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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Peeing Hamsters

(I'm on vacation this week, so posting will be limited. But I thought it might be fun to re-publish a favorite post and ask again: what book do you really hate?)

OK, enough of looking at book covers for a day or two. The Guardian's Stuart Evers has written a very, very funny article about "the good side of bad books." It's a hoot, and you should read it now.

But then you should come back here and tell us about the one (or two) novels that made you want to set yourself on fire, punch yourself in the face, or question why you learned to read in the first place.

I'll go first. After being hounded by my sci-fi-inclined friends for years, I read Robert Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land. When done, I immediately went out and bought two hamsters and a cage so that something could rip that book apart and pee on it. If there was an editor within 50 miles of that thing, I'll eat my shorts. I'll eat yours too.

I'm not anti-science fiction. I don't read a whole bunch of it, but I don't have a problem with it per se. J.G. Ballard holds a special place on my bookshelves. But this book? Ugh. I wish I remembered more about why I hated it so deeply, but I do trust my memory of discomfort and loathing.

OK. I'm done. Your turn.

35 comments:

Levi Stahl said...

The word "grok" is sufficient reason to hate that book.

Mine is Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nearly everyone seems to love it, but I loathed it from the first page, out of all proportion to what I saw as its many flaws. By the time I got to the nearly page-long list of the specs of the protagonist's computer, I was ready to throw it across the room.

Joseph said...

I, too, couldn't stand that book.

Anonymous said...

My most hated genre is divorcee memoirs, which I didn't know existed until I had to design the cover for one. If you had to write a book to get over your divorce, then you've got problems. I mean, why would anyone want to stay married to the type of person who would write AND PUBLISH a book about how you wronged them?! Gag.

Joni Rodgers said...

"Infinite Jest" and "Pride and Prejudice" -- both just make me feel bad about words.

Ken Harrison said...

I have two hated books for you: The Devil Wears Prada: Although the movie is very good, the book is vapid. It's full of one dimensional characters and takes up 300 pages just so the main character can use vulgar language on her boss.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I read this books years ago and hated every word. Bradbury seems to think that kids taunting an old lady is a natural occurrence that should be romanticized. It's one of those "Things were so much better back in the day" books. Ick poo!

Abby said...

The Corrections. Franzen really seems to hate every one of his characters, and I didn't think his central message of "suburbia is stultifying" was particularly groundbreaking. His snotty dismay at being an Oprah pick only cemented my disdain.

Joshua said...

I'm convinced that the worst book in the world is "Hind's Feet on High Places."

A friend and I took it out on the ice in Minnesota and played hockey with it until it was only shreds of scattered pages. And then I wrote a spiteful parody of it to try to reclaim at least some of my dignity.

Description: "Journey with 'Much-Afraid' and her companions 'Sorrow' and 'Suffering' as they follow 'the Shepherd' through dangers, toils, and snares to the high places of God's love. This beautiful allegory [is] written in the tradition of Pilgrim's Progress."

Reading it is also maybe #3 on the list of things I'm most ashamed at having done in my life.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

There are no words in the English language to describe how much I hate "The Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy. It starts with the protagonist selling his wife in a fit of drunken grumpiness and it only gets more depressing from there. Every time any character gets a chance at some kind of happiness or peace, the author just randomly throws in a crucial misunderstanding or bad bit of luck to knock them down to an even worse place than they were before. (My favorite plot device: the father rejects his daughter because he doesn't like her handwriting. Seriously.) I don't remember how it ends. They probably all killed themselves.

Nick said...

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
I'm quite opposed to her ideology so the book didn't really stand a chance.
It is also quite badly written, every point is over-explained and repeated again and again and again. As if using caricatures for characters wasn't sufficient!

And I find stupid to write a book about individualism, in which she clearly spits on 'second-rank' people (followers, I don't recall the term she uses), and then to bask in the adoration of her readers...

Jason Gabbert said...

hmmmm… "Three Lives" by Gertrude Stein. She should have just stuck to art and not written a book… painful… so PAINFUL!

