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What books do people proselytize about?
June 2, 2009 8:05 AM   Subscribe

What are some books that people are particularly likely to be assholes about?

There are some books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Fountainhead that people tend to be assholes about. Treating the books like arguments for a particular policy, philosophy, or way of being. The Alchemist is another one, even books by Daniel Quinn could qualify. It isn't so much about the quality of the books as it is about the way people interface with the books. Oh, and just to be clear I'd like to confine things to books that are marketed as fiction. No holy texts or self help books please.
posted by I Foody to Media & Arts (140 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you heard of this author named Ayn Rand?
posted by box at 8:10 AM on June 2, 2009 [29 favorites]


Anything by Dan Brown.
posted by Unred at 8:11 AM on June 2, 2009


Anybody who tells me I should read a Dan Brown book is an asshole. But I guess that's not what you're asking. What about "The Prophet" - is that too much of a holy text? Or "The Stanger" by Camus - that one is often defended as a landmark document by a certain group of people.
posted by billysumday at 8:11 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, heck, mentioned in the question. Okay, then, On the Road and Harry Potter.
posted by box at 8:11 AM on June 2, 2009


Stranger In A Strange Land and possibly almost anything by Robert A. Heinlein. I love his books. He was a phenomenal storyteller with some curious and fascinating philosophies and I'm of the mind that those philosophies paint him to be just as much asshole as saint, but woe be to anyone that encounters one of his devotees (usually ranging in age from 15-25) and actually brings up the asshole part.

Some people treat Heinlein as a religion, which I think he would have found amusing.
posted by zerokey at 8:13 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Infinite Jest, Catcher in the Rye, and Prozac Nation.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 8:14 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Fountainhead is safer to mention than Atlas Shrugged.

The Jungle is another one.
posted by Tchad at 8:14 AM on June 2, 2009


Tom Robbins.
posted by box at 8:16 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Michael Crichton's work, especially the later stuff. There is a lot of anti-science sentiment especially seen in State of Fear regarding global warning. He's also made comments disparaging toward SETI and ultimately a number of his books are just Frankenstein revisited (scientist goes further then he rightfully should go!). This can piss off people who understaend basic scientific research.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2009


Confederacy of Dunces. Actual quote from a fan after I admitted I didn't like it: "well, I just really like books that are unique and smart." Right, because I don't.
posted by lunasol at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2009 [17 favorites]


Ender’s Game. A lot of people who have read it have argued very passionately about how it was about them, and how they could totally relate to it, and how it’s the most amazing book ever written. Then others argue that the book sucks because Orson Scott Card is some sort of Nazi.

Harry Potter, because when I tell people I haven’t read them and have no interest in reading them, they won’t shut about how I must read them. Ditto LotR.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, similar to Monty Python, has been spoiled forever because nerds just can’t seem to stop quoting from it any chance they get. Assholes.
posted by bondcliff at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


"What do you MEAN you aren't familiar with the Vampire Lestat?!"
posted by jon_kill at 8:21 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nineteen-Eighty Four by George Orwell.

There I said it.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:21 AM on June 2, 2009


Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead have been mentioned, but I gotta nth them - they're the best example of this I've ever seen. Otherwise reasonable, empathetic people read Rand and temporarily become raging assholes. College students are the key demographic here; I saw it a bunch of times in my midwest university.

Sadly, I too fell victim to this for a while. But in high school, which makes me cooler than the college losers. Ha!
posted by captainawesome at 8:22 AM on June 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Anything by Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by billysumday at 8:25 AM on June 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think On The Road, The Stranger, and Stranger in a Strange Land qualify. I want to make clear that this isn't about passionate fandom (which can be annoying) but about fiction that somehow makes an argument. So not books that people try and get others to read because they believe the books are very good (regardless of the book's actual merit), but books that people try and get others to read so that they will consider or be persuaded by an idea. I realize that this is a potentially problematic question so I'm trying to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls.
posted by I Foody at 8:25 AM on June 2, 2009


Not so prevalent anymore, but The Celestine Prophecy used to be almost Rand-like in its fans' conviction that it held all the answers.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:28 AM on June 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


This book has certainly dropped in popularity since it came out, but several people were raging dicks to me about The Celestine Prophecy. (You know, the whole "you're close-minded because you refuse to believe mystical shit" argument.)
posted by peep at 8:28 AM on June 2, 2009


Foucault's Pendulum.
posted by rikschell at 8:29 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bukowski, particularly if you are discussing gender issues. Henry Miller as well.
posted by Ponderance at 8:29 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Infinite Jest

Gravity's Rainbow
posted by alzi at 8:30 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh lord... I was about to suggest The Celestine Prophecy. It's the 90's equivalent of the The Alchemist.
posted by kimdog at 8:31 AM on June 2, 2009


Infinite Jest. Seriously, probably three people, total, have made it through that book.
posted by banannafish at 8:31 AM on June 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Noam Chomsky - (I love him)

Any book that discredit ... Alternitive Health, The war in Iraq etc
posted by bright77blue at 8:32 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going to nominate House of Leaves. Responding with less than emphatic love or 'scariest book evar' seems to consign one to the level of the Dan Brown readers.

