Top 20 books to argue about - Books - Stylist Magazine

Top 20  opinion-dividing  books

Top 20 books to argue about

The novels you either love or hate

If the reactions to Fifty Shades (amazing sex scenes! revolutionary! so badly written!) have taught us anything, it's that there's nothing like an exceptionally good - or bad - book to spark debate. Book groups, of course, already knew this. When you're three glasses of wine down opinions fly fast.

We sounded out your views on Twitter about the most opinion-dividing books of all-time; novels that have won a string of awards or plaudits that you simply don't get, or vice versa - the ones that slice public sentiment right down the middle. Your feedback triggered heated arguments in the Stylist office (seriously, things haven't been this fraught since we judged the cute pets competition) and formed the basis of this top 20 shortlist - including best-sellers and classic works of fiction....

Do you agree with our choices? Are there any books you feel have been massively over-hyped - or do you adore something other people can't stand? Let us know @stylistmagazine Twitter or in the comments section, below

  • Fifty Shades Of Grey, EL James

    Fifty Shades Of Grey, EL James

    For: With 5.3million copies flying of the shelves… More details

    Fifty Shades Of Grey, EL James

    Fifty Shades Of Grey, EL James

    For: With 5.3million copies flying of the shelves in the UK alone, this bondage bonkbuster has met an unforseen appetite for mainstream erotic fiction, with daring prose and what some claim are very kinky sex scenes.

    Against: The main accusation levelled at EL James' trilogy is poor writing, with irritating catchphrases and unconvincing leads. "Give me Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester over Christian 'sadist' Grey any day please!" one tweeter demanded.

  • The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

    The Catcher in the Rye, J. …

    For: J. D. Salinger's teen coming-of-age tale has… More details

    The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

    The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

    For: J. D. Salinger's teen coming-of-age tale has been hailed a modern classic and is frequently cited as one of the best novels of all time. It's sold over 65 million copies to date.

    Against: While some regard the first-person prose as beautifully paced, others find it frustratingly slow and without focus: "boring" was a word that cropped up on Twitter.

  • The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

    The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

    For: Dan Brown's pseudo-religious thriller has… More details

    The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

    The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

    For: Dan Brown's pseudo-religious thriller has shifted over 80 million copies worldwide, with a movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou.

    Against: Historical inaccuracy and bad writing are the charges: Salman Rushdie branded it "a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name."

  • American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

    American Psycho, Bret Easto…

    For: Bret Easton Ellis's satirical work provoked… More details

    American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

    American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

    For: Bret Easton Ellis's satirical work provoked a storm of controversy on publication in 1991, but it's since been made into a film and a Broadway musical, with critics raving about its significance as a modern classic and celebrating the subtle humour of the novel's serial killer protagonist, Patrick Bateman.

    Against: The sheer level of violence involved is a turn-off for many - while others claim it is simply dull. "It's SO boring. Endless descriptions of hi-fis etc, like a pub bore," one tweeter lamented.

  • On the Road, Jack Kerouac

    On the Road, Jack Kerouac

    For: Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation novel is… More details

    On the Road, Jack Kerouac

    On the Road, Jack Kerouac

    For: Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation novel is celebrated as a revolutionary piece of work: a beautifully styled search for identity and escapism in post-war America.

    Against: Initially it was the references to drugs and sex people objected to: nowadays, it seems to be that the hype surrounding it doesn't live up to what is quite a zany read. "Everyone tells me it's a classic but I've never been able to finish it!" one person complained.

  • One Day, David Nicholls

    One Day, David Nicholls

    For: David Nicholls' 2009 bestseller manages to… More details

    One Day, David Nicholls

    One Day, David Nicholls

    For: David Nicholls' 2009 bestseller manages to be both irreverant and a tear-jerker, conjuring up wonderfully accurate images of popular culture from the Eighties to the present day via a protracted love story. The two main characters inspired a film version starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

    Against: Most complaints from our Twitter poll revolved around a lack of empathy with the main characters and a "tedious" storyline. "I didn't understand the fuss made about it at all!" one person wrote.

  • The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas

    The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas

    For: Christos Tsiolkas' tale of fear and… More details

    The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas

    The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas

    For: Christos Tsiolkas' tale of fear and prejudice in modern Australian suburbia won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and is enjoyed by many for its energetic, unpredictable and wide-ranging cast of characters and thematic scope.

    Against: It's a heavy read exploring heavy themes (racism, drug abuse, domestic violence) and some of the characters are far from empathetic. The central plot point is also a contentious one: should you ever hit a child, especially one that is not your own?

  • We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

    We Need To Talk About Kevin…

    For: Lionel Shriver's seventh novel based around… More details

    We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

    We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

    For: Lionel Shriver's seventh novel based around a fictional school massacre tackles big themes of crime, punishment, love and parenting, and won the 2005 Orange Prize. Tilda Swinton starred in the film adaptation.

    Against: The narrator Eva is a somewhat unsympathetic character and her verbosity tends to grate with some readers. Tweeters objected to the "obnoxious" and "OTT flowery" prose.

  • Life Of Pi, Yann Martel

    Life Of Pi, Yann Martel

    For: Yann Martel's fantastical tale of a boy… More details

    Life Of Pi, Yann Martel

    Life Of Pi, Yann Martel

    For: Yann Martel's fantastical tale of a boy stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and is lauded for its originality. A movie version of the book is set to open this year's New York Film Festival.

