Unfortunately, I haven’t loved every book I’ve read. I want to love every book, but that doesn’t mean it happens. Today I’m sharing the ten worst books I’ve ever read. I’m not including any DNFs because I feel it’s unfair to judge a book I didn’t finish. For all I know, the ending is amazing. I will be discussing why I don’t like each of these books, spoiler-free. You’ll find I’m not a fan of literary fiction. Number 10 is the least terrible of the books, and Number 1 is the worst book I’ve ever read.
Disclaimer: This list is the worst ten best books in my opinion. You have every right to disagree with my choices.
Number 10: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time is a YA sci-fi fantasy story that has won several awards. I know many people love it, and I had a friend who highly recommended it when we were in fifth grade. I didn’t end up reading it until right after I graduated high school, and I was lost. This story made absolutely no sense to me. I can’t even give a summary. I felt like it just jumped around and nothing was explained, and I had no clue what was happening. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about this story. Goodreads is full of one-star reviews expressing the same confusion.
Number 9: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein is an adult classic, written in the 1800s. I read it for a book report project my sophomore year of high school. One of my teachers and one of my friends also read it the same year. My teacher and friend liked it, but I wasn’t a huge fan. I think the writing style is what contributed most to my dislike. The only book written before the 1900s I enjoyed reading is The Count of Monte Cristo. That older writing style and I don’t seem to mesh. Frankenstein is also one of those stories that’s hyped up—just think of all the movie adaptations—and I didn’t feel it lived up to expectations the hype established. It’s possible I went into it with the wrong mindset, and that’s why I didn’t like it.
Number 8: The Once and Future King by T.H. White
The Once and Future King is a King Arthur retelling. My high school English class covered British literature including King Arthur stories. We only read parts of the stories, though, which was a bummer. I really want to read the full versions of a lot of them. I need to track them down. I had copies of The Once and Future King by T.H. White and The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, both very large books. I brought them with me to Belize when I did my month-long study abroad. I read The Mists of Avalon first, and though there were parts that were dense and hard to get through, I liked the story. Then I read a different book for a couple days before reading The Once and Future King. It’s a really dense, hard-to-read book. It didn’t interest me anywhere near as much as The Mists of Avalon had. The only reason I didn’t DNF it is because I didn’t have anything else to read.
Number 7: The Good House by Tananarive Due
The Good House is an adult paranormal horror novel about a woman who recently lost her son to suicide and finally returns to her late grandmother’s house where he died. There she ends up battling a paranormal entity. I read this book for a speculative fiction class I took my freshman year of college. My professor told us not to read this book after dark because it’s scary. The only time I had to read was after dark, and I would frequently stay up until midnight or later trying to get through it. It was not scary. I’m easily triggered by scary things, but this did nothing for me. For a horror novel, that’s not a good thing. A bunch of characters were killed off by the paranormal thing, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t invested in any of them. The ending is what really bothered me. I won’t spoil it, but it’s one of those endings that people tend to hate. There’s also some poorly written romance. This book was overall poorly written in my opinion—sorry, Dr. Todd.
Number 6: Android’s Dream by John Scalzi
Android’s Dream is an adult science fiction novel about an alien culture that needs a specific type of sheep for a ritual, but all the sheep were killed off, and they’re searching everywhere for anything with a fraction of the sheep’s genetics. This is another book I read for that speculative fiction class—I’m really sorry, Dr. Todd. The primary reason I don’t like this book is because of its portrayal of women. I’m sure the intended audience is mostly adult men, but that doesn’t mean women can be portrayed poorly. There is one female character in the book, and I hate her. She runs around screaming “Help me! Help me!” every time there’s a problem and has to wait for the protagonist to come save her. She’s also part sheep, which is wrong on so many levels. She also behaves like a complete idiot the whole time. No one else in my class noticed any of this, so either they’re really desensitized to sexist portrayals of women, or I’m oversensitive to it. Either way, I wasn’t okay with it.
