psychics, and he really resented that his books on spiritualism and historical fiction were overlooked in favour of his pot-boiler mysteries. He wrote The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes purely in the hope of making a quick buck to support his fledgling ophthalmology practice and writing career, but his tales of the pipe-smoking detective and his erudite sidekick proved wildly popular. In desperation, Doyle killed off the detective – “deliberately signaling the end of his patience” with readers – in 1893. Eventually, though, he caved to public pressure, and brought Holmes back to life (not that he was happy about it). Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.

Close Range by Annie Proulx

Close Range - Annie Proulx - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Let’s be clear: Annie Proulx doesn’t regret writing Close Range on the whole. Just one story. That one. Brokeback Mountain, much to her chagrin, has become the story for which she’s best known in popular consciousness – and people just will not stop hassling her about it. It exploded in popularity upon release of the 2005 film adaptation, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Ever since then, Proulx says, the audience has “completely misconstrued” the point she was trying to make, and that she receives re-written versions of the story from fans with “powerful fantasy lives”. Basically, people wanted Ennis and Jack’s story to end happily, which would kind of defeat Proulx’s purpose. “I wish I’d never written the story,” she has said. “It’s just been the cause of hassle and problems and irritation since the film came out. Before the film it was all right.”

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s another one of the books that authors regretted writing because of the way it was misconstrued. A Clockwork Orange was just one of 50 books that Anthony Burgess wrote in the course of his career, but it’s basically the only one for which he is remembered – mostly because of the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation. Burgess felt backed into a corner by Kubrick’s interpretation of his work for the screen. “The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate,” he said. “It became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation.” Burgess went so far as to write a poem asking people to read “better” books instead:

A Sonnet for the Emergy Collegiate Institute
Advice: don’t read
A Clockwork Orange – it’s a foul farrago
Of made-up words that bite and bash and bleed.
I’ve written better books…So have other men, indeed.
Read Hamlet, Shelley, Keates, Doctor Zhivago.

Of course, I didn’t listen. Read my full review of A Clockwork Orange here.

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

J.D. Salinger was one of the most notoriously reclusive writers of the 20th century. So, it’s really no surprise that The Catcher In The Rye is one of the books that authors regretted writing. Being such a private man, he truly hated the popularity of his coming-of-age novel. He felt “completely overwhelmed by fame”, and went so far as to leave New York to get away from it all. He refused any and all advances from artists wanting to adapt his work for stage and screen. He stopped publishing altogether in 1965 – though he kept writing, he just didn’t want to draw more attention to himself by putting it out for public consumption. Read my full review of The Catcher In The Rye here.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

The Trial - Franz Kafka - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Franz Kafka was the archetypal neurotic tortured artist. Rather than asking whether there are any books that he regretted writing, it’d save a lot of time to ask whether there were any books he didn’t. He reportedly burned about 90% of his work while he was alive, and what remained after his death, he asked a close friend to burn on his behalf. Luckily, that friend – Max Brod, legend – didn’t honour his wishes. That’s how we came to have The Trial, released posthumously over Kafka’s deathbed objections. I’m sure there are a few high-school students out there, forced to study this story for school, that are on Kafka’s side and wish it had ended up in the fireplace, but the rest of us are glad that Kafka’s regrets didn’t rule the day.

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m sorry to report that the beloved nonsense story, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, is indeed one of the books that authors regretted writing. Charles Dodgson – better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll – went right off the deep end after his delightful children’s book found huge popularity. He wrote to a friend in 1891: “All that sort of publicity… I hate all that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all.” That would be okay, a private whinge, except that he doubled down by refusing to answer fan mail that was “misaddressed” to Lewis Carroll. Dodgson would slap a return-to-sender on it, with a note that stated he “neither claims nor acknowledges any connection with… any book that is not published under [my] own name”. Can you imagine what a slap in the face that was to any children who wrote to him? Smh. Read my full review of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland here.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I was kind of hesitant to include Little Women in this list of books that authors regretted writing. Does it count if the author regretted it before writing it? Louisa May Alcott really had no interest in writing “moral stories for girls”, the way her publishers harangued her to do. She wanted to write dark mysteries and high-adrenaline thrillers, but books for kids were where the money was, and she had to cover the living expenses of her layabout father. It seems she did her best to be a good sport about it (she would respond to letters that little girls wrote addressing her as Jo March, at least!), but it would seem that she carried some resentment about the popularity of the sweet book she was forced to write for the rest of her life. Read my full review of Little Women here.