What are the worst books you've read this year?(199 Posts)
Having read the What is the best book you've read this year? thread I was wondering what the worst book you've read so far in 2012 is?
Mine would have to be either 50 Shades or Before I Go to Sleep.
The wicked girls by Alex Marwood, it's the first book ever that I have gave up pn a quarter of the way through. Bored me to tears and could not waste any more precious time on it.
Cote - Ian McEwan, interesting example...
I was quite blown away by his books in my 20s, but now find them quite shallow. I think he's grown quite tired as an author, but also I think it shows that while we 'see' different things in literature at different stages, we also sometimes see through them. IYSWIM.
So, for example, I'm loving Cloud Atlas at the moment. To me it seems fresh, original, engaging. And like all other literature, it's part of an echo chamber, chiming with other writers' work. (Mixed metaphor there? maybe, a bit...)
But another reader with a different reading background, different frame of reference etc. might well see Cloud Atlas as shallow, imitative, or whatever.
I wouldn't conclude that:
I liked it
+ other person didn't
+ it's 'literary fiction'
= other person's not ready for it yet.
An alternative equation could be:
I liked it
+ other person didn't
+ it's literary fiction
= other person's understanding of literature differs from mine, possibly because they're less in thrall to what I see as that author's 'originality' etc.
I see what you mean and I think where your equation goes wrong is to assume that I assume all books/authors within the "literary fiction" genre to be undisputedly brilliant.
Let me approach this another way: Do you think it is possible to objectively say that someone is a very good writer or that a book is a very good book? Or do you feel that it is all very subjective, and hence one person's brilliant book is another's utter rubbish?
Do you think it is possible to objectively say that someone is a very good writer or that a book is a very good book? Or do you feel that it is all very subjective, and hence one person's brilliant book is another's utter rubbish?
I love this question, Cote.
Here's what I think about it right now...
I think that 'successful' writing is a combination of skill and originality. (So no explosive breakthough thoughts there...)
I'm 'drawn' to a writer/book if there's that 'something' extra that takes me somewhere that I feel I haven't been before, but I want to go. IYSWIM. And when that happens my interpretation is that there's some sort of great talent at play, some kind of unexpected novelty. (Obvious, OK, but stay with me...)
So there's the 'originality' part.
That to me is 'great writing', but I think that's a combination of subjective and objective interpretation because...
I can also quite like a piece of writing if I just think it's done skilfully.
And then I think there's writing that is simply formulaic, so it's dead and dull.
I think there's a fine line between 'skill' and formula. And there can be formulaic writing which still shows originality, but it tends to be limited. (I'm thinking of e.g. crime writing, which I sometimes quite like.)
I think that to get blown away by a piece of writing, I/you/one has to believe that it's 'original'. But seeing 'originality' can depend on what awareness you have of genres, devices, etc.
So for me (for example), I often get blown away by writing by West African writers. My personal palate (which has very little experience of West African culture), is experiencing something that is very new and dazzling (to me). So in my experience, reading (English language) work by West African writers has often felt as if I'm experiencing the work of an extraordinary and unusual talent.
On the other hand, when I read linear, superficially 'witty' writing by 'English' English language writers (let's take St Aubyn and Cartwright again), I feel as if I'm experiencing a 'formula' that I can see straight through, the writing feels as has a 'join the dots' quality to it that just doesn't float my boats enough for me to think I'm really reading a 'good' book.
But if I was more familiar with West African culture/writers/story telling traditions, then perhaps I wouldn't be so in thrall to the small amount that I have read. I can well imagine people who are more familiar with that literary tradition rolling their eyes at how blown away I am by the novelty of it.
But that said, I'm not sure that individual readers always have to have actually read a great deal of a particular genre to see right through it and be able to see the 'joins'. (IYSWIM.)
So even though I'm tempted to think that someone who hasn't got the same kick as I have from reading what I think is a brilliant book must have just not recognised it greatness, I think there's always the possibilty that the mote is in my eye, not theirs.
<That was kind of circular, but I'm glad I've tried to articulate it.>
And having mentioned crime writing, and Cote having mentioned Ian McEwan peering into people's inner worlds with an eerie clarity. and since there's (sort of) a discussion about about genre here, I just want to ask...
Does anyone ever compare McEwan to Ruth Rendell and PD James?
Because to my mind, Rendell and James piss on McEwan when it comes to peering into people's inner worlds with an eerie clarity AND they manage to do that at the same time as marching to the beat of a tight little mystery tune.
Now That's What I Call.... Awesome Writing
and bugger orf with yer fancy literary jawnreurs hic!
I find PD James dull.
I'm impressed by Mango's articulation. I don't know how I would define great writing, so let me borrow someone else's description. There's a short story by the Irish writer Bryan McMahon where a teacher says:
Your minds are like rooms that are dark or brown. But somewhere in the rooms, if only you can pull aside the heavy curtains, you will find windows these are the windows of wonder. Through these you can see the yellow sunlight or the silver stars or the many coloured wheels of a rainbow.
So for me, great writing opens the windows of wonder. And increasingly I find that good non-fiction is performing that role for me rather than fiction.
Nickname I really, really like that description!
Am also fighting urge to insist that you must reread PD James, that you simply haven't understood, that you must look again, see her work in all its glory, its concise, spare beauty, its insight, its amazing penetrating gaze into contemporary social issues... Because that's how I see it!
(It really is, btw. Am totally in awe of PD James, and think she's a genius.)