There's also, among the right demographic, Twilight. Those Twilight people are crazy.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've had several..individuals...try to strongly persuade me to read books by L. Ron Hubbard, including Battlefield Earth, and I believe they were trying to help me find belief in the books.
posted by arniec at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thus Spoke Zarathustra
posted by The Straightener at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


2nding House of Leaves and Gravity's Rainbow, adding Catch 22. I'm totally an asshole about Ender's Game.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even though I like his books, I find most people that namecheck Michael Pollan to be insufferable.

I do like knowing that I'm not the only one who Alice Waters annoys the living shit out of.
posted by electroboy at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anything by Chuck Palahniuk.

He has rabid fans for sure but the "way of being" work is Fight Club, which I will agree there are assholes about. But the SpikeTV assholes are really more assholes about the movie, and not so much the book, as some sort of men's manifesto. I know CP gets preachy in, say, Lullaby but I've never met anybody who admits to having read it never mind do I hear people citing it as a life philosophy.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Catcher in the Rye.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:39 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're basically just looking for philosophers who happen to have written a novel. Stories that are heavily didactic. The assholes of all stripes will follow.

Additions to the above (Ayn Rand, etc)

C. S. Lewis
Gore Vidal
Philip Pullman
posted by FuManchu at 8:39 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh Dear, so many.

I think that people are assholes about a book when they experience "the shock of the new" when the shock wears off, they either wonder why they liked the book so much or come to appreciate it like other books. We are also probably al assholes about a book, especially when we are young.

Some books that I've noticed a fairly high asshole correlation. (Some if these I do like!)
Dune
Any LOTR Tolkien stuff
Much Neal Stephenson
Night Train to Lisbon is one that is coming up fast.
The Woman's Room was one for women of a certain age in the 70s. Probably necessary too.
posted by xetere at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2009


I'll admit. I like to be an asshole about The Confidence Man. (See? Like now!)

Though in everyday conversations, I agree with most of the above, especially Rand.
posted by Barmecide at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2009


Whoops, I see after post that my second one doesn't qualify, but I totally believe the first one does.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:43 AM on June 2, 2009


I don't understand why The Stranger qualifies.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:44 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I Foody: Treating the books like arguments for a particular policy, philosophy, or way of being.

This can often be the author's intent. Your characterizing this intention as the reader being an "asshole" about it is totally unfair. Though I am, I confess, often overcome by an uncontrollable urge to slap any twentysomethings I see reading Ayn Rand.

If you're asking "What fictional books do people subscribe to as pillars of their personal philosophy?", I'd nominate Castenada's The Teachings of Don Juan, though it's fallen out of vogue.
posted by mkultra at 8:48 AM on June 2, 2009


What about:

-Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment and/or The Brothers Karamazov ( Dostoyevsky- existential philosophy)

- The Stranger (Camus- also following in the existential vein. Previously mentioned)

-The poetry of Holderlin (Heidegger, phenomenology, etc.)

-The poetry of Baudelaire (the idea of the flaneur and the aesthete)

-The Metamorphosis, The Trial (Kafka, modernist angst and alienation)

-As suggested, Gravity's Rainbow. Also, The Crying of Lot 49 ( Thomas Pynchon- postmodern thought)

-Contact, or other stuff by Carl Sagan, inspiring mystery and wonder in the universe.

Also, there are many novels written to reveal the inequities and horrors of specific governments, ideologies, etc. and to inspire people to question said entities. 1984 and The Jungle were mentioned. Also:

-The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck- look at what Modern Capitalism has done to the masses)

-One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Solzhenitsyn- look at what Communism has done to the masses)

-Night (Weizel- look at what the Nazis and the Holocaust did to the Jewish people)
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:48 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


William Pierce, The Turner Diaries

Forrest Carter, The Education of Little Tree

Many titles on the Modern Library's Readers List of 100 best novels
posted by vincele at 8:49 AM on June 2, 2009


When I was travelling, I ran into a few different people that claimed The Power of One "saved my life". Likewise I had someone push The Captain by Jan de Hartog as some sort of lifechanging read. Both of them seemed like kinda pedestrian triumph-of-the-human-spirit drivel to me.
posted by electroboy at 8:50 AM on June 2, 2009


Like Mkultra, I disagree that these books are for "assholes" or proseletyzers.

I listed novels that either directly promote or detract from a specific ideology. However, That's not necessarily a bad thing. I think novels can often set the basis for serious and positive social change by shining light on an issue that other's try to sweep under the rug.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2009


I'm not sure I follow -- are you asking for a list of well-know fiction books that purport any kind of moral or question any social more, and equating the appreciation of that to being an asshole?
posted by ellF at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2009


Ulysses // James Joyce
A Rememberance of Things Past // Marcel Proust
Magic Mountain // Thomas Mann

These books share a couple things:

1) they are really really really really long.
2) they are totally impregnable.
3) stupid asshole hipster elitists love to say that they have read them and understand every word. and would put them on anyone's reading list.

they are worth a read, but people love to use them to boost their 'well-read' cred.
posted by chicago2penn at 8:53 AM on June 2, 2009


The Great Gatsby. Loved it. Hate the wankers who insist that it's transcendent and glorious and it changed their lives because there's so much more to live for than [fill in the blank].
posted by coppermoss at 8:55 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


It isn't so much about the quality of the books as it is about the way people interface with the books.

I often find that passion for a single book strongly correlates with how many books those people generally read. In one instance, I met a distant relative who ranted about a book to me. I didn't see him again for ten years. At that time he ranted about the same book. I don't think he had read all that many books in between.

That said, I read The Women's Room at a young age and it definitely amped up the radical side of my feminism.

