Men’s magazine, GQ, recently released a list of 21 books that you don’t have to read. They supported their choices for the list by saying that “the great books” are either racist, sexist, and/or “really, really boring” and have offered what they find to be (unrelated) “substitutes” to every book listed.
So here’s our list of some of their most ridiculous picks, and why they’re wrong in their choices.
1. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
According to the editors of GQ, this classic coming-of-age story is “without literary merit whatsoever.” While Salinger may have been a kind of one-hit-wonder within literature, I have to strongly disagree with their criticism. Its themes of teenage angst, alienation, growing up, and the romanticization of the adult world can resonate with both teenagers and adults alike. It’s no wonder its been named one of the best novels of the twentieth century topping lists from the BBC, Time Magazine, and Modern Library.
This particular book was chosen by André Aciman, author of Call Me by Your Name. In the article, Aciman suggests reading Oliva by Dorothy Stachey as an acceptable substitute with no additional reasoning other than him having read it “many, many times,” and considering it “the inspiration for Cal Me by Your Name“, the comparison and substitution is not relevant as the books have totally different plot points and themes. Catcher is a coming-of-age story that focuses on the alienation that arriving into adulthood can make people feel while Olivia focuses on a British teenage girl who falls in love with her teacher. Two TOTALLY DIFFERENT plots and narratives.
2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
via Harper Collins
“Somehow, even at 208 pages, The Alchemist is 207 pages too long.”
My blood is boiling.
To Kevin Nguyen, GQ’s senior editor, this iconic novel is nothing but “existential meandering” and “entitled desert wandering.” The book that they suggested as a replacement to the novel is Clarice Lispector’s Near to the Wild Heart, which isn’t even comparable to Coelho’s work. Lispector’s novel is written in a stream-of-consciousness style, sprinkled with personal comparisons to animals while having no concrete plot.
The biggest of the differences between the two is the vast difference in central themes. Near The Wild Heart centers around finding a balance between solitude and company, while The Alchemist focuses more on dealing with fear and finding one’s purpose in the form of “personal legends”
Side note: Nguyen had the audacity to say that the people that Santiago meets along the way speak in “inane aphorisms of a throw pillow.”
3. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
via Open Culture
While I may not be the biggest fan of high fantasy novels, I still respect Tolkien’s iconic work for what it is and the legacy it has created, including more novels in the series being published from beyond his grave. Manuel Gonzales, author of The Regional Office Is Under Attack, put in his two cents and called the novels, “barely readable.” In exchange for Tolkien’s series, he suggested Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1964 Earthsea series.
While Gonzales would rather completely discount and substitute Tolkien’s series for Le Guin’s, I would offer that you should look at Le Guin’s novel to be additional reading if you like Tolkien’s work and are looking for something a bit lighter. Tolkien’s fantasies are dense and focus a lot on world building, and according to Gonzales, are “exercises” in such.
As seen when trying to adapt Le Guin’s novels into film, her works just aren’t comparable to Tolkien’s. While more diverse than the Rings series, it doesn’t have the same elements that set Tolkien’s work apart from the rest of fantasy.
4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
I cannot imagine another novel that would be comparable to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with the exception of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both were revolutionary for their time, as both works invented and redefinied the genre that they were written in, all at once. Stoker’s Dracula inspired authors for years to come and his novel became a template for authors wanting to write in the gothic horror genre, including creatures like vampires.
GQ of course had to argue otherwise.
Matthew Klam, author of Who Is Rich, didn’t really have an argument against the classic gothic novel, but instead just offered Denis Johnson’sAngels, a 1983 fiction novel, as an acceptable substitute. While Angels may invoke the same kind of feelings that Dracula did back in it’s day, it is definitely no substitute. Klam calls Angels a “truly terrifying literary gem.” If anything, I wouldn’t consider Angels anything more than a mystery thriller novel, definitely not a defining book of a genre.
Featured image via GQ, Hilary Schuhmacher