Follow TV Tropes


Old Shame / Literature

Go To

  • William Powell, the author of the original Anarchist Cookbook, released a statement on Amazon which expressed his regrets of writing the Cookbook and his desires to take the book out of print. The "recipes" in the Cookbook are outdated and any inevitably futile attempt to replicate the "recipes" contained can result in a hospital visit and possible felony/terrorism charges.
  • H. P. Lovecraft:
    • He averted this trope by burning virtually everything he'd written when he was young. While notoriously dissatisfied with even his published works throughout his life, this one might've been a good call, as the few fragments which escaped the fireplace probably didn't deserve to.
    • Advertisement:
    • As Lovecraft grew older, the racial prejudices he held and his writing reflected began to nag at him, and he eventually confided in several friends that he believed his prior racism was utter foolishness.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • His first novel, For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs, was written around 1939. It was not published, and Heinlein attempted to destroy every copy of it. He failed. It was published posthumously in 2004. Some people think it would have been better had he succeeded. In this case, it was his younger self's politics that he was ashamed of, not his writing.
    • In addition, of the short stories Heinlein published under the pen-name "Lyle Monroe," Heinlein requested that the "stinkeroo three" of "Beyond Doubt," "'My Object All Sublime'," and "Pied Piper" not be reprinted.
  • Terry Pratchett wrote The Carpet People in his non-PC youth. His approach to this Old Shame was to re-write and re-publish it to be in line with his current morals.
    • He also wasn't too fond of the first Discworld book, revealed when he confirmed that the completely different Ankh-Morpork Patrician in it is the same character as Vetinari, just "written by someone much less talented".
    • Advertisement:
    • In his introduction to "The Hades Business", his first published short story, in the collection Once More With Footnotes, Terry comments "Aargh. If I stick my fingers in my ears, I can't hear you reading this."
    • He also expressed regret over not being able to completely rewrite the stories in The Dragons at Crumbling Castle, all written when he was a teenager.
  • A gem from Thomas Pynchon's introduction to Slow Learner, a compilation of his early short stories: "My first reaction, rereading these stories, was oh my God, accompanied by physical symptoms we shouldn't dwell upon."
  • Flann O'Brien couldn't find a publisher willing to release his novel The Third Policeman, causing him to believe that it was no good and claim to his friends that he lost the manuscript. It was eventually published the year after his death and went on to become his most popular book.
  • Advertisement:
  • This was George Orwell's attitude toward his novels Keep the Aspidistra Flying and A Clergyman's Daughter, which he wrote for mostly contractual reasons. He also destroyed several unpublished novels he wrote in the 1920s, before he adopted the pen name of "George Orwell" (his real name was Eric Arthur Blair).
  • Nasu Kinoko refuses to re-publish Mahou Tsukai no Yoru - Witch on the Holy Night despite fan pleas to do so (since only five copies were ever made), mainly due to embarrassment over "bad writing". His feelings about other old works seem to be similar. He seems to have gotten over this in the case of Witch on the Holy Night as it was released in the form of an all-ages visual novel in April 2012.
  • Stephen King is ashamed of writing the novel Rage (written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) after its connection to several school shootings. It's since been taken out of print.
    • King also showed no love for his "trunk novel" Blaze in an appearance before the National Press Club. He called it "an absolutely terrible novel," and speculated that publishing it instead of Salem’s Lot might have derailed his career before it got started (this was long before he revised Blaze and published it under his pseudonym Richard Bachman).
    • He has expressed similar disdain for his his science fiction tome The Tommy Knockers. It was the last book he wrote before kicking a serious cocaine habit and he believes that his addiction was starting showing in his writing. He's referred to it as an "awful book" and that "within its 700 plus pages there's a potentially good 300 page novel." Fans tend to agree.
    • In addition, don't expect to ever read his earliest novels The Aftermath (written when he was just 16) or Sword in the Darkness, unless you pay a visit to the Special Collections section of the student library at the University of Maine at Orono.
  • Neal Stephenson was fine with letting his first novel The Big U stay out of print until people started spending hundreds of dollars for copies on eBay. He let it be republished because he felt the only thing worse than people reading the book was paying that much to read it.
  • At a Sandman convention in 2004, Neil Gaiman was the guest auctioneer for a charity auction. One of the items was his first book ever published, a biography of the group Duran Duran. He grew so embarrassed and ashamed of it while he was on stage that he temporarily passed the auctioneer duties over to Charles Vess because Neil said that there were simply some things that couldn't be sold in good conscience. Vess quickly attempted to run up the bidding price on the book by declaring that Neil would sign it if the bidding got over $1,000, which drew quite a horrified reaction from Neil himself. He later remarked that he was a little less ashamed of it after a chance encounter with Simon le Bon, who had exclaimed "Oh, we liked that one!" when Gaiman confessed to having written it.
