Telling someone not to read something feels wrong on a basic level, but it’s true — there are some books you can skip. We’re giving you permission not to read these books because they’re either simplistic, offensive, or just plain bad. Plus, there are a ton of better books we’d rather you read; according to Google, there are nearly 130 million to pick from.
From epic novels in the literary pantheon to celebrity books and fantasy staples, here are 12 books you really don’t have to read.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Whoa, I just made a ton of enemies. That’s right, you don’t have to read The Alchemist. We know there are articles online about why you should, and it’s become a widely popular bestseller worldwide since its publication in 1988. The story takes a young shepherd boy on a mystical journey to the pyramids of Egypt and is supposed to be a big metaphor for all the challenges life throws at us. It’s notoriously quote-worthy for its one-line, dorm-room wisdom, but it’s also a stereotypical representation of Arab and Muslim culture “embodied by a colonialist attitude,” says the Arab Millennial. The book has also been called repetitive, unoriginal, and preachy, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg was a literary leader of the beat generation in the ’50s, BFF-ing it up with Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Ginsberg is best-known for his long epic poem Howl, originally banned for being obscene, and then deemed socially significant by literary big-wigs. But honestly, the poem is overrated. (If James Franco made a film about it, you know it’s overrated.) Ginsberg likes to hear the sound of his own voice, but he has nothing profound to say. There’s no denying the positive progress this work made during its time to counter heteronormative America, but today this book is loved by people who brag about loving vinyl and wear pinky rings. You’re better off reading Kerouac because no elation occurs from ingesting this poem.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Respected book critic Michael Shelden said, “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind is a cartoon epic for people who think the Civil War was one long fashion show.” Others agree you don’t have to read this book. The dialogue is bad and the story contributed to the glorification of the Antebellum South. While it did win a Pulitzer Prize, we urge you to read other prize winners like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, or Cormac McCarthy instead. This book isn’t on this list because it’s tragic and disturbing (in the context of the Civil War, those are redeeming qualities); it’s on this list because the writing simply doesn’t pull you in past the first 50 pages. And even if you do make it through, you don’t emerge transformed. Try one of these history books instead.
Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway
I first bought this Ernest Hemingway book at a used book store and was so excited to find a Hemingway novel I’d never heard of. But there’s a reason people don’t talk about Across the River and Into the Trees. It’s unreadable. A war-savaged colonel goes to seek the love of an Italian countess — a great premise to show love’s resilience amid war, but the execution failed terribly. The dialogue is confusing and the scenes drone on in a circular fashion. This was the last full book Hemingway wrote before he died and nowhere close to what made him one of the most important writers in history. Don’t let this sully the Hemingway you know and love.
Porno by Irvine Welsh
Irvine Welsh’s sequel to the popular novel Trainspotting (which we do recommend you read) is painful. Protagonist “Sick Boy” is up to another scam to produce a porn film, so he rounds up his old friends. What follows is a long novel that many have likened to fan fiction. Violence, sex, poverty, junkies — all fine topics to write about, but this book fails to inflate these topics and make them relatable.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
While I do believe everyone can relate their outlook on love and marriage to either Marianne or Elinor Dashwood, the sisters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, I’ll tell you it’s still too slow a book to enjoy. Which is a tragedy because the general message is great: How do you find personal happiness in a status-hungry society that puts money above all else? There’s no engaging action and movement, making it a tedious read. And reading, especially out of a classroom, should be fun and engaging. Read these female authors instead.
Holy Cow by David Duchovny
We have a forever man-crush on David Duchovny but what was he thinking writing Holy Cow? The book is about Elsie, a cow who reads a lot like Duchovny’s wise-cracking character on Californication. Duchovny did earn degrees in English literature from Princeton and Yale, but this is still a book about farm animals. I mean, dude, Animal Farm has been done. A rule of thumb: Don’t read books by celebrities unless they’re comedians.
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray
Sexist, sexist, sexist. For everyone. The complexities of human behavior are boiled down to stark simplifications in this purely stupid book about how to self-analyze your relationship. Focus on being a more successful person instead with these books.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
I opened this book prepared to be blown away. Basically, it’s a story about how the heart wants different things. It’s one of those “this book changed my life” titles you hear about. However, there is honestly nothing special about the wandering pseudo-philosophy of its text. Want to read about a dejected man walking around Europe? Read Jean-Paul Sartre. The promise that The Unbearable Lightness of Being will touch your soul is a hoax. It’s not terrible, but it’s not worth the squeeze.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Our modern conceptions of Dorothy, Oz, and the whole gang are largely based in the movie, not the book written by L. Frank Baum and published in 1900. Stick to the film version. The book tells the same story but fails in its single most important quest: defining good versus evil. Baum never explains why The Wicked Witch is bad or why Dorothy and her friends are good. Some readers have comically summarized the story as: Dorothy kills someone and goes to another land where she meets three strangers to kill again. Want a classic multi-dimensional fantasy read? Look to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max
Tucker Max found a way to get every frat guy who hadn’t read a book since high school to open one up again. He did it by sharing his gross sexual encounters, binge drinking, and overall asshole tendencies. Much like the film adaptation that bombed at the box office, save yourself the price of admission and read a different story. Unlikeable narrators can be amazing, but Tucker Max just generally sucks. It’s a lame book saturated in misogyny, borderline racism, and sexism. I’ve heard multiple people say it’s the worst book they’ve ever read. You can go to a bar and listen to an alcoholic egotist dribble on for an hour and get a better story than this.
50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James
50 Shades of Grey currently stands as one of the most successful self-published books in history. However, the BDSM saga about a college student being dominated by a wealthy entrepreneur not only reads like blog erotica, but it has also been called “an instruction manual for an abusive individual to sexually torture a vulnerable young woman” by a domestic violence charity. Why go there? While we’re on the topic, we might as well throw out these similar titles we give you permission to never read: Twilight, The Devil Wears Prada, Thirteen Reasons Why, and P.S. I Love You.