I enjoy Tom Robbins but I have to agree that some people read him and embed their worldview into a general rant-identity about earth-based spirituality and healing sexual Paganism and stuff like that.

A lot of the others I can think of are nonfiction (as is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, just to note). Holy Blood, Holy Grail comes to mind.
posted by Miko at 8:56 AM on June 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I may be on a singular quest, but I've been proselytizing about The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov for decades.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:03 AM on June 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I Foody: Treating the books like arguments for a particular policy, philosophy, or way of being.

This can often be the author's intent. Your characterizing this intention as the reader being an "asshole" about it is totally unfair.


You are right. But I think that's because it's an idea better communicated through example. There are certain books that rather than simply making an argument on their own are interpreted as somehow being essential to understanding an idea by readers or recommended with the assumption that the book will persuade someone to the recommenders point of view. If you know what I mean. I like many of the books that people are assholes about and think they are good books. It is less about the books themselves than around the culture that surrounds them. I think The Celestine Prophecy is an excellent example. Basically what my question is tip toeing around is books that people are assholes about in the same general way that people are assholes about Ayn Rand's books.
posted by I Foody at 9:10 AM on June 2, 2009


Anything that appears on the New York Times bestsellers list.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:13 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Surprised no one has mentioned "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." That title alone makes the author a total jerk, and I remember a ton of people telling me I just had to read the book and then looking down their noses a bit when I responded that I didn't think I would do so. Based on what little I know of the author, I imagine people who really like the "Into the Wild" book (whatever it's called; I just know the movie) would be insufferable.

I've been known to be a jerk about "Pride and Prejudice," though in a way opposite to what the question presumes. No one should have to suffer through that book, and I've been known to share that opinion not infrequently. There, I did it again.

And another vote for Harry Potter. When the books come up, and I mention that I'm not particularly interested in them, the conversation usually goes downhill fast.

One girl I knew was really annoyed with people who like William Carlos Williams. I don't know many poetry enthusiasts, so haven't run into the conversation, but she mentioned a few times how tiresome praise for his poetry could be. In that respect, I imagine we could find a few more authors that bridge the gap from niche to mainstream or who drive something from clever to cliche. I never want to read another six word story, for instance; Hemingway's was great, but the imitators have ruined it for me and that makes them assholes.
posted by msbrauer at 9:18 AM on June 2, 2009


I may be on a singular quest, but I've been proselytizing about The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov for decades.

I've had a couple of people try to foist this one on me. Not so much "being an asshole" as "being intense and creepy and really weirding me out".

Oh well, maybe I should...thanks for the reminder!
posted by aquafortis at 9:22 AM on June 2, 2009


Dune. Even if I am re-reading it again.

The Foundation series. In fact, anything by Asimov.

James Joyce. Even if Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is my favorite novel.

Thomas Mann.

Vladimir Nabokov.

Ford Maddox Ford.

TS Eliot.

Faulkner.

Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Wizard of Oz, etc.

Danielle Steel. Tom Clancy. Michael Crichton. Dan Brown. Any and all other middling authors such as these.

Anyone who impugns Shakespeare is an asshole.

And John Milton is totally overrated.
posted by dfriedman at 9:23 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh! God! How ever did I forget about Carlos Castaneda's books. Holy mother of all things decent and good, I have been made to suffer at the hands of people who claim these books contain some sort of otherwise-unavailable metaphysical insight.

I'll also add The Little Prince, even though some people I love dearly love the story. Never quite took it the same way. Along sort-of similar lines, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Maybe Rubyfruit Jungle.
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on June 2, 2009


The Shack by William P. Young. Shut-up already!
posted by carmicha at 9:28 AM on June 2, 2009


Hermann Hesse, particularly Siddhartha.
posted by umbú at 9:30 AM on June 2, 2009


Good question....

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - assholes point to the future setting as some sorta libertarian utopia

The Gor series by John Norman - The author goes on and on about how much better the world would be for everyone if women were slaves, honor was everything, and people never left their born caste. It sounds like prison society to me, but some assholes hawk it.
posted by malp at 9:34 AM on June 2, 2009


Nthing Asimov. Possibly Ouspensky's stuff. The Narnia tales.

Jonathan Livington Seagull, Siddhartha, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (I love the first two; have not read the latter.)

A lot of stuff from the Seventies qualifies. "Consciousness-raising" stuff.

The Elements of Style. There was an unbelieveable diatribe against it recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I mean, dude, relax. Get a hobby.

The Long Tail.
posted by jgirl at 9:38 AM on June 2, 2009


If this list proves anything it's that assholes are assholes and will be assholes about just about anything or book you'd care to mention.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:45 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are times in most peoples' lives where pretty much any work will resonate with them. Resonance can make a pleasing note, or really ugly chords, depending mainly on the person. Paraphrase of an old Cosby standup bit:

"They say, 'Well, you see, cocaine enhances the personality.' And I say, 'yes, but what if you're an asshole?'"
posted by Drastic at 9:57 AM on June 2, 2009


Ugh - Nthing the Celestine Prophesy. Fuck.

Also, Neuromancer. Harry Potter, too.
posted by Pecinpah at 10:07 AM on June 2, 2009


Sun Tzu - The Art of War. If I meet one more Gordon Gekko wanna-be who tells me how "The Art of War" is a business primer, I'm likely to punch them in the throat be very rude to them.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:12 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, yeah, Hesse, especially for aging hippies. Vonnegut wrote a vicious little piece called "Why They Read Hesse" that will take you right to the heart of that matter.

