Hephzibah Anderson of the BBC has exposed a selection of books that have traditionally been highly regarded but nowadays fail to evoke the interest and accolades they once deserved.
When I was studying literature at the university I was introduced to a similar phenomenon. At that time authors such as Charles Dickens and Theodore Dreiser were quite low in the academic esteem department. Hemingway is another well known author that tends to go up and down through the years (he should stay down).
Hephzibah Anderson provides a more contemporary list and you should read the original article to more fully understand her reasoning (notes in parentheses are mine). Here is the list:
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, 1951
(Not only has this whining narrative aged poorly but it never has been considered … well, ask a woman or a girl in this case, what they think of Catcher In the Rye.)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957
(Anyone ever actually considered Ayn Rand even a decent author?)
The Beach by Alex Garland, 1996
Iron John by Robert Bly, 1990
The Outsider by Colin Wilson, 1956
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952
(That they still foist this pile of fish guts on unsuspecting juveniles is a crime.)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957
(I still read Ginsberg but Kerouac has had his day. If you really want to experience the silliness of this sort of beat fiction, listen to it on tape, out-loud.)
The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, 1995
(I remember this as a book to avoid three days after it was published.)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 1970
(You couldn’t even use this one as a doorstop).
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, 1996
(Ah, a doorstop.)
4 thoughts on “The Cult Books That Lost Their Cool”
Catcher in the Rye (groan); anything by Hemmingway (triple groan); never wanted to read. In fact there is not a single title on this list that holds the remotest interest for me …
I thought the Dharma Bums was leagues better than On the Road. I enjoyed Catcher in the Rye at the age of 20, but I’ve never talked to a female who read it and liked it, my wife included. Of all of the things Hemingway wrote, why is Old Man and the Sea the one forced upon us in school. The short stories, or For Whom the Bell Tolls or A Farewell to Arms would be a better study of Hemingway. Old Man and the Sea is the reason my previously-mentioned wife refuses to read Hemingway.
On a separate note, I noticed you completed your monthly reading list for September. Nice! How often are you able to accomplish that?
The Old Man and the Sea is prominent because: it has a list of characters most High School students can remember, it introduces ham-fisted symbolism with only a skosh of subtlety, and it is equally instructive in either the original or the Cliff Notes edition.
The Sun Also Rises is good but everyone knows Ezra Pound viciously edited what was initially a romantic puff-piece of little merit.
However, Hemingway short stories are quite good and should be taught in High School.
Actually my monthly reading pool is designed to not be completed. Remember, it used to be 40 titles. I have sort-of completed it a couple of times but I often go outside the list and read other books that grabbed my interest during the month.
My current successes in reading can mostly be attributed to the selections of genre fiction, mostly detective and mystery fiction. Reading these stories is definitely entertaining but much like engaging the overdrive and driving to Las Vegas.