  • Edward "The Monkey Wrench Gang" Abbey's first novel, Jonathan Troy, was published in 1954 in an edition of 5000 copies; he repudiated it at once, and it has never been reprinted. The cheapest copy currently available through Amazon Marketplace is priced at $749.99 (plus $3.99 shipping).
  • Dr. Seuss was said to have destroyed the majority of his work because he was displeased with it. One notable book that was published posthumously is "Daisy-Head Mayzie," which really wasn't up to par with some of his other work.
    • Before that, he felt so much regret for the racist anti-Japanese cartoons he drew during World War II that he dedicated Horton Hears a Who! to a Japanese friend, writing the story as an allegory for the US occupation of post-WWII Japan.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me was an experiment on Ian Fleming's part. Unlike the other James Bond novels, the book focuses on the Bond Girl. Fleming grew to regret that move. When the producers of the film series sought the rights, he only let them have the name, preferring In Name Only to having it brought to the screen. Interestingly, many Fleming fans consider it one of his best works, in large part because it departs so radically from his typical approach.
  • Philip Pullman states on his website that he hates the first novel he ever wrote and refuses to even name it so people can't track it down. (It's The Haunted Storm.)
  • Lynne Cheney, wife of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, tried to convince the publisher of her 1981 novel, Sisters, not to reissue it in 2006. Given the sexual content (including a lesbian affair) of the book, she was afraid political opponents of her husband would use it to stir up controversy. In the end, The Daily Show ran with it, mostly learning about it from her attempts to keep it secret.
  • Sergej Dowlatov, an emigrant from Russia, forbade all his work made in USSR from being reprinted. He then wrote a novel, Compromiss, to show why (basically all of his previous writing was heavily modified by Soviet censorship).
  • Stanisław Lem said that his first sci-fi novel, The Astronauts, lacked any value. The shame was not about its being sci-fi, but about its being Communist propaganda. He wrote it for the money.
  • Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis, a British design studio who created famous album covers for bands such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin between the late '60s and the early '80s, deal with this trope imaginatively in their retrospective book For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis. In the introduction to the (nearly) complete list of their covers at the back of the book, they admit that "There are some designs we would rather like to forget altogether"; within the list, these are marked with an icon of a turkey.
  • Alastair Reynolds included an afterword in Galactic North admitting that his Revelation Space novels are derived in part from a much more space-opera-ish set of unpublished novels which he devoutly intends should never see print, although he regards them as a valuable learning experience.
  • Dean Koontz spent the seventies writing straight science fiction under his real name, and several other genres including romance under various pseudonyms. Since becoming a bestselling author, he has refused to let many of these early novels be reprinted. One of the most infamous of these is The Funhouse, a novelization of a decent but forgettable slasher flick, written under the pseudonym Owen West. The book was so terrible that when he was unable to prevent it from being republished under his real name, he wrote a lengthy introduction decrying how terrible the book is and about how he likes to imagine the life that particular pseudonym took on after its publication ending very violently soon after its completion (namely, trampled by wildebeests while on safari).
  • Orson Scott Card refuses to reprint his short story "Happy Head" in any form, and urges his fans to "think of it as something written by an earnest young graduate student rather than anything I did."
  • Saul Bellow burned the manuscript of his first, unpublished novel The Very Dark Trees and refused to divulge any details about it throughout his life.
  • Nancy Mitford did not allow her third novel, Wigs on the Green, to be republished in her lifetime—partly because the Fascism-praising heroine was based on her sister Unity, who had a self-inflicted bullet lodged in her brain when Germany declared war on the UK, and died a very slow, lingering death.
  • David Eddings - "I wrote a novel for my degree, and I'm very happy I didn't submit that to a publisher. I sympathize with my professors who had to read it." He later burnt the unfinished manuscript for his pre-fantasy novel Hunseeker’s Ascent, a mountain climbing adventure, saying it was, "a piece of tripe so bad it even bored me."
  • Brandon Sanderson apparently once tried to write an epic poem in the style of Beowulf called Wyrn The King—and it was pretty awful. Being self-aware about this, he made the poem an in-universe document in Elantris—as the national epic of the oppressive, theocratic Fjordell Empire.
