What is a Great American Novel, anyway? Basically, a Great American Novel is born when someone says, “I think this book is the next Great American Novel,” and everyone else says, “Sure, I guess.”
That’s it. There’s no official consensus, no panel of judges, no final arbiter of greatness. If a well-known literary critic decides that Fifty Shades of Grey is the Great American Novel, then alert the media, because now a best-selling fanfic that features such sentences as “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something” is every bit as significant to the literary canon as The Grapes of Wrath.
The problem with this rather dubious system is that not everyone is going to agree. For instance, the following books were pretty much despised—not by disgruntled English students who have a quiz on Friday over chapters 4 through 12, but by famous authors.