Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lousy Books to Avoid & Embrace

In the past, we've talked about great overlooked novels and also traded lists of books we're embarrased about not having read. Now, the Times of London invites readers to think about ten books they'd just as soon avoid reading. Amazon.com says readers have tagged these two works as "lousy books," and a book publishing veteran maintains in this article that lousy books are the result of soulless conglomerates having slowly taken over book publishing. There's even an official home on the web for Bad Books Month. But we also enjoyed how writer Joe Queenan had some fun here with the whole notion of bad books. And way back in 1946, the incomparable George Orwell set the bar high with this soaring ode to "good bad books," in which he observed: "Perhaps the supreme example of the 'good bad' book is Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents; it is also deeply moving and essentially true; it is hard to say which quality outweighs the other." So we ask you, which books would make your lousy list?

14 Comments:

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

My vote for a book to avoid is Bonjour Laziness, by Corinne Maier. With a promising subtitle of "Jumping Off the Corporate Ladder", I took the plunge and set out into the 144-page journey.

Unfortunately, by about page 20, the jig was up. Basically, this is a good essay that some editor somewhere thought could be turned into a book-length tirade against the shackles of the corporate cubicle life. A few good insights, but for the most part it was a lot of repetition with an air of adolescent rebellion.

One of the few books I finished and thought to myself "I could have used my time more wisely."

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Nice. "The jig was up" made me laugh. I was thinking about my own list, but realized that I'm far more likely to give up on a book by about pg. 20 (or possibly sooner) if it doesn't grab me. So I'm not sure I could point to a single book that I read through and didn't like, because if I didn't like it, I just gave up on it. But then, I have a Darwinian reading list, and have little or no patience for mediocre reading experiences. I'm sure that means I sometimes, perhaps even often, miss things that would have eventually rewarded my patience. Anyway, thanks for that, Miles.

 
At 2:40 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

My obsessive nature won't let me just put the book down after page 20, so I kept on reading. "Gotta finish it" I keep thinking. I wish I had your will power, or resolve.

 
At 2:44 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

We should add here that there's also a cost involved in the equation. If you've gone ahead and purchased a book, especially a hard cover at full price, you're rather more likely to read it all. That would pertain to me too, though I have given up on a few of those as well. Some of the books to which I refer would include library loaners (which I generally don't like to use, because I can't mark them up) or review copies that someone has sent me, either because I'm on some media list or because I've reviewed an earlier book somewhere by that same publishing house. Paying nothing for it of course increases the chances of me giving up on it.

 
At 3:06 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

True. Cost plays a significant role.

And Queenan? That guy is just brilliant. The thinking man's smart-ass.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The thinking man's smart ass, indeed! His humor is an acquired taste (which I've long since acquired myself), I know. But he's a guy who seems to have difficulty writing a boring sentence, let alone a boring essay. It's always interesting. Can't say I've ever tried one of his books, though.

 
At 3:26 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

The first one I read was "Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon." From that point on, I was hooked.

Coincidentally, he visits Cleveland and really likes it, having expected that it would be just an awful place.

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting. Can you point me to that Cleveland passage with a page citation, Miles? I'd love to read it and perhaps post it here. But I'm not surprised he'd find Cleveland interesting. Much about it fits his offbeat sensibility. I've followed him with special interest ever since reading an angry, even scowling, essay he published a decade ago, about his anger over having been raised by an alcoholic father. The piece was so vivid and heart-wrenching--and emotionally brave, too, I thought--that I've reserved a special place in my reading heart for him ever since.

Interestingly, the playwright David Mamet (author of the script for one of the greatest movies of the last 25 years, Glengary Glen Ross) wrote a similar essay (his was in Harper's), which similarly bonded me to him. But I was already a huge Mamet fan at the time. That memoir only deepened my regard for him.

 
At 9:18 AM, Anonymous MilesB said...

The pages are 85-91. And I'd love to read that essay of his you mentioned. Where can I find that?

Mamet is another discussion, but another writer I admire a lot.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'm afraid I haven't saved either. But if I can locate either or both via the web, I'll surely send you the links, Miles.

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Geoff Schutt said...

John, for me, I just won't finish a "lousy book." That said, I'd like to suggest another tangent for this suggestion. There are books that I pick up (and most of the time, end up owning) that I absolutely cannot get past the first few pages. Then, a few years pass, and I'll return to said book and discover how wonderful it really is. I think that some books (the good ones) are perhaps meant to be read at certain times in our lives, and books being books, they're patient. They'll sit on the shelf and wait until we're ready. Or, conversely, we might find that we've "outgrown" a book we loved in our teens or early twenties. A good friend of mine once told me that he lived and breathed Thomas Wolfe in his younger years, but could not read Wolfe later. Does that make Wolfe's books less relevant or bad? Of course not. Sometimes we're not in the mood -- and sometimes, our lives need to catch up to the words (or use the words when we can, when they "speak to us," and enjoy them for as long as they last) ....

 
At 4:05 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Lovely, lovely thoughts, Geoff. Thanks for adding all that. "Books being books, they're patient" is an especially resonant idea around here. So you've come to the right place with these thoughts. I hope you'll keep coming back and elevating our conversation in such fine fashion.

 
At 6:43 PM, Anonymous stan said...

Queenan article makes me snicker every time I think about it. Thanks, it was refreshing.

 
At 8:44 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Queenan is surely never dull, and at his best, he's hard to beat for sheer entertainment. And I still haven't figured out who you are, Stan. Just glad to see you back in the comments.

 

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