Two books that don’t live up to their stories

In the spirit of the “No more heroes” bit printed in The Guardian, I said I might compose my own list of over-hyped books/authors. I’ve been spinning the idea around in my head a lot while I should have been working, and what I’ve come up with is the idea that many of the books I dearly love are, really, over hyped — if you accept that by over hyped, I mean the following:

Over-hyped books: Books that are good, maybe even great, but not nearly as phenomenal as their press and press attention would suggest that they are.

I think I’ll keep adding to this, but it’s hard. I’m trying to do as The Guardian did and speak only about the negatives, but I’m finding it nearly impossible to be that snarky without apology. Particularly for #1. I mean, I’m trying to match an article that said the following about Bob Marley: “When Marley sang of being ‘Iron, like a lion, in Zion,’ one braced for the shout out to his mate Brian, who had a tie on. As one Marley fan said to another when the dope wore off: ‘Christ, this music’s terrible.'” and this about Neil Young: “Young has even-handedly bored three generations equally thoroughly, and unleashed some unspeakable musical atrocities.”

So, onward and upward.

Top two over-hyped books, according to me.

1. Harry Potter and the [X] by J. K. Rowling
The idea that the Harry Potter series is going to change lives, and someday be regarded as the great classic set of all times is a bit preposterous. The His Dark Materials trilogy is better written and thought out; it’s also finished, and it ended with a spectacularly strong book. I already have doubts about the end of the series, and the fact that it isn’t written yet — and the fact that the fifth book was not as good (in organization, in character development, in overall plot) as the fourth, which was, I think, the high-water mark of the series so far — and will have to be written under intense global scrutiny and pressure, makes me think that the glory days of HP have come and gone. Has no one ever read about the battle between Good and Evil before? Is this really that new and groundbreaking? At the end of the day, Harry Potter reads more like a childhood fantasy soap opera than a complex character tale — Rowling (so far) dodges all of the controversial topics — someone, anyone, tell me: do Wizards pray? — sticking instead to deus ex machina drama. Willing suspension of disbelief is one thing: as this series catapults toward its inevitably disappointing ending, these books feel a little bit like willful suspension of the author’s attention to the intelligence of her audience — and perhaps to the opportunity she has to actually make the books something more than a really long retelling of Cinderella.

(Dear J.K. Rowling: Please prove me wrong.)

2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Yes, I read it; yes, it kept me awake trying to finish it. But the writing isn’t, really, great. In fact, the mystery is thrilling, but Brown’s need to throw a cheesy romance into all of his books is never more insulting than it is in this one. Come on, Robert Langdon just happens to have the same job and be the same age as the author — and he always gets the younger, more beautiful, super-intelligent girls falling for him? This is like male fantasy fiction with the Bible thrown in for credibility. The brilliance of the book is its combination of fact and mystery and religion, so it seems very daring — but in truth, it’s rather formulaic. I feel it has stayed on the Best Seller lists for so long (currently #2 on the NYT Fiction list) because that’s what people are looking for in popular fiction: Something that looks controversial but is, in truth, already well-known. [climbs off soap box]

Bonus book: Any and every book by Dr. Phil McGraw
Please catch on, America: He makes you feel bad about yourself, and then he sells you the cure. Put the book (and the remote, and the diet plan, and the I LOVE TOUGH LOVE hat) down.

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9 Responses to Two books that don’t live up to their stories

  1. webcowgirl says:

    A whole ton of sake later and you are really making me laugh right now.
    And now that I look at your stuff … yeah, I got to about page 20 of the Da Vinci code, and I just couldn’t read any more. Life’s just too fucking short! And I was really tring to enjoy book 500 of the Harry Potter series and it was just such crap… I keep saying, “But ou must read The Golden Compass, which is a good book!” to anyone I think is just the least bit interested.

    May I also recommend the Diamond Age?

  2. therealjae says:

    God. I love you.

    I never thought I’d hear you criticize Harry Potter that roundly, though! Man.

    -J

  3. kepkanation says:

    The funny part is, I posted this with a much shorter shot at Harry Potter, then I re-read it and thought, There’s so much more to say! So I’ve apparently had this in me for a while. I think it was the fifth book that did it; that and the fact that this series is truly the best example EVER of why WIPs shouldn’t be pushed into the public eye.

    I have a second round of this started in my head, too. It’s cathartic.

  4. egretplume says:

    The thing that bugged me most about The DaVinci Code was the wimpy ending. But your line — like male fantasy fiction with the Bible thrown in for credibility — describes so much of American popular and political culture right now that all by itself that would account for the book’s popularity. Brilliant line.

    I’ve been waiting for the Harry Potter furor to die down so I can read the books in peace without feeling like a sheep, but it just never dies down, does it. I’m thinking of just watching the movies instead.

    You’re absolutely right about Dr. Phil. This whole post is wonderful. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. kepkanation says:

    I got to about page 20 of the Da Vinci code, and I just couldn’t read any more

    It really falls under what I consider “airplane literature” — the stuff that I’d pick up in the airport if I’d forgotten to bring a book, something that would keep me busy while I fly but not necessarily stop me from doing anything else once I’m on the ground.

    And I’ve been trying to push the HDM books on to everyone who’s read and raved about Harry Potter since the very moment it was suggested to me! (which reminds me, I still haven’t read the book you sent me — I will have to try it over winter break).

  6. kepkanation says:

    The ending was wimpy, I agree — but it was a total set-up for the next book, which is already being buzzed about.

    I’m hoping the Harry Potter furor will hit a lull over this winter, as we’re between movies and books for a while. I think Harry Potter is worth reading instead of viewing, as the movies truly hit the highlights of the most stereotypically craptastic parts. If you get a chance to look at the original British versions, they’re a little bit sharper than the U.S. books.

    And Dr. Phil and I will someday have a televised fist fight, I’m certain of it!

    Thank you for sharing it!
    Thanks for reading it!

  7. simplelyric says:

    ::giggling:: I was just telling that Harry=Cinderella.

    Less amusing is the fact that you now have me tempted to write a fic about what Hermione does when her parents go to church. Gah.

  8. kepkanation says:

    Harry Potter is totally Cinderella. Dudley = wicked step sister. Voldemort = the wickedest stepmother ever. Or something. I don’t know, I can’t perfectly match the stories but the themes are there. There’s a good deal of traveling about by fire (getting all cinder-y) too.

    Hahaha, I just picture Hermione practicing transfiguring things around the house.

  9. simplelyric says:

    Yeah, Harri and I were having trouble deciding who would be Harry’s prince, though. *g*

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