It's hard out there for fans of the most underrated books of all time. Sure, everyone loves to complain about some of the overrated classics they were forced to read in school (just remember, if you hated Holden Caulfield in high school, you probably were Holden Caulfield in high school). But most people haven't even heard of these significantly less famous books, even when they're written by famous authors. It can be an uphill battle to get your friends to read a writer's "lesser known works." But it's worth the effort, because some of these books are quietly, secretly amazing. Here are just a few of the most underrated books of all time.
Now, of course, whether a book is over or underrated is a matter of personal opinion. Some people find The Scarlet Letter to be overrated, whereas I think it can be a highly useful sleep aide. But most dedicated book lovers have at least one favorite book that no one's ever heard of—or worse, no one else likes. I'm not saying that Love and Friendship should replace Pride and Prejudice as everyone's favorite Jane Austen book, I'm just saying that good books can occasionally get glossed over. Larry Niven fans, you know what I'm talking about (now who's going to advocate for the Ringworld movie with me?).
So here are a few hidden gems that deserve a little more love:
1. From These Ashes by Fredric Brown
Getting people to read the short science fiction of Fredric Brown is my hill to die on. Sure, you probably haven't heard of him and yes, he's a pulp sci-fi writer from the '40s. But his mind-bending flash fiction is simply genius. The people who have heard of him sometimes call him the "O. Henry of Sci-Fi" because of his mastery of the short form and his wildly inventive twists.
2. Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
I know, I know—Murakami is hardly underrated. But not a lot of people are talking about Dance Dance Dance, even though it's a sequel to the better known A Wild Sheep Chase. This book is considered to be Murakami's earlier work, and it's not for everyone, but it's still a strange, beautiful, post-modern novel, fusing sci-fi, satire, and the hard-boiled thriller.
3. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman
If you've never heard of Daniel Handler, you might know him by his more popular pen name of Lemony Snicket. Snicket mostly writes clever, melancholy stories for children, but Handler writes clever, melancholy stories for adults, too. Why We Broke Up is a bittersweet and humorous postmortem of a relationship, as viewed through a series of items (ticket stubs, bottle caps, combs) that contributed to the heartbreak.
4. Ulysses by James Joyce
Some people might call Ulysses overrated, but I think it's gotten an unfair reputation as too long, too confusing, and too pretentious. Yes, you might need footnotes to understand some of the more "out there" chapters, but if you give it the time, Ulysses is actually a lot of fun for literary word-nerds everywhere.
5. Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
Parable of the Sower and Lilith's Brood get a lot of attention, but even Butler fans are a little less excited about Wild Seed. But why would anyone not be into a book about the relationship between an immortal shapeshifter and some kind of undying vampire creature? It's not Butler's most famous work, but Wild Seed is still nuanced and well worth the read.
6. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Yes, believe it or not, Charlotte Brontë wrote something other than Jane Eyre! George Eliot even called this one a "more wonderful book than Jane Eyre," which is up for debate, but there's no denying that Villette has something unique to offer. It's the deeply personal story of one fierce, lonely woman caught between a yearning for love and yearning for total freedom and autonomy, but without the wife in the attic.
7. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
The Sirens of Titan is... weird. I mean, look, all Vonnegut novels have their own special weirdness, but The Sirens of Titan hops around through space and time a bit more, with even less explanation. Still, if you just sit back and trust Vonnegut in the driver's seat, it's a gut-punch of a book (in a good way). The Sirens of Titan certainly deserves a spot on the shelf next to Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle.
8. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
Jitterbug Perfume is about smells. It's about beets. It's about horned gods and janitors and the secret essence of the universe. It's an epic, eclectic tale with an off-beat sense of humor, and it doesn't get nearly the attention it should. Plus, it'll make you seriously reconsider the majesty of the beet as both vegetable and symbol.
9. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
If you're looking for an underappreciated YA gem, then here you go. Gail Carson Levine wrote Ella Enchanted, but that's not her only beautifully twisted fairy tale. The Two Princesses of Bamarre is the story of two sisters: courageous Meryl and timid Addie. But of course, when Meryl falls deathly ill, it's up to Addie to set off on the kind of epic adventure she's always dreaded.
10. Lisey's Story by Stephen King
Stephen King is a wildly prolific writer, but out of everything he's ever written, Lisey's Story is his very favorite. Lisey Landon is the widow of famous writer Scott Landon. As she sorts through his papers, trying to make sense of his work and his death, she finds herself pulled into the very same darkness that threatened to consume him. It's a love story done Stephen King style, and one of his least-celebrated masterpieces.