Thursday, April 5th, 2012

What Books Make You Cringe To Remember?

First book crushes: The feelings are so strong and obsessive. The books seem smart, sophisticated, cool; the characters in them say and do such great things, they seem like guides sent to teach you how to be that way too. But then the crush goes, and the object of one's former affection becomes an embarrassment—or at least the memory of you quoting them so seriously does. To explore this phenomenon, we asked an assortment of literary-inclined people to revisit the books they loved back in the day, the ones that make them absolutely cringe today.

Sam Anderson, New York Times Magazine

Oh man, I suspect you're going to be hearing this answer a lot, but: the complete works of Ayn Rand. I discovered them toward the end of high school and walked around for a couple of years giving Howard Roark-like speeches to everyone about "the highest blazing good of selfish free-market epistemology" or something. In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that my Objectivist phase had more to do with the subjective agonies of post-adolescence (insecurity, narcissism) than it did with pure reason. (And you could argue the same thing about Ayn Rand's relationship to it.)

Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh: A Novel

In high school I read a brisk mix of science fiction, fantasy and gay potboilers (Mass Effect 3 now is perhaps the best way to imagine my brain then). So, the novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley—I still can't look at Mists of Avalon—plus the Darkover novels, which all had some gay potboiler action, now that I think of it. And hello Gordon Merrick, famous for The Lord Won't Mind but I am thinking of The Great Urge Downward.

Yes, that is the title.

Nicole Cliffe, Lazy Book Reviewer/Classic Trasher

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran: It blew through High Anglican summer camp like cholera, and I was uncontrollably pooping myself over it like everyone else. Ugh. Now I sometimes hear it at weddings and I want to die of embarrassment. Anyway, I think I read Sylvia Plath later that summer, which set me up for a lifelong obsession with Ted Hughes, so… um… how did we get here?

Maureen Corrigan, NPR

I've been wracking my brain, but honestly it's hard to suggest any without feeling disloyal. In fact, at the risk of sounding sentimental—oh, what the hell, I'll be sentimental—to dis those embarrassing young adult faves now feels like snickering at the friends I had in high school and college whom I've "outgrown." I loved them and needed them at the time and, for that, I'll always be grateful to them.

Sloane Crosley, author of How Did You Get This Number

I loved The Vampire Chronicles series by Anne Rice. They all blend together now but there's a scene (in Queen of the Damned?) where all these ancient vampires have a kind of vampire board meeting beneath a volcano. It's great. Those books were a guilty pleasure at the time but with the popularity of Twilight, they've become tweeny with age—like they keep getting younger. Which is fitting.

Stephen Elliott, The Rumpus

I don't know that any books I loved make me cringe now. I loved the early V.C. Andrews books when I was in third and fourth grade, Flowers In The Attic, Petals In The Wind, If There Be Thorns. What makes me cringe is how much I hated certain authors in college that I learned to love in my late twenties. In particular, Raymond Carver, who I thought was boring and wrote stories about nothing. I was uneducated and wore my ignorance like a badge of honor. Now, if I don't like a book, I blame myself first, and know there might be a time in my life where I learn to like something that I hated very much.

Max Fenton, The Believer

In high school, I tried to read all the books by Robert Heinlein. I'm sure I missed a few but I found at least 40 or 50 back when finding books took effort. Even as I read them—but more now—I cringed at something in the way he wrote women. There's an undercurrent I recognized, but haven't wished to return to in order to unpack or explore.

John Freeman, Granta

None of them, really. Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, they're all starter drugs for reading. Without these sentimental and less sophisticated early passions, I probably would have wound up having a very different life, one missing the strange and beautiful pulse that books require: of your mind powering another world, another planet to life.

Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case

When I was in junior high I went through a pretty heavy Stephen King phase, which as much as I love a good horror story now makes me cringe a bit, because I think that his "war on adverbs" is idiotic.

Emily Gould, Emily Books

"What is the book equivalent of your 1998 fondness for ska," basically? I tried to reread In The City of Shy Hunters by Tom Spanbauer recently and it turns out to be so much better when you're 19 and living in Ohio and dreaming of living in a fantastical NYC where everyone is a heroin-addled drag queen angel. It's still good, of course, but for me its magic was gone.

David Grann, The New Yorker

Many of the stories and books I read in my youth I still love and reread, such as "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor." But in high school I went through a mortifying Ayn Rand phase, which thankfully went away along with my pimples.

John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

I remember my freshman year of college, I briefly dated a junior (not to brag!) and told her that On The Road was my favorite book, and in my opinion the greatest achievement in American literature. "You'll find that statement embarrassing in a couple years," she said. I thought she was being so holier than thou, but… yeah.

Justin Halpern, author of Sh*t My Dad Says

I was obsessed with the movie Tombstone to the point where I purchased the book which was BASED ON THE MOVIE. That's right, the movie came first. A couple years ago I was cleaning out a storage locker and I found a copy of it, and it almost seemed like the writing had been farmed out to someone in China, written in Chinese, then put through an English translator without anyone checking if it was correct. Solid lines like "Doc Holiday pulled out his gun and it went bam." At the time, though, I was like "Fuck yeah, it did. Nobody fucks with Doc Holiday."

James Hannaham, author of God Says No

Sophomore year of high school, I think, I happened across Marion Zimmer Bradley's novel The Catch Trap. This is a somewhat ridiculous epic set in the circus world of the 1940s and 50s, about trapeze artist Mario Santelli, of the Flying Santellis, and his protégé, Tommy Zane (oddly, the exact same name as a classmate of mine) the son of the lion tamer. The older and younger man are both in love with their craft. As they soar above the crowds, they soon discover that they're in love with each other too, but they must keep their passionate feelings secret because of the era and because of their ages. I suppose the book's about trust—imagine, two men, in very tight clothing, secret lovers, risking their lives as they grip each others' wrists and somersault around the big top, so to speak. But I sure dogeared those sex scenes.

Heather Hartley, Tin House

As a sophomore in college, in the hopes of gaining insight into myself and fellow coeds—while at the same time polishing my poor French—I ambitiously bought a copy of Claude Levi-Strauss" La Pensée sauvage (The Savage Mind). I quickly learned that it was out of my reach, not so much in terms of where I stashed it less than 24 hours after purchasing it (in an upper corner of my closet behind grunge-inspired plaid shirts and artfully ripped jeans, a cultivated look of studied savagery inspired by the Mall), but rather in its structure, language and ideas. I've still got the copy somewhere and hope someday to get beyond the first words of Chapter One: "The Science of the Concrete."

Anna Holmes, Washington Post contributor

Camus' The Stranger. It was the spring or summer of 1986 or '87, and I was eager to impress a boy—a Doc Martens-wearing, shaved head, and punk music-listening boy named Stewart in my high school sophomore class. Stewart spent a lot of time after school sitting under trees in the park near my mom's house reading serious books and scowling at passerby and I desperately wanted to be deemed worthy of his formidable intellect. (And, of course, to kiss him.) I was 15 years old at the time, and it took me a few years—until my junior year in college—to realize that pretentiousness didn't equal intelligence, and that the philosophical musings of men (real or fictional) were actually kind of boring.

Boris Kachka, New York Magazine

AP English convinced me that any book worth reading had to be 1,000 pages long—which explains my obsession with finishing Stephen King's The Stand (unabridged, of course) and his abysmal 752-page Tommyknockers. When I decided to flirt with Ayn Rand, naturally I read Atlas Shrugged, and was well over my libertarian phase by page 1088.

Benjamin Kunkel, n+1

I don't know if I want to condescend too much to my slightly New Age-y younger self, with his taste for Hermann Hesse and even Robert Bly. Egregiously earnest as that kid was, he would be right to look at me and ask: "You're not interested in wisdom anymore? And have you become the least bit wise?"

Thessaly La Force, Girl Crush

I get the sense that this is an attempt to find the literary equivalent of celebrity shame-lust (i.e. finding Ryan Reynolds attractive, which I do). My literary cringe moments are many, but they were more because of my utter lack to comprehend the true value of the work. Or because I was unwilling to admit I wasn"t well read. I remember telling a famous writer that I admired John McPhee for the "sheer beauty of his prose." Or informing Lorin Stein when I interviewed to be his assistant at Farrar, Straus & Giroux that I thought Nadine Gordimer was the best short-story writer alive. I had read one. Those memories still make me blush.

I suppose if there was a writer that I've outgrown, it would be Raymond Carver. We're all over Raymond Carver, right? He's like the Kate Moss of fiction. I wish I could go back and look at whatever I put as my interests on Facebook when I was first on there. But—and maybe this is cheesy to say—the truth is that when you find a good book, and you love it, it can stick with you for the rest of your life. The Mists of Avalon is still the shit. I will reread Motherless Brooklyn any day. I'm still telling people to buy A Moveable Feast. It's the bad stuff that you inevitably forget.

