15 Bestselling Books The Critics Hated

Culture December 6, 2017 By Hugo

Literature, like any medium of art, is intended to be well-received, and in the case of a few successful authors, their books have achieved that with critics and readers alike. But other bestselling writers, whether it's down to the quality of their writing or the nature of their plots, can't seem to attain both seals of approval.

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With that said, Lifehack Lane has chronicled 15 bestselling books that were loathed by critics.

1. Twilight

Written by Mormon housewife Stephanie Meyer, Twilight's plot consisted of a romance between a pale vampire and a laconic teenage girl and came to Meyer in a dream, and three months later, she had completed her very first manuscript.

But critics weren't impressed, with many wondering how a book littered with grammatical errors (there are even YouTube videos online highlighting them) could even get published. Stephen King, one of America's most successful and celebrated writers publicly admitted that Meyer "Can't write worth a darn."

But with over 116m copies of her works sold, and an accompanying film franchise worth a reported $2bn, Meyer probably isn't too fussed about their opinions.

2. 50 Shades of Grey

If critics of literature had mini seizures over Twilight, then spare a thought for what they must have gone through when they read the first instalment of E.L. James's trilogy, 50 Shades. Titled 50 Shades of Grey, the story of a timid Seattle student falling in love with a handsome billionaire was spawned from Twilight fan fiction, which may explain why it was equally loathed by critics.

Like Twilight, there are also various websites detailing the story's bad writing, though unlike Meyer's books, 50 Shades of Grey was published by a small indie publisher, perhaps leading Salmond Rushdie, author of critically praised books such as Midnight's Children, to acerbically remark that the book made Twilight "look like War and Peace."

3. The Help

American author Kathryn Stockett's debut novel about Southern African American domestic workers during the 1960s became a runaway best-seller when it was eventually released, having initially been rejected by over 60 literary agents. But despite shedding light on the issues the workers faced, black activists weren't all impressed, with Ida.E. Jones, the national director of Black Women Historians, taking umbrage at the author's trivialization of their experiences. 

Commercially speaking, Stockett's sales for her only published book to date stand at around 10m, with the book's film adaptation playing a significant role in such impressive figures.

4. The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown's monster sales for The Da Vinci Code stand around the 80m mark, surpassing the sales of iconic, standalone bestsellers like The Alchemist. In fact, in its first year in stores, 7m copies were shifted, though critics believed the 2003 book, which is laden with conspiracy theories, was designed to play on the fears of everyday Americans following the tragedies of 9/11.

And it wasn't only critics. One publisher, whom Brown had asked to publish The Da Vinci Code, passed because they believed it was "so badly written" so he tried Doubleday instead who decided to take a chance on him.

5. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain is one of America's most beloved fiction writers, but like most artists, their talents weren't as celebrated when they were alive. Just take Twain's follow-up to his well-received book Tom Sawyer. Titled Adventured of Huckleberry Finn, critics believed its language was coarse and unsuitable for the audience it had intended. Some libraries even banned it, though Twain thought the negative publicity would result in more sales. 

And he was right, with the opinion among both critics and readers being that AOHF is the better of the two books, and since it's publication, around 25m copies have been sold.

6. Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand divides opinion, and her controversial views on self-determination and her wish for a capitalist utopia in novels like Atlas Shrugged don't sit well with many critics. But millions of others cite Rand as an inspiration, including leading political figures like Republican Paul Ryan, the current speaker of the House of Representatives.

One critic who certainly isn't a fan, however, is the famed American economist Paul Krugman. Writing about it in 2010, Krugman unusually compared Rand's final novel with Lord of the Rings. 'There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world,' he wrote. 

7. Lord of the Rings

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's masterpiece wasn't always seen as one, with critics believing it was poorly paced and weak in character development.

But even negative reviews from papers as esteemed as the New York Times couldn't stop the book and its subsequent sequels selling millions of copies.