Speaking of which, Vonnegut is another sometimes-polarizing author. His fans are certainly devoted...
posted by mr_roboto at 10:12 AM on June 2, 2009


nthing Herman Hesse.

books by David Sedaris.

The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Les Mis

Candide - Voltaire

Story of O - Pauline Reage
posted by WeekendJen at 10:25 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]




If this list proves anything it's that assholes are assholes and will be assholes about just about anything or book you'd care to mention.


Probably. I love Hesse and Vonnegut, but I'm not an asshole about their work.

Mostly.
posted by jgirl at 10:29 AM on June 2, 2009


books by David Sedaris.

Thank you.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2009


Anyone who impugns Shakespeare is an asshole.

Just as there are plenty of asshole fans of Shakespeare.

And +1 (+∞?) on Twilight. I am so effin' sick of hearing about Twilight.

I have some non-fiction books but that's outside the scope of this discussion.
posted by friarjohn at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2009


I would argue against A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius fitting in this category. Even though the book and its author are certifiably insufferable, I've never encountered anyone willing to defend its merit. Although I haven't been on a college campus in a while.

Other additions:

White Teeth (Zadie Smith)
The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)
Anything by Jonathan Safran Foer
posted by greenland at 10:42 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anita Desai also wrote her novel Journey to Ithaca in response to the South Asian fetishism fostered by Hesse's fans. Except in her novel the two western travelers basically get their asses handed to them by the third world.
posted by The Straightener at 10:42 AM on June 2, 2009


I think The Celestine Prophecy is an excellent example. Basically what my question is tip toeing around is books that people are assholes about in the same general way that people are assholes about Ayn Rand's books.

The part you're missing is that Ayn Rand's books forward a decidedly assholish philosophy, one that most people feel a little guilty for subscribing to. As a result, the Ayn Rand fans seek constant affirmation from everybody around them. In order for an objectivist not to feel like a jerk, she needs everybody else to be an objectivist too.

Anyway, the philosophical novels that I push at every opportunity are the Illuminatus! series by Robert Anton Wilson. But, the result of a solid absorption of RAW is radical relativism. So, at least, I'd like to think that I don't come off as an asshole when I encourage people to read it.
posted by Netzapper at 10:50 AM on June 2, 2009


I have to admit, I'm tripping up a little because I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "being an asshole about" a book. Do you mean people are especial admirers and scorn you if you say you don't like it, or do you mean that if you say you liked it people will sniff pretentiously and say, "oh, well, that's all very good for you, you don't know better"?

Tangentially: I saw Confederacy of Dunces listed above; my book club just started in on it, and I'm having an awful time because Ignatious J. Reilly is exactly like one of my ex boyfriends. In many, many ways. It's a little disturbing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:54 AM on June 2, 2009


Other than a few selections (I just can't get behind Ayn Rand in any way, shape or form, ditto Celestine Prophecy...), this is kind of a great book list!

But maybe that comment itself makes me one of those assholes, I dunno...

Also, Marx's Capital.
posted by dubitable at 10:59 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Freakonomics
posted by nomad at 11:06 AM on June 2, 2009


All my books have been said, so I won't reiterate, but i think the word you are seeking is pseudointellectual. Not that these books themselves are, but that the people being assholes are.
posted by Polychrome at 11:10 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


[few comments removed - did you miss the "no holy books" part?]
posted by jessamyn at 11:17 AM on June 2, 2009


I'll chime in and say Borges.
posted by Dmenet at 11:24 AM on June 2, 2009


greenland: while I won't defend the merit of Dave Eggers' books, I think it is a little much to call him insufferable and leave it at that. He's founded writing education centers that have spread all over the country. He's been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars personally that he has immediately handed over to those education centers. He might be an asshole, but if Stephen King were to give the same percentage of his earnings/winnings to form writing programs, there would be one in every pissant town in America.

Point is, he might be an ass, but he's not a money-grubbing ass.
posted by nushustu at 11:28 AM on June 2, 2009


I came here to mention "The Celestine Prophecy" (sorry, Bruce), but also "Catcher in the Rye." Ugh.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:34 AM on June 2, 2009


On a different note, I have often attempted to induce satori by repeated bashing over the head and shoulders with Kernighan & Ritchie or Spivak's Calculus.

Although I believe your injunction against holy books disqualifies both of these.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:44 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


(This is a bit of a tangent to your main question, but your query reminds me of the play "Art". In it, one of the characters has been reading Seneca's De Vita Beata, and describes Seneca as being the perfect modern author. It's a spot-on portayal, I think, of the underlying theme of your question:
"Read it, it's a masterpiece. Incredibly modern. Read that, you don't need to read anything else... I don't have time to read any more, I'm obliged to go straight for the essentials."
Like what Netzapper was saying above about Rand ("In order for an objectivist not to feel like a jerk, she needs everybody else to be an objectivist too."), it seems like the real "asshole test" that relates to a lot of the books in this thread is the idea that a single text explains pretty much every important thing you could ever want to know.)
posted by Greg Nog at 11:56 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


You're basically just looking for philosophers who happen to have written a novel

No no no no no NO no NO no NO. Ayn Rand was no philosopher, nor any of the authors mentioned so far. Novelists with philosophical pretensions, yes. Philosophers, dear god no no no.