Ariel Levy, The New Yorker

I was obsessed with Sweet Valley High. I remember that Jessica—or maybe it was the other hot, blond identical twin protagonist—had a cream-colored chaise lounge in her room and I always wanted one. I think eventually my parents got me an off-white carpet remnant to shut me up.

Mark Lotto, GQ

The Beats: When I was 16 and 17, I was so nutso about the jumpiness of On the Road, the weariness of Big Sur, the big sadness of "Kaddish" and "Howl," even the nonsense of Dylan"s Tarantula, that I briefly but seriously considered applying to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded by Ginsburg in 1974 and a part of Colorado"s Naropa University. It's too hard to imagine what That Me—goateed, trench-coated, Gap-khaki-wearing—would have done at "the only fully accredited Buddhist-inspired university in the United States." But This Me—unshaven, suit-coated, baby-having—would high-tail it right the fuck off the campus as quickly as humanly possible. And nowadays when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New York and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, I never think of Dean Moriarty.

Holly MacArthur, Tin House

Shirley MacLaine's books.

C. Max Magee, The Millions

Like many suburban teenagers, I was entranced by the Beats, especially, of course, On the Road. The idea that wild road trips awaited me in adulthood was part of the draw, but I was also infatuated with the idea that the Beats were just a bunch of guys hanging out who became a cultural movement by doing their thing. I thought, maybe my friends and I could do the same. Time has certainly mellowed this notion for me, and the Beat classics are not very relatable any more, but it's fun to think now about my younger self.

Laura Miller, Salon

When I was 16, my brothers and I devoured the entire oeuvre of Erich von Däniken, a Swiss crank who made a fortune off of "proving" that the monuments of ancient civilizations were either built by aliens or built to communicate with them. CHARIOTS OF THE GODS? was our bible, and we solemnly discussed the "persuasive" evidence in it, all of which I have since entirely forgotten. So I felt a sentimental thrill recently when I received an email explaining that von Däniken was still at it, weighing in on the whole Mayan Calendar apocalypse question and explaining that "the Greek myths are real!"

Christopher Monks, McSweeney's

When I was in college I really liked The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love because it seemed exotic (Cuba!) and hip (Latin Jazz!), and was loaded with pages upon pages of raunchy sex. I haven't read the book since, but given that I only remember the pages upon pages of raunchy sex, It's hard not to wince (and blush) just thinking about it.

Maud Newton, The Awl

At eighteen I read The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged in a great, self-satisfied, gleeful rush, smugly scrawling quotes in letters to friends, while in the midst of dumping my boyfriend of three years for a guy who already had a girlfriend. Their relationship had nothing to do with me and so wasn't my problem at all, according to Rand's selfishness gospel. Some time later I regained my senses, critical faculties and ability to feel remorse. Ouch.

David Orr, New York Times Book Review

I cringe at most of my adolescent reading preferences, but especially at my 14-year-old self's fondness for the five books of The Belgariad by David Eddings.They're like The Lord of the Rings plus sitcom mugging. And the author was so lazy that when he spun off another five-book series, he just duplicated the plot of The Belgariad, right down to the magical rock that could only be carried by one particularly annoying kid.

Nicole Pasulka, The Morning News

I was one of those self-satisfied teenagers who partied and read classic literature, so that's pretty embarrassing, but my taste in books was solid. When I was younger and less pretentious I remember reading a bunch of books by Lurlene McDaniel. Have you heard of these? There are dozens of them. Some beautiful, gifted teenager has life snatched away—by cancer, by car accident, by organ failure—and then you cry. I think there's also some creepy Christian thing going on. At least I know I hid them from my liberal Jewish mother. Whoa, I am totally embarrassed thinking about that, guess that was your point.

Lisa Jane Persky, LA Review of Books

I've never been ashamed or embarrassed to have read anything at any age even with hindsight. One exception might elicit a slight blush from an 8-year-old me: I was a Mad Magazine obsessive and you could not pull me away from anything Kurtzman and Elder, even if it was inside a not-too-cleverly-hidden issue of the then mysterious (to me) Playboy. I read with amazement, Little Annie Fanny but "back in the day," they called these magazines "books." Didn't they?

David Rakoff, author of Half Empty

On The Road. At age seventeeneighteen, I pored over it—in truth, primarily looking for evidence of homoerotic activity between him and super-dreamy Neal Cassady/Dean Moriarty—and remember grooving on the language and unfettered lighting out for the territory. Three short years later, I couldn"t shake the feeling that the heroes seemed virtually indistinguishable from the Trustafarian poseurs I learned to assiduously avoid in college. There is an extended sequence, as I recall (it's been over a quarter of a century), where they go to see a performance by jazz great Slim Gaillard and Kerouac describes some mind-meld between Slim and Dean—that Dean had some heightened understanding and privileged appreciation of jazz and race and Cool and that Gaillard feels it, too!—that is frankly just embarrassing.

David Rees, author of How To Sharpen Pencils

MEMPHIS: Research, Experiences, Result, Failures and Successes of New Design by Barbara Radice. Watching "Miami Vice" in 7th grade, I was acutely aware of how little my parents' aesthetic overlapped with that of Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs. Our modest Episcopalian home was completely devoid of pink Armani suit jackets and Ferraris, alas. But that didn't stop me from filling sketchbooks with my own fashion designs, automobile designs, and furniture designs! I was captivated by anything pastel and ostentatious—which led me to the MEMPHIS design group and their ridiculous junky furniture (basically, it's like IKEA on LSD). Looking at the MEMPHIS book now, it's no mystery why I was attracted to the furniture: The pieces look like they were designed by 13-year-old boys, in the same way Shanghai's skyscrapers look like they were conjured from the fever-dreams of toddlers.

Lizzie Skurnick, That Should Be A Word columnist

All of the works of Raymond Carver. It's not his fault—they were imitated so heavily they have been made palimpsest, and read as satires of themselves. This holds true, sadly, for so much of the short story boom of that period. And you can probably cry Toni Morrison a river on the same score. Still good with Twelfth Night, though.

Sadie Stein, The Paris Review

Wow, that's tricky: I tend to kind of revel in the bad stuff I read, and I never had, like, an Ayn Rand phase! But! I did go through a period where I would covertly—but slavishly—read every book I could lay my hands on on how to be sexy/chic/mysterious/alluring like a French woman. This in turn led to the purchase of several very unflattering striped shirts and one of those stove-top espresso makers.

Oh, and I once came across a "Felicity" novelization in a thrift store, and devoured it. I wish there had been a hundred: it totally went into the summer she leaves Noel for Ben after season 1! Oddly, it also contained recipes.

Lorin Stein, The Paris Review

It doesn't make me cringe, exactly—I just have no idea what I thought Being and Time was about.

John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

This'll seem like a prissy or joy-killing answer to your question, but I have a no-cringe policy when it comes to books I've loved in the past. I just refuse to cringe over them. It'd be like running into an old girlfriend on the street and refusing to speak with her because you realize now that she had a deformity or something. On the Road is the book I always think of in this context. Or really all the Beat stuff. It changed my life when I read it at sixteen—there are hundreds and hundreds of good books I might never have read if I hadn't read those, if some movie I saw hadn't convinced me I needed to—and sure, now I look and see that much of the work there was very or in some cases even comically bad, but to cringe at it would imply, I don't know, regret for the early judgment. That I don't feel. Some books were written especially for young, pretentious people—Look Homeward, Angel is another—and they have their own strange greatness, one that in order to live requires you leave it behind. What they show us about the evolution of personal taste counsels greater skepticism toward future judgments. Also forgiveness of yourself, which Lichtenberg said is the first duty of every writer.

Emily Temple, Flavorwire

At fifteen, I admit I secretly thought The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written just for me—I penned a gushy inscription in the front and pressed it gravely into my high school sweetheart's hands when he graduated. Duncan, I take it back—we all did enough navel-gazing of our own in high school to need any literary assistance.

Baratunde Thurston, author of How To Be Black

Sorry, I have thought about it but love almost everything I read. Maybe I just have better taste or few regrets in life!

Stephen Tobolowsky, actor

Any Cliff Notes. I am embarrassed about all of the time I spent on the test and not on the work itself. (The Red and the Black, the Iliad and The Republic were my victims).

Edmund White, author of Sacred Monsters

I used to love Virginia Woolf and read her as one of the premier Modernists. Now she seems to me Edwardian and snobbish and precious.

Related: What's Your Most Played Song? and What Movies Make You Ignore Everything Else?

Nadia Chaudhury was, at one point, obsessed with everything that Francesca Lia Block wrote, and soon after, Chuck Palahniuk.

