Monday, October 04, 2010

Bleak afternoons

by Jim

It’s a rainy, cold October afternoon in NY. With the rain streaming down the slanted windows next to my desk, I feel like I’m trapped in a bad music video for a sappy mid-90s ballad. Maybe Michael Bolton can shoot a video here about his early dismissal from Dancing with the Stars (which—did you see it? most amazingly cringeworthy performance ever, right?).

In any case, it’s a bummer of a day which had me thinking about all things terrible. And led me to wonder what the worst book I’ve ever read is.

I’ve read some terrible stuff in my day—published, unpublished, desperately wanting to be published but destined not to make it. But what would make something the WORST? So bad I couldn’t read past a page? 50 pages? Something I actually made it to the end of and THEN realized how bad it was? I admit I’m not one to finish books I loathe. So the worst book I’ve ever finished is probably still not atrocious.

What should my criteria be? Give me some ideas, and I’ll let you know next time what sticks out like a sore thumb. And what’s the worst book YOU have ever read?

19 comments:

  1. To me there are two big genres of bad book. The first is the more straightforward one--so bad you can't read it. I won't say examples because I hate to bash other writers on the 'net, but everyone's had these... the ones where you just can't force yourself to keep reading. You don't care about the characters, the plot, the setting, anything--you're just not engaged in it.

    But for me, the other brand of bad book is far worse, insidious in its awfulness. It's the book that seems okay through most of the text. You put up with the seeming plot holes, thinking "Wow, there's going to be a great explanation/reveal for this in the end." You hang in there for 300 pages, knowing that the payoff is going to be worth it. And then... nothing. Betrayal. You get to the end and nothing gets resolved like you thought. Maybe the ending comes out of nowhere, without any hints in the previous text. Maybe there are hints and you saw it coming a mile away and expected that there'd be some kind of a twist.

    Those are the books that break my heart. I invest my time and my heart in reading them, and just end up getting let down!

    It's the difference between having an awful first date and never calling them again, and spending six months of your life in a relationship where the other person just completely bails on you in the end, leaving you wondering why you wasted your time. ;)

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  2. I read a novel by a well know and prolific author that I was thoughly disgusted with at the end. The main character was whisked away out of danger, then her lover/cop friend came back to tell her the serial killer after her was now dead and she was safe, the end. I felt cheated.

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  3. Every time I complain about a drear day here in the Midwest, I'm told to make a pot of chili. Hmm? Will gas make it go away?

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  4. I read a "how to" book that was so filled with inaccurate and dangerous information, I didn't know how it got published. (Seriously, some of the information in there could get people killed.)

    I did read the whole thing so I could (when challenged) say, "Yes, I did read the whole thing and so feel qualified to say how horrible it is. For example, on page 372 it says..." etc.

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  5. I'm with Meagan in regards to publicly complaining about a specific book, and I agree with all the points she made. But in all my years of reading, I did manage to read the worst book ever published just a few months ago.

    I had high hopes. It was a client of a well-known agent, I'd seen it listed as prizes in blog contests, and in today's publishing climate of only the best make it... I was shocked this book found a home. The writing was bland and confusing, the characters were two-dimensional and cliche, the story made no sense whatsoever, like the author was just adding in random stuff to be 'original' when it really came across as a crack induced plot. Don't even get me started on the dialogue, grammar, punctuation, and pacing. I gave up at page 174.

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  6. We haven't had rain in so long that your day seems heavenly to me. I dream of rain.

    As far as books go, I used to force myself through ones I wasn't enjoying--mainly because I'm in a book club and wanted to be able to articulate why I thought it sucked. Now I stop reading because life is just too short. One of the worst I ever read was still on the bestseller list over a year after its release. I'm still shaking my head over that one.

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  7. I read this aloud to Hubby and he didn't hesitate in saying Steven Brust, The Phoenix Guard. But he just finished it a week or so ago, on a friend's recommend. He may not have liked it, but it seems to have given them a whole new way to speak to each other. Having heard them, I don't plan on reading the book anytime soon, but I'd recommend everyone check out the dialog at least once. It's certainly an experience.

