A list of books everyone loved that I disliked so much it makes me think I should stop reading popular books

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Everything by Hemingway except A Moveable Feast
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Habibi by Craig Thompson
  • Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
  • Every story I’ve ever read by Alice Munro

Most of the time, I’m afraid, I just don’t get why people love these. In fact, I dislike them so much it makes me question why people enjoyed them at all.

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  1. Lynn 14.Nov.11 at 12:46 pm

    Dude, I totally agree on the Hemingway one.

    1. Jodi 14.Nov.11 at 12:49 pm

      @Lynn, and do people keep telling you that you just haven’t read the ‘right’ Hemingway? I’ve read three or four novels and disliked every single one of them.

  2. LeAnn 14.Nov.11 at 1:44 pm

    You’ll have to tell me why you didn’t like The Night Circus. I loved it except for the bad ending.

    1. Jodi 14.Nov.11 at 1:45 pm

      @LeAnn, My review will be on MN Reads tomorrow. Mostly I thought the characters were flat and/or superfluous and the description while good at first overwhelmed the story.

  3. Tony 14.Nov.11 at 2:17 pm

    “Kavalier and Clay” was good. Maybe a little on the long side, but good. Also, “The Old Man and the Sea” was pretty solid.

    “Habibi” looks gorgeous but is quite possibly incomprehensible.

    1. Jodi 14.Nov.11 at 2:20 pm

      @Tony, K&C was a romance novel wrapped up in Nazis and comic books and thus revered as the best thing ever by men and therefore the world. I haven’t read The Old Man and the Sea since 11th grade so i can’t exactly remember why I didn’t like it, only that I didn’t. Maybe I’ll give that one another shot since I could be wrong.

      Habibi is beautiful but the story is racist, sexist, and you’re right, incomprehensible.

      1. Ed 15.Nov.11 at 8:10 pm

        What was it that you liked in Feast? His novels and non-fiction can be very uneven, especially if you read them in order. The earlier work being better in IMHO than the latter. (Though, “The Sun Also Rises” has its weaker moments.) “Across The River and Into The Trees” is generally the one most people pan and was the first that really got knee-capped by the critics in its day.

        “Old Man” still works, though. It’s a great parable about any number of things. Faulkner, Hemingway’s biggest rival at the time for being Mr. King of the Hill of American letters, wrote a very succinct review of it when it came out that just more than a couple of long paragraphs, where he basically praised it as being the best book anyone of their generation had written. Again, this at a time when both mens’ names were regularly mentioned in regards to the Nobel Prize.

        I’ve personally always liked Hemingway’s short stories the best. (In some fashion, you could consider “Old Man” as being something like an extended short story.) There is a great deal to like in a number of them. “Indian Camp” and “Big Two-Hearted River” immediately spring to mind, as do most of any other of the Nick Adams stories. There’s a progression in them as the character matures that was quite interesting for me to watch develop whether in stories where Nick is directly identified or those others where he isn’t readily as identifiable.

        Outside of the Nick cycle there are good number of stories, too. “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” is quite good. James Joyce, author of what some call one of the greatest short stories written, praised it in a similar fashion as others did Joyce’s “The Dead.”

        “Hills Like White Elephants” and “Cat In The Rain” are a pair of good stories that generally get overlooked by readers who can’t perceive and understand the author as being anything other than a macho he-man all bound up in fishing and shooting game and boxing and bullfighting, etc.


        1. Jodi 15.Nov.11 at 9:48 pm

          @Ed, I have a giant book of Hemingway short stories that I’ve never gotten around to reading. I have actually read ‘Hills’ and I did like it quite a bit. It’s why I got the collection, hoping I’d find something of Hemingway’s. But then I read Feast, enjoyed it, and never got around to the stories.

          And as much as I hate being that person, I’m going to be that person. . . here’s what I wrote about Feast back when I read it.

      2. Ed 18.Nov.11 at 12:44 am

        Hi again. Great post on Feast. One of the reasons I love your blog is where you get all turned in knots over liking someone or something you’ve steadfastly decided you’d never warm to. Bring big grins to my ever goofy puss. Feast was a book that Hemingway was writing late in his life as it he found it increasingly difficult to write new fiction in the manner he had when he was younger. In Feast, there’s a good deal of score settling…especially in regards to Stein.