217 Comments / Post A Comment

katherine (#10,025)

My slightly New Age-y younger self did the same with The Alchemist. And now I'm ashamed and am going away now.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@katherine If it makes you feel better, I just saw a piece on "Celebrities' Favorite Books" and that's Will Smith's. No? That actually makes you feel much worse? Oh. sorry.

jolie (#16)

Huh. I was obsessed with a lot of these as a younger person but it wouldn't occur to me to cringe over that fact! I read a lot of crap, sure! But I read a lot, so? (I dunno, it's a just a curious thing but perhaps I'm not literary enough to feel embarrassed for the fact that I spent all of middle school reading everything by Stephen King and VC Andrews.)(Never met a trashy novel featuring incest I didn't love!)

katiebakes (#32)

@jolie I read every single book Dave Barry published back in the day AND watched his sitcom. I miss the happy earnestness I had back then. Weasel joke.

@katiebakes Wasn't Dave Barry played by Harry Anderson on that sitcom?

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@antarcticastartshere Yes!

KenWheaton (#401)

@katiebakes Weasel Joke would be a good name for a band.

@boyofdestiny There is definitely nothing to be ashamed of, in that case.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@katiebakes The last A+ I ever received was for imitating Dave Barry's style exactly without the use of scatological humor.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@jolie: I was on here to say much the same thing. As a youngling, my taste in novels was quite different than it is today – in some ways objectively terrible (I recently read the decently-reviewed "The Dome" by Mr. King and found it excruciating). But I think any kid who loves to read (a good thing!) will always love to read and will continue to evolve as a reader.

It never ceases to boggle my mind when my contemporaries express a distaste for reading. How could anyone not love to read?

Not to mention, if you read, you typically develop some ability to construct a sentence and spell words – skills that actually come in handy (and are not especially widely-spread) when you are old and have to work for a living at some stupid company.

So, read away, kiddies! King, Kerouac, Rand, Andrews, Carver – doesn't matter, just read everything! Well, OK, maybe you ought to skip Ayn Rand.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@ejcsanfran Ha…yes, that. Read omnivorously! Except for Ayn Rand.

I am slightly embarrassed by my former affection for almost every book anyone mentioned. Not Sweet Valley High, I guess. (Those totally hold up.)

Re-read Flowers in the Attic just a few months ago, sortof on a dare. It's way, WAY worse than I remembered, and I remembered it being terrible.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Al Cracka: Everyone went through a V.C. Andrews phase in junior high, right? I'm just surprised (and impressed) that Stephen Elliott went through his in 3rd grade. He was advanced.

oudemia (#177)

Somehow I got my hands on some R. D. Laing as a high-school freshman and was rendered even more pretentious and unbearable for several weeks.

Matt (#26)

Looks like a Cato Institute luncheon in here.

deepomega (#1,720)

Oh this is great. Hm. I pretty muched lived in the fantasy/sci fi section of the library until I was 14, so basically every genre-y mess of a book there, up to and including the like shitty Asimov fanfiction. I'm looking at you, Isaac Asimov's Caliban.

BadUncle (#153)

@deepomega I moved out of that part of the library and into my Kindle only two years ago. I remain uncringed about my sci-fi reading habits (albeit, annoyed by wasting time on bad choices).

melis (#1,854)

I had maaaaybe every single Star Wars Extended Universe novel published before 1998 (when I was twelve). Even The Truce at Bakura, which, in retrospect, whoa.

deepomega (#1,720)

@melis !!! Yes, there, that's the answer I should have given. TIMOTHY ZAHN.

migraineheadache (#1,866)

@melis I read the entire Robotech novelization at some point in middle school. Looking back what I find most weird is that my friends and I were also really into the All Creatures Great and Small series.

melis (#1,854)

I still feel closer to Kyp Durron and Admiral Daala than to a great many people who have the advantage of 'actually existing and also knowing me.'

Vulpes (#946)

@melis I definitely still read every Star Wars EU novel. AND I'M NOT ASHAMED!!!! Though those Kevin J. Anderson ones… phew!

boysplz (#9,812)

@deepomega Oh yeah, I read something like 9 or 10 of the wheel of times books before I realized I wanted off of that particular ride.

I also must have read something like 20+ of Mercedes Lackey's Veldemar Series too. But I have better memories of them because if there were kinda rubbishy they at least had tons of queer characters in them to shape my gay teen aged mind.

arrwheresmeleg (#231,415)

@melis I would very much like to know your thoughts about The Courtship of Princess Leia, which I tried to recap in conversation with a friend recently and got the ole squint eye.

melis (#1,854)

@arrwheresmeleg Hapes, Hapes, Haaaapes!

tiktaalik (#231,430)

@deepomega @melis A couple of my friends actually bonded over their love of The Courtship of Princess Leia and started a blog about it. Unfortunately, it went the way of many blogs and hasn't been updated in a while, but here it is:

From what they wrote, it sounds AMAZING. Or AMAZINGLY BAD. Either/or.

ipomoea (#207,034)

@boysplz I admit to having read the WoT series multiple times. The last few Jordan books are wretched, but Brandon Sanderson really brought the quality back up and got the plot going again, thank goodness. And Mercedes Lackey is still quality "turn off the phone and read on my bed all weekend like I'm twelve" material.

deepomega (#1,720)

Also the REAL reason to embarrassed about Stephen King is his inability to write about non-magical black people.

Bittersweet (#765)

@deepomega: In his defense, he's a lifelong Maine resident. Black people are like Santa Clause or the Loch Ness Monster up there.

Br. Seamus (#217)

Oh, god, any/everything by Piers Anthony. But especially the fact that I somehow didn't see the many, many problems with a reading a book titled "The Color of Her Panties" in public places.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Br. Seamus Oh fuck me, those books struck right at my undeveloped sense of humor and fondness for puns

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Br. Seamus I'm actually reading these comments to take notes for what to steal from the library later. Color of her Panties, you say? Relevant to my interests.

figwiggin (#228,895)

@Br. Seamus Ugh, SAME. I enjoyed them when I was younger, before I realized just how frequently he dehumanizes women and just skeeves me out. Please save yourself, people who are interested! He is awful.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Br. Seamus I looked that up and…was that even in English? I didn't understand any of the words in the description or the reviews. Mystified.

Circle Breaker (#7,585)

John Jeremiah Sullivan knows what's up.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Circle Breaker YES. I'm not embarrassed about any of it. Worse yet, I still haven't developed any discernment, to speak of.

NinetyNine (#98)

I'm sort of embarrassed of this list. Stephen King and On the Road? Does no one know how to do a literary feud any more? Not a single DFW, Foer or Rick Moody? Pikers. I mean, here's some easy shit: Rick Bass, Jim Harrison, Margaret Atwood (really, people, it's a SciFi live journal most of the time), TC Boyle. Hell, wasn't there just a big post last week about how sad it was everyone thought Donna Tartt was going to save literary fiction or something?

Matt (#26)

Way to go, Bukowski.

KenWheaton (#401)

@Matt Surprised not to see more Bukowski in this list. @NinetyNine I did notice one person praising Raymond Carver and another one dissing him, so maybe the feud has yet to develop.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I read every Goosebumps book in the original series. Oh, my bad. I thought I was commenting on "What Books Are You Insanely Proud to Remember?"

liznieve (#7,691)

The entire Babysitters Club, all 110+, and the Super Specials. All of 'em.

Aloysius (#1,808)

About 10 years of Garfield strips. Also the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

Murgatroid (#2,904)

Who wants to buy a slightly-used copy of Choke?

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Murgatroid I lasted even longer than that. They are easy to read on planes, though.

Leon (#6,596)

When I saw this, my first impulse was "How many of these people will say On the Road (or even worse, like the Vanity of Duluoz) cuz, that's it for me.

Except, when I was 15 and my friends were getting into girls underpants and I was getting into Beat stuff, and VU, and Modern Art I thought I was so much better than all the people my age.

And I mean, I've mellowed out, and I know I was a pretentious little ass. But then again, I did spent over a month driving around the whole country (well, 38 states) with buddies from art school, and an entire summer working road construction to pay for it. I've been in bands, moved two thousand miles on a whim. I've actually had a shitload of fun, almost all of it pretty unconventional by American standards – and I probably owe all of it to the burnout hippie teacher who only I listened to when she said in class one day "If you really want your mind blown, learn about Ginsberg and his friends".

And I know none of this is the least bit unconventional for the Awl Commentariat – but every now and then, don't you go back to the places your from, and realize that making fun of Olive Garden and acting like the xx is mainstream might be the thing everybody we know does, but…I dunno, these books we're talking about cringing at probably have a shit more connection to who we are and how we got that way than whatever you leave out on your coffeetable to seem dope when you bring a new partner back for the first time.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Leon Saint-Jean If you were here, in person, and accused me of having something in common with on the Road, I would be forced to fight you. COME ON.

