10 Books That Weren't Appreciated When They First Came Out
No one likes getting a bad review. You work hard to create a thing, whether it's a painting or a novel or a fancy quiche, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will appreciate all of the blood and sweat and cheese that went into it. And... you don't always get the response that you're looking for. We've all all been there. But if you're feeling a little under appreciated, then you're in some pretty good company: quite a few books that we now consider great works of literature where completely panned back in the day. Here are several books that weren't appreciated when they first came out.
Of course, many, many brilliant books, from Peter Rabbit to Harry Potter, were initially rejected by publishers. But some books were still scoffed at even after they made it onto bookstore shelves. They sold poorly, confused everyone, and received scathing reviews from major newspapers. Some of the classics we now consider widely over-read and overrated were once scrappy little novels in search of readers.
So, the next time you feel like the world just doesn't appreciate you, pick up one of these books, and remind yourself that genius isn't always understood right away:
1. 'The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien
These days, J.R.R. Tolkien is the widely acknowledged father of the fantasy genre. But when his books first came out people were... less enthusiastic. The New York Times called his writing "high-minded" and "death to literature itself." The New Republic said that it was "anemic, and lacking in fiber." Even Hugo Dyson, one of Tolkien's friends and a member of his literary circle, would famously lie on the couch and shout, "Oh God, no more Elves!" during readings of Tolkien's work.
2. 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
In our current age of dystopian literature (and dystopian reality), it's hard to remember that old school sci-fi traditionally depicted the future as a super fun paradise. So when Aldous Huxley first dropped Brave New World, people did not care for it. The book was called a "lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda,” and fellow sci-fi author H.G. Wells called it a "betrayal" of the future as a general concept.
3. 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights was met with very mixed reviews when it was first published. On the one hand, it was called a "strange, inartistic story." Other reviews had more extreme reactions, such as "How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery" and "Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights…."
4. 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby was called an "absurd story" and "obviously unimportant" when it first came out. Apparently no one warned readers that they were reading a Great American Novel. As famous critic H.L. Mencken put it, "This clown Fitzgerald rushes to his death in nine short chapters."
5. 'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov
Sure, there are people who dislike Lolita today, or feel like it's widely misinterpreted. But no one can top the original New York Times review for sheer disdain: "Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive..."
6. 'Where the Wild Things Are' by Maurice Sendak
Before Where the Wild Things Are became the beloved childhood classic it is today, it was called a "pointless and confusing story" by Publisher's Weekly, and the Journal of Nursery Education said, "We should not like to have it left about where a sensitive child might find it to pore over in the twilight."
7. 'Ulysses' by James Joyce
To be fair, Ulysses is still considered pretty confusing by a lot of people. But when it first came out it was banned in several countries for obscenity, derided as nonsense, and ripped apart in the press. The Sporting Times wrote that it was "written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine."
8. 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger
9. 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood
Between the TV series and the current state of American politics, The Handmaid's Tale has been wildly popular. But when it first came out it was met with a lot of "meh" reactions, including a New York Times review that pronounced the book readable but lacking any bite: "It seems harsh to say... that it lacks imagination, but that, I fear, is the problem."
10. 'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin
The Awakening is another undisputed classic of feminist literature. When it came out in the 1890's, though, people weren't really into the story of one woman's spiritual and sexual awakening. One critic remarked that "it was not necessary for a writer of so great refinement and poetic grace to enter the overworked field of sex fiction." Another went so far as to say, "we are well satisfied when Mrs. Pontellier deliberately swims out to her death in the waters of the gulf.” Ouch.