Nyx said...

I have to go with the cliche and say "Twilight". I don't think any book can come close to touching it in terms of horribleness. There is absolutely nothing of value in that entire series.

I also agree with Nick, who posted above me, that "The Fountainhead" is pretty retched. I remember throwing that book across the room in disgust when I read it in high school.

Sara Bradshaw said...

Hi there,
You are a 'category winner' in my '25 Best Blogs of 2009'. Congratulations!
See the other category winners and your mention (and link)here: http://www.cricketwife.com/2010/01/25-best-blogs-of-2009-part-1.html.
Have a great 2010.
Cheers,
Sara Bradshaw

Lori said...

The Fountainhead, definitely.

Jen said...

Sadly, i had to read the Pretty Little Liars for a job. 4 teen girls are followed and messaged about their 'bad' deeds (very I Know What You Did Last Summer). The problem is, 3 of the 4 girls actually do bad things (sleep with a teacher, steal cars, cheat on exams) and none of them meet any consequence. The 4th girl is caught making out with an other girl. She's sent to Idaho to live with a strict family who tries to 'fix' her. What kind of message does that send teen girls in the real world? it's ok to be a slut, thief, or cheat, but lesbian is out of the question? Very, very sad. There's one for the Minnesota ice.

orlando said...

I just finished reading the manuscript of the next book I'm designing and I'm not gouging my eyes out or refusing to put a jacket on it, but still. It kinda reads like a middle school english project or a parody of inspirational business fiction. Except it's not a parody :(

Shorty said...

I hated The DaVinci Code. When the author reveals the big mystery about halfway through the book, I thought "That's it??? That's what this whole stupid mystery with all these murders is about?"

Anonymous said...

Wednesday Letters by Jason Wright was the biggest waste of time for me. Our book group decided to read it, and then the person who chose it didn't even show up! It was sentimental, unrealistic (come on, adult children don't act like that when they lose both parents on the same day!), overly religious in tone, and just plain awful!

The Oxen of the Sun said...

So, I had to go back to the original post to see what I hated 2 years ago... the ire is still there! Chuck Palahniuk is still my most hated author of all time! I'd rather endlessly read The Fountainhead than have to experience one of his "novels" for the hour or so it would take to read cover-to-cover. Yuck.

(But recently, that Updike/Roth/etc "essay" on the cover of the times book review last week made me want to pop out my eyes...)

Lorelei Armstrong said...

Agree with both the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, because humans are really not like that, and Stranger in a Strange Land, because ick. This year's losers for me include Sea of Poppies, because the boredom nearly killed me, and Inheritance of Loss, because something is supposed to happen in a story.

I'll toss in As She Climbed Across the Table, because you shouldn't write a book in a weekend, and even Nobody Move, because I couldn't tell all the characters apart, it was shirkingly short, and I had high expectations. I encountered the Crying of Lot 49, and the less said there the better.

Perdido Street Station dragged. I don't need to know every single moment of the story. Move along. Sophie's World started strong, but collapsed in so much rubble. Weird rubble. But the single, flamingly worst novel, a novel to live up to Heinlein, had to be Spindrift. I wish I could have flung it across the room, but it was in my iPod.

I wish I could have washed my iPod.

Joseph said...

@Sara Bradshaw: thanks!

Meg Blocker said...

THANK YOU!

i love sci-fi, and someone pushed me to read heinlein last year. it. was. awful. so effing bad, i couldn't even deal. i slogged through it, just so i could legitimately say it was terrible.

Black Pete said...

Robert Heinlein was the moist self-indulgent writer I've ever encountered--no, wait, Pat Conroy has managed to write the same book (Prince of Tides) several times, each with a different title.

Both badly needed ruthless, take-no-prisoners editors.

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ryandake said...

The Road, hands down. Writing style like being bludgeoned with every sentence. Plot dredged up from the bottom of the dystopian muck-pile. Characters more wooden than Chucky Heston in his heydey. Theme bitter, bitter, bitter. Read only if you want to severely punish yourself.

Anonymous said...

