A bad reputation can go a long way. I mean, yes, in theory we know that we should all make judgments for ourselves. But in reality... we're not going to eat at that pizza place with one star on Yelp. We're probably not going to see that movie that all our friends hated. We as a society have stopped listening to Nickelback. And, even though we all love books, we have to admit that some books just have a bad reputation.
But, on the other hand, not every bad reputation is earned. Rude customers leave nasty reviews online. Cult classic movies bomb at the box office. I'm sure there are even some good, honest people out there who can find merit in the song Photograph. And sometimes great books get bad reputations. Especially when those great books are forced on apathetic high school students year after year.
But, then again, some books just maybe deserve a little bit of the hate they get. Look, I'm not telling you what to read. Read whatever makes you happy. But there might be a reason why certain books seem to wind up in the discount bin.
So. These books all have... less than stellar reputations (at least in certain circles). Do they deserve the bad rap? You be the judge:
1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye has got to be the most beloved book that no one actually likes. It's a widely-read American classic... but if you take a random poll of the character Holden Caulfield, you'll probably hear a LOT of negativity (the dude's little brother died, give him a break). My theory is that when an adult forces disaffected teens to read a book about a disaffected teen who hates adults, they just end up with confused, exponential teenage angst.
2. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Let's try to keep this civil, because people have very split opinions on Twilight. Some people think it's an anti-feminist "romance" that glorifies abusive relationships. Some people think Edward is a sparkly, celibate dreamboat. Personally, I'm firmly in the first camp these days... but I can't pretend that I wasn't team Edward as an unenlightened fourteen-year-old (please don't try to find my old Deviantart account). Maybe the gender-swapped version is a little less sexist, right?!
3. Ulysses by James Joyce
I love Ulysses, because I'm a pretentious ass who uses Oxford commas. But I do understand why some people might not love it. Stream of consciousness writing isn't for everyone, especially when half the words are made up and a lot of it is about masturbating. So I understand Ulysses' reputation as a pretentious, difficult read... but it's also one that might be worth it if you put in the time.
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita kind of deserves its gross reputation. The subject matter is certainly gross. Humbert Humbert is an adult man who's attracted to children. The problem is that Lolita has a bad reputation as a romance novel about a man and a child... and it's really, really not. It's about a perpetrator and his victim. Nabokov himself was clear that the book is not a romance, and that Humbert Humbert is meant to be a "hateful person." Not at all tragic hero.
5. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Even if you haven't read A Million Little Pieces, you may have heard of it, and that time that Oprah kicked it out of her book club. That's because this book was marketed as nonfiction... but turned out to be mostly fiction. Yikes. The author apologized after being found out, but people still have deeply split opinions. Some think it's a fraudulent memoir. And other people think it works just fine as long as you know it's fiction going in.
6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange has a reputation for glorifying violence... at least in America. The novel originally had a 21st chapter in which the main character gives up violence and has a moral awakening. But the American publishers cut it to end the novel on a bleak, violent note (good job America) — a choice that Anthony Burgess was never on board with. So it does deserve its violent rep, but maybe not so much the glorifying part.
7. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses didn't get a bad reputation so much as it got a blasphemous reputation. Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death over the book, and had to go into hiding for nearly a decade. This was a "bad reputation" that caused an international controversy, book burning, and several protester deaths, all due to the novel's critique of religion. I mean, other books have been banned here and there for their take on religion... but few have prompted any kind of death sentence.
8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fanfiction... so it should come as no surprise that it has a similar bad reputation (anti-feminist, abusive relationship, everyone's too pale, etc). Except that Fifty Shades of Grey is definitely responsible for more sex toy injuries. And instead of celibate vampires, it's about very sexual people with silly names doing BDSM incorrectly. But hey, if you want to read it "ironically," I won't tell anyone.
9. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Some people hate on it because it's blasphemous. Or because it's historically inaccurate. Or because it's scientifically inaccurate. Or because it's been accused of plagiarism. Or because it's an "airport thriller." But clearly someone out there finds it thrilling, because The Da Vinci Code is a smash hit. And it may not be very accurate, but if you (like me) are complete trash for the movie National Treasure, you'll probably have fun with the wacky nonsense historical mystery.
10. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman has an iffy reputation for a couple of reasons. It's the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, for one, which gives it one hell of a tough act to follow. It's significantly less polished than To Kill a Mockingbird, too, and reviews have called it a "mess." But mostly it took everyone's literary dad, Atticus Finch, and made him racist. Or... did it complicate the character and remind us all that even seemingly moral and just people can have ugly, internalized prejudices? The jury's still out. But, one way or another, Go Set a Watchman has a reputation that precedes it.