And what makes people assholes about these books is the fact that the "philosophies" they expound are pap—easily swallowed and digested by anyone who could read and understand Winnie the Pooh.
posted by bricoleur at 12:02 PM on June 2, 2009


I have to admit, I'm tripping up a little because I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "being an asshole about" a book.

I took it as being excessively evangelical (for or against) about the book in some way.
posted by jgirl at 12:03 PM on June 2, 2009


And what makes people assholes about these books is the fact that the "philosophies" they expound are pap—easily swallowed and digested by anyone who could read and understand Winnie the Pooh.

Accessibility is not a good thing?
posted by electroboy at 12:14 PM on June 2, 2009


Harry Potter is nothing more than a long, drawn-out fantasy story. Yes, many people are fanatic about it (myself included!) but anyone who tries to proselytize using HP (positively or negatively) is reading too much into it.
posted by radioamy at 12:17 PM on June 2, 2009


Harry Potter is nothing more than a long, drawn-out fantasy story. Yes, many people are fanatic about it (myself included!) but anyone who tries to proselytize using HP (positively or negatively) is reading too much into it.

Seriously. What philosophy do people think it's expounding? That magic is real?
posted by mkultra at 12:40 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't understand what "being an asshole about" a work of fiction means. Does it mean really liking it and thinking other people will like it? Does it mean presenting a book as something only a special wizard-class of people know about/appreciate? The question was about fiction that is considered to constitute an arguments for a particular policy or idea. Going along with this idea (about how people use the book and not about how the book may or may not suck), it seems like there are two ways this question can me interpreted. There are the Big Idea books. The books of Daniel Quinn, a very sweet man with Very Big Ideas, fits here, and definitely people react like As does 1984. As does, in its own way, Rubyfruit Jungle, The Beautiful Room is Empty, Beloved, and I'm sure a whole hell of a lot of other books of many different canons based on what gets taught in lit survey classes. Ruby and The Room are both tokens, required reading; Ishmael and Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me are bible only the fervent love and remember. 1984 is a bible people know about way more than they read.

Then there is the second category: books that for some reason build up a following of devoted, some may say "rabid," readers who are insistent on demanding that the book is effin' brilliant, despite the fact that other readers think it is transparent, syrupy, overwrought and/or pretentious garbage (This is the broccoli or the cilantro of the literary world. Sorry, I'm sure there's an actual term for this, but, yeah.) The response may not be as biologically based, but people's feelings are pretty strong. For example, The Master and Margarita tastes like soap to me, not like food. I have never been able to understand how I was supposed to like Manhattan Transfer or Last Exit to Brooklyn.

I detest Confederacy of Dunces and try really hard not to confront people who for some reason find it entrancing. For they are just wrong.

I also feel as if books by Neil Gaiman straddle these categories. I will stop now because I hate that if this thread goes on some of my personal faves will be cut down and it will hurt.

Oh -- and I can't say I like or dislike this book -- I just didn't get through it, but is there any 20th c. book people have been more of an asshole about than Joyce's Ulysses? (I mean, besides Atlas Shrugged).
posted by theefixedstars at 12:41 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Accessibility is not a good thing?

Accessibility per se is a good thing. And I am all in favor of clear writing that makes difficult concepts graspable. But let's face it, you don't really understand quantum mechanics unless you can do the math. These authors are not presenting deep concepts simply. They are representing simple, emotionally appealing worldviews (which are generally riddled with contradictions) as "deep philosophical insights." It's quite appealing to think that we can understand the world in such simple terms. The harsh fact is that we can't. Understanding even apparently simple things, such as how two things can both be red, can lead you down a rabbit hole with no apparent end. Understanding that tends to make one very tolerant of opposing viewpoints in every facet of intellectual inquiry. Denying it tends to make (or goes hand in hand with) intolerance and close-mindedness.
posted by bricoleur at 12:45 PM on June 2, 2009


First, I'm a little annoyed at how this seems to be turning into "books I personally don't like"-filter; even if you can't get those hours back and you hated the book itself, the person who suggested it to you may be guilty of nothing more than bad taste and/or not being exquisitely attuned to your sense of good lit. (Yeah, I know--AskMeFi: A little annoying.) Yes, Dan Brown sucks, but I don't think that I'd accuse the person who recommended The da Vinci Code to me on account of its "revelation" of a secret female-centered Catholic Church of anything more than starry-eyed wishful thinking, although of course the surfacing material of roads to hell and whatnot.

That having been said, I think that you have to distinguish between books that are really pushing their agendas and those that are written as satire, but are taken at face value by the asshole readers; I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Jonathan Swift received a number of disturbingly detailed recipes following the publication of you-know-what. In the former group, I'd certainly put anything by Ayn Rand and Starship Troopers; in the latter, the Starship Troopers movie and anything by Palahniuk, although I do have to wonder if he really disapproves when he repeats the anecdote about the British waiter who claims that the Baroness Margaret Thatcher has eaten his cum five! times!. (Salon writer Laura Miller, whose work I usually like (her essay on Lovecraft is spot-on) wrote a review of Palahniuk's Diary that turned into a full-bore, nitpicking rant ("In "Diary" there's everything from a glass of 'bright orange' wine (when was the last time you saw wine the color of Tang?)"; Miller is apparently unaware of the existence of Mad Dog 20/20, although its status as "wine" might be questionable to some) that seems to have been occasioned by Miller's cornering in an airport by "that strangely oversize fellow you sometimes get seated next to on airplanes or in bars, the one who loudly testifies to 'laughing my ass off' all the way through Palahniuk's 'fucking twisted' books and then glares, as if daring you to deny that such a thing is possible or that he is one dark and edgy dude." Yes, and I have been seated next to him at a minimum of two wedding receptions, but, for Christ's sake, Laura, I got over it.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:49 PM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus
Chicken Soup for the Soul
The Secret
Who Moved My Cheese
What Color is Your Parachute?
Elements of Style
A People's History of The United States
The C Programming Language, by Kernighan & Ritchie
Dharma Bums
Dianetics
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:57 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't understand what "being an asshole about" a work of fiction means.

