Bushwick Asks: Which Critically Acclaimed Books Actually Stink?

I have a confession; I really disliked The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I finished it, but it was a struggle. I know it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and is critically acclaimed receiving positive reviews from everyone who matters. There have been other important and popular works that I couldn’t finish including Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which I hated so much I haven’t been able to pick up any of his other work, and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I fear that these two books will someday be a Bushwick Book Club Seattle selection and I’ll have to attempt to read them again.

My opinion on these well-known great novels says more about me and my lowbrow taste than it does about the novels themselves. It got me thinking.

Do other people secretly despise famous award winners?

I asked this very question to many Bushwick artists and volunteers and here is what they had to say.


Amanda Sue Winterhalter

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ASW: Good question!  I really hated Wicked.  It just didn’t do it for me. I read it over 10 years ago, and I think at the time I thought the writing craft was cheesy and too self-aware. I might think differently if I read it again now, who knows?

KG: Amanda has an album project in the works, but it is as yet untitled. She’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign in the next two months to record in early summer, and will release the album in September.


Evan Peterson

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EP: I find Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land to be uneven, unnecessarily long, mostly bloviating conversations rather than actions, misogynist (a female character even claims that 9 out of 10 times when a woman is raped it’s partly her fault), and homophobic (there’s a futuristic orgy cult that some characters consider normal and healthy while dismissing gays as abnormal and unhealthy).

KG: Evan has a really cool project SHRIEK: A Women of Horror Film and Discussion Class that meets the first Tuesday of every month at Scarecrow Video.


Wes Weddell

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WW: Several years ago it looked as though Bushwick was going to do a library program with Geraldine Brooks’ March, which won a Pulitzer. The program never materialized, but I read it – and really didn’t dig it (various reasons). Brooks spoke with Seattle Arts & Lectures in January, and Bushwick did two songs before (Reggie Garrett and Amanda Sue Winterhalter) – I was cautious given my previous experience with her work, but what followed was a wonderful, funny, intelligent, and inspiring talk… made me want to read more of her stuff. I still can’t endorse March, but I think very highly of Geraldine Brooks.


Simon Kornelis

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SK: In high school, it was in the curriculum to read 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m not sure why, but we had to read it. I just hated it and then I had to write an essay about it which I totally B.S’d. A week after I turned it in, my teacher came up to me and asked if I really enjoyed the book. I told him how I felt and he said that he agreed, it wasn’t really up his alley either. However, he said, “your essay was a very well written one and I’m going to use it, with your permission, as an example for the class.” Never in my life did I ever get recognized for writing about something that I enjoyed nearly as much as I did when I really hated 2001: A Space Odyssey.

KG: Simon has a big show coming up at Naked City Brewery on March 26. More than half the tickets are gone already. At the show he promises to tell more of these great stories!


Debbie Miller

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DM: I downloaded Fifty Shades of Grey to my iPad to see what the deal was. I figured that since there was so much commotion around the book, there must be something to it. But the writing was so bad – SO BAD – I couldn’t keep reading it. I made it maybe about a fifth of the way through before I gave up. It’s still on my iPad, because I feel guilty that since I spent money on it that one day I should go back and read it. I hope I don’t.

KG: I give you permission to quit that book and delete it from your iPad forever. Debbie has a great new album LIVE In An Empty Sea. Check it out.


Carrie Seidl

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CS: I have been racking my brain on this! I feel like I’m WAY more opinionated with movies. The first thing I thought of was the Harry Potter series, but are those really “critically acclaimed?” And also, does it count if you haven’t even read any of it? I greatly dislike the hype involved with that series, as if J.K. Rowling were the very first person to write interesting stories that appeal to children and adults. It’s as if Madeleine L’Engle and Phillip Pullman didn’t exist. It’s ridiculous to me that she gets all the hype and the money. I’m not saying she’s a terrible writer, but I mean, stories about magic and evil and orphans are a dime a dozen.

KG: Yes, they are critically acclaimed and I’m trying not to be good-naturedly offended at your response! Now I know how people who love Oscar Wao and The Corrections feel when I roll my eyes at them.


Aaron Shay

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AS: I loved the middle of Life of Pi, but found the beginning and ending completely befuddling. It really felt like the author/narrator had such a beef with atheists that he shoe-horned some ham-handed arguments into a meta-narrative completely removed from the bulk of the story. Maybe I’m a bit sensitive because I identify as agnostic, but the beginning and ending segments felt like completely unnecessary additions to an already compelling and fascinating story.

KG: Aaron has a lot on his plate right now including his House Show Manifesto, a Patreon campaign to fund his next record​, and a one-man show, Apocalypse Songs, which he is performing at the Rogue Festival in Fresno, CA, this weekend.


Eric Lane Barnes

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ELB: I have enjoyed every Pulitzer Prize-winning book I have read. The Good Earth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ironweed, Beloved, The Shipping News, The Hours, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Known World – these and more have ranked as some of the best books I’ve read in my life. A friend of mine loaned me The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I was excited to read another Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction. But reading it turned out to feel more like a chore than a pleasure. I kept plugging away, though, but with a diminishing level of satisfaction. I don’t think it was a bad book, per se, but I do not think it matched the high level of brilliance other Pulitzer Prize-winning books have for me.

For the record, I also think Catcher in the Rye is highly overrated. I read it in high school like so many kids of my generation did. Even then I thought, ‘meh.’ Same with A Confederacy of Dunces, Snowcrash, Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, and A Million Little Pieces. Each of them underwhelmed me, some to the point of anger.

I also read Black Chalk due a giddily glowing revue on NPR. I now know: just because a book wins a prize, or is highly-reviewed on NPR does not mean the book is to my taste. And that is 100% okay.

KG: I’m relieved to know that someone else felt the same way about Oscar Wao as I did and also that there are a lot of passionate feelings against some critically acclaimed works as well.


Now it’s your turn. Tell us which popular or highly-awarded books you think actually really stink!

  • Carrie Seidl

    Haha, I knew you were going to comment about Jonathan Franzen! You know how much I love him. We will just have to agree to disagree on a few books. 🙂

    • Kerry Garvin

      I even checked out that one you recommended and I couldn’t do it. I just stared at it for two weeks.