One-Star Trivia with the Miscellany

7 April 2023
By Sophia Heidebrecht

If there’s one thing all three of your Miscellany editors have in common, it’s our love of trivia. Quizbowl? We’ve been there. Reunion trivia night? We’ve done that. English department welcome back trivia? Yeah, I did win a pumpkin that one time. Thanks for remembering.

But it’s one thing to win trivia questions written by fellow English majors and another thing entirely to understand what random people on the internet could possibly be talking about. Let me ask you this: have you ever gone on Goodreads and read negative reviews of your favorite books? The beauty of literature is that there’s something for everyone but of course, that means that there’s also something that’s not for everyone. Sometimes it makes you wonder if you even read the same text as the reviewer. Here’s what someone had to say about my favorite book:

one star review: "He tried, but it's just too weak and forgettable a story. Tolstoy is the sort of author you say you like if you're a bit on the stupid side but want to be perceived as well-read"

Yeah, it can get pretty ruthless. But would you have been able to guess which book they were talking about if I had censored the author’s name? Put your literary knowledge to the test and let’s see if you can name these classic books based only on one-star Goodreads reviews.

We’re starting off easy, with one of the works almost everyone had to read in high school English. It’s one of the most iconic works in the history of English literature — at least, according to some people. This person would disagree:

one star review: "mid"

One word can hold so much power. If someone said that about my work I think I would simply shuffle off this mortal coil. Oh, was that a hint? Here’s another one.

one star review: "men are so dramatic for no reason"

If that didn’t tip you off, this work is actually a drama. You might think that means we can excuse the characters being a bit “dramatic,” but this next reviewer can’t. I’ve censored the title character’s name, but I think you’ll be able to guess who it is anyways.

one star review: "Not a fan at all! [Title character] is a whiny brat who should try shutting his mouth long enough to actually do something about his situation instead of hovering in an annoying state of indecision and self-doubt! Though I know, logically, that he really is in a pretty awful situation, it's really hard to feel bad for him when all he does is whine. The plain truth is that there are plenty of non-fictional people who have dealt with more difficult things with much less complaining."

Who could it be but the notoriously whiny Hamlet?

Next, I’ve found another classic of the high school English class, which I also happen to have read in not one, but two classes over my four years at Carleton. One reviewer seemed to find it too improbable to be satisfying:

one star review: "you're telling me that a man who was ill for months after any minor inconvenience happened just casually went to the arctic and survived the majority of it?"

Definitely the least realistic part of this novel.

Oh, remember how I said you might have read this one in high school? I guess they’re still assigning it, because this next review sounds remarkably *Gen Z.*

One star review: "This book made me want to go commit die however I do stan miss Mary she was a bad b*tch"

If you’re wondering who “miss Mary” is, she happens to be the author of this mystery book. And you know what? There are worse people to “stan.” Still not sure what book this is? Here’s a summary for you:

one star review: "an annoying scientist and an ugly tall man fight over who is more depressed #romanticism-lit"

If you guessed Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, you’d be correct. To be honest I can’t really fault that last summary. They’re not wrong.

Ready for round 3? We’re moving on to a book which, as our first reviewer notes, has been intensely controversial for just about as long as it’s been around.

one star review: "I do believe this is the worst book I have ever read. It is unintelligible and incomprehensible. I read that [Author Redacted] never made a penny off this book, and I have to say I am thrilled for that, as he did not deserve to earn a penny for writing this cryptic, abstruse, impenetrable monstrosity."

“Cryptic, abstruse, impenetrable monstrosity” is coincidentally also the title of my memoir. If knowing the “incomprehensible” mystery book wasn’t a universal success didn’t give you any ideas, maybe this description will help:

one star review: "Pretentious nonsense. Why write a novel that nobody can understand?! This might as well be the first results of the 100 monkeys with type writers theory"

Just to clarify, this novel was not actually written by one hundred monkeys with typewriters.

I really like how vivid this next review is. Next time I don’t understand something I’m also gonna go “PHEWW right over my head. Why is this book.”

One star review: "Why is this book
I have now watched... *several* videos online attempting to explain this book to me. I get it. It's quite something. It just so happens that the 'something' it is goes PHEWW right over my head, I guess. I do not understand. I wanted to. I tried. I really tried. I don't."

I also appreciate the efforts that this person went to to try to understand the book. And I don’t blame them at all for not understanding after the online videos. I feel like you’d need a feature-length film to even begin to unpack any of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Our fourth mystery book has been adapted into theater, television, film, and not one but two operas. Hey, even this reviewer didn’t think it was all bad:

One star review: "Hated it except for 10 pages where she grew a spine. Didn't matter in the end."

Look on the bright side 10 pages is better than no pages! While you’re narrowing down your list of heroines with a backbone, here’s a quote that might help.

One star review: "'I live in cam, looking to the end.' - me reading this book."

If you didn’t immediately recognize that quote, that’s okay. To be honest, I didn’t remember it. But you might remember the line this next review is alluding to. (Pardon the purple prose.)

one star review: "Reader, gaze upon my tortured physiognomy and answer me one question that I shall pose to thee in the languid torpor of the drooping, sinister twilight of my of my soul, one which surely reveals more of my own humble, Quakerish origins, unappealing countenance and begs you as my interlocutrice to satisfy my curiosity: why?"

Why, indeed? I’m sure Jessica Leiman would have an answer for you, dear reviewer, because this book is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Reader, we’ve reached our final book. You know what, I’ll give you double Jeopardy for this one. No, wait, power? All or nothing? I don’t actually know how trivia scoring works.

Anyways, this last classic is quite frequently derided on Goodreads as “Victorian garbage” which is ironic, since it isn’t actually Victorian at all. Here’s what one reviewer had to say:

One star review: "P to-the-double-O P. #poop"

Sorry, that didn’t help much, did it. I just thought it was really funny. Maybe this next hint will be more obvious.

One star review: "Jesus Christ, just have sex."

Maybe they should see if anyone’s written fanfiction for this book. On the other hand, maybe they should appreciate this book for what it (apparently) is: a powerful anesthetic?

One star review: "Triple-X Cloroform, Extra-strength
Read this if you're having your appendix out and there's no anesthesia. One good thing came out of it: I've been wanting to write a book just so I can use the title Pork and Providence. The good thing is that I won't."

Alas, we appear to have been robbed of the masterpiece, Pork and Providence. All we have to live with is the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice

Did you guess any correctly? All of them? None of them? Did any of them speak to you? Maybe one of them made you mad. Maybe you’ve left this page to go over to your favorite book’s Goodreads page and are in the process of vigorously defending it in the comments section. Don’t you love how great literature always inspires discussion? Either way, I’ll leave you with this paragon of Goodreads eloquence:

one star review: "I'm sorry but I didn't like it! What's the point of the story?!"


  • 2023-04-07 18:52:10
    Maisie Goodale Crowther, ‘t

    Weird. Not an English major, but intuited “mid, Frankenstein, Ulysses, Brontë, and Austen, though wasn’t sure of the Austen title. Owen Jenkins must’ve whispered in my ear!

  • 2023-04-14 11:59:18
    Adriana Estill

    This is hilarious and should be played at some sort of department gathering!

  • 2023-06-20 09:33:48
    Susan Farris Fleming

    Just returned from my 25th reunion where I finally publicly admitted that I did not actually read Ulysses on the Ireland '96 OCS program, even though it was kind of the central part of the ENGL 384: Joyce curriculum...

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