    Against: The wandering, at times surreal, text is not to everyone's taste - detractors claim it's a struggle to get into and finish.

  • How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran

    How To Be A Woman, Caitlin …

    For: Big undies, painful heels and the politics… More details

    How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran

    How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran

    For: Big undies, painful heels and the politics of pubic hair all feature in Caitlin Moran's manifesto of feminism in the 21st Century, celebrated by critics as punchy, hilarious and well-timed.

    Against: Moran's interpretation of feminism is so unequivocal it's pretty much bound to attract disagreement. Feedback from Twitter suggests it really is Marmite books - you either love it or hate it.

  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott …

    For: F. Scott Fitzgerald's extraordinary tale of… More details

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

    For: F. Scott Fitzgerald's extraordinary tale of the American elite in the roaring Twenties is widely acknowledged as his finest work and a modern literary masterpiece. It's been made into five films with a sixth adaptation by Baz Luhrmann in production now.

    Against: The pace and style of Fitzgerald's writing makes it a tough read for some; in the absence of an obvious plot, there's a risk of getting lost in all the intricate descriptions and dialogue.

  • The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

    The Shadow of the Wind, Car…

    For: This lyrical, epic story of murder, madness… More details

    The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

    The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

    For: This lyrical, epic story of murder, madness and fated romance set in post-war Spain is beautifully written and has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.

    Against: The text is quite dense and spans a number of diverse genres (thriller, love story, mystical tale), making it hard to keep pace. The ending has also been branded an anti-climax by some, coming as it does on the back of so many twists and turns.

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua

    Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mo…

    For: Amy Chua's eye-opening guide to her own… More details

    Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua

    Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua

    For: Amy Chua's eye-opening guide to her own extreme parenting methods - no TV or sleepovers, hours of daily music practise and an A-Grade only policy - was an instant bestseller. It won plaudits for the author's subtle line in self-mockery and for being an entertaining read.

    Against: Not everyone saw the funny side. Critics of the book were shocked by Chua's draconian methods (which included rejecting sub-standard homemade gifts from her kids) and the book was also slammed for reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

  • The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

    The Lord of the Rings, J. R…

    For: J. R. R. Tolkien's 500,000-word fantasy… More details

    The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

    The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

    For: J. R. R. Tolkien's 500,000-word fantasy novel is the third bestselling book of all-time, having shifted 150 million copies worldwide. W. H. Auden described it as a "masterpiece" and Peter Jackson's blockbuster adaptation of the trilogy was an instant hit.

    Against: This other-worldly story of good vs evil has always courted strong opinions, both good and bad. Detractors claim it is dull, badly written and even "a children's book which has somehow gotten out of hand" (according to American writer Edmund Wilson).

  • The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

    The Time Traveler's Wife, A…

    For: This award-winning debut - a time travel… More details

    The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

    The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

    For: This award-winning debut - a time travel love story - stormed the book charts on its release in 2003. It's celebrated as a unique and ingenious tear-jerker and was made into a film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana.

    Against: Not everyone is a fan of the way Niffenegger blends sci-fi with romance - niggles on Twitter tend to focus on over-sentimentality and melodrama in the text.

  • Ulysses, James Joyce

    Ulysses, James Joyce

    For: Regarded as a seminal piece of modernist… More details

    Ulysses, James Joyce

    Ulysses, James Joyce

    For: Regarded as a seminal piece of modernist literature, James Joyce's 783-page work explores a day in the life of protagonist Leopold Bloom via a myriad of philosophies and everyday thought processes. Every year hundreds of Dubliners dress as characters from the book to celebrate its significance.

    Against: Ulysses has always courted controversy. Back in the day, this mainly derived from its "obscene" content. Now it's more an issue of a very dense, lengthy text and the novel's kneejerk anti-intellectual stance.

  • Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

    Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

    For: Stephenie Meyer's smash hit vampire romance… More details

    Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

    Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

    For: Stephenie Meyer's smash hit vampire romance has sold over 50 million copies to date and led to a massively successful movie franchise. The author regularly appears in Forbes' Most Influential shortlists.

    Against: One Twitter summed up opposition to the Twilight series, writing: "Hilariously bad, even for kids. Awful characters, plot, language, dialogue."

  • Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

    Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

    For: Hilary Mantel's historical novel documenting… More details

    Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

    Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

    For: Hilary Mantel's historical novel documenting Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in the court of Henry VIII won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 for "an extraordinary piece of storytelling."

    Against: The language is dense and somewhat confusing: the "he" narrative is definitely an acquired taste. "600 pages in I still don't get the hype! A chore to wade through," one tweeter said.

  • The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

    The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

    For: A teenage girl narrates from her own… More details

    The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

    The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

    For: A teenage girl narrates from her own personal heaven after being raped and murdered, in a unique and gripping story that remained on the New York Times' bestseller list for over a year.

    Against: The story's "cloying sentimentality" and "overpoweringly saccharine" feel struck a nerve with some readers.

  • The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

    The Handmaid's Tale, Margar…

    For: Margaret Atwood's Booker Prize-winning novel… More details

    The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

    The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

    For: Margaret Atwood's Booker Prize-winning novel focuses on a handmaid living a life of sexual servitude in a futuristic American state. It's won a string of high profile awards and is hailed for its witty, astute and brilliantly executed prose.

    Against: The pervasive mistreatment of women throughout the book has angered some commentators - that aside, the whole futuristic scenario makes for some quite challenging reading.

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