Leon (#6,596)

@deepomega HOW DO YOU NOT LIKE PIE?!?!?!

@Leon Saint-Jean "but…I dunno, these books we're talking about cringing at probably have a shit more connection to who we are and how we got that way than whatever you leave out on your coffeetable to seem dope when you bring a new partner back for the first time."

Oh yes totally. We have grown out of whatever drove us to read and identify with these books. I remember I read Steppenwolf because it was a favorite book of a (douche) guy I was sleeping with. Fail. I refuse to read any Herman Hesse ever again.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Leon Saint-Jean Good for you, dude. That was a fuckin' manifesto there. I approve.

Chauncey, I'm noticing how many of these confessions come with the explanation, "Because I was trying to get into someone's pants." And to think, we used to think pregnancy was the worst danger of teen sex! We should have been worried about Hesse.

sox (#652)

@Leon Saint-Jean What do you leave on your coffee table to seem dope when you bring a new partner home? I MUST KNOW.

Leon (#6,596)

@sox – Most recently it was Tina Chang's "Half Lit Houses", Rulfo's "Pedro Paramo", and the DFW book about infinity. These are what I was actually reading at the time.

It did not work, because I am intolerable, as the reading list shows.

EDIT: I'm sorry for lumping Chang in with my intolerableness. Half Lit Houses is a really wonderful collection, and she is an incredible poet who I'm so proud to have represent my home borough – just had to say that in case she ever sees this in a Google Alert, I don't wanna be speaking ill of her. It's the grown-man still constantly reading magical realism and DFW on Math (!) that's ugh.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@sox Things on my table now: Darwin's Origin of Species, a big coffee table edition that I put next to me on the couch and set my wine glass on, thus relieving me of the horrible strain of reaching all the way to the actual coffee table. I totally explain that to guests, don't worry.

A New Literary History of America, which I was reading the other night. It's uneven, but at it's best it's terrific so y'all should check it out.

Actually four other books too because I like being surrounded by books.

Not that anyone asked me.

pissy elliott (#397)

A lot of Dungeons and Dragon tie-in novels. Mostly Dragonlance. Some Forgotten Realms. I sometimes think about this, because those didn't "lead" me into higher literature in any traceable way. One day at age 15, I just said, "Alright, time to be a fucking adult," and grabbed the first of the Rabbit tetraology and started reading. I love both of those sets of books, but man, the more I look back on that, the more questions i have.

Tully Mills (#6,486)

@pissy elliott This just gave me Raistlin flashbacks.

Ham Snadwich (#11,842)

@Tully Mills – It sort of embarrassing to admit I know exactly what you're talking about.

pissy elliott (#397)

@Tully Mills Did U Know: there is a Dragonlance animated movie where Raistlin is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland? NOW YOU DO!

@pissy elliott Oof. Brings me back. The passage in "Dragons of Winter Night" where (SPOILER!) Sturm Brightblade dies was the first thing in a book that ever made me cry, so there's that. I was a delicate little daffodil.

Edit: Oops. The first thing other than "Bridge To Terabithhia," I mean.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@ontologicalpuppy Ha, me too! I remember also being a little pissed off at the authors, since every other time characters supposedly died in those books, they would come back to life in some contrived way. So killing off Sturm seemed like cheating.

pissy elliott (#397)

@ontologicalpuppy Oooh, gurl. The chaste, yet somehow truly skin-crawling intimated sex scenes were what got me. Dalamar and that warrior lady, and whoever it was fell in love with the shapeshifting silver dragon? Everyone just walk on by, nothing happening in this thread…

@pissy elliott Oh, indeed. I had a Dalamar crush, because wasn't "half-elf" just basically a way of saying "bisexual"?

pissy elliott (#397)

@ontologicalpuppy I forgot that! But yes. Bisexual, and since he was a black robe, oversexed!

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Tully Mills I was waiting for someone to mention Raistlin! Haaaaaaa…

BadUncle (#153)

Reading the words "Memphis Design" just kicks my brain with the image of Bette Midler in Ruthless People. Seems like only yesterday that you couldn't eat soup in NYC that wasn't served in some purple-and-orange bowl shaped like giant lips, using a spoon with black and yellow stripes, with gratuitous antenna trailing from the rear.

And since we're all confessing, my only personal reading cringe is Atlas Shrugged. Though, really, I think my brief and awful phase as a young Republican makes me feel worse.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@BadUncle: I wrote an extremely heartfelt (and I'm sure completely unconvincing) paper for a h.s. civics class on the evils of bilingual ballots. I also wrote a letter to the editor of my university paper (thankfully unpublished) about the glory and righteousness of the American invasion of Grenada. And, yes, I am old.

migraineheadache (#1,866)

@BadUncle I still really love Sottsass, though I'm not sure I'd want a house full of Memphis. Metaphors is really wonderful.

I thought I was going to get off light on this for only reading, um, a few Michael Crichton novels in elementary/middle school, but then I got to the end of the post and remembered I own three books by Chuck Palahniuk.

che (#231,426)

@antarcticastartshere Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, all those crappy medical mysteries. At one point I wanted to be an epidemiologist, mostly because no one else knew what it was. I was insufferable!

(Aside: I'm about to start my PhD to be an epidemiologist, but not because it sounds cool.)

City_Dater (#2,500)

It's not embarrassing to be 15 and utterly entranced with Thomas Wolfe or Jack Kerouac (or even Ayn Rand. Sort of.) It's the 42-year-old still waving around a trade paperback, bright-eyed like he's found the Secret of Life, who has some explaining to do.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@City_Dater WORD.

Melvin Rosenberg (#231,966)

@City_Dater Wolfe and Kerouac are fine for kids. I read all of Wolfe very young. Too old to fancy Kerouac.

Brad Nelson (#2,115)

Don't say Vonnegut.

cherrispryte (#444)

@Brad Nelson Anyone who says they're ashamed of reading Vonnegut needs to go take a flying fuck at the moon.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@cherrispryte Seconded. I was starting to get pissed at dude saying Vonnegut was part of his "less sophisticated early passions" but then I thought sophistication shmophistication.

Lemonnier (#14,611)

No Catcher in the Rye?

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Lemonnier Yeah! I thought that book was fine (even on a re-read!), but one would expect it to show up at least once on a list like this.

beatbeatbeat (#3,187)

In high school I had what could maybe be described as a very sneakily conservative English teacher, who assigned "The Fountainhead" as part of a section on "existentialism." (which also included No Exit and I think that's it?)(Also I grew up in Orange County which could explain that.) Not knowing any better, it seemed alright at the time, but by the time I had forced myself to finish Atlas Shrugged I was thoroughly not convinced.
Anyway, nothing else on these lists seems particularly embarrassing – almost everything listed are the standard things you read when you're a kid and you like reading and/or think you're smart. What's wrong with that?
Then again there is definitely one phase I went through that makes me cringe when I think about it – namely, my having read multiple books by Tom Robbins. I'm surprised that one didn't show up on any of those lists!

Jennivere@twitter (#231,411)

@beatbeatbeat Ah, Tom Robbins. In my early 20s, I would re-read his entire catalog once every two years or so. I don't cringe when I think about it…more like a knowing glance to my younger self, a girl who was raised by hippie parents with a free-to-be worldview and was remarkably unprepared to face certain realities in the actual world.

roboloki (#1,724)

@beatbeatbeat i liked him in "jacob's ladder".

shostakobitch (#1,692)

@beatbeatbeat Yeah Tom was it. "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and "Another Roadside Attraction" made 14-16 year old me want to get high and be like, significant. Why was he so into buttfucking?

astonishing (#231,449)

@beatbeatbeat Oh my god Tom Robbins for me too. I was maybe 15 or 16 and read pretty much all of his books… I wanted to be free-spirited SO BADLY. Now I'm embarrassed at how seriously I took them.

iantenna (#5,160)

i guess this is where i admit that a teenaged me would masturbate furiously and repeatedly to certain passages of tom robbins' novels.

So many thoughts here:

First, all you assholes need to shut your goddamn mouths about Stephen King. The man is a genius.

Second, that Tombstone story is hilarious.

Third, I usually enjoy interviews with Baratunde Thurston but his answer read like what a narcissistic person says when they're asked to explaint their greatest weakness in a job interview ("I think it's that I'm just too perfect!").

KenWheaton (#401)

@ReginalTSquirge I'm a big Stephen King fan, but Tommyknockers was a low point.

@KenWheaton Whatevs! A low point in a career of (probably) hundreds of works of pure brilliance! Let the man live.

Ham Snadwich (#11,842)

@ReginalTSquirge – Maybe a genius, but can't end a goddamned story to save his life.