8. Brave New World

Aldous Huxley's clairvoyant novel explored a dystopian world in the not-too-distant future where society placidly consumed governmental products that make them blissfully ignorant to everything around them, themes that were no doubt ahead of their time when it was published in 1932. But the novel wasn't well-received, and critics saw it as nothing more than a bleak way of looking at life.

Even H.G. Wells, a fellow futurist and author of The War of the Worlds, labelled the story a "betrayal", which in part led to a measly 2,000 copies sold in its initial print run in the US. Of course, Brave New World is now considered a masterpiece, with sales well in the millions. 

9. Valley of the Dolls

'Chick-lit' has never had the support of seasoned reviewers, with many labelling the genre trashy and poorly written while pandering to an audience that doesn't value good literature- sentiments that were similarly expressed by critics when Jacqueline Susan's novel, Valley of the Dolls hit the shelves in 1961.

Judgmental viewpoints, no doubt, but in recent years, authors like Jodi Picoult have somewhat changed the image of the genre, while famed shows like Girls and Sex in the City explore similar storylines to those written about in Valley of the Dolls, a book with sales around the 30m mark.

10. Lord of the Flies

Children's author William Golding wrote one of the greatest adventure books of all time when his imagination gave him the literary scribblings of, "The Lord of The Flies." Still, people's love for the story wasn't as well received and a plethora of publishers passed on the novel. One even wrote back to Goulding and told him the story was "“an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” 

Today, the book has sold over 15 million copies, even though publishers and critics thought it wasn't any good.

11The Catcher In The Rye

J.D. Salinger's 1951 novel about a disillusioned teenage protagonist named Holden Caulfield shifts hundreds of thousands of copies each year and is considered by many as the greatest American novel of all time. Critics weren't in the least bit impressed by its straight-talking prose and open views on sex, however, and when you consider the novel was released in 1951, you can understand why many took umbrage.

It was certainly ahead of its time, and the book can at times read like something from a Bret Easton Ellis novel, though even journalists who liked the book were scared to air their feelings and instead the consensus among critics was that it was "too long" and "predictable."

12. American Pyscho

Bret Easton Ellis, much like J.D. Salinger, is a writer who doesn't cater to the opinions of others, which is probably why his visceral style of writing has been so widely consumed. Admittedly, his sales aren't as high as others on this list, but his sales still better most writers thanks to his highly controversial second novel, American Psycho.

Written in a stream of consciousness style, American Pyscho's premise, that of a handsome banker who also happens to be a psychopath, was met with derision by both publishers and critics and was even banned in parts of the world. 

Fellow writers reviewing the book shortly after its release included Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post and Roger Rosenblatt in The New York Times, who both believed the book's sordid details were nothing more than a grotesque ploy to attract more readers to Ellis's fan club. 

13. The Elementary Particles

French author Michel Houellebecq 's books on the depressive realities of the ephemeral human existence as well as his candid writings on sex have gained him a strong following in his native France, and his books have sold well into the millions, making him France's best-selling living fiction writer.

His most famous novel, Atomised, or The Elementary Particles as it is known by others, while eventually winning the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, was loathed by critics, with his frequent and often hardcore descriptions of sex often coming under the microscope.

14. Moby Dick

Herman Melville's story about whale hunting is considered the Great American Novel, but initial reviews suggested it would be anything but.

Melville's initial literary plight wasn't helped when one publisher forgot to include the crucial epilogue, but even his poetic prose was lost on many, with one literary magazine in England labelling the book a "catastrophe."

15. The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath was once a controversial novel in America, which is hard to believe when you consider all it intended to do was shed light on the brutal conditions many American migrant workers faced during the Great Depression. But America wasn't big on having its capitalist ideals torn to shreds by an intellectual fiction writer, even though John Steinbeck later admitted that he had downplayed certain events.

Yes, Steinbeck's classic wasn't liked one bit, with critics believing it was laden with socialist ideas, while people on both political spectrums denounced it as a "pack of lies." 

With time, however, people's outlook on the novel changed, thanks in large part to the support Steinbeck received from Elanor Roosevelt, and the filmmaker Gerald Ford, who adapted the novel into an Academy Award-winning movie. Steinbeck would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.


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