I might given P D James another shot when I get through my current pile of books. The last one of hers I tried was Death Comes to Pemberley, which didn't do much for me. But I've been meaning to try Children of Men.
Children of Men is on my wish list when I've plowed through some others.
LastMango - Thank you for your thoughts on my question whether or not a book or author can objectively be called "very good"
I find your reply a bit confusing, though, because after the first sentence ("I think that 'successful' writing is a combination of skill and originality"), you have started talking about what kind of book draws you and what you find different, which is subjective territory.
I was aiming for a "Yes, there is such a thing as a very good book or a very good author (objectively)".
For example, can we agree that Shakespeare was a very good author?
(Not for an African tribesman or whatever. Let's assume that we are talking about people who would know what Shakespeare was talking about.)
Fwiw, I would think that the "originality" that is one of the components of writing well is in fact about being different rather than alien, as if would re your Africans.
Re Ruth Rendell and P D James - I haven't read any of their books but am interested in crime fiction written by someone like Ian McEwan. Very interested, actually Which book of theirs would you consider the best?
I've seen the film Children Of Men, so perhaps not that one.
Can we even agree that Shakespeare was 'an' author?
Re. originality as 'different' or 'alien' - shall check dictionary definitions of both, but I'm not quite sure how you mean this in this context.
I guess that ultimately, though, 'good writing' is as subjective as 'good music'.
There are individual tastes, learned/genre/tribal tastes, but I can't think of any literature that everyone does (or should) think is 'good literature' (and that includes the Bible, Complete Works of Shakespeare, etc.)
Is there not an argument that a thing can only be 'good' in relation to how it's meant to function?
Therefore, 50SoG is an extremely good bestseller (because it's sold so well), but still there'd be different criteria for what was e.g. 'good' crime fiction.
I guess that to make an objective definition of what's 'good' there'd have to be mutually agreed criteria against which to measure it. I think that without this, you just end up with wishy-washy romantic and aspirational fetishisation of some kind of ill-defined 'creativity' without really understanding what that is.
Start off with Cover Her Face or Innocent Blood (both PD James - from 1962 and late 70s(ish)).
You know her latest (and she says, her last - she's 91), Death Comes to Pemberley is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice?
Ruth Rendells - I need to check titles. Back presently!
" "Your minds are like rooms that are dark or brown. But somewhere in the rooms, if only you can pull aside the heavy curtains, you will find windows these are the windows of wonder. Through these you can see the yellow sunlight or the silver stars or the many coloured wheels of a rainbow.
... So for me, great writing opens the windows of wonder."
Sorry but this doesn't mean anything to me. (This must be a "subjective" thing)
My mind doesn't feel dark or brown. It is wide open to any wonder I come across. If only there were lots of it to be seen!
If you are looking for books to "open the windows of wonder", look into speculative fiction. Neal Stephenson will blow your mind, I guarantee it
re 'different' or 'alien': Until William Gibson published Neuromancer, all the world knew as speculative fiction was sci-fi about aliens and space ships. It was definitely different. However, we still had a framework for understanding and appreciating it, therefore it wasn't alien.
Oooh I likes Ruth Rendell.
Just finished one, called, um, hang on I'll be back ('tis about a man with a choc orange addiction)
Yes, yes, Portobello Road!
Tbh, not much happens but you keep on reading, its interesting... Like hearing others private thoughts. I quite like her writing style.
13 steps down is much the same.
"I guess that ultimately, though, 'good writing' is as subjective as 'good music'."
Surely not. You might have a preference for one genre over another or be a fan of one author rather than the next, but there are certain things like great characterisation, realism, amazing descriptions with incredibly accurate use of vocabulary in books (and not in music) that would make an indisputably good book.
I just finished reading Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, for example. I'm told that this is a book people read at school in the UK so perhaps you don't remember it fondly but I have to say that it is a good book and it's author is a good author. Even if you don't like it (which is of course possible) you have to admit that it is very well written and is a good book.
Wonder if we should all start a new thread and leave this one to the debate between CoteDAzur and LastMango ?
Sorry for the shameless hijack! Feel free to go on about the worst books you've read this year
Wicked by Jilly Cooper, I bloody love her older books, but this was the biggest pile of crap ever, I was so disappointed I could have cried.
2 paragraphs of 50 Shades. There was so much bad writing crammed into two paragraphs that I feel confident nominating it for worst book of the year.
The Slap - it's a shame that a different author didn't have the same idea - although not Jodi Picoult, who I could just imagine doing a paint-by-numbers treatment of the same issue.
The Night Strangers - woeful, woeful, woeful ending. I can only assume he felt the need to insert a twist but couldn't come up with one, so ruined his own book instead.
Death Comes to Pemberley isn't a fair representation of PD James' work - there are lots of criticisms that could be made of the Dalgleish books but I still like reading them. I won't normally buy books by Conservative politicians but I do get PD James' stuff (she's a Tory peer).
Death Comes to Pemberley was such a disappointment. I love Pride & Prejudice and have read quite a few of P D James' novels over the years so thought it would something I'd like. Really not her best work at all. Such a shame - it just fell completely flat and lacked suspense. I worked out who did it fairly early on.
The Dalgliesh novels are P D James at her very best - intelligent well-written books. I think I've just talked myself into a re-read of them
Would like to add The Accidental by Ali Amith - pretentious load of pseudo meaningful old cobblers.
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