Not a single mention of The Catcher In The Rye? Huh.

EDIT: Lemonnier beat me to it, so I'll just go with A Separate Peace.

Tuna Surprise (#573)

@Clarence Rosario
I loved A Separate Peace. I stayed home sick from school and read the whole thing in an entire day. Oh, the tears! But the best part is when some other kid in my English class presented his diaorama on the book, he spelled it "A Separate Piece". Still makes me giggle.

laurel (#4,035)

@Tuna Surprise I spelled Yeats wrong in a paper on Yeats in high school, sigh.

HurlingTandoori (#231,439)

@laurel A friend in high school (I swear it wasn't me!) wrote a paper on The Color Purple. Throughout said paper she referred to the author as Alice Cooper.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Tuna Surprise: Fucking dioramas. Still bitter, 25 years later.

jfruh (#713)

Oh, God, I too consumed all the Heinlein I could get my hands on. I actually am not so embarassed by his bizarre/awful politics (a weird mixture of libertarianism and military-worship) as the sex stuff and his ideas about gender. It goes completely nuts in the later stuff he wrote in the '80s (like, with the free love and the twincest and his hero/avatar going back in time to have a sex affair with his mother and what not) but it was always lurking in the background of his other books too. Like, there's on the from the '50s called "The Door Into Summer" that squicks up a perfectly good time travel/revenge plot when the protagonist promises the 12-year-old daughter of his best friend that he'll marry her when he wakes up after 30 years in suspended animation (and she's there waiting for him as a stacked blonde, obviously). I *loved* this plot development when I first read the book as a 12-year-old, and revisted it years later in horror.

Also his racial stuff is gross. The early stuff is really blatant (like, there's one about a Japanese/"Asiatic" takevover of the US that's pretty egregious, and one about a post-nuclear world that's been taken over by the blacks and how awful that is), but the later stuff where he tries to be progressive is even more awkward. There's one book where at the climax the protagonist, who has not been identified as black at any previous point in the book, tells the black villain that "If I weren't black, they'd call be a racist for how much I hate you," which, whaa?

(I still love "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" in all its anaracho-libertarian nonsense, though, you can't make me embarassed!)

deepomega (#1,720)

@jfruh Haha the part where a chapter is devoted to doing math on whether the twins can fuck without giving birth to mutants! Heinlein, you horndog!

jfruh (#713)

@deepomega Oh my god I had forgotten about that! I was thinking of the one where Lazarus Long is seduced by two like 15-year-old hot redhead twins, who, I'm just now vaguely remembering, are maybe his sisters, or his daughters? I believe this sequence was when I first learned that hardened nipples are a potential sign of sexual arousal. (What with the amount of sleazy Heinlein I read during puberty, you'd think I'd be much more fucked up than I actually am.)

deepomega (#1,720)

@jfruh So THAT'S what nipples are for!

riotnrrd (#840)

@jfruh Truth. Heinlein is kind of the V.C. Andrews for nerds.

BadUncle (#153)

@jfruh Recently, I tried re-reading Stranger in a Strange Land, and quit about half-way through. The dialogue and sexual politics have not aged well.

jfruh (#713)

@jfruh Oh man, I just looked at the Wikipedia page for the Door Into Summer to see if I was remembering the plot right, and came across this gem of a sentence:

The novel "worried and bothered" [editor] John W. Campbell, who said "Bob can write a better story, with one hand tied behind him, than most people in the field can do with both hands. But Jesus, I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket."[4]

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@jfruh I read Friday like ten times. *facepalm*

Also, I'd never heard that quote…thank you for that.

Glittoris (#231,424)

@jfruh Oh. My. God. I just want to thank all of you. Robert Heinlein was my great great uncle, and honestly, I've never been into science fiction at all (just not my thing), so I really never had an interest in reading him. But I'm just discovering that he was obviously a HUGE perv, and I'm now completely understanding why I may be such a weirdo. Hahaha This is seriously hilarious to me right now. I may have never known. Thank you!! I must immediately ask my family about this. Maybe it's a weird family secret? Ha!

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Glittoris well, this conversation just got weirder. Uh…glad we could help? Or something?

Glittoris (#231,424)

@Al Cracka haha thanks! glad I could make it weird!

I kind of have always had impeccable taste (sorry!) but that doesn't mean I'm not a dick (probably it requires that I'm a dick) so while I don't regret anything I've read (except Sarah Waters but that was more recently) I do deeply regret the couple few things I said I'd read that I hadn't actually finished. Or gotten very far in at all. Faulkner's A Fable comes to mind.

Edmund White's comment about Virginia Woolf is making me cringe. It's precious.

Feartie (#224,650)

@Tina Grant@facebook It's a whisker away from saying she's 'elitist' soooo. Also how many writers have been horrible people? A lot. Why single her out? Oh, is it because she is a woman, and easier to denigrate?

Bryan@twitter (#231,400)

I'm not surprised to see "On the Road" mentioned so frequently. I couldn't even finish the thing, but, in my case, it was mostly because I thought the main duo were two big jerkoffs to whom I didn't want to pay any more attention. I think I got about halfway through the book, to the part where Dean basically abandons his wife to go on another trip, and I was just like, "done!".

happycattalk (#231,428)

@Bryan@twitter DITTO THIS EXACTLY, down to the moment in the book when I stopped reading.

I spent many, many, many hours during high school in the university library reading all the books about homosexuality in the psychology section (titillating!) as well as what must have been hundreds of back issues of the Village Voice. I was a Musto obsessive from 15-18.

werewolfbarmitzvah (#16,402)

Heyyyyyyy youse guyyyyyyys, do you know how stressful it is to read something like this at work, with the risk of someone coming up behind you by surprise while there's a HUGE image of an Ayn Rand book in the middle of the screen??

Also, for the life of me I can't think of any books I've loved that I'm ashamed of. Maybe someone else might be ashamed of them, but hey, the books I loved when I was 12-18 made me who I am today. I went nuts over Siddhartha when I was 13, and who we kiddin', I STILL love Siddhartha today! I loved Madame Bovary when I was 15, and I love Madame Bovary equally well right at this moment. Who knows, maybe I'm just an ol' pompous ass.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@werewolfbarmitzvah Just re-read Bovary. That book is great.

che (#231,426)

@werewolfbarmitzvah I feel pretty OK about my reading choices too – at least, the ones I loved. If we were talking about past musical tastes, though, I would have much to say.

When I was 14, I was completely obsessed with Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which I called "Pilgrim" in conversation – I was like a drama nerd for that book.) It passed some kind of modified inner-life Bedchel test that I really needed right then. I still think of the book (and still have and cherish my first, margin-noted copy) all the time, but I tried to read it again recently and it was just. so. melodramatic and purple! About nature and God and existence – things you would think it would be okay to take so very seriously and describe in such detail. I still think it's a Pulitzer-deserving work of genius and a breakthrough, but I can't help but roll my eyes at the seriousness with which I took it at the time. Sometimes the Tree With the Lights In It is just a tree, Annie! And everyone likes petting puppies. (Actually, nevermind, I wish I was reading it right now. Maybe it was written on shrooms? New theory!)

propertius (#361)

Look Homeward Angel.

1.5 times through.

Wanda Tinasky (#9,482)

Not at all surprised by the (totally empty and fatuous) "On the Road" or any of the Ayn Rand comments, but I had no idea the Carver backlash was so huge. I think the person who said that may be due to all the imitation he's had to suffer was right on the nose.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Wanda Tinasky Yeah, right? Same exact thought: when I saw the title of this piece I thought "This list is going to be mostly Fountainhead and On The Road, with one Flowers in the Attic reference and one D&D book reference." (Almost nailed it.) But Raymond Carver was, like, a dark horse.

Wanda Tinasky (#9,482)

@Al Cracka I think something else probably factors into the equation: people who found Carved, tried to write like him, and then learned to dismiss him when they couldn't get there.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

I thought Still Life with Woodpecker was profound.

Back when I smoked, I smoked Camels because of it.

Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk. It was the most mysoginistic and self-hating book, but I desperately wanted to be Marjorie. I used to read the book, annually, until I figured out that I was being insulted.

sox (#652)

@Lois Rubin Gross@facebook This would also describe my dating life until recently…

Mr. B (#10,093)

I could just mention all the fantasy/sci-fi crap I read as a juvenile like everyone else, but to this day is sets my teeth on edge to recall my enthusiasm for The Celestine Prophesy for a few weeks during the summer before I turned 18. Enough enthusiasm, apparently, to buy and read the sequel, The Tenth Insight, and to convince myself that I could actually see people's auras. Pretty much all the reading I've done in the intervening 15 years has been done as pennance.

