One-Star Reviews of Beloved Books

Johann Thorsson

Staff Writer

Johann Thorsson is a native of Iceland, but spends much of his time in Bookland. He has lived in a few parts of the world but currently lives in Iceland with a pretty woman and a mischievous son who resembles Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) more each day. He has a complicated but ultimately useless degree in bioinformatics from a very pretty college in England. His favorite books are 1984, Flowers for Algernon and The English Patient. He hopes one day to call himself a writer without feeling like he's just fooling himself. Blog: Johann Thorsson - On Book and Writing Twitter: @johannthors

There are a few books that I think rise above the star-rating system we humans have devised to grade plays, movies, books, restaurants, hotels, and hovercrafts. These are classic works of enduring literature (or at least they would be if I had any say in things). I remember a while ago I was on the very edge of buying a book and then decided to take a look at the worst reviews it received. I read a one-star review where the reviewer ended with “..and the book also had lots of swearing, vulgarity and violence!” I bought it right away.

A great deal of Amazon’s one-star reviews fall into one of two categories: “This is not the format I ordered” and “This book was assigned to me.” And there are reviews from people who bought the book of their own free will, got the edition they wanted, but just plain didn’t like the book. Most cases I’m okay with that, but these are my favorite books, the ones I think are above the judgement of mere mortals. And of those one-star reviews, I picked the amusing ones.

These are reviews that I obviously disagree with but found quite funny, for one reason or another.


In which we read the book a little too literally:

“This book’s reputation as a classic reveals less about the book than it does about the shallowness and mediocrity of many book critics. It is crude, heavy-handed, superficial propaganda.”


In which we question literary prizes and make an attempt at humor:

“Not the worst book I have ever read, but possibly the most disappointing. If this is a Pulitzer-winning novel, then you have to wonder what a Pulitzer’s worth these days. It is nearly unreadable.

If you are really looking for reading this awful in your spare time, I would suggest a line-by-line read of the manual to a mainframe computer.”

Great Expectations

In which we make greatly expected puns:

I along with the rest of my freshman honors english class was forced to read this book. It was BY FAR the worst book I’ve ever had to read. I along with half of my class could read no more than one page of it without falling into a deep slumber. I’m getting sleepy just thinking about it. Anyway, if someone does want to buy this book for some strange reason, I hope that they do not have Great Expectations for it, because they will be very disappointed at the end when their expectations aren’t fulfilled!”

The Grapes of Wrath

In which we have sour grapes:

“”The Grapes of Wrath” is an utterly pointless, sneering exercise in self-importance. It seems as though Steinbeck wrote this thinking, “This is the single greatest piece of literature ever created by man, and I am the most amazing human being to ever put pen to paper! All will bow to me!” I’m so sorry to point out how wrong you are, Mr. Steinbeck.”

The Handmaid’s Tale

In which the wrong book is recommended to Twilight fans:

“Chose it because it was on a list of books to read if you enjoyed twilight or dystopian reads. I had read almost everything on the list and then got to this one..I wish I Had my money back! I am not saying others wont enjoy, this is strictly my opinion, but if you enjoyed the uglies series or beautiful creatures series etc. You probably won’t care for this book. This is not a book of action or thrilling in any way. Wish I didn’t even have to give it one star ..sorry”

Winter’s Bone

In which the reader totally misses the point:

“Finished Winter’s Bone. What can I say about it? Faulkner’s characters are socially functional in comparison. Cannibals too. There’s a woman at WVU who also writes about mountain people making them less human than the average dog. Hillbilly Gothic? Did feel physically drawn down reading it. By comparison, Faulkner makes me feel like I’ve taken LSD.”

Also… “mountain people“?

Romeo and Juliet

In which we recommend books to people who like books that they are likely to like:

Terrible book. I’m not into classics, so if you’re like me, don’t buy it. If you like them, buy it.

Flowers for Algernon

In which we trash two classics at once:

“I hated this book. It was very boring, because, the events in the book were very unrealistic and stupid. I wouldn’t recommend this book. It is one of the most boring books I have ever read, next to lord of the flies. DON’T READ IT”

The Great Gatsby

In which we knock “big words” and misspell two of them:

I read The Great Gatsby for school in my American Lit. class, and I never wanted to come home and read it. Fitzgerald uses to much symbolism and to many big words, so it keeps you from being focused on the plot. I don’t reccomend this book to anyone, expecially to any teenagers.

Slaughterhouse 5

In which we fill the review with ALL THE BIG WORDS!:

“Vonnegut’s cheap cynicism? The novel itself, when not drowning in a sea of depression and cathartic murkiness, hardly makes a joke worth mentioning that doesn’t revile the establishment, turn the hardship of soldiers into a complete and utter disgrace, revile all war, and then have the sheer scholastic arrogance to proclaim once and for all, as though this distorted face were really truth. Yes, as a ‘satire’, it fails completely.

So we come down to technique. The structure of the novel is mildly interesting, and the minimalism flows well. The writing is fairly clear and potentially charged; if only the subject matter had been improved upon, than perhaps the author could have gotten away with the awards. As such, this is hardly the case.

In short, it’s nothing groundbreaking. And moreover it is dangerous. Not to mention very worthless. Had it been a great absurdist parable like Catch 22 (which, though also wrong, has strong artistic license, and will likely stand the ages) than I would have rather different sentiments.”

Also: sic to all of the above.


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