‘It’s been six weeks since we left England. Five days since we had a breeze. No! I got the madness! ‘ Muppets Treasure Island
I am sad to report and and even more loath to write it… BUT I think it may be possible that I have entered a wee doldrum of book reading.
Yes, like the muppets of treasure island ilk, I have sailed the distant oceans, traversed the waters and just when the I was avast ye-ing into the horizon, I encountered the doldrums…or in this case: the-enormous-pile-of-books-I-started-and-threw-down-again-in-frustration/hatred/annoyance/disdain.
It’s a big pile. My cats edge quietly around it, wondering if its precarious lean to left will end in a squished tail.
And do you know why this has happened?
It’s because I was congratulating myself on my recent lack of book malaise. I was having a noble-book-run of epic proportions. A run worthy of chronicling! I was feeling smug, self-assured and not a little bit vainglorious about my reading choices. FINALLY I thought- I have managed to move past the dreaded bad-book-choice phase.
So the book gods decided to tumble my from me proud, peacock-y perch.
They did. And I only have myself to blame.
31 and counting.
This is the number of books in my I-was-Disappoint / No-I-Can’t-even read piles. In the last month.
So in an effort to appease those tempestuous fiends – I am metaphorically setting fire to them all. (well – maybe three – otherwise we will be here forever.)
I do this to admit my failure; cleanse the book palate and hopefully nullify this terrible DNF phase. Like cold-burning, I am hoping that a little controlled clearing will make way for some new book loves. But most of all – I just really want to ask – Is it a case of it’s not you it’s me? Or do these books really just suck eggs?
I am generally hesitant to write about what I perceive to be bad books – because so many elements (not related to the actual writing of books) can come into play:
– My frame of mind/mood at the time
– How bad my week happened to be
– What drama-llama was going on that day
(notice it’s mostly about me — but isn’t most book enjoyment intrinsically connected to this?)
And I always wonder if writing about what I perceive to be less-than-stellar books is:
a) a little bit mean – I know blood, sweat, tears, copious amounts of alcohol, self esteem and little bit of the author’s soul often goes into these books;
b) a little bit unnecessary – I think it was W. H. Auden who said in an essay that (para-phrasing unapologetically) it was pointless to write about bad books, when there were so many good books out there that you could be steering people towards – and this rings in my mind when I start venturing towards the red pen and frown-y faces. Plus, I would much rather talk about new book loves, than ultimate book betrayals…
But then I come back to:
i) if I can’t blurg about what I love and hate, or purge my literary palette via some book burning in my own space then dammit, where can I?
ii) perhaps it will help one of the all 4.5 readers who see this, or at least spark some interesting dialogue…
First puppy off the porch:
The Pepper in the Gumbo. Mary Jane Hathaway
What happened Ms Hathaway? I have, in the past eagerly devoured your Miss Austen-in-the-south-with-grits rewrites, and between the book shop the heroine owned, the (more than 5) cats that populated it and small town-ness/against big conglomerate; it should have been a ring-in – only it wasn’t.
I lost interest. The cats didn’t even seem real; (do you own a cat Ms Hathaway? because I don’t feel like you really do). And after the cats, was the hero – who did not even remind me of a person. More a life-size inanimate Spock.
Then I looked down and realised I was 25% into the story and absolutely NOTHING had happened. NOTHING – there had been two separate visits to a cafe, and one long stare-at-the-computer-decry-social-media-and-lament-about-my-life diatribe from the heroine – and that was it. I give you 1/ 5 musty second-hand books.
The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest. Melanie Dickerson.
Touted as a Swan Lake meets Robin Hood – as a girl. With a bow. In a forest. A recipe for total book lurve. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it. It read so awkward, so middle grade. I have read all MD’s past books and NEVER felt like that. It was all Hello Bandwagon Allow Me To Hitch a Ride. There was a switch between publishers, and even though I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, I am SO deeply disappointed, Ms Dickerson, I have taken you off auto-buy. I give you 2/5 sad little broken arrows.
The Belligerent Miss Boynton Kasey Michaels
It started so well I highlighted a quote:
‘As the Spring Season neared, Society’s attention became more and more centered on opening night at Almacks. Only the most lofty of their number were allowed entrance, of course, to drink its insipid warm refreshments, play at tame card games for tamer stakes, and dance to tunes a clutch of weary musicians halfheartedly ground out hour after endless hour. Here the matrimonial hopes of the maiden and the aspirations of her mama could be piqued and satisfied or mercilessly dashed forever in the space of one country dance.
And it was on the opening night of Almacks in that first flush of the Regency that a most deliciously titillating charade was to be played out before the avid eyes of this same exalted, easily titillated Society that prized a scandale above all things…’
And that was in the PROLOGUE – I got so excited my twitchy highlighter index finger was all ready….
But then fate, in the form of this particular gem intervened:
‘His profile, reflected in a nearby gilt-edge mirror, was a study in planes and angles, softened only by startling blue eyes that were surrounded by absurdly long, coal black lashes his aunt had once, to his horror, described as giving him the look of a fallen angel.’
And I got that ruh-oh feeling in the middle of my middle
A further reference to a ‘shell-like ear’ only increased this, and by the time I got to
‘Jared put a finger under her chin and drew her face back in his direction as he grinned, thus infuriating the young girl even more. “Well, now I’m cut to the quick, and find that I really must protest. I am not a London dandy. Nor am I a Pink or a Tulip of Fashion. I, madam, I feel impelled to inform you, am a Corinthian.’