Jennivere@twitter (#231,411)

@Mr. B But did you get the WORKBOOK that went along with the books? Now that's shameful.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@Jennivere@twitter I never knew there was such a thing … until now. Oh god.

sox (#652)

@Mr. B + @Jennivere Oh wow. I'd forgotten about those boys of my youth who claimed to be seeing my aura. And without LSD, no less.
(I think I made it about halfway through Celestine Prophecy. But I did make it all the way through Big Sir and I've referred to my socks as sockiboos ever since. And yes, "sox" is an evolution of this. Full Circle.)

Mr. B (#10,093)

@sox Phew: Even at the time I'm pretty sure I knew better than to admit to a girl that I was aware of that book, or of auras.

zidaane (#373)

More recently, I threw my "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" book out right after reading it because I thought it was a bit too embarrassing. This was before any of the movies.

keisertroll (#1,117)

I was not a big reader growing up, but I read enough Reader's Digests to fuck me up for a while.

Rosebud (#4,107)

Phyllis Whitney, anyone? Young adult, gothic novels, always with girls as the main character. I devoured all of them.

mrschip (#231,493)

@Rosebud I LOVED these. Also, Victoria Holt. When I was about 12, I graduated to full on porn, Sweet Savage Love by Dame Rosemary Rogers. Oh, to meet my true love through a traumatic rape under a wagon!

I find that people who trash Camus for "The Stranger" tend to be much more insufferably pretentious than the people who enjoy it. As a novel, it's pretty okay, but as an intro to the man's ideas and larger body of work, it is excellent. Boo, haters!

@ontologicalpuppy On second thought, reading it to impress a boy is kind of dumb, though.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@ontologicalpuppy Probably not even in the original German.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@ontologicalpuppy However, reading The Celestial Prophecy to get into crazy (but hot) woman's pants is fucking brilliant!

harriet welch (#231,410)

I used to pride myself on my dumb ass, pretentious literary tastes.

Then I tried to read Finnegan's Wake. I gave up and realized how fucking ridiculous it was to be reading for "pleasure" and being tormented by teeth-pulling, mind-numbing pseudo-intellectual crap. (If you can read and enjoy Joyce I'm sure it's not crap to you and you are a billion times smarter than me and you should enjoy that fact and I will just wish I were that smart)
So, I still admit that I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower, old Stephen King, historical fiction and foreign parenting books (I don't even have kids). I would rather happily read crap, admit it's crap and enjoy crap than read Joyce.

"Why don't you write books people can read?"- Nora Joyce (wife of James Joyce)

deepomega (#1,720)

@harriet welch "Why don't you spend as much time writing your books as you do writing letters about my farts?" – Nora Joyce (wife of James Joyce)

harriet welch (#231,410)

@deepomega Oh God. I had no idea what you were talking about…
That can never be un-googled.

harriet welch (#231,410)

How?! How have I been missing this disturbing bit forever? How does everyone know about this but me? Does everyone sit around googling "Gross shit James Joyce wrote to his wife?". How does this work? Where do you learn this?
College. It has to be college.

Clearly my education spent learning to fingerpaint and shit has kept me ignorant of the Joyce's bedroom antics.

che (#231,426)

@harriet welch Oh, me too. I never made it to Finnegan's Wake (I have it, I just never started it), but I was a pretentious ass about Ulysses. Which, I actually do like Joyce and parts of Ulysses, but I read it just to say I had read it.

harriet welch (#231,410)

@che I feel like most people read it to say that they read it.

I also have the sneaking suspicion that everyone who read Finnegan's Wake and "understood" it is faking it, but they know that they can get away with it because no one else really understands it either.

Also, maybe Joyce wrote EVERYTHING as a giant whiskey fueled hoax on academic pseudo-intellectuals of the world.

Or…I need to feel this way in order to feel like I am smarter than I am.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@harriet welch I so want a tomato sandwich now.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@harriet welch

I just finished giving up on Ulysses at page 250 because I realized that the only reason I was considering finishing it is to say I had. Which, by a weird turn of logic, would mean that the mere act of finishing that book would make me a pretentious juicebox.

I think Ulysses is a great book, actually – but I don't think I have the background to appreciate it. I was constantly looking up references, which prevented me from connecting with the story. It was a struggle for me. It's okay to write a book that will only be appreciated by a small number of people! That's totally cool! I'm just not one of the people.

I totally agree that Finnegan's Wake has never been understood by anyone.

Melvin Rosenberg (#231,966)

@harriet welch This is meant as sweet advice. Finnegans Wake cannot be read as a narrative. It't a book to browse and surprise yourself by understanding a phrase or so. Listen to Joyce's reading of "along river run…" and you see it as a wonderful musical experience. And try Dubliners, one of the finest books of short stories.

mrschem (#1,757)

The Corrections and A Visit From the Goon Squad.

beschizza (#1,421)

Oh God mine is Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms too. Is there a support group?

Vulpes (#946)

@beschizza I still read Forgotten Realms! They're a lot better than they used to be, I swear! Dragonlance… well, you're on your own there.

Nabonwe (#12,500)

I can't believe no one here mentioned Gone with the Wind, but I'll throw myself on a sword here and do it. It was my favorite book. I was obsessed with both the book and the movie, and in love with both fictional Rhett and his embodiment in Clark Gable. In tenth grade, I told my history teacher that I thought we should read GWTW when we studied the Civil War because you could learn so much about different battles.

If you want to know what cringing at past literary taste feels like, imagine how I felt when I got to college and re-read it. Oh. Hello. Racism. Sickening, cowardly, despicable racism, on like every fucking page.

In a way, I'm glad I had the experience of repudiating GWTW because there's no way to be complacent about my ability to recognize racism. It's like, I know I can be wrong about things, so I better keep on my toes. I tend to listen when people tell me things I love might be problematic, because I know I can't necessarily trust my own instincts.

Still, I cringe like a motherfucker whenever I remember that history class.

che (#231,426)

@Nabonwe Were you my high school best friend? We were OBSESSED with the book, as were our dual US History and junior English teachers (it's the south). Now I can say, OK, I've evolved, but how in the hell did my TEACHERS still idolize that book? Agh!

cuminafterall (#163,544)

1) The Unbearable Lightness of Being
2) a collection of Irish Catholic mystical poetry

sox (#652)

@cuminafterall One of my more "serious" relationships in my early twenties ended over The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Somehow I loved it then, but would probably be enraged it now?

hockeymom (#143)

6th grade me read War and Peace just to drop that into conversation. But since I skipped most of the "war" parts, it probably only counts as half.

However, 7th grade me babysat for a woman with trash-tastic taste in books. I became obsessed with 'Coffee, Tea or Me". Who WOULDN'T want to be a stewardess and have sexy adventures with handsome men while wearing cute clothes? Fuck Ayn Rand.

Michaela D@twitter (#231,577)

@hockeymom Ahh!! I just bought that at a used book shop and devoured it! (Coffee, Tea, etc.) So crazy! So squeamishly awkward! (I am a millennial, and would never be able to blend in as a sixties time traveler without committing assault.) And those illustrations at the start of every chapter…. <3

british petroleum (#214,899)

After burning through 4 seasons of Felicity on Netflix in an embarrassingly short time (it was great at the time, and I'm happy to say it holds up), I'd probably devour a Felicity novelization. It's my understanding that choosing Noel over Ben at any point leads to Noel dying in a fire. Some things aren't meant to be.

Nadia (#201,774)

@british petroleum I still can't bring myself to finish season 4.

british petroleum (#214,899)

@Nadia Oooh, sorry…SPOILER ALERT.

camanda (#210,901)

I don't necessarily think I have "better" taste than anyone; I do think I have a better sense of what I like than some people. So I don't cringe at the thought of anything I've read, at least not because I read it. I usually am cringing on behalf of the author.

Take Michael Crichton, for example, mentioned upthread. I have no shame: I love his books, and I own most of them. I know it's not high art, but it is what really got me into reading "adult books" when I was 11, and Timeline is partly to blame for my longtime love of theoretical physics. However, I hated, hated, HATED Prey, and never even finished State of Fear. The place where I left off in the latter book is still marked, seven years later. The experience made me so leery that I still haven't read his last three books despite owning two of them, and that makes me sad.

Douglas Adams is another example, because on average I love the Hitchhiker books, but So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is DREADFUL, and for years I never bothered to read Mostly Harmless because I couldn't make myself finish that book. I am pretty sure I still haven't finished it, but I did finally read Mostly Harmless right before And Another Thing… came out, then read And Another Thing…, so I don't really care if I ever finish it.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@camanda Right? I like Crichton too, but State of Fear was SO AWFUL. And not just because of his lunatic politics.

camanda (#210,901)

@Al Cracka Oh, man, yes! I had a little inspiration from this and wrote a wee bit on my blog about the book, so had a moment to think about it. While admittedly I remember little of what I did read, I am pretty sure the big turn-offs were, one, the science was just too far on the side of "batshit insane" for me to suspend disbelief for even five seconds (at least in Timeline his batshit insane science made sense in the context of the book and the way the time travel functioned), and two, glancing at a few excerpts around the point where I gave up on it, it seems like the book is actually about nothing? I never really remember getting a sense that it had a point of any kind, it just went on and on and on interminably with the insanity and the boring characters. Ugh.