        The great bit about that bookseller is Hemingway remembering a woman who loved and remembered him just as he did her….and then in only the sweetest of possible terms…is all about Sylvia Beach. The owner of Shakespeare & Company, a lending library/bookstore. Beach, as well as her partner, adored Hemingway. (This type of personal admiration and swoony type oI thrall/respect is as common in recollections of H as well as others’ long-standing animus. This sort of division amongst contemporaries is what makes Hemingway lore SO gull darn interesting.)

        If you ever skim any of the better bios on him or read Beach’s own memoir about her life, there any number of great stories about him that are sooooo infused with charm, love, respect and humor. One of the best stories about Hemingway I’ve read regarding his return to Paris in 1944 just on the heels of the retreating Nazis was how Hem “helped liberate” Beach’s city block. Hem, at that time in 44, was operating officially as a journalist, but he was really the defacto ringleader of a bunch of Maquis resistance fighters trying to get into Paris before anyone else. Beach (an American Jew) was in hiding throughout the German occupation. Her description of her old library customer knocking on her door in the summer of 44 armed to the teeth with guns and grenades just makes you shine reading it.

        If emotion is what makes it for you per H., do do do do read “Old Man”. That book is so openly emotional and deftly bears a worldly load of feeling. I gave that book to my nephew Jacob (the young Jedi) when my father died, telling him that if he wanted to know what I felt about his grandfather, this was the book to give a try at. Jake was 12 (and reading at the level of a 16 year old) at the time.

        There’s an enormous amount of emotion in H’s stuff. It’s not circling about upon the surface all the time. Usually, it’s all just beneath the surface…hinted at heavily, waiting for his reader to put the pieces together on their own. He doesn’t want to play it broad and ham-fisted. He lets you in on it….let’s you assemble the story as he had done himself, hinting at everything that’s important in the writing by making it as visceral in words as it was in his memory or imagination. That’s what can make his best work so rewarding…you become a participant in his fiction, sorting it out in the same way he’s had to do in order to write his stories. There’s so much more…especially emotion….if you only read him a bit more carefully.

        Cheers again….always lovin’ your blog….


        1. Ed 18.Nov.11 at 2:29 am

          Addendum per my “Old Man” rambling…when Jake and I talk now jokingly over the phone long distance he is always my Manolin. Sans my father and his grandfather, I am now the surrogate and known by him if only half-jokingly as Santiago. It’s our goofy set of playful pet names for one another. I don’t think I’ve ever earned being thought about in that way. But if my young Jedi of a nephew thinks it wise, I can only think I was far more wise and lucky in some goofy unexplainable in thrusting that slim volume into his hands to read.

  4. Kelly Barnhill 14.Nov.11 at 7:29 pm

    Jodi, if you didn’t like NIGHT CIRCUS, you should try MECHANIQUE, A NOVEL OF THE CIRCUS TRESAULTI. They’re similar *feeling* novels (dystopia, circus, what have you) but Mechanique succeeds where Night Circus does not, I think. Particularly in the depth and nuance of character.

    I’m totally with you re: Cavelier and Clay. That book mystified me, though I adored much of Chabon’s other work. I didn’t like much of Hemmingway (and I read less then I likely ought) but both A Moveable Feast and Old Man and the Sea are the only things of his I can stand.

    My only quibble is with ON THE ROAD. Now granted, I only listened to it and did not read it, and granted, the guy was a misogynist, anti-semite with an inappropriate amount of self-esteem, but listening to that thing out loud is a revelation. I’d recommend it.

    Also, confession: I only made suffered through the first thirty pages of THE ROAD and then I wanted to tear out my eyeballs. I never looked back.

    1. Jodi 14.Nov.11 at 7:42 pm

      @Kelly Barnhill, I might listen to ON THE ROAD, the flow of the language might help with the complete lack of forward moving plot. I think I just really have a problem with drug/booze stories, I find them kind of boring because we all think everything is amazing and revelatory when were under the influence.

      You were smart to quit THE ROAD after 30 pages. Spoiler Alert! ALL THE REST OF THE PAGES are just like the first thirty. . . endlessly depressing and utterly repetitive.


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