I enjoy reading bad reviews of great novels — almost as much as I enjoy getting them. (See what I did there?) It comforts me to know that if a book of mine is called “lugubrious,” I will be keeping company with Aldous Huxley. (Unlike Brave New World, not one of my books has been called “lugubrious,” or even “nauseating,” but this is probably due to an avoidance of polysyllabic adjectives on the part of contemporary reviewers.)

These books were panned primarily because they broke new ground. Innovative writing and unconventional concepts are rarely well received in the short run. (Also honest portrayals of sex, war, racism and other social ills are generally shunned, at least initially.) However, in the long run, these books have stood the test of time, and are now considered classics.

All of these books are on the 100 Best Novels Written in English list.
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The Great Gatsby

Although The Great Gatsby earned F. Scott Fitzgerald a mere $13.13 in royalties, The Great Gatsby has been widely hailed as “The Great American Novel.” It was panned by H. L. Mencken in the Chicago Tribune as “no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that.” Mencken went on to say that the story was “unimportant” and that aside from Gatsby, the characters were “marionettes.”

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Brave New World

Aldous Huxley’s biting vision of the future (now officially the present) has become an iconic dystopian novel. Huxley brought us Fordism, The World State, and Soma. When it was published in 1932, the book was not well received. H.G. Wells, regarded as the father of science fiction, wrote that “A writer of the standing of Aldous Huxley has no right to betray the future as he did in that book.” Wyndham Lewis called it “an unforgivable offence to Progress.” Equally disgusted by Huxley’s portrayal of a world controlled by a global capitalist economy, Gerald Bullett concluded that “As prophecy it is merely fantastic.” And not to be bested by other critics,New York Herald Tribune called Brave New World “A lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”

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Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison’s powerful novel about the experience of black Americans won the National Book Award in 1953, and has since been eulogized as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Nevertheless,Atlantic Monthly thought it suffered from “occasional overwriting, stretches of fuzzy thinking, and a tendency to waver, confusingly, between realism and surrealism.”

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Catch-22

War is pointless, and nobody portrayed that better than Joseph Heller, whose satire, Catch-22,has become so much a part of our national culture that it appears as a lexical item in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The book was rejected by publishers as “really not funny on any intellectual level.” When it was finally released, The New Yorker had nothing good to say about it. It “doesn’t even seem to be written; instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper … what remains is a debris of sour jokes”. The New York Times called it “repetitive and monotonous…none of its many interesting characters and actions is given enough play to become a controlling interest.”

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Lolita

No list of chilly receptions would be complete without Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Publishers, who found Lolita“overwhelmingly nauseating,” recommended that it be “buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Its reception upon publication was not much better.

The New York Times pronounced it “not worth any adult reader’s attention … dull, dull, dull … repulsive” and nothing more than “highbrow pornography.”

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Lord of the Flies

We’ve all read Lord of the Flies because it has been included in High School English curricula for more than 40 years. (I read it in High School, and I taught it when I became a High School teacher.)

William Golding’s indictment of war (that’s what this book is about) has certainly stood the test of time.

Lord of the Flies, rejected by publishers as “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull,” received a less-than-glowing reception from The New Yorker, which found it “completely unpleasant.”

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Tropic of Cancer

Arthur Miller’s candid look at sexuality had to be published in France, because it was too risque for the American market. The United States Customs Service even banned the book from being imported into the U.S.

When Grove Press finally published the book nearly 30 years later, over 60 obscenity lawsuits in over 21 states were brought against booksellers that sold it. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno wrote that it was “not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.” In kinder and gentler terms, Time magazine described Miller as “a gadfly with delusions of grandeur.”

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The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway’s novel about the Lost Generation was initially rejected by publishers as “tedious and offensive.” But the harshest criticism came from his mother, who wrote: “What is the matter? Have you ceased to be interested in loyalty, nobility, honor and fineness in life … surely you have other words in your vocabulary besides ‘damn’ and ‘bitch’ — Every page fills me with a sick loathing — if I should pick up a book by any other writer with such words in it, I should read no more — but pitch it in the fire.”

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Native Son

Richard Wright’s book about a young African-American man living in utter poverty on Chicago’s South Side in the 1930s was an instant bestseller. In keeping with other books that realistically treat uncomfortable social themes, it has been banned numerous times from schools and libraries. Despite its popularity,Native Son was not universally well received. New Statesman found the book to be “unimpressive and silly, not even as much fun as a thriller.”