MissMushkila (#42,100)

I had so many romantically charged arguments with the boy I liked in high school about On The Road, so I can't hate it. We both liked the writing, but he actually found the characters aspirational, and I took the whole story as a warning tale about how not to live life.

No, what is truly embarassing was the obsession my friends and I had with the Georgia Nicolson series. An obsession that began in middle school, lasted through high school, and inserted itself into every conversation we had in the form of British slang and some of the books made up vocabulary. We had snogging scale contests. Seriously.

ipomoea (#207,034)

@MissMushkila Never be ashamed of Georgia. NEVER. I didn't read them until I was an adult and I think they're delightful. Fluff, but delightful fluff.

oldtaku (#9,009)

Great article – quite a wide range of responses (and in the comments as well).

My dirty secret was Alan Dean Foster. Loved his books as a kid – kept reading them till he died. At that point I knew they weren't great books, but they were still a fun fast read.

Non-Anonymous (#19,293)

@oldtaku Dude, Alan Dean Foster is still alive. Are you thinking of Robert Asprin? His Myth Adventures series might be the closest thing I'd have to an entry here. But even as a kid I never loved them enough to be embarrassed now. Dragonlance, though….

I saw Alan Dean Foster at a convention once about ten years ago and he did not look anything like I imagined: surprisingly young, and almost intimidatingly fit.

beerd (#194,051)

@oldtaku Dude, MYTH. I read those repeatedly and have NO shame. Did you ever end up reading Asprin's attempt at '80s deregulation future thriller, The Cold Cash Wars, in which all these corporations have their own private armies? I think about it every time I hear "Dyncorp," or "Xe"…

And you know what? I read a lot of these books and loved the hell out of them, too. On the Road was cool. Steven King never grabbed me, and I disliked Rand from page 500 of Atlas Shrugged, but to this day I think Raymond Carver and Camus and Nancy Drew and Catcher in the Rye deserve plenty of respect. Tom Robbins too.

Reading is fun. Shame is boring. Fuck it, why am I reading a comment thread? Someone give me a book about dragons.

shelven (#1,992)

Oh yes! Franny and Zooey! I FORGOT.

figwiggin (#228,895)

Alexander Chee! I read Edinburgh for a Korean-American literature class in college and really enjoyed it–I accidentally gave my copy away with a bunch of other books when I was moving and have regretted it ever since.

cherrispryte (#444)

So, hypothetically, you take a kid in her mid-teens with absolutely no self-esteem, consumed with self-loathing, and you give the kid the Ayn Rand books to read. She becomes even more insufferable for about 6 months, but then the two extremes even out and she somehow realizes simultaneously that she is actually okay, and that the books are total shit. But were kind of a necessary catalyst for that conclusion, apparently.

Or so my friend tells me.

Molly (#231,418)

Maybe it's because I haven't read these books or i'm not smart enough or too young but what is wrong with Ayn Rand books and On the Road, I'd rather read on the road than Rand b/c my parents told me it's some selfish guide or something like that, somebody please explain to me.

@Molly Rand's novels are thinly veiled polemics in which she lays out her dreadful Objectivist philosophy. I recommend you read upon it, even just the Wikipedia entry will make you want to retch when you realize how many of our current and recently-past leaders believed this stuff. It's all about how being selfish is the highest ideal and that you shouldn't feel bad for screwing over the less fortunate because they're basically scum and deserve it for not being as awesome and dickish as the elite supermen.

On the Road is, well one of those books from another time. The Beats were pretty disillusioned by the emptiness of the post-war American scene, all that uptight, Leave It To Beaver stuff. So they did lots of drugs and tried to find a pure expression of what it means to live outside of that society. Most of the Beats either died or got over themselves. Kerouac died and is remembered as a sort of iconic hero of that era, but his prose is pretty awful. My theory is that, during a peyote ritual gone wrong, he transferred all his punctuation to Allen Ginsburg.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@Molly What Keith said, plus they're very badly written. As novels, they have shitty plots, terrible characterization and romances that are (sometimes hilariously) immature.

If you want to dip a toe in, read Anthem. It's very short and, since all her novels are about the same thing, you'll get the idea.

My theory is that, during a peyote ritual gone wrong, he transferred all his punctuation to Allen Ginsburg. Ha…well done, dude.

Chazerim (#532)

Irving Wallace. The Seven Minutes. Never needed to read it more than 7 minutes in a row.

hman (#53)

Maureen Corrigan should say "dis" more often!

nardcore (#231,421)

i don't really get the backlash to Ayn Rand's books by my peers. The Fountainhead is still a decent read regardless of whether you're into the philosophy. but it seems to me that what the people citing Rand above actually find cringe-worthy is their own embarrassing behavior after reading her books.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@nardcore I was looking for a chance to rip into a Rand champion, but you will have to do: the whole point is the to cringe at your own infatuation and reaction to the books, duh! Nobody is cringing at the books themselves. We all know there are a hell of a lot worse books out there than these.

BadUncle (#153)

@nardcore I haven't read the Fountainhead. But I can assure you, Atlas Shrugged is, on every level, a poorly-written excuse for a novel.

JennFizz (#172,488)

@nardcore It may be a fine read, I guess. But the prose is bloated and stilted and the characters are tropes rather than people. All told Rice is a far better writer than Rand and she wasn't a dingbat with an absurd "philosophical" axe to grind. But let's not pretend like Rice is an author of note.

I can't believe Lurlene McDaniel is on this list, only because I can't believe that someone admitted out loud that they loved this teen angst cancer porn. But emboldened by that fact, I too will out myself as a McDaniel lover. I read Don't Die, My Love about 1450 times in jr high.

maltza (#231,425)

@Heather Michelle@facebook holy shit. I had forgotten about Lurlene McDaniel. Six Months to Live, I think was my favorite. Something like that.

@Mellisa Kim@facebook I'm giving my 13 year old self a stern talking to right now.

Stephanie@twitter (#211,684)

@Heather Michelle@facebook I read about a dozen Lurlene McDaniels books when I was maybe 12? I think my mother should have been more concerned how obsessed I was with death and dying.

shelven (#1,992)

And I forgot all of Richard Bach. Richard Bach!

jfruh (#713)

@shelven I fucking loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but I was like 9 when I read it, which is so young that I can't bring myself to cringe.

I don't think I got that it was about Jesus.

astrangerinthealps (#178,808)

@jfruh 9 was probably just the right age to read JLS.

I didn't get that the Narnia books were about Jesus either, and I read like all of them. Well, maybe right at the end when Aslan is all tied up I realized maybe something was going on, but up until then it went right over my 9-year-old head.

melmuu (#202,046)

Read books. Not Ayn Rand. Mostly George R.R. Martin.

Al Cracka (#222,198)

@melmuu You win this comment thread.

God, so many of these went a little highbrow for me. I'm more on the level of Justin and his Tombstone novelization, and would have to say the fact that I read and probably enjoyed multiple Candace Bushnell books during college and just after is way more cringeworthy than enjoying "On The Road" at a certain age.

Although you folks that went through a Rand phase are on your own!

I guess that I have no literary taste I guess because I don't really cringe at everything I ever read. I read all four Twilight books KNowing that they were bad and not regretting them. I also read "Atlas Shrugged" and even though it was over the top bad writing. I still liked it. Maybe that is because, I read it as an adult and not as a teen so I can pull out the good and leave the bad. I like nearly everything I read to some extent so I don't have a real cringeworthy thing going for anything I've ever read.

tiktaalik (#231,430)

I read just about everything Orson Scott Card ever wrote after reading Ender's Game in 9th grade, including the godawful Homecoming series. In my defense, lots of people love Ender's Game, and we had no way to know he was going to turn out to be a total neocon crackpot. His writing changed a LOT over time, I can't stomach any of his books from the last 10 years, and even some of the Ender's Shadow series was a bit much.

I also loved the Redwall books and read each one when it came out until about the 20th one, when I realized that I had outgrown books about mice that live in a tiny mouse-sized abbey that talk and fight and feast. No shame over that though, I intend to force the Redwall books on my future children.

