Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

8 Most Overrated Books Of All Time

A few weeks ago, I put together a list of underrated books, ones that haven’t received the attention or acclaim that I think they deserve. Now, I know literary appreciation isn’t a zero sum game, but it got me thinking: it stands to reason that, if there are books out there that aren’t feeling enough of the love, there must be some that are feeling too much of it. Right? So, here, I present a counterpoint: 8 of the most overrated books of all time, as determined by me.

8 Most Overrated Books Of All Time - Text Overlaid on Image of Jeering Crowd - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pssst: this is not to say that these books are “bad” necessarily, or that they’re not worth reading. I’m just saying that they get TOO MUCH hype, at the expense of other great books that deserve a bit of that limelight. So, y’know, don’t @ me.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This might be my most controversial choice, so I’m getting it out of the way early: The Great Gatsby. Why, oh why, do we hold this story of a wealthy borderline stalker in such high esteem? It’s not as though there aren’t other great Jazz Age novels out there (there are). And yet, this is the one that we force teenagers to read and analyse in high school, and salivate over in creative writing courses. Reader, it’s not that great. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road To The Deep North - Richard Flanagan - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The premise and setting of The Narrow Road To The Deep North aren’t bad. The unflinching account of the life of a surgeon in a POW camp is admirable, even jaw-dropping in parts. But damn, if this wasn’t one of the most overwritten books I’ve ever read! Flanagan’s editor really needed to have a stern word: he could’ve cut off the whole first third of the book, like a gangrenous limb, and it would’ve been a much better read. I still can’t quite believe that it beat out We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves for the Booker Prize in 2014… Read my full review of The Narrow Road To The Deep North here.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Even now, fifteen years after its release, I still feel like every time I turn around I bump into someone saying that The Book Thief is AMAZING, that it is HEARTBREAKING, that it will CHANGE MY PERSPECTIVE on WWII… piffle. It’s narrated by Death, which is a pretty cool way. of telling a story, but other than that…? The main message is that Nazis are bad and literacy is good. I thought we could take that as read! The same goes for All The Light We Cannot See, too. The recent boom in WWII historical fiction really irks me. It feels like they’re only rehashing what has already been beautifully accounted in books like Diary Of A Young Girl. The Book Thief would be a fine read for teenagers who are just starting to learn about this chapter in history, but it got way too much hype overall. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In my experience, every single reader who lists Fahrenheit 451 as their favourite book read it for the first time as a teenager. Everyone who, like me, read it as an adult had much the same reaction as I did: a huge feeling of underwhelm. This book is like dystopian-lite: dystopian fiction for people who haven’t read much (or any) dystopian fiction. The idea of firefighters who burn books is a good one, but there’s better-imagined and better-written books out there now that are far more worthy of our time and attention. Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Let me sum up The Sun Also Rises for you: a guy with a malfunctioning doodle convinces himself that he has no hope of happiness or sexual satisfaction, so he traipses across Europe with his drunk friends feeling sorry for himself. Ugh! It’s so woefully repressed (and grossly colonial in places). It’s not even a good example of Hemingway’s whole “show, don’t tell” fly-on-the-wall writing ethos. Papa was a brilliant short story writer, but I wish I could forget all about this novel entirely. Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I actually quite liked Don Quixote. It was a whopping great book, but I read it slowly, bit by bit, and found it quite enjoyable. I think it’s overrated as a comic novel, though, and that’s why I include it here in this list of the most overrated books of all time. Everyone kept telling me “Oooh, Don Quixote! It’s so funny! It’s so funny!”. Yeah, except that it’s the story of a man with a severe, undiagnosed, and untreated delusional disorder. No one tries to help him, no one steps in when he’s clearly a danger to himself and others – they treat him like a circus attraction. My heart broke for Don Quixote, and I barely got a chuckle out of this book. “Comic” my arse… Read my full review of Don Quixote here.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

The Fault In Our Stars - John Green - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

