Richard Dansky wrote a post on responses to reading bad books. It made me think about all the bad books I have come across recently.
Ironically, most of them have been recommended to me by friends or people I respect. And yet the books turns out to be abysmally bad. Like not Twilight bad, but close. The truly sad thing is, when I express my dislike of the books, I am met with blank stares and people who point to the books being on best selling lists. Yeah, well… so was Twilight.
I got through all of Richard’s stages every time I read a bad book.
To be fair, I do this much less than I used to. I am much more willing to bail on a bad book, movie, or game now than I used to be. I never had the sunk cost fallacy issue. To me, it was much more of the “hope springs eternal” thought. Surely the book would get better. Surely the writer would redeem the story.
Now, if I am 100 pages in and I still hate all your characters, I am going to bail. Sorry.
Notable exception: Karen Miller and the Godspeaker Trilogy. I persisted through the book, not because of the plot, characters, or even the world, but rather because of the glorious construction of the words.
He was right, I did grow out of this.
I do this quite frequently. I get mad that such unimaginative crap has been published, I sit down and write on my own work to “cleanse” the taste from my mouth. Also, I tend to go back and re-read stuff I know is good. Every poorly written fantasy novel has me crawling back to Robert Jordan. Every terrible love story has me slipping back to Julia Quinn. Every idiotic children’s series sends me right back to the Dark is Rising.
The funny thing is, I don’t do this just on books. Blogs trigger this response as well, as do video games. Video games are perhaps the worst, because I know I could do better than that stupid designer, but that company won’t hire me. Likely because I call their designers stupid.
I love what he says : “they could have spent doing literally anything else is enough to bring out a Hulk-like rage, often punctuated by the book in question going airborne. While counterproductive, it’s quite cathartic.”
Oh but how un-Hulk like his response. Throwing the book? Haha. Amateur. I devise horrible ways to destroy said books. My favorite being the football spike into the Recycle Bin. See that? You words mean as much to me as the phone book and junk mail. I had a Calculus book go up in flames once. I used a terrible romance to practice my book hollowing technique.
I hate destroying books, so when an author has managed to get me to this level of rage, they are quite exceptional with their badness.
I will never achieve peace. Because even if I recognize a book as able to stand on merits other people appreciate (I am looking at you Game of Thrones) their existence bothers me. How can people who seem reasonable, intelligent, and interesting like something so … illogical, stupid, and boring? I have been known to throw books away rather than give them to people I know would want them, simply because I don’t want them coming back in 3 months trying to get me to give it a second chance.
He says he hasn’t migrated to electronic books because of the worry of slinging said electronic, and while I have to agree with his point, in practice, I find disposal of ebooks much easier than paper books. A mediocre ebook can be tossed into the “Probably never gonna read again” category and ignored, never taking up precious apartment space or needing to be carried to Goodwill. A truly terrible ebook can be deleted. While not as cathartic as chucking it, or spiking it, at the very least, it’s a moment of “Let’s just pretend I never bought and downloaded you.”
So what is it about a book that makes it bad to me?
1. I hate the characters.
I need at least one likable character. One character I care what happens to. And that character, can’t be treated like crap the entire story. I first encountered this with the Dragonlance books. I loved the trilogy I read, then in the fourth book, they kill off all the characters I liked, leaving the one character I hated. I never read another one, and even more telling, I never read the trilogy again.
The Magicians was one such book. There were no characters of redeeming value. They were all spoiled rotten little twits that just annoyed the crap out of me. When I decided to stop reading I actually had a moment where I stopped to imagine a nuke going off in their little school. Any time I think a book is improved by a total board wipe, it’s time to stop reading.
2. It’s the Hero’s Journey.
Prophecy, long lost child who is actually the rightful ruler, two comedic sidekicks, scoundrel, mother/maiden/crone… oh god spare me. I really want to send these authors a copy of Mistborn and say, “Hey, take a minute and read about what you can do without resorting to crap we’ve heard so much we know exactly how the story is gonna end by the end of the first chapter.”
3. Wildly long tangents that have nothing to do with the story.
Tom Bombadil, die in a fire.
If a writer does this, he had better wait until book 4+ so I am invested. Or even better, make it suddenly wildly important later, we just didn’t know it at the time. Don’t waste my time.
4. Mary Sue/Self insertion fan fic.
Okay, this is Twilight, but the worst thing is, I see it everywhere now. People aren’t trying to create interesting stories. They are just writing out their fantasies. Of my 4 works I have written a great deal on, NONE are places I would want to live. None are situations I would want to be in. I could write a book about sitting around playing WoW all day, but god, who would want to read it?
5. I don’t trust the main character, any of their friends, and honestly, I don’t think they are right.
Trudi Canavan… How you managed to make a book full of what are supposed to be the good and awesome protectors of the world all seem like bad guys… beats me. Here’s the thing though, I am not a fan of bad guys. I like the good guys. or at the very least bad guys who are forced to be good guys.
This is the same problem I had with the rebellion in Hunger Games. Nothing they did proved they were any better than the Capitol. They were cut from the same cloth. Wonderfully, Katniss sees through this and reacts in an exactly appropriate manner.
6. They take themselves too seriously.
This is perhaps my favorite thing about Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. She never takes herself seriously. She never takes her writing seriously. And it makes it that much funnier. Some non-fiction writers just don’t get this. They think being published requires gravitas. It doesn’t.
7. The author makes no attempt to be logical or consistent.
The Spiderwick Chronicles really set me off with this one. Huge plot holes, shifting truths, and complete changes to what characters believe, without any explanation or attempts at explanation. She didn’t even say the “a wizard did it” line to try and smooth it over.
There are so many more, but these are the big ones. And they aren’t universal. There can be exceptions, but for the most part, I really feel like some writers are just angry at their readers and want to punish them.