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An American Tragedy

Theodore Dreiser’s fictionalized account of a notorious 1906 murder has been adapted for theater, screen, radio, opera, and has even been transformed into a musical. When the novel was first published in 1925, it met with the disapproval of the Boston Evening Telegraph, which called its main character, Clyde Griffiths, “one of the most despicable creations of humanity that ever emerged from a novelist’s brain.” Dreiser came under attack as an author whose style was “offensively colloquial, commonplace and vulgar.”

 
 
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I ran across this interesting article not too long ago and it merely confirmed what we all know. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. What we didn't know was that subliminal scents can sell books, and that these odors can be genre-specific. Chocolate, obviously, helps sell romance novels. It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to come up with scents that would sell other genres. What scent do you think would induce someone to buy a mystery novel - blood? Gunpowder?

Smell is our most powerfully evocative sense. An article like this tempts me to speculate whether it would be possible to develop book covers that release certain aromas.
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Chocolate: The Scent That Could Save Struggling Bookstores

Inquisitr, July 21, 2013

Can the smell of chocolate really help save a struggling bookstore? Belgian researchers report the enticing aroma of chocolate inspired bookstore shoppers to stick around longer, and boosted sales of certain genres.

Writing in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a research team led by Lieve Doucé of Hasselt University describes a 10-day experiment conducted in a general-interest bookstore in Belgium.

Great news for independent booksellers striving to keep their shops profitable in an Amazon-dominated marketplace. Researchers in Belgium have discovered a simple, inexpensive way to keep customers in the store longer and, quite possibly, boost sales.

They report shoppers are more likely to engage in leisurely browsing—and ultimately purchase books in certain popular genres, including romance novels—if the store is infused with the scent of chocolate.

For approximately half of its open-for-business hours (either morning or afternoon, depending upon the specific day), the scent of chocolate was dispersed into the store from two locations. The smell was subtle enough that it wasn’t immediately noticeable, but strong enough so that it could be instantly identified once it was pointed out.

Researchers tracked the actions of every fifth customer to enter the store—a total of 201 people. They report that when the scent was activated, shoppers showed a greater tendency to take their time, check out a variety of titles, and/or chat with an employee.

In addition, when the aroma was present, shoppers were less likely to search out one specific book and take it directly to the cash register. Something about the store’s environment made them want to hang out a bit longer than they perhaps had planned.

They report sales for books in the first category increased by an impressive 40 percent when the chocolate smell was in the air. Perhaps even more encouragingly, those in the second category also rose, by a more modest but still substantial 22 percent, over the hours when the store was scentless.

Interestingly, the customers were more likely to check out the crime thrillers and history volumes when the aroma was absent. The scent of chocolate apparently steered people away from those genres.

These results lead the authors to offer some practical advice: “Retailers can make use of pleasant ambient scents to improve the store environment, leading consumers to explore the store.” Ideally, they add, the scents should be congruent with the merchandise on sale—say, the salty smell of the sea for a surf shop

It’s certainly worth a try for hard-pressed independent bookstores—or even for a certain struggling chain. Indeed, the customer-pleasing power of chocolate might even inspire thoughts of a merger. Who wouldn’t want to shop at Barnes and Nestlés?


 
 
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Last month, the British bookseller, Waterstones, launched a conversation. Readers were invited to comment on "The Book That Made Me." The invitation drew enthusiastic replies, not just from Waterstones aficionados, but from celebrities like Terry Pratchett. What book made you? Join the conversation HERE.

"Waterstones invites readers to share books that changed their lives," by Catherine Scott.

Telegraph: May 29, 2013

"Waterstones is inviting readers to name a book that altered their lives, as part of a project launched today called ‘The Book That Made Me’. Readers are encouraged to share their stories (in less than 100 words) online and instore. The bookshop will then feature their favourite contributions on its website and in their shops around the country.

Waterstones has already received contributions from a number of celebrity readers, including former political aide Alastair Campbell, who selected Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary because "it gave me a love of the French language". Author Malorie Blackman hailed Alice Walker's The Color Purple for "showing me not only could we black women become writers, but that we could write stories in our own way, using our own voices".

Commenting on the rationale for the initiative, Jon Woolcott of Waterstones said: “Our bookshelves reflect us – we are all made up of books… And each one has an effect, a slight hand on the tiller sometimes, occasionally a wrench which changes our course completely.”

Read more...

 

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