10 Top Most Overrated Novels: List Universe

Stash or Trash?

Stash or Trash?

I’m a big fan of List UniverseThey have lists for everything and anything: the top 10 most common medical myths, the top 10 most interesting Jack the Ripper suspects,  10 notable stops on historic Route 66, and another 10 stops on Route 66.  You get the idea. 

The other day, however, I ran into one a little too close to home: the Top 10 Most Overrated Novels.   As an all-too pale library nerd with nose perpetually inserted in, er, a book, I instinctively cringed.

Be forewarned: for every book on the following list that has you gleefully cackling “Oh, yeah!,” there may be a book or two that is on your list of, well, Top 10 Favorite Novels of All-Time.

Take a deep breath and, in so doing, prepare for karmic joy and/or unabashed sorrow, perhaps in remarkably equal proportions.  Here it is, in ascending order from bad to worst:


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

White Noise & Underworld by Don Delillo

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Emma by Jane Austen



Ok, how’d you do?  My cackle meter registered a 4, but on the blubbering scale I wailed a whopping 5. 

How can this be?  Aren’t there many other overrated books that easily surpass the consummate badness of some of those listed? Has no one ever been forced to read The Last of the Mohicans, The Brothers Karamazov, or Midnight’s Children?   Couples by John Updike (RIP, but, really …), A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howells or, come on, Finnegans Wake?   Ethan Frome A Separate Peace, A Farewell to ArmsA Stranger in a Strange Land

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, anyone?

Well, obviously, one person’s stash is another person’s trash.  As much as I was sadly appalled at 5 of my fave novels popping up on the most overrated novels list, I’m sure that some of the books I’ve mentioned are probably near and dear to someone else’s heart.   

Even if you haven’t ever been tortured by any of the above (or, like me, find a handful of your favorite novels there), somewhere along the line you must have run across a classic that turned out to be a clunker, a supposed dazzler that turned out to be a mighty dud.

Feel free to share your pain.  Obviously, the rest of us have.

– Don

PS.  I think the finest novel ever written is on the List Universe list.  Care to venture a guess which one it is?  And, strictly for bonus points, two of my favorite novelists who typically appear on overrated classics lists have dodged the bullet here.  Bet you know who they are …


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17 responses to “10 Top Most Overrated Novels: List Universe

  1. MA

    Don, I love this post, but I am dismayed that Tolkien’s trilogy- my favorite set of books- is at the top of the most over rated list. As well as Emma and Wuthering Heights. And the Great Gatsby; that one shocked me. I found that book to be splendid in high school.
    See for my own list, I would say that The Grapes of Wrath should be near the top. I disagree with Johnathan Livingston Seagull, but Couples I would agree with you there.

  2. lee

    I think what bothers me most about this list of ten things is that it is, really, a list of thirteen things. I can deal with differences of opinion, but I cringe when someone makes a list of ten things and doesn’t stop at ten.

  3. Rebekah

    So, Don, will you reveal what the finest novel is from this list?

    I have to agree with “The Da Vinci Code,” and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” should definitely be on the list.

  4. LLB


    My guess for your finest-novel-ever-written is The Great Gatsby. Yes?


  5. Don

    Thanks, MA, I’m a Lord of the Rings fan, so that’s one.

    lee, ah, I knew someone would be counting. And, yeah, it is annoying how they slip ’em through.

    Rebekah, LLB got it – The Great Gatsby. Not my favorite novel, but I think the best written novel ever.

    Two of my favorite novelist I expected to see on the list but weren’t there – well ….


  6. one must be proust….

    – amy

  7. Don

    You know, you would think Proust, but comes up on the Underread not Overrated list.

    No, these two are a lot “worse” than Proust.


  8. Eve-Saint-Yaurent

    The Great Gatsby – overrated??? You must be joking!

    Crazy. Just crazy. If anything, that book is criminally underrated, particularly by kids who read it in school. Harry Potter and Twilight has diminshed their ability to appreciate great writing and instead go for simple, soulless fluff.

  9. We don’t write the lists – we just report ’em!

    Twilight is, I’ll grant you, useless fluff. You might want to reconsider the Harry Potter series, though – it’s on a par with The Chronicles of Narnia, IMHO, for children’s fantasy lit. It’s also responsible for a reading renaissance at all age levels.

    Leigh Anne

  10. Don

    Eve-Saint-Yaurent, well, you have hit the nail on the head – “The Great Gatsby” is the book I was referring to when I said in the PS

    “PS. I think the finest novel ever written is on the List Universe list. Care to venture a guess which one it is?”

    So, ESY, you and I are in total agreement.


  11. Bill

    It should be called The Good ( but not great ) Gatsby. Therefore, I agree; it is overrated.

  12. Alan

    Gatsby the finest novel ever written?

    Can you say something about why? Something along the lines of (a) what makes a novel fine, (b) why Gatsby has the most of that and (c) how one can rule out the novels one has not read?

    I am interested in your thoughts on two levels. One, I could never get into this novel, so perhaps you can show me how. Two, always wondered how people come to their “finest.”

    Thank you.

  13. Don

    Hi, Alan:

    Well, I’m going to do a kind of fine parsing here – if you note above, although I said I thought it is the finest novel (that I’ve yet to read) ever written, that it is not my favorite.

    I believe the junction where these two thoughts meet may be the place where you and I might tacitly agree.

    Generally, I feel the subject matter is, well, not very appealing. Gatsby is a shallow character and that, I believe, is the point. In Gatsby, Fitzgerald had his symbol for what he perceived to wrong in Modern America. I think this is, in fact, the Great American Novel everyone seems to have been waiting for for the last two centuries and didn’t realize it’d already arrived.

    It is not, however, about the Great American Dream; it is about the Great American Nightmare. Or, perhaps more specifically, it is the American Dream gone bad.

    Why do I think the book is so fine? It seems to me that not one word is out of place. Though brief, novel-wise, I think the very brevity leans itself to being perceived as purely lyrical. I would argue that Gatsby is nearly a prose poem in its execution.

    It’s been awhile since I wrote this post and even longer since I re-read The Great Gatsby. It seems to me its about time.

    Hope that helps.


  14. Alan

    Don, thanks very much for actually replying.

    So when you said “finest” it really meant something specific. I think it is in such sense people call an Austen “perfect,” not to mean possessed of every virtue but accomplishing perfectly what it sets out to. Gatsby is fine craftsmanship indeed. Thanks again.

  15. Isabella Jackman

    Nobody rates The DaVinci Code anyway, so how can it be overrated!
    The Grapes of Wrath is the most overrated novel ever in my opinion. Steinbeck only got the Nobel Prize because his opinions happend to be fashionable at that time. I love Wuthering Heights, but my mother’s family come from the Yorkshire Moors, so I guess I understand where it’s coming from. A lot of rubbish has been written about it by critics though.

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