The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, 1995
Men have The Game; women have The Rules, a manipulative, oddly heartless bestseller whose slavish followers (they’re said to include Blake Lively) were gluttons for dictums like don’t talk, don’t have curly hair, don’t even think of returning that call. Never mind the feminist critiques – its opinion of men is so low you’re left wondering why any of us would want to land such a catch in the first place. In 2013, the book was updated for the era of internet dating and sexting, but it still seems positively Victorian in the context of a cultural marker like Lena Dunham’s Girls.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 1970
So, yes, Jonathan Livingston Seagull really is a seagull, but he’s a seagull with aspirations, a non-conformist who yearns to soar above the flock and up into the heavens, just as the book itself conquered the bestseller charts back in the day. Its saccharine idealism isn’t made any more palatable by learning that Richard Nixon’s FBI director, L Patrick Gray, ordered all his staff to read it, and a 1973 movie adaptation, complete with Neil Diamond soundtrack, did it no favours either. Film critic Roger Ebert summed it up: “This has got to be the biggest pseudocultural, would-be metaphysical rip-off of the year”.
Little Red Book by Mao Zedong, 1964
During China’s Cultural Revolution it was essential to own and carry one of these pocket-sized volumes of Chairman Mao’s aphorisms, making it second only to the Bible in terms of copies printed. It was also adopted by Western hippies, becoming a must-have accessory for every blissed-out fellow traveller, but it’s suffered doubly in the decades since. For a start, there’s the matter of Mao’s involvement in torture, mass killings and the devastating famine that resulted from his Great Leap Forward.