I detest Confederacy of Dunces and try really hard not to confront people who for some reason find it entrancing. For they are just wrong


pretty much exactly this. That being said, I am totally an asshole about some of the books on this list.
posted by namewithoutwords at 1:03 PM on June 2, 2009


Anything by Nicholas Sparks.

In fact, anything by Asimov.

Oh, now, he's not THAT bad. Foundation&etc, yeah, to be sure.
posted by Rash at 1:06 PM on June 2, 2009


fiction that somehow makes an argument

I'll echo Heinlein in general and "Starship Troopers" in specific--the argument being "Citizenship after military service." Nice and feisty! Bonus points because Heinlein exalted the military and the movie parodied his stance.

"The Watchmen," "The Extrordinary League of Gentlemen," and "V for Victory" by Alan Moore. Well written Anarchy stuff. Never has freedom through nihilism been so artfully rendered.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 1:48 PM on June 2, 2009


What's this? No one has mentioned One Hundred Years of Solitude?
I was beaten over the head (figuratively speaking) with this "work" by ultra-hip acquaintances who assured me that I hadn't lived until I eagerly drank in every word of this thing.
I still refuse to read it!

Another one that had the sensitive social workers™ swooning: The World According to Garp.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:54 PM on June 2, 2009


Anything Hemingway? I'm pretty sure that I've been an asshole about The Sun Also Rises.
posted by quatsch at 2:05 PM on June 2, 2009


I can be kind of an asshole about Tom Robbins, if only because I sort of hate my younger self for thinking he had anything important to say.
posted by Skot at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


You're looking for philosophical novels. Looking at that list, I'm a Kundera's Slowness asshole. I've bought it as a birthday gift more times than I can remember.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:30 PM on June 2, 2009


Hey hey hey hey...yes, Mr.Egger's philanthropic causes far outweigh his contributions for literature (What Is The What standing as an exception), but let's not rag on Mr.King, either. That guy has his own foundation, too. The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. I used to resent his Richard Bachman stuff as ego fluff, until the fine print informed me that the proceeds from the Bachman novels are going to The Haven Foundation. Stephen King's good in my book.
posted by redsparkler at 2:49 PM on June 2, 2009


[few comments removed - not only is the map not the territory but this is not a question about Mad Dog 20/20, thanks!]
posted by jessamyn at 2:55 PM on June 2, 2009


As far as incessant proselytizing that can lead to the brink of assholery...

-Daniel Quinn, check check check.
-Ayn Rand, check.
-The Shack, yes. The Secret, yes.
-The Giving Tree, well...I want to call them assholes, but they're just misguided.
-Most of the proselytizing Twilight fans I've talked to in real life have not been irritating, not really (except for my mom.). The grown ones are usually aware that it's kind of a guilty pleasure, albeit a fun one. Again, this only holds true in face-to-face encounters.
-Hunter S. Thompson, sometimes.
-Tom Robbins has never been ill-spiritedly recommended to me, although his fans are fanatical.
-I got a lot of third graders recommending Diary of a Wimpy Kid to me, but they were never assholes about it. Lots of kids feel strongly about the Percy Jackson series, too.
-Oh, but the Warriors series, sometimes I feel like some of those kids are kind of jerks about it. I mean, c'mon, they're all just cats in gangs, basically. And Erin Hunter doesn't even exist. In my day we enjoyed books with more than one species in it.
posted by redsparkler at 2:58 PM on June 2, 2009


I am a spiteful man…

I remember once coming over to a friend's house to buy drugs, and him asking my girlfriend if she'd "ever read Hunter S. Thompson, chickee?"
posted by klangklangston at 3:21 PM on June 2, 2009


In hand with the Celestine Prophesy...Mutant Message Down Under (which was marketed as a true story and caused one hell of a shit storm).
posted by i_cola at 4:35 PM on June 2, 2009


Gawd, those damn Twilight books... Or maybe that's just at my workplace full of young women (I am a young woman).

Going to strongly 2nd The Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby. I remember reading them in high school and not getting what the fuss was about while others shat their pants over it and didn't get how anyone else wouldn't.

Hunter S. Thompson, too

Chuck Klosterman, even though that's nonfiction.

Anne Rice, sometimes.

I'll probably be back with more later. This question is great.
posted by ishotjr at 4:49 PM on June 2, 2009


Harry Potter is nothing more than a long, drawn-out fantasy story. ...anyone who tries to proselytize using HP (positively or negatively) is reading too much into it.

Huh?

First of all, I'm not sure what you mean by "nothing more than a ... fantasy story." Is there some sort of hierarchy of stories in which there are more important (better? truer?) forms than fantasy? I know some people are snobbish about genres, but aside from that, what is the meaning of "nothing more than a ... fantasy story"?

