Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Stinker List: Five Least Favorite Books

I recently concocted a list of 10 of my favorite books. Not THE 10, mind you, just 10 of the faves of all the many faves. Now I'm feeling snarky and overtired from this week back at work, and it struck me: how about a list of LEAST FAVORITE BOOKS!!!

Keep in mind, I'm not trying to be negative, nor am I looking to bag on a bunch of books, but this is one of those areas bloggers rarely discuss. We might mention a book we dislike in passing, but we don't focus on the stinkers. But the truth is: stinkers happen. This post is an ode to my personal stinkers.

Like many readers, I have a visceral reaction to some books. Sometimes I can explain why in minute detail, other times it's as much a mystery to me as anyone else. Sometimes it's whatever is going on in my life at the moment, other times it's a case of a very specific writerly problem I just can't stand. For some reason or other, these books hit a sour note with me. Feel free to share your own!

There's no picture of the first one, but it was in college that I read it, or attempted to, and it was called Letters from the Other Side, by Will Cunningham. It was Christian fiction about a band of angels who were all so stereotypically drawn as to have absolutely no grace or dignity left. There was a cowboy with a bad accent, a French angel with a beret and a bad accent, and there was probably a Jersey shore angel with a bad accent. Stereotypes of this magnitude and angels just didn't seem to mesh.

The next book that lives on my "Most Disliked' list is Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. I can explain exactly what happened with this one, and it's not entirely the book's fault. First, it was surrounded by hype. It seems like everyone was saying wonderful things about it, and I went out and bought the book new in hardcover. At the same time, I was dealing with a death in the family. I was mourning the loss of my grandfather when I read it, and that grief was too much to incorporate into my reading of this book. Having watched the film version recently, which I did like a lot better, I still remember some of the problems I had with the book itself. Those problems still remain in my mind, but I do wonder sometimes how much my reaction had to do with my personal life as opposed to Sebold's writing.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck was another "gut reaction" type of book. I read it in college, and I vividly remember lying on the bed in my room and feeling sick to my stomach the way Lenny was treated in general. I thought it was so unfair and generally troubling that I literally wanted to throw the book out into the street in front of a garbage truck. How's that for a negative bookish fantasy? In this case, I can certainly still appreciate Steinbeck's writing and his economy of words in this novella, but it still made me want to puke.

 I was actually talking about this book, Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, with a colleague yesterday. I picked it up in grad school after a conversation with my mentor, and read it in one sitting. However, I can't say it was a good experience. This story of a young girl, kidnapped, starved, raped, abused, and generally made miserable, seemed like a sensational, oversimplified, horrible mess. Books don't always have to have a big "aha" moment, and I can see what Scott was going for (never blame the victim), but it just seemed a moot point. Read my full review here.

 Finally, one more classic to add to my hit list. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau was supremely disappointing. In this case, I blame the author completely and without remorse. Growing up, I always perceived Theoreau as an outdoorsman. One willing to go off the grid, get back to the land, and generally poo-poo society in favor of a simpler existence. The truth of the matter: he was a big fat gossip who lived in his pasture a short distance from town where he could still catch up on his socializing and paper reading. Faker!!! Hardly the outdoorsman. I laughed out loud when he came across a hedgehog or some similarly cute and furry creature on the walk back to his outpost in the pasture and had the urge to hunt and eat it. Sounds like a testosterone imbalance to me.

 So tell me, what books have scored low on your list lately? Maybe you have an all-time stinker? It's just a fact of life, so feel free to share!

30 comments:

  1. What a great post. You are right, we don't really talk about those books that just don't do it for us. I might have to put one of these together someday.

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  2. One of the books I suffered all the way through was The Nanny Diaries. I should have quit, but no, I made myself read the whole thing!

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  3. It does sound like The Lovely Bones was a case of the wrong book at the wrong time, but I enjoyed the movie more than the book.

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  4. I can't think of any stinkers at the moment but great post. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  5. oh, i read and reviewed this one recently; Liar Liar by K J Larsen. Its a recent novel and its not a 100% stinker but it was waaayyyyyy to obvious and stereotypical for my taste.

    http://bookventuresbookclub.blogspot.com/search/label/K.J%20Larsen

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  6. Red Badge of Courage, Heart of Darkness, and The Jungle are three of my least favorite books. I really really did not like reading them. Serious yucky feelings attached to them.

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  7. One that I hate that everyone seems to love is OUTLANDER by Diana Galbadon. I thought I would love it because of the time travel element, but it was just so unecessarily brutal.

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  8. The Lovely Bones is on my list of least favorite books as well. It's not really my thing anyway but I had to read it for a class and I couldn't stand it. I remember describing it as "forcibly sentimental" and any little part of me that did enjoy the book was destroyed when I got to the Postcards(?) chapter. I like this post idea. I may borrow :)

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  9. You are right. People don't talk about books they don't like enough. I think it gives a much better insight into a person's book taste than their favourites - especially when you give clear explanations as to your problem with the book.

    I LOVED The Lovely Bones. I can see why it might be a very bad book to read if you've recently been bereaved though :-(

    I recently added Living Dead Girl to my wishlist. I'm a bit weird in that I like depressing books though. Hopefully I'll enjoy it anyway.

    Thanks for sharing your stinkers!

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  10. I was really disappointed in The Lovely Bones also. Even though I was a bit intrigued by how readers were brought into the killer's thoughts and thereby evoking a disturbing creepiness, the said creepiness did not lead me anyway...it didn't disturb or captivate me enough to care about the story...does that make sense. I did not think the mother-adultery did anything for the story. I kind of liked how the girl narrated from heaven and I guess it was a way for readers to peek inside the private lives of the neighborhood. I was actually more interested in a blub the author wrote about how people never know what goes on in nice, well manicured, middle class neighborhoods--this made me wonder if the writers of the show Desperate Housewives got their idea from this novel. How Wisteria Lane looks like a pristine neighborhood on the outside, there's a whole lotta trash and drama going on behind closed doors.
    In the end, I just did not care what happened to the story or characters. I was very disappointed in the book.

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  11. You're so right ... The Lovely Bones was an emotionally manipulative stinker!

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  12. Funny enough, I actually just made this list a couple weeks ago, 5 worst books: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Angels & Demons by Dan Brown, Sixty Six by Barry Levinson, Austenland by Shannon Hale

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  13. YAY for other Thoreau haters! One of my college roomies and I originally bonded over our loathing of Thoreau. ;)

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  14. I definitely could list some stinkers. The Lovely Bones is one that I wans't a fan of either but I'm happy to report that I haven't read any of the others.

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  15. i feel the same way you did about of mice and men about shirley jackson's short story the lottery. in fact, just typing it gives me that sick-to-my-stomach feeling right now...and it was 21 years ago i had to read it freshman comp...

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  16. p.s. i agree with amanda about the bookseller of kabul. åsne seierstad is just so full of herself, i hated her balkan book too..in fact, i feel kinda incensed just thinking about it...amazing how these books we don't like may engender stronger emotions than the ones we love...hmm, must ponder that.

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  17. Ohhh hehe, I LOVE Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. :)

    Anyway, I feel like a horrible person thinking this, but I hated The Diary of Ann Frank. Yea.

    And I despise everything Nicholas Sparks has ever written. However, I usually enjoy the movies...?! :)

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  18. I tried to read Malinche by Laura Esquivel and could not do it!

    There's an award waiting for you at Kate's Library.

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  19. Hello! Just dropping by to tell you how much I'm enjoying your blog and to let you know that you've got an award waiting for you over on mine...
    http://musingsofabookshopgirl.blogspot.com/
    Congrats!
    Ellie

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  20. The Lovely Bones was not a favorite of mine either. And, I'm going to go with Lenore's choice of "Outlander". I thought oh a bit of romance, time-travel, history, what's not to love? Well, the main characters! I hated them and was baffled why I keep hearing it's such a wonderful romantic story. I couldn't even finish the book even after I had read most of it. I really hated it. There I said it :)

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  21. I'd like to nominate Moby Dick, even though I couldn't finish it. However, I read enough of it to feel tortured by it.

    As for books I've made it all the way through and later regretted...Too Much Tuscan Sun and The Poisonwood Bible are at the top of my list.

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  22. Oh gosh I couldn't stand The Lovely Bones. I think it *might* have worked better as a movie (did I just type that??) but cannot bring myself even to watch it. *shudder*

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  23. Nice! Love this post - thanks for having the courage to be negative. ;) I didn't much care for The Lovely Bones either - just not my cup 'o' tea. Worst, most hated book I've ever read - just absolute drivel - Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown. Right now, I'm still tangling with Gravity's Rainbow, and while I'll hold off on absolute assessments until (sometime in 2012) I'm finished, it's slowly creeping up my list, too. Just. Too. Difficult.

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  24. I thought The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver was a stinker, but also deeply disappointing because I have really liked everything else I have read by her. I am hoping my head was just not in the right place when I read it and sometime in the future, I will give it another chance. I read this book with my book group and it was one of those books where everyone loved it or hated it.

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  25. The Pillars of the Earth. An omg kind of hate.

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  26. Oh ... what a fun question.

    Well, I'm not exactly loving The Brothers Karamazov .. but I'm only 20% into it. It is shaping up to be a stinker.

    I'd have to add "Kane & Abel" to my list. As well as "Too Fat To Fish." PU!

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  27. I really didn't like The Sound and the Fury. I thought I hate Faulkner but then I discovered As I Lay Dying and loved it.

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  28. Yeah, I loathe Living Dead Girl too, Didn't we talk about that? It seems like we did, but darned if I remember.

    One I loathe totally and completely is Like Water for Chocolate. Didn't you like that one? Geesh it's too early in the morning, I have conversations in my head I can't remember! lol (Hush, it is not normal.) But yeah, I don't get the love for that one!

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  29. Oooh, great post! I've never got what people see in On The Road. Or anything by Herman Hesse. Pretentious!
    www.teadevotee.com

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