Overrated classic books – and the best reads you need to get instead

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Overrated classic: Way of Swann

Some reviewers call this heavily autobiographical French novel based on Marcel Proust’s childhood at the turn of the 20th century “indisputably the best novel of all time,” but we draw the line at paragraphs that span more than one page. Not to mention the sentences so complicated, it practically takes a map to get from one end to the other. And how long are you willing to listen to someone talk about a shell-shaped cookie dipped in tea? (These are the famous madeleines of Proust.) For more readable books on France at the same time:

  • Dear. “Never had her young lover caught her in disorderly attire, or with her blouse undone, or in her bedroom slippers during the day. ‘Naked, if necessary’, she would say, ‘but sordid, never!'” French writer Colette’s masterpiece about a wise and worldly professional mistress whose cougar affair with a spoiled and much younger is doomed to end in heartbreak for someone…but who?Colette herself led a fascinating, free-spirited life that included divorce and a career on stage at a time when both were considered as outrageous.
  • A moveable party. If you’ve always hated Hemingway’s terse phrases and macho heroes, you’re in for a delightful surprise with this tender memoir from his Parisian years, circa the 1920s. When spring came…there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could ruin a day was people and if you could avoid getting involved, every day had no limits. People have always been the limiters of happiness, except for the very few who were as good as spring itself.” Hemingway was so young here, he was still in his first marriage. (He had four.)
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Overrated classic: The Heart Catcher

Holden Caulfield has been an icon of teenage rebellion since this book was published in 1951, but JD Salinger’s sensitive young misfit who goes wild in New York after being kicked out of his millionth prep school has serious problems with the First World. . The city’s big “Mad Men” era backdrop doesn’t make up for Holden’s stilted, repetitive vocabulary or his antiquated attitude about girls as passive, essentially non-sexual creatures. (Someone gift this kid a copy of “Girls Gone Wild—Spring Break Love Party”!) Young adult novels have come a long way since then. Instead, try:

  • Blame it on our stars. Make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy when you read John Green’s best-selling and critically acclaimed modern classic, but then expect to cry over a tale of young lovers with cancer. in the terminal phase. The best part is the lively characters at the center of the book and their genuinely thoughtful ideas about life, love, death, and just about everything else. For many young readers, it is the book which, as Green himself says, “fills you with this strange evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the broken world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” For adults, the book offers a bittersweet memory of a time when one night was an eternity and eternity could never be long enough.
  • Speak. Silence is not always golden. Just ask Melinda, a fourteen-year-old universally despised for calling the cops at a teenage party that got out of hand the summer before first grade. Even his oldest friends don’t want to talk to him. Melinda completely shuts down, hiding the trauma that prompted her to act, but as she finds out: “When people don’t speak up, they die one piece at a time.” Laurie Halse Anderson’s moving young adult novel about the corrosive power of secrets and the pitfalls of judging others from the outside is one of those crossover books that appeals to readers on both sides of the generational divide.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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