There are millions of books out there, and you’re allowed to hate some of them, even if they are “ground breaking.” You can even be glad you read them and still hate them.
While I think reading books you don’t like can be a valuable experience, too often people are told that they are wrong for not liking stuff, especially if it’s a “classic.” I say fuck that noise. Liking or disliking a book depends on the reader, not how many other people have deemed it important.
Here are just a few classic novels that are totally okay to hate (or love.)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
If you’ve never read Moby Dick, it reads as if a web comic that’s been running daily for five years were novelized with each picture substituted by a thousand words. It is a slog with lengthy asides and tangents, as well as “product of its time” racism with characters like evil Chinese sailors and cannibal natives.
That’s not to say that it’s not worth reading. The plot has the slow burn of obsession and self-destruction, ruminations about life and death, and even the asides are an interesting glimpse into the historical period and culture of whalers. However, you are setting aside a not-insignificant portion of your life to get through this book, and you’re allowed to never want to do that.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Reading a Jane Austen book is kind of like having a witty friend helping you people watch in 19th century England. Pride and Prejudice can be clever and subtle, while the prose is elegant and easy to read.
However, the happy ending often overshadows the constraints and unfairness of the time period that drives the entire novel. The plot is about people in the top 10% striving for the 1%. The “good” characters are bland, uninteresting, and devoid of opinions. And to top it all off, the happy ending involves forcing a charlatan to marry a 15 year-old girl. Said girl is largely looked down on for acting her age.
You can put ruffles and silk on shitty circumstances and people will dream about how nice it would be. This is often the case of Pride and Prejudice’s fans. It’s a book I like quite a bit, but you’re well within your rights to hate it.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Did you know that young people come of age and often have difficult and conflicting feelings about it? Did you know that this book was banned and that makes you a cool renegade if you read it?
The main character, Holden Caulfield, is very human in a deeply irritating way and seems unaware that he’s an asshole. It’s what makes the book interesting, but it’s fine if you don’t want him whining about how hard it is to be a rich, prep school kid in your headspace.
There are many things about Catcher in the Rye that are subtle and moving, but they rarely come up when avid fans act like this book is some kind of Tome of Universal Truth. If Holden doesn’t drive you away, the fans very well might.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Who doesn’t love reading about irresponsible rich people, amirite? Many people act like this book is aspirational instead of critical, what with their Gatsby-themed parties and weddings. Because even better than reading about irresponsible rich people is being one.
Yes, The Great Gatsby is beautifully written, with clean prose and evocative metaphor. You can easily read it in a day. That said, you’re allowed to hate it. You’re allowed to be irritated at Gatsby’s stupid fake romance with Daisy, the insipid conversations, everyone’s rather breezy view of vehicular homicide, and more. Sure that’s kind of the point of the book, but that doesn’t make it less grating.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
This book is proof that abolitionists could be totally racist in large and small ways. Stowe’s book also has a kind of treacly, overwrought sentimentality that is more about evoking a reader’s self-indulgent sensitivities rather than understanding the humanity of slaves. If you hate this book, you’re far from alone.
But if Uncle Tom’s Cabin were a different kind of book – advocating true equality, subtler, angrier, incisive – it would have never garnered the history-making 19th century readership it did. The pill within all that literary jam was a blistering critique of America that people actually swallowed.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin continues to be taught in schools because it played a key role in American history, and Stowe’s writing style is astute considering her purpose.
That doesn’t mean you have to like it.