Oh, am I prepared to get some stick for the books on this list.
Hearsay, word-of-mouth, blog reviews, TV spots, Insta posts – there are so many ways to hear about books nowadays. The general consensus? The more hype a book has, the more likely people are going to read it. And it’s not just new and just released books that are subject to hype; classic novels with a loud reputation and good PR can easily be hyped up. Hype gets you to read a book, to pick it up and buy it. Over-hyping can also make many books fall flat once someone actual starts to read it. Like everyone, I’ve got books that I don’t like, or don’t understand the hype around it. Well, let’s go one step further. The five books that I’ll talk about in this post are loved and revered across the world, showcased and recommended in libraries and schools, and posted about all over the internet. But for me, they seriously didn’t live up to the hype. Let’s begin.
Anything by Jane Austen
I’m starting off strong here, and I can imagine so many people clicking off already. Please don’t hate me for this, just hear me out! I have tried, on numerous occasions, to get my head stuck into an Austen book, and it’s never worked out. Someone once told me I reminded them of Emma from Sense and Sensibility, so I picked up a dog-eared copy from the charity shop, and never got past the fifth chapter. I took Emma on a caravanning holiday (a trip made for reading!), but found myself reading the same page over and over again, getting distracted by everything other than the book. Heck, I even fell asleep in the Keira Knightley version of the film, despite the romantic and swooping score waking me up every ten minutes. The Romanticism era just ain’t my thing. I’m not a fan of stories about unrequited love and balls and nineteenth century social conventions. I’d just like to apologise to feminist literary nerds everywhere, for not liking Pride & Prejudice. I’d also like to apologise to my home city of Winchester, where Jane Austen lived and died, for not enjoying our queen’s work; I’ll expect my eviction notice any time now.
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Another ever popular classic, and yet another one that fell short for me. I actually loved my experience in A-Level English Literature, as I was introduced to Orwell and his book Shooting An Elephant. It’s a mixture of true tales from his time in Myanmar (then Burma), and other essays, and is incredible to read. He wrote about politics and social class in a way I had never been exposed to before. So, you can imagine how excited I was to sit down and read what my teacher was calling ‘one of the most important books of our time’. I perched myself in an armchair, grabbed a cup of coffee, and began to read. I read it in an hour flat. I closed the book, placed it on my lap and thought ‘oh… Was that it?’ At every page turn, I was expecting a big reveal, something explosive to happen, but it never did. Talk about underwhelming. Straight away, I can see why it was important at the time, and why it was so controversial. But, nowadays? Let’s put it this way; I’m glad I didn’t have to read Animal Farm in school, or it would have turned me off Orwell entirely.
Milk & Honey – Rupi Kaur
*I have no idea where my copy of this book has gone, so I found this lovely picture from DUBeat – all credits to them!
If Jane Austen didn’t get people clicking off, then this one certainly will. I really wanted to love this book; honestly, I wanted to. All of my friends adored it; it was written by a young, female, immigrant; it was steeped in culture and emotion. It sounded like a true feminist literary nerd’s dream! I read this book in 2016, when this book was all over Instagram. Everywhere I turned, people were calling it ‘life changing’ and ‘the best book you will ever read’. When you hear a book has those connotations attached to it, you’re going to go into reading it expecting that. For me, it simply wasn’t life changing, nor the best book I have ever read. So, I was disappointed. I read it, admired the emotional vulnerability and delicate drawings, put it on my shelf and left, unaffected. To me, this is the perfect example of what over-hyping can do to readership, and is also a perfect example of ‘each to their own’. I think I wasn’t at a point in my life where I needed to hear the words in this book. Maybe, one day, I will. I hope to pick this book up from my shelf in years to come, give it another go, and feel what my friends were feeling.
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
I kind of guessed I would not enjoy this book, simply by what I already knew beforehand. A creepy older man pursuing a relationship with an underage girl? Nah, not my cuppa tea. But, in the spirit of classic literature, I gave it a go. My Heavens, it was a slog. I frequently would put it down, walk away, and consider leaving it. I once even threw it across the room in frustration. But I wanted to understand why this novel was so celebrated, so I continued. That is, until I got about three quarters of the way through, and simply couldn’t bring myself to turn a page. Let me tell you why. The majority of this book follows the immense creeper Humbert Humbert, as he lusts after young girls, marries someone so he can be close to her thirteen year old daughter, and then essentially kidnaps said daughter. There’s sex scenes (to a perfectly sane person that would be statutory rape), manipulation, and a whole variety of nasty goings on. It says enough that when you Google the word ‘Lolita’, Google pops back at you with a warning that ‘child pornography is illegal’. You cannot deny that Nabokov is a good writer but the plot and topic made me feel ill, and I cannot grasp why this would be deemed a classic. Oh wait, yes I can; it was written by a straight white man in the twentieth century.
Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
Based on reviews and hearsay, this was a book that ticked all of my ‘Gonna Love It’ boxes. Ground-breaking? Check. Feminist? Check. Celebrating women’s sexuality? Check. Bringing taboo subjects to light? Check! It was such a shame that I simply didn’t like it. The book follows three up and coming starlets as they navigate life, sex, and romance through varying types of tablets, sedatives, and sleeping pills. I can imagine when it was published in 1966, the world was turned on its head by the promiscuous and defiant antics of the women at the core of the text. It screams ‘SECOND WAVE FEMINISM’ at you, and then throws it’s bra in your face. But now, in 2019, it really shows its age; it feels dated. In my opinion, it would be a perfect book to put in a time capsule for 1966. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, the same can be said for Milk & Honey; it’s just been over-hyped and overplayed by the constantly moving world of literature.
But hey, I’m not all doom and gloom! Some books have lived up to the hype, and gone above and beyond. There’s Brave New World by Auldous Huxley, a surprising and highly relevant piece of modernist literature; The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, a novel that showcases modern female sexuality and discusses mental health; Becoming by Michelle Obama, which left me feeling that I could do anything.
At the end of the day, everyone has their own opinion and personal preference. And my personal preference is that those books did not live up to the hype…
Let me know what you think in the comments! Do you agree, or disagree with my opinions? What are the books that you found didn’t live up to the hype?