9 Overrated Classic Novels — And Which Books To Read Instead

I still have nightmares about trying to read Moby Dick for a college literature class. Seriously, that book is my great whale. Despite many (many!) attempts to read it, I still haven't been able to get through it all. Consequently, I believe it is one of the most overrated classic books I have ever encountered. Even Chris Hemsworth wasn't able to make a movie about the expedition that inspired the book entertaining, and Chris Hemsworth is wholly entertaining all on his own.

But I'm not alone — everyone has that one book. The literary albatross that you just can't slog through — not even when your Modern Literature grade is riding on it. But here's the rough part: you chose to be in that Modern Literature class in college. You don't have that choice from elementary school through high school. The state and school board chose the books you read, and most of them were written by ultra-dead white men, with a few white women thrown in there for variety. And so, by the time you turned twenty-one, you'd somehow read The Great Gatsby six times.

That's okay. The way we perceive classic literature changes over time, and a book that you loved as a child may strike you as unforgivably problematic when you re-read it as an adult.

This list is not to stop you from reading these classics. After all, in order to understand novels today we should understand where it all started. But not all novels translate well across time and generations, despite being branded as "classics." Here are some overrated classics — and the modern books you should read instead.

1'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

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It might be hard for some people to accept that Harper Lee's classic is about racism... told through a white gaze. It is an extremely outdated reflection of racism and social equality.

Alternatives:

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis is a Great Depression-era story told from the point of view of a 12-year-old black girl named Deza.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson is about an African-American girl who's been accused of murdering a white baby.

2'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë

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Rochester is the worst. The wandering around the moors as an escape plan? The mentally ill wife in the attic? I have never understood this book.

Alternative:

In Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende, an orphaned Chilean woman sets off to California during the Gold Rush. She's in search of her lover, but she ends up discovering so much more.  

3'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë

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The Brontë sisters simply do not do it for me, but I can't deny the impact of these books. For a modern update on their love stories, try the following.

Alternative:

Solsbury Hill by Susan M. Wyler is a love story set in contemporary times that deals with a New York girl, the moors, and the legacy of Wuthering Heights.

4'Moby Dick' by Herman Melville

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You know the drill. Moby Dick is the story of a white man's desperate quest for a white whale, and it just doesn't do it for me.

Alternative:

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, because if I'm going to read about someone on a ship, it might as well feature a badass girl who time-travels.

5'The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe' by C.S. Lewis

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Most children read C.S. Lewis' classic novel, but in all honesty, there are better fantasy options out there with far less sexism. (Remember how the girls aren't allowed to fight, even though Lucy is an ace archer? No thanks.)

Alternative:

When the Sea Turned Silver by Grace Lin is about a girl and boy who go on a magical journey in search for a mythical stone and the girl's kidnapped grandmother.

6'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I've come to the conclusion that I love the idea of Gatsby more than I love the book.

Alternative:

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is told from the perspective of two women in the thick of the Roaring Twenties. It's got all the drama, parties, and vibrancy of The Great Gatsby, but it's focused more on the real stars of the decade: the women.

7'The Catcher In the Rye' by J.D. Salinger

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When I was in high school and told my English teacher that Catcher in the Rye was my favorite book, they said, "Wait until you're 30." Well, I'm 29, and she was right.

Alternative:

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith is told from seventeen-year-old Kiri's point of view, and she deals with just as much teen angst and heartbreak as Holden.

8'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad

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I'm convinced that Heart of Darkness is assigned by teachers as a means of punishment. Seriously, it's a book about imperialism, colonialism, and what happens when "civilized" people leave society — told through the lens of white men from Britain. Of course.

Alternative:  

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a sweeping, epic novel that follows two sisters, one sold into slavery and one married to a British slaver, and their descendants over the course of 300 years.

9'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac

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This book birthed the experimental road trip novel movement, but I think we can all agree it's a little overrated.

Alternative:

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee is a British version of On The Road featuring two wealthy gay boys on their Grand Tour. This book doesn't come out until June 27th, 2017, but I promise it's the road trip book you've always wanted.