Booking Through Thursday: Worst Best Book

How about, “What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”
Well, there’s a couple that come to mind.  First a “classic” from the annals of science fiction classics.  Dune.

I know that this is considered by many to be the greatest science fiction novel of all time, but I never connected with it.  I never “bought in” to the world/universe Frank Herbert created.  Perhaps I read it when I was too young (early teens) and it was over my head.  Either way, I’ve never given it (or any of its sequels) a second glance.
Second, a modern “classic” that so many people I know love love love and I just thought was meh.  The Kite Runner.  

I recall all the glowing reviews and read it with great interest a few years ago.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought that Hosseini’s prose was beautiful and lyric, but I felt the plot, characters and (too unbelievable) “twists” were more like a Lifetime movie set in a really different backdrop than a great novel.  It's definitely one I feel like I was supposed to like a lot more than I did.

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25 thoughts on “Booking Through Thursday: Worst Best Book

  1. How interesting – it's a whole new field of book criticism. Was the book overrated, or was it just a subjective experience – I never saw what everyone else saw in Dune (Or Lord of the Rings, for that matter. Great, now I'm permanently banned from all my geek circles) :D

  2. What set Dune apart from the other novels of the time was that it explicitly included biology and ecology as important subjects; its treatment of the interrelationship of religion and politics was also a refreshing change. However, like Doc Smith's Lensman novels or Heinlein's sex novels, it has not aged well. What was once surprising (i.e., that one critter can completely remake a landscape) is now considered commonplace (progress of a sort).Having said that, I enjoy reading the Dune trilogy (but not the crap that was written afterward) and the Lensman novels from time to time, just as I enjoy reading Wells and Huxley. But there's no law saying you have to. John

  3. Although I wouldn't say it was the worst book, I was a bit like that with The Kite Runner mainly because of the characters. They were all sort of so unlikeable I didn't really care what happened to them. But the other one by the same author, that I can't remember the name of was much better. Ah yes, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

  4. I feel so much better about not liking Dune now. Every nerd I know casts a disapproving eye on me when I say "I'm just not that into Dune. I couldn't even finish it." I'm open to trying it again, just not anytime soon.

  5. Haha I hated Dune. The protagonists irritated me. I don't mind Hosseini but I think he converts a serious storyline into a soap opera somewhere along the way. Strictly for light reading, really.

  6. "Dune" didn't grab me when I was a teenager either, probably because the characters felt too inaccessible. That being said, the idea of your protagonist seeing the future as he acted was pretty intriguing and made for some interesting scenes. Steve, did I ever lend you my copy of "Doon," the parody of the first novel in the series? Remind me in August; some of its chapter-opening lines are side-splittingly funny. I still quote them to my wife twenty years later (much to her dismay).
    Never read Kite Runner. Only thing I take from Starbucks is the chai.

  7. Ellie — it's true — I think this question is more about unmet expectations rather than any intrinsic value. I think my opinions of movies is also colored by expectations — probably more than books.

  8. John — I think there's a good Booking Through Thursday question — which favorite books of your youth have aged well and which ones haven't. I read several Heinlein books as a teen — and loved them because they were so "counterculture" in a way. Maybe I'll have to re-read one, just to see.

  9. Matt — I remember watching about 30 minutes of the theatrical release and think "What the…?" — I was slightly more curious about the SF Channel mini-series, but never ended up seeing it.

  10. Cat — Yes, I guess I didn't DISLIKE Kite Runner so much as I thought "what's all
    the fuss about?" — if I'd read it without expectations, I'd probably
    have a better opinion of it.

  11. LC — I think you've id'd one of my beefs with Kite Runner — I thought the setting was done to make the book more "serious" — yet I don't know that it opened my eyes to a different culture. The same book set in the West though would not have had as much cachet.

  12. Mud — I think much like the first Star Trek movie, that book was something we convinced ourselves that we liked more than we actually did. I never remember "Doon" — I wonder if I'd even get the jokes anymore!

  13. We read "The Kite Runner" in book club. I hadn't heard anything about it, didn't want to read it, and was sure I would hate it. Instead, I loved it. I will agree that its a bit unbelievable, especially at the end, but I couldn't put it down.

  14. Steve, did I ever lend you my copy of "Doon," the parody of the first novel in the series? Doon is one of the funniest paradies ever written. The list of follow-up books at the end [1] is worth the cover price all by itself. And the wonderfully involuted sentences… Much better than Bored Of The Rings, IMHO.John[1] "Lord God, Not Another Sequel To Doon!" "Doon's Big Book of Menswear for Dads and Lads" (from memory as my copy has been stolen!)

  15. I read several Heinlein books as a teen — and loved them because they were so "counterculture" in a way. Maybe I'll have to re-read one, just to see. Those must have been his "adult" novels. By and large, his juveniles have aged well [1], whereas many of his books intended for an older audience have not fared as well [2]. Just be warned: Heinlein's estate has taken advantage of some peculiarities in the contracts to re-issue several of his books in an uncut form. The changes are interesting, but may make reading the book a different experience than you remembered [3].John[1] And it is fun seeing what sly jokes he put into them now that I am old enough to get the humor. "Raising John Thomases" indeed![2] E.g., the continual orgy/discussion of the six (!) sexes in I Will Fear No Evil, the discussion of race relations in Farnham's Freehold.[3] This is especially true of Stranger In A Strange Land, which Heinlein himself edited before submitting it to a publisher. IMHO, the uncut version is inferior to the original-as-published version in many ways. It is draggier, it has many extraneous sub-plots and side-swipes at the s-f community, and it does not include several key resolutions.

  16. So did you like the Dune movie? I never saw the 70s one, but I did enjoy the more recent production from the Sci Fi channel. Kind of makes me want to go back and see the 70s one.

  17. Agree totally on The Kite Runner. Actually, I think we talked about that before. To me it's well-written, but I couldn't stand the main character. I didn't see what all the fuss was about, either. It's the same with the movie Fried Green Tomatoes … every woman I've ever met adores that movie, and I absolutely hated it. Minority thinker – that's me, apparently.

  18. Hapa — I thought the 70s movie was confusing and terrible — I remember seeing bits and pieces of the SciFi Channel production and thinking that it looked a lot better.

  19. jacolily — I think I would have liked Kite Runner a lot more if I hadn't heard such glowing praise of it before I got around to reading. It's usually good to go in without preconceptions, but I'd heard so many things about it, it was almost hard not to be let down.

  20. BBL — I only saw the film version for Fried Green Tomatoes. I remember it being pretty good – as opposed to Kite Runner — I didn't have many preconceptions going in.

  21. I never read Kite Runner, but have been inclined to due to all the hype. Although, I doubt I'll like it if it reads like a soap opera! *L*While I immediately loved Dune (and the second and third books — the rest of the series is another matter!) when I read it as a teenager, I can understand why it might not interest other people. The writing style, complexities of the evolving plot, the intricacies (or quirks) of the characters, and the political loopholes can really detract some from the book — the same reasons that attract others. (I hope that sentence makes sense.) The 1986 movie (I'm not aware of a one made in the '70s, does it really exist?) is a far cry from the novel and a true product of the '80s. The SciFi mini series is much better in quality and much closer to the novels. If you aren't motivated to read the novels but would like to understand the story, I'd recommend watching the two SciFi Channel mini series, which cover the first three novels.I agree, having preconceptions before reading a book or watching a movie can really ruin my enjoyjment or experience. I hate when that happens.

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