  • On March 17, 1994, Dave Barry wrote a jocularly profane message to a reporter who wanted to interview him and accidentally wound up posting it to the Usenet group instead of sending it by private e-mail. This became legendary around the Internet as the "Chuckletrousers" post. Several days later, the reporter, Michael Bywater, posted to the same newsgroup complaining that he had been forwarded 2,038 copies of the message and didn't want any more. This embarrassing incident is recounted in Dave Barry in Cyberspace.
  • According to anecdote, if you see Harlan Ellison at a signing and innocently present a certain booknote , he will destroy it and pay you for it.
  • Boston poet Gelett Burgess wrote a poem in 1895 entitled "Purple Cow." Two years later, the poem's popularity prompted him to write a follow up entitled "Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue."
  • Play Dead by Harlan Coben has an author's note in the beginning saying that it's his first novel, written in his early twenties, and also that, if anyone reading the note hasn't read his other books, to put this book back on the shelf in the bookstore and go buy one of them instead.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote several of these, mostly in The '60s, with titles like I am a lesbian or My Sister, My Love. Warrior Woman also has a lot of fanservice with lesbians.
  • In 1950 Louis L'Amour was hired to write four novels about the western character Hopalong Cassidy as a tie in with the very popular TV show. Since Hopalong was not an original character, restrictions were placed on him in order to align the books with the TV show. L'Amour was not happy with these stories and later in his career would deny ever writing them, even to his own family.
  • Mark Gatiss has The King's Men, which is basically gay porn with much purple prose.
  • Highly literary British author Martin Amis was putting together his first big hit, Money, and was running short of cash. So he dashed off Invasion of the Space Invaders: An Addict’s Guide to Battle Tactics, Big Scores and the Best Machines - a guide to early arcade games... a distinctly odd guide to early arcade games. The book is mentioned nowhere in his biography and he doesn't talk about it. Ever.
  • Years after it was published, Salman Rushdie looks back on his 1975 novel Grimus with disgust. The novel (about a Native American who tries to find the secret to eternal life) was critically acclaimed but remained a commercial failure. When asked about it, he said that, since this was his first novel, his writing style was undeveloped and virtually unlike anything he had written afterward.
  • Whenever it's mentioned on his forum on Baen's Bar, Tom Kratman always strongly recommends against reading his A State of Disobedience, particularly as an initial introduction to his writing. It's not his first novel, as some think, but it thanks in part to Executive Meddling by Jim Baen he identifies it as his weakest work.
  • Israeli television host Asi Azar once hosted a short-lived satirical talk show named Talk to My Agent that brutally poked fun at Israeli celebrities, aided by his Cloud Cuckoolander ‘agent’ ‘Miley Levy’ (played by Dudi Cohen) and actress No‘a Wohlmann serving as a Dumb Blonde ‘reporter’ of sort, and two actors doing impressions of various celebrities. One episode had Levy and Wohlmann telling him about the horrible thing that will happen to him at the end of the show, without telling him what it was... At the end, they told the audience of a page on New Stage, a website for young and aspiring artists to publish their works, featuring Azar’s ‘incredibly premature’ juvenalia. They even read a few lines from a poem of his, and a few more from one of his short stories. They provided the address, at which Azar rejoiced, as he thought most people probably didn’t write it down; Wohlmann, however, said that people could just Google ‘Asi Azar’ and ‘New Stage’ to find his works. Fortunately, Azar took it all in good sport. (And just in case you were wondering, his works weren’t as bad as they tried to present them, but they’ve been removed from the site anyway.)
  • One of J. R. R. Tolkien's earliest works was the poem "Goblin Feet," which exemplified the twee cutesy style of fantasy that the mature Tolkien abhorred. Of it he said: "I wish the unhappy little thing, representing all that I came (so soon after) to fervently dislike, could be buried for ever."
  • Kenneth Oppel's debut was Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, but the book is long out of print and is barely mentioned on his official website, while all his other books get their own page.
  • In an inversion, Arthur C. Clarke refused to reread Rescue Party, not because he worried it was too bad, but because he worried it was too good, and would make his work since feel uncomfortably stagnant. In a straight example, he eventually became embarrassed by the paranormal/mystical elements of Childhood's End.
  • Henrik Ibsen`s collected works mark a gap in the years between 1850 (Catilina) and 1856 (The Feast at Solhaug). In those years, he actually wrote three plays, which he later omitted from his collection. One of them, St John's Eve, is interesting, because Ibsen turned his back on it after a hard critical backlash. He initially meant the play was good, but then his audience meant otherwise. The play in question was later vindicated by history, but not until 1978. The other two plays, Olaf Lilywreath and The Giant`s Mound, are also performed in later years.
