Paper cuts are less painful than these novels


photo via Time Magazine

Ever since I was little, reading has been a major part of my life. Whether it was a picture book before bed, a few pages on the after-school bus ride or a stack of 22 novels accumulated before quarantine, the priceless words and adventures found in books accompany me to this day.

All books provide their own rush of emotions, and I’ve always found it difficult to dislike even the most tiresome of stories. However, some—particularly the school-assigned variety—conjure up memories of painful boredom and untempered annoyance which ruin the overall effect.

Today, I’ve compiled a list of my all-time least favorite novels, all of which just so happen to be class assignments. As a disclaimer, the opinions and ideas expressed here may seem harsh, but they perfectly encapsulate my disdain of these novels. Enjoy!


5.) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Few books have ever put me to sleep. Gladwell’s novel happens to be one of the exceptions. As the newest addition to my list, I should have tons to say about Outliers…but I don’t. The redundant, mundane argument Gladwell crafts lost my attention after chapter two. However, I do remember the stomach-churning chapter on plane crashes and the guilt I now associate with opportunity. Overall, this almost-forgettable novel was a waste of paper. It certainly could have been accomplished in 20 pages, not 300.


4.) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

For those of you who have not read Tom Sawyer, allow me to save you the trouble. While I found the plot intriguing and enjoyable at times, the old English and broken dialect trademark of Twain’s writing made the novel painfully difficult to decipher. At one point, I could no longer read the text and downloaded the audiobook instead. That decision improved the experience significantly. However, I cannot overlook the struggle of my poor, seventh-grade self, granting Tom Sawyer a memorable place on this list.


3.) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I will give credit to Steinbeck on this one. His masterfully-crafted descriptions of each setting helped my writing take on a new life and vision. However, this beautiful narration lost its wonder quickly, turning into a long-winded, difficult-to-follow storyline. Maybe I felt the plot developed too quickly; maybe I was just disenchanted by the characters’ treatment of Lennie; maybe I just got lost in this overbearing narration. Who knows. It made it on the list anyway.


2.) Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

If I could describe this novel in one word, it would be “confusing.” Not only did I suffer through roughly 100 pages, I finished the novel with more questions than I began with. The story was disengaging, Ethan was a down-right creep and I’m still questioning the necessity of the suicide attempt. And much like that ill-fated attempt, this work was a complete failure, one that leaves ninth-grade honors students considering a drop out before the beginning of the year. 


1.) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

A simple four-word phrase often accompanies the slightest mention of this novel: cruel and unusual punishment. At some point, the pain grew so unbearable that I shut the book and threw it across the room. The resounding thud of Steinbeck’s work hitting the wall was the most satisfying sound. I won’t deny that reading it made me a better writer, just as I will not deny you a complete understanding of my disdain. I couldn’t relate to the characters; didn’t understand the dialect; can’t remember any momentous plot movement. In essence, The Grapes of Wrath encapsulates everything I found wrong with the other novels on this list, making it the worst of the worst. Maybe if I hadn’t had to annotate the novel, it would have been a better experience. For that, I blame you TK (even though you gave me a bonus point for it).


I know that this list may appear harsh, but give me a break. Reading should be an adventure, not a painful chore. It’s where I go to escape our harsh reality, not undoubtedly enter one much worse. It should motivate me to better my storytelling abilities, not wish I was illiterate. 


I encourage you to make a list like this. I found it therapeutic to air my grievances and confront these awful novels face on. Maybe now I can rest easy, knowing that this little vent-session may finally restore my fond memories of reading.