John Green might’ve won himself a legion of fans with his stories of teenage love and melodrama, but come on. The Fault In Our Stars was just a blatant attempt to make me cry, and I reject that outright. It was so transparent, I found myself rolling my eyes at every plot point. The “love interest”, Augustus, is so high on his own fumes, it was infuriating. If the protagonist, Hazel, had been just a few years older and just a little less sheltered, she would have kicked him to the curb long before any of the rest of it. Read my full review of The Fault In Our Stars here.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Lady Chatterley’s Lover has the distinction of being one of the most banned, censored, and challenged books of fiction in the history of English literature. On that basis, I naturally expected it to be very smutty. I’m sorry to report that there was barely any filth at all! A couple of heaving bosoms, a few c-bombs, and that’s it! I have no idea what all the fuss was about… Read my full review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover here.

And there we have it, my list of the most overrated books of all time. All of them are hills I’m willing to die on, so give it your best shot 😉 And don’t forget to add your suggestions in the comments below!

9 Comments

  1. Haha, I agree with you on the ones I’ve read, and considered myself well warned about the ones I haven’t. Gatsby is a face palmer indeed. I know what you mean about The Book Thief too. It seems so many people were sold on Death as narrator, yet I found him very plot-spoilery, telling us early on who would die! I might still read Don Quixote, but approach it more as a thought provoking personality study rather than the comedy it’s supposed to be.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 2, 2020 at 8:27 PM

      Yes, definitely re: Don Quixote. I’ve been thinking about it, it might be the translation I read – translation is the absolute hardest when it’s comic, it would seem – and maybe that I didn’t have enough context on the historical period, I came at it through a very contemporary lens. Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it (as always)! 😀

  2. I agree with a lot of these, but truly I continue to really like The Great Gatsby. I reread it last year (or the year before maybe?) and was still totally into it. I STRONGLY agree about goddamn Ernest Hemingway though. The only good part of that book was that last line about “wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” That’s a solid line. The rest of it can go in the bin. :p

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 3, 2020 at 12:37 PM

      Hahaha I’m very aware that I’m in a minority when it comes to Gatsby, I’ve had more than one robust conversation about my feelings on it, so I don’t begrudge you that at all 😉 And YES, when it comes to Hemingway, the less he says, the better he is, right??

  3. Blimey a few I liked in there, not least the book thief. Well at least I know some of the ones that receive harsher critique might well be the ones that I like! So I’ll look out for those

  4. Agree with you on Great Gatsby – just never can see what the big deal is about the book. But I’ll defend Narrow Road to the Deep North which I loved…..

    My list of over-rated books would have to include Moby Dick. If I wanted to learn about the plankton eating habits of a whale I’d just get a natural history book

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 20, 2020 at 4:58 PM

      Bahahahaha you’re not alone there!! Moby Dick is practically six Wikipedia entries back-to-back…

  5. Just came across your site, so I’m a bit late with comments. My thoughts on just the books I’ve read:

    Gatsby. Didn’t actually finish this one. That speaks for itself really. Can I also put in a bad word for a couple of others I hated/didn’t/couldn’t be bothered to finish. You’ve mentioned All The Light We Cannot See. Add to that The Secret History – Donna Tartt takes a college class in writing and publishes the result – predictable and formulaic.

    Don Quixote. Enjoyed it as a straight story. Yes, I feel sorry for Don Quixote but also a slightly envy for his capacity to imagine romance in the mundane. Didn’t think it was a comic novel, more a satire that does not require laugh out loud moments.

    Fahrenheit 451. A favourite book. Yes, I was 14 when I first read it. Yes there are other fatter books of highly realised dystopian fiction. This is a simple, thought provoking story with a single concept of the firefighters – maybe if we just called it a short story that would manage your expectations better?

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Also read when I was 14 so I was looking for all smut I could get. Waded through the turgid prose for very little reward.

    Narrow Road to the Deep North. Thank heavens someone is prepared to call this out! I live in Tasmania where criticising Flanagan may be a hanging offence. Clearly his success means no editor has the guts to tell him when to pull his head in. There’s a good short story in the middle about the Burma Railroad. The rest is redundant. See above re. wading through turgid prose.

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