I'm not a Harry Potter fan (nor do I think it's the worst stuff ever written), but if I loved the stories, I'd proselytize about them, in the sense that I'd talk about them a lot and push all my friends to read them.
posted by grumblebee at 5:09 PM on June 2, 2009


I just want to second The Corrections. It was a mediocre novel that only gained traction because of the publicity stunt Franzen pulled. It worked on me, I picked it up, and found a novel that was absolutely perfect for Oprah: disfunctional family, no one speaks to each other, or even likes each other, and, if I remember correctly, one of the main, female characters achieves some sort of 'liberation' at the end. If Franzen was trying to do a joke take on Oprah books, he still didn't succeed.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:41 PM on June 2, 2009


The Omnivore's Dilemma.
posted by pecanpies at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2009


Eat, Love, Pray.

Anything by Lacan, Baudrillard and Derrida. In fact French philosophy is pretty shaky territory in general.

Michel Houellebecq.

I love him, but Philip K Dick skirts this territory.

The Lovely Bones.
posted by smoke at 6:16 PM on June 2, 2009


Nausea, from the nauseating Sartre.
posted by Philby at 7:35 PM on June 2, 2009


The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, evidenced by this thread...
posted by nowoutside at 7:36 PM on June 2, 2009


Please see May 27 on this website. Every single book is one that has been named here.
posted by ishotjr at 8:27 PM on June 2, 2009


nthing The Long Tail. Also The Tipping Point. Crowdsourcing. Here Comes Everybody.

Any book that purports to be about The New Way That Everybody Is Doing Things, but is really just a gussied-up business lecture where the author has basically one idea that could easily have been expressed in paragraph.

As a sidenote, I'd love to see examples of this genre from earlier periods in history. I think it would make for a good laugh.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:33 PM on June 2, 2009


Does the Left Behind series count or is that too much toward the holy side of things?
posted by SisterHavana at 8:41 PM on June 2, 2009


Oh yeah, and I've never read any Toni Morrison, but from the grating way that people INSIST that I read her stuff, I have to put her on the list.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:52 PM on June 2, 2009


I am forever proselytizing the Deep Thoughts series and Fuzzy Memories---does that count?
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:57 PM on June 2, 2009


david allen's "getting work done."
posted by alex3005 at 11:03 PM on June 2, 2009


*things
posted by alex3005 at 11:03 PM on June 2, 2009


"I would take The DaVinci Code [as a desert island book], so I could burn The DaVinci Code."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:04 PM on June 2, 2009


The Bible! (ehhh, kidding, mostly)
But seriously (the Winnie the Pooh comment made me think of this), how about The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet?
posted by naoko at 11:32 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh boo, you already specified "no holy texts," which makes my Bible-as-proselytizing-asshole-fiction joke even less funny. I stand by my other suggestion, though.
posted by naoko at 11:34 PM on June 2, 2009


I think Halloween Jack is right - this thread does have the feel of a "books I personally don't like"-filter. I mean, Isaac Asimov? Seriously? I've never encountered anyone who was in any way dickish about anything he's ever written. Are there loons out there who want Harvard to start offering degrees in psychohistory or something?

The OP more or less acknowledged that he is looking for books which engender reactions similar to the works of Ayn Rand. There is just no way in hell Asimov (or a lot of other authors suggested here) come close to qualifying. Even if some of the commenters here have encountered an Asimov-inspired jerk or two, it's not Ayn Rand-level.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:44 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart is one I personally recall being an ass about.

I am going to 2nd "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" because I once worked for a manager who distributed copies to myself and about 40 colleagues as a prelude to a meeting in which he announced he was going fire a number of us (and because I suspect no self-respecting bird would ever describe itself as a "seagull").
posted by rongorongo at 2:08 AM on June 3, 2009


*At a party*


"Have you read The Alchemist by Paul Coelho?"
"Nope. What's it about?"
"It's so deep!! It totally changed my life!!!!!"
"Cool beans. How? What has it inspired you to do?"
"Huh? It totally changed my life!!!!!!!! It's inspiring!!!!!"
"In a 'volunteering/giving money to charity' sense? Or a 'finally buy that saxaphone and get some lessons' way?"
"What? It's so inspiring!!! It totally changed my life!!!!!"
posted by Cantdosleepy at 3:40 AM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Way of the Peaceful warrior was one I had people talk at me.
posted by gryftir at 3:42 AM on June 3, 2009


On the graphic novel front, anything by Chris Ware. And anything associated with McSweeney's.
posted by jbickers at 5:19 AM on June 3, 2009


Anything, ever, by Malcolm Gladwell.
posted by kingbenny at 7:39 AM on June 3, 2009


Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (I myself am guilty of this)
posted by mrbill at 7:49 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have been and will continue to be an asshole wrt Kurt Vonnegut
posted by victors at 7:52 AM on June 3, 2009


Read through a lot of the list so far, but my question in response to OP -- how can someone be a fan of a book and not proselytize it, or in what way to you mean proselytize? That more than one person has told you about, and has been a direhard nerd about? The way you use proselytize seems to have a negative connotation, from how I read it.

How can anyone, therefore, be a fan of anything without telling people how good they think it was? Aren't you more asking just about people, and less about books, per se?

Or do you mean in the sense that, some people say "Lord of the Rings was actually an editorial on Operation Desert Storm" when it couldn't have possibly been? Or do you mean people who use fiction series as a guidebook for daily living, like integrating the Three Laws of Robotics somehow?

