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.