I was done. Like turkey. At Thanksgiving. And I’m not even American.
What self respecting regency hero EVER had to tell someone they were a Corinthian? Doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of being said Corinthian? There were other references to the hero being angry about letting heroine leave and entire sentences that sounded like all Georgette Heyer’s regency cant from an entire novel smooshed together to form this incredibly long run-on sentence (much this one really), and it all was just.too.much.
Thank you Kasey Michaels. You almost killed my deep seated and (I thought until this point), unshakeable love of Regency Romances.
I give you 2/5 floss trimmed flounces.
I want to know why Robin Mckinley insists of killing me with pointless exposition and backstory that leads nowhere and plays no discernible role in the story and take 30pgs to describe something that should only take 5. I have tried 3 times now with this book. Even after the mud-puddle that was Shadows, I tried yet again because I have read the first two in the series and the completer in me hates to leave it all undone but —— gahh. My tiny brain could not take it. I give you 1/5 non-existent spinning wheels that I didn’t even come across in the first 45%.
Ring of Claddach Annabel Murray
I should have obeyed my inner feelings about heroes with facial hair from the 80s…(FYI: not positive) Plus his name was FERGUS.
Note to self: harlequin romances b/n 1985 & 1987 – seem to be not just bad but utterly awful: this was like the worst parts of all contemporary romance stereotypes, melted down in a pot, garnished with cilantro and served with an aspic salad. Plus the purplest non-sex sex scene on the last page ever. (Well, I think thats what they were doing – it was rather difficult to tell…)
His was now the ascendance, the commanding strength, the urgent demand.
‘Noelle? It really is you! I thought you’d gone away,’ he said wonderingly, ‘that I’d lost you!’
(They were having a picnic (prior to euphemistic sex) – on a hill somewhere – where could she have possibly gone?)
I give you 0.5/5 four-leaf clovers.
Nameless: the darkness comes. (The Bone Angel Trilogy #1) Mercede M Yardley
Things I should have learnt by now: titles with full colons and subtitles and ever longer, less comprehensive series names should be avoided like a zombie shuffling down main street at full noon – you KNOW shit is going down and limbs will be lost. In this case it was almost my index finger from pressing the page-skip-onwards button so damn quickly.
Poor Luna Masterson – you were a leather jacket, entirely made up of not-that-funny snark, riding around on a motorcycle…
Numerous times jokes fell flat.
Numerous times I told myself that this was the last time I would fall for paranormal romances that can’t decide whether its urban fantasy or angel/demon/apocalypse…when really all it is is NORMAL with some para underpants.
I give you 2.5/5 clawing zombie/angel/demon/something paranormal hands
But being nosy and inquisitive, it isn’t enough to just sweep them out of my read-but-hated pile; no, I want to know WHY. What it them? Was it me? Was it a case of bad writing or (more likely) a case of Valancy-itis – this mysterious ailment that periodically inflicts me with the worst book choices and immediate hatred of sub-par heroines.
What makes a book bad?
Goodreads has an info graphic for this phenomenon, which lists reasons including: unmet expectations, book snobbery, unable to get into and divisive.
A long, tangential and meandering Google Search later, (but really, what internet search isn’t?) and I have a rather comprehensive list of what most everyone else seems to hate about bad books:
- Grammar and punctuation misuse
- Annoying characters, with poorly developed personality/characteristics
- Bad plot – either too little/too much
- Prose-writing ambition outstrips prose-writing ability
- Unnecessarily elaborate chronological manipulation :
- Narrow frame of reference
- Poor world-building
But it’s all rather vague and placative, with subjectiveness and lack of definition around ‘bad’ being the predominant issues.
jrlennon posits that this is because we have a problem talking about why we dislike things. i.e. as a people/culture/time in literary culture, we can explain why we liked something, but not the converse…
‘We’re pretty good at praise–it’s not unusual for somebody to tell me they like a book, and then tell me precisely why… “The characters are hilarious.” “It has an exciting plot.” “The prose is clear and engaging.” But ask somebody why they don’t like a book, often you’ll get something like “It just sucks,” or “It’s boring.” There are, of course, specific things that make the book bad, but we often just can’t put our fingers on them. I believe that book reviewers, and all readers, for that matter, could use a refresher course on criticism–and I don’t mean, like, literary theory, I mean simple, ordinary expressions of dissatisfaction.’
So, there are reasons why books are bad or why we don’t like them – but we are unable to decisively pinpoint these reasons.
Then, I found Samuel R Delany’s About Writing. In one of his essays, he draws a definite distinction between good writing and talented writing; that although they have things in common, they are definitely not the same thing.
‘Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t.’
There is a fascinating exposition of this in a post by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings (an equally fascinating site);
So good writing alone can make a bad book better, but can’t make it more interesting; and talented writing alone can make a bad book more interesting, but not better written.
Which then points to the idea that it really does boil down to that alchemic combination of good writing AND talent that makes for those holy grail of books that we are endlessly searching for – those few books that keep our hope alive. Those books that when we discover them, we have to tell random strangers on the bus that they are worth reading; (even if those random strangers give us the chook eye). This is what fuels my hope: despite the fact that I have read and subsumed parts of these stories into my soul… this is not the end – there are other such books out there. If only I could find them…
Unfortunately, the above books were just NOT that. I guess you really do have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince…
Good Readings y’all
Valancy Blu: setting fire to the books…not the rain (it’s much easier.)