I think it is natural for people to use any medium (movies, music, books, etc) as a way to assist self-interpretation of feelings on whatever they're going through, and inadvertently associate a dissimilar subject with the topic of the medium. If they're really preoccupied with say, a dear relative who has been called out to Iraq to assist with operations there, they may "feel" that Twilight was actually speaking on the subject of relatives going to war -- whether it is or isn't.

I think it's more important, however, to realize that people more generally talk about things that they as-of-this-second believe in (as opposed to have always or will later believe in) and that speaking one's thoughts is merely sharing with someone a rough draft of their thoughts, not the final paper. Not everyone has the benefit of hindsight beforehand. I suspect generally pessimists just interpret expressed opinions as someone being a jerk about something, while an optimist might instead see it as an opportunity to engage, finally, with someone who is decently educated in that field of discussion.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 8:50 AM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I know the OP said "works of fiction" but I have to second SICP - it's devotees are all over boards like reddit/programming giving a hard time to anyone who doesn't toe the line on the importance of metacircularity or tail-call optimization. See for example the recent spat over (author of Python) Guido van Rossum's comments on TCO, and the incredible amount of SICP-inspired assholery it inspired.
posted by pascal at 8:54 AM on June 3, 2009


1. Infinite Jest
2. Who Moved my Cheese
3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
posted by mkelley at 10:46 AM on June 3, 2009


I think that if you didn't immediately know what the OP meant by people "being an asshole" about a book, it probably hasn't happened to you.

It is different from fandom. The phenomenon is that a person (who perhaps is not that widely read, but that's my theory) reads a book which so deeply challenges, stretches, or reorders their own worldview that they think everyone needs to undergo the exact experience they have had.

They are an asshole about it because there is so much about the experience they don't take in: 1. that their worldview was probably not that strong in the first place; 2. that other people may have a more firmly established worldview; 3. that other people may be able to view these works in a historical, political, professional or personal context that makes them weigh the book's value differently; 4. that if they continue to read many many books, they'll find their worldviews necessarily expand and the 'conversion experience' of reading about a single new metaphysical approach becomes rarer and rarer. 5. That books like "The Tipping Point" are syntheses, for a pop audience, of more complex and less easily interpreted professional literature; etc.

In short, I think these books are types that suggest a single, clear lens through which the world and all life experience can be viewed. When certain, perhaps impressionable or at least eager people read these books and take the theses as gospel,'getting religion,' as it were, that this author has hit on the EXACT TRUTH about things, they can't stop talking about them to others.

I'm not saying everyone who does this is dumb. There are some books that are so strong and so influential that it really does help you converse with others about the topic if you've both read it. There are some I rabidly recommend. But I think what the OP is looking for is books that cause this profound worldview shift in people, and that those people don't just want you to read and enjoy those books, they want you to undergo the same conversion experience they've had.
posted by Miko at 11:19 AM on June 3, 2009 [13 favorites]


Black Swan
posted by yesno at 12:48 PM on June 3, 2009


May I add anything by Ann Coulter to the list?
posted by talldean at 5:31 AM on June 4, 2009


[Since it keeps coming up: please read the last sentence of the question before offering up any holy texts as suggestions.]
posted by cortex at 6:30 AM on June 4, 2009


Finite and Infinite Games.

Trivia: It was the inspiration for Game NeverEnding, which spawned Flickr.
posted by dmd at 6:31 AM on June 4, 2009


redsparkler: fair enough. I didn't really mean to completely slag on Stephen King; however, you're right: completely unfair of me. I take it back about King. My opinion of Mr. Eggers stands however.

And to add to the list, esp. w/r/t what Miko was saying: The Life of Pi. It's not a bad book, but geez, you'd think it was the bible, the koran, and every other religious text rolled into one there.
posted by nushustu at 8:54 AM on June 4, 2009


Omnivore's Dilemma
Fast Food Nation
posted by Brian James at 10:49 AM on June 4, 2009


The Secret, absolutely.
30 years ago, Castenada.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy.
The Rules.

I worked in bookstores for a long time. Books people are assholes about are books that people proselytize about in the same obnoxious way that door-to-door religion peddlers (Mormon missionaries, Jehovah's Witnesses, although I haven't encountered either at my door in years)

Also, because I worked in bookstores, many people felt compelled to share their bad poetry with me. Mere words cannot express the horror.
posted by theora55 at 5:01 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ulysses by James Joyce, absolutely. There was this guy in my high school who carried it around just so people would gawk at him and whisper about how intellectual and worldly he was. Too bad he never read it, just carried it around. If anyone is still confused about what "being an asshole" about literature is, that is the definition right there.
posted by allymusiqua at 7:31 PM on June 4, 2009


I used to work in a Christian bookstore, and never read the Left Behind series. They definitely belong on this list. I lost count of how many people told me they were "so true, because that's exactly how the end times will happen!"
posted by heatherann at 7:44 AM on June 6, 2009


Conversations with god
Walden Pond
On the Road
posted by allthewhile at 6:44 AM on June 7, 2009


I personally know quite a few people whose personal philosophy was based on Lauren Olamina's Change religion in Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. I, being a huge fan, even had a chance to ask about it just before she died and she was terrified that anyone took it that seriously.
posted by nuala at 6:50 PM on June 8, 2009


Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
posted by andrewcilento at 10:42 PM on June 8, 2009


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