  • Averted by Isaac Asimov, who published as much of his early work as he could find (excluding his robot series and the Foundation series, both of which had already appeared in compilations) in a two-volume collection, The Early Asimov. Some of it is pretty cheesy, and at least one story was so bad that this was its first publication. He also included notes about his stories for which he had lost the manuscripts, implying that he would have included them otherwise.
  • The Divine Comedy has an In-Universe and MetaFictional example: when the Pilgrim Dante encounters the adulterous couple Francesca and Paolo in Hell, they explain that they began their affair after reading romantic poetry about Gueneviere and Lancelot—poetry that Dante himself had written in Real Life. In other words, Dante was using his masterpiece condemning sin to condemn himself for having once glorified it.
  • Don't say this trope applies only to (semi)obscure hated works. Believe it or not, Hercule Poirot was this for Agatha Christie, who got tired of writing his novels, describing him in 1930 as "insufferable" and in 1960 as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep". However, since she saw how popular the character was, she felt the obligation to continue giving his fans more Poirot stories, which she did until 1975, one year before her death (albeit with a finale novel she wrote in the 40s in case she didn't survive the War). In particular, her Poirot novels The Big Four and The Mystery of the Blue Train were among her least favourites. She wrote them around the time of her famed disappearance and subsequent divorce in order to fulfill the terms of her publication contract, and it's clear that her heart wasn't in it.
  • Peter Benchley, the writer of the novel Jaws (better known now for its 1975 film adaptation), regrets writing it, not because it was bad, but because the book and movie gave people a very bad impression of sharks. In real life, sharks don't like eating human flesh and rarely attack humans, while animals like bees, cows, dogs, horses, and hippos kill far more people every year. However, the movie helped to create the stereotype that sharks are vicious animals that prey on people, which made people afraid of them and led to many sharks being killed. Benchley went on to become an activist for the conservation of sharks.
  • As popular as Thomas the Tank Engine is, many stories in The Railway Series have fallen victim to this:
    • The original text of "Henry's Sneeze" stated that Henry's "sneeze" of coal dust and soot left the schoolboys dropping rocks on trains "black as n***s". Awdry rewrote this later in the 1970s after backlash in the press.
    • Wilbert Awdry stated "James the Red Engine" to be his least favourite work due to being written hastily to meet a deadline.
    • Christopher Awdry was unsatisfied with the book More About Thomas the Tank Engine. The Awdrys had been pushed to publish more stories starring Thomas to coincide with the TV show and give it more adaptation material. Christopher Awdry found the final result rushed and disliked the final story "Drip Tank" due to the use of now outdated slang as a plot pivot. Noticeably "Drip Tank" is the only story of the book not adapted into a TV episode.
  • Rebus author Ian Rankin also wrote the sci-fi conspiracy thriller Westwind. It's his only novel never to have been reissued and it's not even mentioned on his website.
  • Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Donald Trump's 1987 memoir/advice book Trump: The Art of the Deal, regrets having ever written it. He felt that his work on the book helped create the image of Trump as a master businessman and deal-maker that ultimately propelled him to the White House, even though Schwartz regarded him as a Corrupt Corporate Executive and a pathological liar who didn't belong anywhere near politics, and felt that he had to struggle to portray him in a positive light. In 2016, when Trump ran for President, Schwartz pledged all of his royalties from the book to liberal charities opposed to Trump's politics. When asked what The Art of the Deal would look like if he wrote it today, he responded that he would've titled it The Sociopath.
    "I put lipstick on a pig. I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is. I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization."
  • Daryush "Roosh V" Valizadeh first gained notoriety as a pick-up artist with his controversial Bang series of books meant to serve as guides to getting laid in various countries, which were widely criticized for their dismissal of ideas of sexual consent. In 2019, upon converting to Christianity, he renounced his entire career as a pick-up artist, pulling the Bang books from his online store and banning members of his forum who attempted to discuss or promote the tips within them.
  • As of 2018; the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye is this to its author, Joshua Harris. Harris, in his early 20s at the time the book was released, promoted the return to courtship as an alternative to the modern dating system - which (along with the True Love Waits abstinence program that had begun not long before the book's release) popularized what became known in some circles as "purity culture" in evangelical Christian circles. However, Harrisnote  publicly rejected his writings to the degree of requesting the book be taken out of print; subsequently disclosing in consecutive weeks in July 2019 that he and wife Shannonnote  were getting a divorce and that Harris had rejected Christianity altogether.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: