The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

14 Books We Give You Permission Not to Read

Telling someone not to read feels wrong on a basic level, but it’s true — some books ain’t worth the papercuts. We’re giving you permission not to read these popular novels because they’re either simplistic, offensive, or plain bad. Plus, there are a ton of better books we’d rather you read. According to Google, there are nearly 130 million books at your fingertips to pick from.

From epic novels in the literary pantheon to fantasy staples, here are 14 books you don’t have to read, no matter how much people say you should.

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Whoah, like, man is sort of a wolf but also sort of a man and the world is so strange and I have no place, wah. There, you just read Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, a semi-autobiographical yet fictionalized story of character Harry Haller, a sad and lonely reclusive intellectual. He’s whiney, self-pitying, and victimizes himself without reprieve believing the world is against him. Even the drugs and sex parts are boring. The first half is cringy and it only goes downhill from there because the narrator sucks. Albert Camus uses a similar dejected narrator in his book The Stranger, only it works. As does The Trial by Franz Kafka. Read these before the trash juice that is Steppenwolf.

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac

Desolation Angels is introduced as a book written by the author of On the Road, which goes to show its appeal is in the writer, not the pages. Beat poster-boy Jack Kerouac writes Desolation Angels from the perspective of alter ego Jack Duluoz as he vagabonds around the United States doing drugs with fellow artists who think they’re too cool for school. It’s self-indulgence disguised as transcendental depth; akin to listening to hours of bad slam poetry skee-bop until your ears bleed. If you read Kerouac, it’s gotta be Dharma Bums.

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.

The Davinci Code by Dan Brown

The Davinci Code by Dan Brown

This is a tale of a religious conspiracy that came to be associated with Tom Hanks’ face. Just watch Indiana Jones and save yourself the time and patience. The Davinci Code by Dan Brown is 600-plus pages of formulaic writing that sucks the joy out of the art of storytelling. We get it, you want to sell a lot of copies! For a mystery, it lacks mystery. A literary work, it lacks ripe language. Salman Rushdie comically bashed the book during a lecture saying it’s “a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name,” and that the author, while he should be allowed to live with this monstrosity of a book should not be allowed to write.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Recently turned into a terrible Hulu show, Celeste Ng’s best-selling novel Little Fires Everywhere is a trite drama that reads like a lazy young adult book and fails to bring any new revelations or situations to the category of books that explore family structures. Its characters and plot are shallow, punctuated by an ending devoid of heat or epiphany. Want a truly phenomenal novel about suburbia and the unraveling of family structure, read American Pastoral by Phillip Roth. Compared side-by-side, Little Fires Everywhere is a lot of hype for zero depth.

Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway

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.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

I’m about to get hate mail for saying this but skip the Harry Potter series. The point isn’t that the books are bad because they’re not — J.K. Rowling does a tremendous job at world-building, infusing symbols that reflect our own often scary realities (i.e. Dementors being a vessel to describe depression). However, the stark divide between what should be “good” and “bad” is too restrictive and uncreative. The true brilliance of the novel form is when the line between good and evil blurs. At moments you relate to the bad guys and hate the good ones. I also hate how the world and all its people revolve around one singular character. Everyone is obsessed with Harry Potter in one way or another and it’s b-o-r-i-n-g. Don’t feel pressured to read it. Try the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan instead, which is written in similar readable prose and explores rich mythology.

Porno by Irvine Welsh

Porno by Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh’s sequel to the popular novel Trainspotting (which we do recommend you read) is painful. The 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.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

I really struggled with whether to put Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch on this list. The first three-fourths is an endurance event that leaves you baffled at how the book won such a noteworthy award. The story is told from the perspective of Theo, an New York City-raised kid whose mother dies in a terrorist attack on an art museum. The book charts his coming of age into adulthood. While the premise is intriguing, scenes dribble on to the point where you’ll read 100 pages on one, single afternoon. You’ll think of quitting every time you open the book and that doesn’t make reading fun. However — and this is a big “however” — the last 80 pages are flooring. Unfortunately, Donna Tart wrote The Goldfinch for a very specific type of depraved person (hi), and most others who make it to the end close the pages feeling let down. It’s a long book that’s difficult to read because the plot isn’t too exciting but it also could be one of the best books you’ve ever read. You have to take a gamble to find out.

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.

Junior by Macaulay Culkin

Junior by Macaulay Culkin

We would sooner read Hooking Up with Tila Tequila: A Guide to Love, Fame, Happiness, Success, and Being the Life of the Party than child-actor Macaulay Culkin’s book Junior, a never-ending ramble of meaningless stream-of-thought that has one point: to not have a point. Those who enjoy this book say that “it’s not supposed to mean anything’,” and I take serious offense to this. If you read a novel, make it meaningful. Make it feel like lightening in your nerves. Don’t read decent books like this. If you’re looking for a story with all the same daddy issues as Culkin, try Lolita.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray

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. Instead, focus on being a more successful person with these books.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

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.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max

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.

Editors' Recommendations