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!

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