The Da Vinci Code. Does Dan Brown think his readers are idiots? No subtlety, no depth. When an author uses an exclamation point every second sentence to underline how "exciting" his plot is, I think that just shows how cheap it actually is.

Hollis said...

I couldn't stand Letters to a Young Poet (Rilke) and everyone seems to love that book. But I never feel as bad when I come across a bad book as I do when I'm sitting in a theater watching a bad movie ...

Amy Martin said...

I consider myself a relatively well-read sci-fi nerd (much more nerdy than the average person but much less nerdy than the nerdiest nerd), but I wanted to vomit on Stranger in a Strange Land. I just couldn't handle the sexism combined with the hype of the book. Made me want to go back in time and kick Heinlein repeatedly in the face.

(I find "grok" kind of charming though I would never, ever, in a billion years use it in a sentence without quotes.)

den parser said...

and that's the best book cover I've ever known so far.

Karen said...

I don't have books that I hated as much as these for the simple reason that I just stop reading a book when I'm not enjoying it.

The famous librarian Nancy Pearl has a rule for determining how many pages you should read of book before you give up on it: 50 pages, but once you're over 50, you only have to read the number of pages corresponding to how far from 100 you are: ie, if you are 60, you only have to read 40 pages and if you are 90 you only have to read 10.

The most recent book I've given up on was "The Savage Detectives" by Roberto Bolano. I thought it was incredibly overhyped. The characters were always posing and they were all full of themselves -- I knew a lot of people like that years ago when Bolano knew them and I can't believe anyone would want to write a great long book about that thirty years later.

By the way I only discovered BDR last December when I was looking at book covers on the internet and found your post with your favourites. I linked to it on the blog I write for my library's website but I couldn't use the BDR url as you asked - it kept changing by itself to NYTimes blogspot! Anyway it's a great website and it will be good to see what you do next.

gih said...

@Jason..

How horrible man!

Cathal said...

Don't know if people still read this thread but I want to get this off my chest:

'The Portrait of the Artist' as a Young Man. Slogged through it until about 25 pages from the end, decided that life is too short and quit. Loved 'The Dubliners', but 'Portrait' was a crock of shit.

And I concur with Sarah from Hawthorne, Hardy causes me to lose the will to live.

Zelda del West said...

Here's a sad tale: one time I got the hare-brained idea that chick lit was probably an easy way to make bank. And, undoubtedly, it is. If you are a certain kind of person. I checked out a couple dozen of these books from the library and set to reading in order to familiarize myself with the genre. Big mistake. From where I sit I can see a mark on the wall where one of those fine tomes collided with it.

I would name names, but every single piece of that paper-wasting crap was so bad, so dumb, so snotty, so self congratulatory, that singling out a particular example is a disservice. It is simply unconscionable that loathsome crap like that is put into print and it does absolutely nothing good for my opinion of my fellow humans.

Anonymous said...

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt. Pretentious crap without a single authentic character or plot point. I judge every "best books of the 90s" list by searching for this title. If it's on the "best" list, the listmaker is a fraud, and every other book on the list is deeply suspect.

thecatbirdseat said...

worst book ever published: the bridges of madison country. terrible story and worse craftsmanship. utter doo doo. forced on me by a crazy woman on a long lonely weekend in san francisco.

i found you on your last day--so sad for me. thank you for all your hard work and devotion to books and great design. hopefully the archives will stay up for awhile. good luck to you and love and appreciation from dallas!

A said...

Hilarious! And you are over?? NO!!!!!! I'll pretend otherwise and perhaps this commentary will simply go on and on. (uh oh) With some of you I dramatically disagree, but okay! As you wish. For me, anything at all by Ayn Rand is cheap and sad. How many did I read? Hard to believe she's gained some currency. And of course the Da Vinci Code - lord, how could I have read that? Still... I loved Sea Of Poppies. I loved Pride and Predjudice. I couldn't put The Road down although I still puzzle over its point. How can you compare them to Bridges Over? I'm baffled. Re: Heinlein: no comment