Number 5: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Robinson Crusoe is a classic adventure story written in the 1700s. I read this book for a summer book report project between my sophomore and junior years of high school. The only reason I got through it is because I desperately needed a distraction from my grief. This is another one of those old-fashioned writing styles that just didn’t work for me, and it’s another one of those hyped-up books that didn’t meet my expectations. I think the concept of the story is great, but nothing about the way it was written captivated me. I wasn’t invested.
Number 4: The Pearl and The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
I combined these two stories because they were bound in the same book, and I read them together. Both are classics, one about a pearl—who would’ve guessed?—and one about I-don’t-know-what because the red pony was only in the first chapter. I read these books in middle school—seventh grade, maybe—as one of the extra assignments they so kindly assigned students in the Gifted and Talented program because apparently being smart means you get extra homework. Thus why I hated middle and high school so much and loved college. I didn’t like being singled out for my intelligence, and it was unfair to both us and the other students. I don’t like making other people feel stupid or inferior. Anyway, I digress. I disliked The Pearl because the ending was really gruesome and disturbing to 12-year-old me. I had problems sleeping that night because of the disturbing images that were stuck in my head. The Red Pony, on the other hand, seemingly has no plot, and I have no idea what the point of it is. Stuff happens, but none of it seems to be connected. I was lost. My teacher decided to cut The Red Pony from the assignment—after I had already read it, of course—so we never ended up discussing it; therefore, I’m still lost. If anyone here knows what that story’s about, please share.
Number 3: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights is a classic novel from the 1800s about a doomed relationship. I had no idea what this book was about when I chose to read it for a book report project sophomore year of high school. It’s very character-driven, and I prefer books with plots. The characters aren’t likeable. If I’m not invested in the characters, I don’t enjoy the story. Those two things alone killed any chance of me liking this book. Add to that the outdated writing style, and then it really fails to interest me. In this case, I should have done a little research before choosing this book. Reading a back cover blurb would have been enough to tell me I wouldn’t enjoy this book. This one’s on me for picking something way outside my area of interest.
Number 2: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The Red Badge of Courage is a classic about a soldier during the American Civil War. I read it for a book report project my freshman year of high school after reading Gone with the Wind, another Civil War classic. This is another one of those older books that just didn’t interest me, and the main point of the story went right over my head. I didn’t realize what the red badge was until years after I read the book. It just dawned on me one day. I guess 14-year-old me wasn’t ready to tackle the concepts central to this book’s storyline.
Number 1: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead is an adult philosophical fiction novel. I read it for—you guessed it—a book report project junior year of high school. One of my friends also read it that year, and he wasn’t a fan either. The book was very dense and full of philosophical ideas. The characters weren’t interesting to me, and neither was the plot. It was basically Wuthering Heights all over again, but with far less romance. Again, I think a lot of the concepts went over my head because I wasn’t interested or invested enough to bother with them.
The reason most of the books on this list are classics that I read for school is because I had to finish those books, and I didn’t necessarily choose to read them. In high school, there was a list we could pick from. I love some of the ones I chose, and I hate other ones. Most of the time I chose ones I thought I would enjoy, but as you can see, I wasn’t always right. I thought I would like The Red Badge of Courage, Frankenstein, and Robinson Crusoe, but I didn’t. Older, literary fiction-style pieces aren’t for me. I read because I enjoy stories, but if there isn’t a compelling plot, and I’m not invested in the characters, I can guarantee you I won’t like the book.
I also don’t like books that poorly portray groups of people or promote damaging ideas. I typically avoid reading or DNF those books, which is why most of them aren’t on this list. The same goes for books that are just poorly written, i.e. bad grammar and spelling, lack of content editing, etc. I should put together shelves on my Goodreads profile for DNFs and books I won’t read because of harmful content.
What did you think of this list? Do you love or hate any of these books? Why? If you like literary fiction, I’d love to hear why. Most people who like literary fiction won’t talk to me about it after they find out I don’t like it. They act like I’m inferior because I prefer genre fiction. I’m really interested in knowing what people like about literary fiction.