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  8. Probably any novel written by any member of the cast of Jersey Shore would get my vote.

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  9. I seriously try hard to forget those "worst" books, so most of the time, I couldn't name titles if I wanted to. The ones that still stick with me are the nightmares picked out by Lit professors as an educational experience.

    Yeah. They taught me something alright. Mostly that I should have majored in history instead of English.

    :P

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  10. I think the worst sort of book is one that plays with you. So sure, you make it to the end, but it breaks all the rules it set up in the first place, so the end is not only unsatisfying (I can live with an unhappy ending) but makes the whole book crumble.

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  11. Anything by Marion Babson. She seems to have a covenent with gravity. I read several books in a row and the villain dies as the result of:

    1) Falling out a window.
    2) Falling off a ship.
    3) Falling off a stage.
    4) Falling off a building.

    You can see why I didn't start a fifth book.

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  12. I agree with Meagan Spooner that sticking it out until the end in a book, only to be dumped by a poorly tied up ending, is about the biggest thing to ruin a book for me.

    The other is poorly executed gimmicks. Like trying a new style or voice and it just falls flat. I recently tried to read a book by one of my favorite authors. One who happens to be very good at recognizing their character's voice. The problem with this book was that the character 1 - didn't speak English as a first language and 2 - saw everything in metaphor. I think one or the other would have worked okay for me, but trying to figure out from the first person present tense narration what was going on, when it was all written that way, made it too difficult to wade through.

    Worst book I've ever read? Is a New York Times bestseller...so I won't burn bridges by listing author name and title ^_^

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  13. I really hated Madam Bovary. Then there's the book that make me get off my butt and start writing because, by golly, if something that read like it was translated into English via a couple of random languages and then back could get published, then surely, I should at least try.

    But the book that makes me sad was vanity published by someone I knew and mostly it was just awful, but there was this one chapter that was riveting despite some errors, and I thought to myself, my God, what if he'd kept working at the writing?

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  14. I'm in the camp of not finishing a book if I can't stand it. Life is too short. The most recent of these unfinished books was The Witches of Eastwick. Call it classic all you want I couldn't get past the first 20 pages, I was just so bored by it.

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  15. The worst book I've ever read, and the only one I've ever felt like flinging across the room, is well-written and about a subject I love.

    What I reacted so violently against (I am not prone to violence in general), was her use of the book to elevate and bolster herself. In this book, she uses underhanded comments that put down people whom she claims to matter: a dear friend, her husband. Yet in her writing, they come across as Philistines while she is the enlightened and tolerant Renaissance woman, that whole insistence that she still loves them despite their bad taste and lack of sophistication.

    Bad writing I've come across, but very seldom do I get a bad taste in my mouth. But self-absorption and insecurity wrapped in mean spirits: that I abhor.

    I finished the book, but it may have been the beginning of realizing some books do not get better, and if everything in my gut tells me to stop reading a book, it's okay to do so.

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  16. Last year I read a book that was getting tons of attention. I didn't read any of the reviews, just went ahead and read the book. Wow--great plot, beautiful prose, two intriguing mysteries. I was riveted to the end, when the author utterly failed to wrap up one of the mysteries. (THEN I read the reviews--tons of people were as incensed as I was.) No matter how well the author writes, I'll never read another book by them because I don't trust that I'll get a satisfying ending.

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  17. In my opinion, Great Expectations is entirely too boring to trudge through. It most certainly should NOT have been forced on me in high school with an english grade hanging in the balance.

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  18. I'm with Tracy - Great Expectations was one of the few books I didn't bother to finish. Mine were, and it wasn't.

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  19. I'm a putter-downer. In addition, if I'm feeling uncertain about a book, I'll skip ahead to the end. So I'm no longer surprised by cheap shots or ham-fisted wrap-ups. (Philip Pullman, I'm looking at YOU.

    Plus, if I decide to keep reading, I find that I notice things that might otherwise have slipped past my attention. Mysteries, for example, are no longer a "whodunnit" but a "howdunnit" and "whydunnit," which suits me just fine.

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