The only book I've tried to go back and re-read that actually caused me to cringe was The Dragon's Touchstone by Irene Radford. I have no idea why middle-school-me loved that book, but it was HORRIBLE when I tried to read it again in my mid-twenties. Like, the worst kind of sexism and casual rape nonsense EVERYWHERE.

spoondisaster (#189,637)

@tiktaalik Ah! Ender's Game is still one of my favorite books of all time, even though the rest of his stuff is pretty hit or miss, as you described. He lives in the city where I go to school and he writes a column for the local newspaper and people are so proud but he's seriously nutso,

And seriously, no shame re: the Redwall books. I had a drunken conversation at a bar the other night about how great those books were and which characters were the most badass. We very scientifically determined that it was the badger.

This is the most unutterably sad Awl discussion thread ever. All these poor little goobers who liked Ayn Rand and still seem sort of disoriented trying to explain it to themselves and to the internets. And all these people who thought they liked On the Road but then never had a chance to go anywhere near the road because it wasn't there any more, or something. It practically makes an old man cry, Jesus H. Christ [smiling through tears here] carry on, you poor wimpy fucked-over children!

ipomoea (#207,034)

I've never been so self-satisfied about hating On The Road from day one as I am at this moment. I had to read it in a community college English class when I was 26, and my 18- and 19-year-old classmates adored it. I still have my dog-eared hate-noted-up copy somewhere.

I'm just glad to have read anything at all in my yoof, given the anti-intellectualism rife in the house. Anyway, each book is a stepping stone to the next and becomes part of the conversation so no, no regrets here. Literary trends are as seductive as fashion statements and hairstyles when you're growing up – and then you either look back on pictures of back in the day and cringe, or you say, it was what it was. That was me then.

Some of those books have stayed with me. I'm still in love with Mary MacLeod's version of Spenser's Faerie Queene and with Norton's Borrowers and any number of other books that some might find less intellectual and therefore less worthy. No shame here. Those old friends got me through some hard times and I won't turn my back on them.

astrangerinthealps (#178,808)

I never went through the Ayn Rand, VC Andrews, or fantasy phases, and I still think Sylvia Plath and the Beats are kind of sweet. But I do cringe when I remember how I thought All the King's Men was SO DEEP and how I took Sinclair Lewis way too seriously. I was a weird kid. Oh, and then there was my brief teensploitation phase (I remember a book called Paper Dolls, about two girls who wanted nothing but to be models, and what some icky older men made of their ambitions, hhhhhhhuhhhhh). But I refuse to be ashamed of those–that was just me being sort of normal.

totalgym01 (#231,441)

not that really embarrasing. dont worry LOL

mmmcheese (#229,356)

Yes! Motherless Brooklyn!

amativus (#9,835)

Hahahaha, you were asked for your most embarrassing reads and you guys listed Raymond Carver and Virginia Woolf? You guys are the ones who go to job interviews and say your greatest faults are that you work TOO hard and care TOO much.

I notice it's mostly the women who got really honest about the terrible shit they've read. Lurlene McDaniels? Oh yeah, absolutely. (The trilogy about the Amish guy!!) Sweet Valley High? Excellent. But come on, nobody is actually embarrassed to have read Stephen Fucking King, dudes. Tell me about your Chuck Palanhuik phase.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@amativus Not "reads", "infatuations".

nomorecheese (#15,517)

omg I am so glad I wasnt the only inappropriately young child reading V.C. Andrews books in the back of the library… I LOVED Flowers in the Attic etc… I can not possibly imagine how I managed to stumble upon those books… it began this huge phase of reading trashy adult fiction between grades 5-8 or so. Classy.

nomorecheese (#15,517)

@nomorecheese also, no one on Awl or Hairpin seem to like Ayn Rand books. I like Ayn Rand books and I am a reasonably compassionate person and one of the most illogical people I know. I just don't get why it's so cool to hate them

I read a few Stephen King books but recognized pretty quickly he was a hack. And I couldn't get more than a page through any of Ayne Rand's books.

It is interesting to see the Beat backlash. That was unexpected. Now if we can just ween the literati off of J.D. Salinger we'll be all set.

I read a few Stephen King books but recognized pretty quickly he was a hack. And I couldn't get more than a page through any of Ayne Rand's books.

It is interesting to see the Beat backlash. That was unexpected. Now if we can just ween the literati off of J.D. Salinger we'll be all set.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

Oh my god, Gordon Merrick… I read "The Lord Won't Mind" at 13 or some equally inappropriate age & loved it. It's like "Brideshead Revisited" + Danielle Steel + an impressive number of synonyms for penis. I have the trilogy it begat in a box set on my bookshelf & no one is allowed to borrow it.

Tom Hughes@facebook (#231,495)

A wise teacher said about the process of learning to enjoy books, "the right book is the book you actually read." I think a lot of these books are cringe-worthy, but I bet the "devourers" — the ones who love books now — are thankful they had the experience. I used to love the EarthSea trilogy, by Ursula LeGuin, now I find it unreadable; and I used to love sweet-and-sour chicken too, now inedible to me. But I truly love reading, then and now, and quite like good Chinese food, and I know who and what to thank for turning me on.

LadyHazard (#5,067)

I mean, the Beat backlash is basically because dudes who love the Beats are insufferable and nobody wants to willingly associate with them (while sober), right?

Stephanie@twitter (#211,684)

I loved the Mists of Avalon so much when I was in highschool. King Arthur! Feminism! THREESOMES. I'm not even ashamed, I'm going to go get that shit for my kindle right now and re-read it.

Stephanie@twitter (#211,684)

@Stephanie@twitter It's $13.99. I'm going to go find my old paperback copy at my mother's house!

For me it was The Ecstasy Club by Douglas Rushkoff. When I read it I thought it was amazing and transcendent and when I read it again about 10 years later I felt quite the opposite. On the other hand Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord by Louis de Bernières is still one of my favorite books 15 years after reading it for the first time.

oscarina (#45,226)

After reading every male hardboiled or noir detective story I could find from Chandler to Parker, then going through every female detective series I could find, I thought, why not try some lesbian detective stories? Well, there was so much schlocky stuff about nipples going erect under pale silk shirts at the drop of a hat all the time, around all the clichées and old tropes. I'm glad I tried them, and I've gotten a new list of potential good ones from's thread about lesbian novels (so there's hope!), but the titles in my Kindle still kind of smirt at me with their erect nipples from my archives list. Sometimes I wonder if I should delete them permanently, but they kind of make me happy that they're in the peanut gallery of everything else I've read. Also, from childhood: Queenie, by Judy Blume. All I remember is how bad and embarrassing it was, nothing else.

I hate to break it to Thessaly La Force, but given a few years (or just a reread) she'll inevitably add A Moveable Feast to her cringe list.

kosmicheskykorabl (#231,556)

Kahlil Gibran, Kerouac, Ayn Rand – Ok, I get it. But suggesting that affinity for Virginia Woolf, Raymond Carver, and Toni Morrison is cringe-worthy is just pretentious horseshit and a way to show off. Anybody who says that should just go fuck themselves, seriously.

I never met a book I didn't like… BUT Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a big cringer for me and also the Don Juan Books were pretty much balogny, a real scam, old Carlos Castenada made out like a Mexican bandito… so there you go we learn from everything, eh.

Bad Books? that I sorta liked, don't get me started.. Tom Robbins is a classic, but that one where the fork and spoon come alive and walk across country I'm sure makes Tom Robbins cringe.All the rest are great. Sorry to offend the Lamb cult but I thought Lamb by Christopher Moore was a manic excercise in tweaking dialogue… they wouldn't stop talking forever, like the characters were all on speed…awkward scenes, black angels, come on… write it again with thought please…. I read it and cringed that I kept going..
Anyway, no one cringed after they read the Bible because no one has ever actually read the Bible…

The Last God and Savior's Odyssey and Wandering Poet by Dennis Gregory were good.

laurencoat (#231,631)

The book "The phropet"!

I'm mostly with Maureen Corrigan here. I went straight from Enid Blyton (doesn't count – I was a wee kid) to Arthur Ransome and then Tolkien. I used to be slightly embarassed about the Ransome phase but my opinion of him as a children's writer has gone up as I've learned more about him. I still admire Tolkien, and although I have read a zillion other authors I don't think I've ever had any more "crushes".

True, I admit, I did have a von Daniken phase, but I like to think of it as the educational equivalent of juvenile chickenpox – an unpleasant memory, but with beneficial long-term effects.

invest1sol (#231,774)

whats happening here

invest1sol (#231,774)

whats happening here

Melvin Rosenberg (#231,966)

My first obsession was E. A. Poe, and I have no reason to regret it. Next Thomas Wolfe, who can only be read by the very young and very innocent. Then Moby Dick, the greatest reading experience of a lifetime, which I refuse to spoil by re-reading.

Melvin Rosenberg (#231,966)

Browsing through the comments it seems nobody has read Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby or Of Human Bondage or The Old Man and the Sea. Is this game rigged?

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