Friday, August 16, 2013

On writing about bad books

Should I write about books that I haven’t liked? The question came up today when I read a post by Cory Doctorow. He says that he wont. According to him, there are too many bad books to bother with and that a list of bad books is less useful than the opposite. He quotes Michael Swanwick who states that it’s useless to publically humiliate bad books, because they’re either overlooked already or well-loved despite being lousy.

So far, I’ve only mentioned books that I’ve liked on this blog – and yes, I did like Anna Karenina too, even though I was disappointed with how it ended. Would the blog be more truthful if I brought up books I’ve disliked too? After all, it is titled ‘All the books that I’ve ever read’. 

What, then, would I consider a bad book? I’ve read books that I’ve found too boring to finish. They haven’t all been mass market copies of genre bestsellers either. I’ve tried and failed to read classics that I’ve picked up solely because I thought I ought to read them. I’ve already confessed on my other blog never having read The Lord of the Rings so that’s safe to mention. It doesn’t mean theyre bad books; theyre simply books that don’t appeal to me.

I’ve read some poorly written books. Since I write urban fantasy and paranormal romances, I naturally read them a lot too. It seems inevitable that such a popular genre produces quite a few weak books. A copy of a copy of a genre favourite is seldom worth mentioning. They fail to engage me in any level and so I write them off as a waste of my time and forget all about them. I doubt I’d be able to write a coherent sentence about any of them if I had to.

I’ve read books that I haven’t liked, because they haven’t behaved as I would have wanted them to. Usually, this has to do with the brilliance of the author, however, so they’re the opposite of bad books. Once I’ve recovered from the upset they have caused, I tend to remember them fondly. Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott is a good example of such a book. Why couldn’t Jo marry Laurie but the boring professor instead? It took a few re-reads before I came to understand the choices the characters made.

It’s very difficult to find a book that I would have actively disliked yet finished. When I first read Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter when I was a little girl, I hated the main character. I found her really annoying. However, a re-read a couple of years later proved to be a different experience and I liked her and the book very much.

When I have disliked a book that I’ve actually finished, it’s because I’ve been disappointed by it. It hasn’t lived up to its promise or the ending has been a let-down; books that carry me through the ups and downs and then drop me. I once read a long fantasy series that failed right at the end so badly that I swore never to read anything by the same author again – and I haven’t. Another example is a cleverly written debut novel that got lost in its ingeniousness, leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I came very close to writing a one star review of that one, simply for disappointing me. When the second novel by the same author came out, I didn’t read it.

A good critical review of a bad book has its merits. The author can learn about it, if nothing else. Personally, I’m a lazy reviewer and have only ever reviewed books that I liked. Writing a good review of a bad book is difficult. And if the only purpose of the review is to malign the book, it’s pretty much useless. So I believe I’ll concentrate on books that I’ve liked, even if I’m critical of them. Luckily, there is plenty to choose from. I’ve read many books and liked most of them. I can keep this blog going on for a while.