Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: books that suck

I'm not happy with what I'm reading right now, and while I never intended my "reading assignments" to be about the book I'm reading at the moment, I thought we could talk about books that irritate us and why we keep reading them.

I'm reading Penmarric by Susan Howatch, which is one of those "sweeping family sagas" set in Cornwall.  Sex, money, property, bastards, etc.  The blurb compares it to Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca.  Um, no.

Why am I reading this drivel?  Because Michael Korda told me to.  Not exactly, but in his book about his career at Simon & Schuster (Another Life) he mentions Penmarric as a book that came across his desk that seemed really different and special.  So I added it to my book list and now I am saying, "WHY, MICHAEL WHY?"

Who knows, maybe in the 1970s it was different and special to use 500 words when twenty-five would suffice.  Here, a bridegroom approaches his wife on their wedding night:

I lit a cigarette, walked over to the railings of the esplanade and watched the moonlight glittering on the dark waters.  The sea was calm; I felt at peace...Faint strains of music reached my ears from the dining room; the murmur of conversation floated to meet me from the drawing room...I mounted the stairs, my feet sinking into the thick carpet, and moved without hesitation down the cooridor to the door of our suite.
She was ready for bed.  She wore some pale floating garment and as I entered the room I could see her reflection in the dressing table mirror.  Her hair, thick and luxuriant, cascaded over her shoulders...

Then she wipes some lipstick off her mouth and he freaks out and is suddenly remembering every tragic thing that ever happened to him.

I was back among the worst memories of my life, back amidst all the blood and violence and suffering I'd tried so hard to forget.  I'd thought I'd never have to live through those memories again, but I was wrong.  Time had been displaced, the clock put back.
And I was there.

It's supposed to be dramatic, but it's really just boring and infuriating.  I hope I don't come across as a snob. Good and bad writing cut across all levels of literature and I enjoy all kinds of books.  Indeed, if there's anything more irritating than a poorly-written best seller, it's a badly written novel with pretensions to being great literature.

So why am I reading it?  I don't always continue with awful books.  Recently, a book's "thrilling" language irritated me so much I quit reading after twenty pages.  I was so exceptionally annoyed I returned it to the library immediately as if it was too much to even have it in the house with me.  The one thing worthwhile thing about Penmarric is that Susan Howatch parallels the Penmar family's story with that of the Plantagenets:  Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their children.  It's an interesting idea and the book could have been really good if someone had forced her to remove the manufactured drama.

What sorts of books irritate you?

14 comments:

  1. I have plenty of lowbrow guilty pleasures, but I find most of the books on the bestsellers list unreadable. Barbara Kingsolver irritates me. Jodi Picoult makes me cringe. But by far the most boring, tedious, poorly-written book I have EVER read that enjoys a strange popularity is The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo.

    I rarely read books that are written in a hip, ironic style. I also won't finish books that are so transparently just a platform for the author to showcase their moral opinions. Just write a non-fiction essay instead of trying to coyly hide behind your ill-conceived character.

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  2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woa. I read this for a book club, and I was so irritated at the gratuitous use of swear words. I don't remember the story --only how much I hated the way the author wrote.

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  3. I get irritated by too much description, too much back story (DO NOT READ "Three Daughters" because it's all back story, no forward story plot at ALL), no plot (See: the overrated award-winning "The Gathering" by Enright). Gosh, I'm picky. Oh, and navel-gazing stretches monologue annoy me to no end, which is why I approach memoirs with great trepidation.

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  4. Barbara Kingsolver. Can.NOT.stand.her.

    I hate when authors realize their manuscript was due last week and suddenly wrap up the entire plot in 10 pages or less in a less than satisfactory way. I just finished a book like that. Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full" was like that too.

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  5. Did Barbara Kingsolver write The Poisonwood Bible? I read that when I was sick, and I think it actually made me sicker. I can't even define what bothered me about it.

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  6. I'm with Becky on Barbara Kingsolver. Same with Not Beehive on Jodi Picoult. Also, I just ditched The Emperor's Children because I didn't care about ANY of the characters - that is usually where a book loses me.

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  7. I'm famously undiscriminating about my books, but I hated The Ice Storm by...whoever that cat was who wrote it. I blogged about it. The writing was good, but everything was relentlessly sexualized. And I like reading about sex just fine, don't get me wrong, but at a certain point it just gets ridiculous. Actually, ridiculous is fine too, but this was so much sex it was *annoying*. And annoying is not fine.

    I hate reading books where the characters are supposed to be all world-weary and mysterious and crap, but they're actually just really boring, i.e. the author doesn't tell you enough about them to make you care.

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  8. I'm famously undiscriminating about my books, but I hated The Ice Storm by...whoever that cat was who wrote it. I blogged about it. The writing was good, but everything was relentlessly sexualized. And I like reading about sex just fine, don't get me wrong, but at a certain point it just gets ridiculous. Actually, ridiculous is fine too, but this was so much sex it was *annoying*. And annoying is not fine.

    I hate reading books where the characters are supposed to be all world-weary and mysterious and crap, but they're actually just really boring, i.e. the author doesn't tell you enough about them to make you care.

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  9. I don't have your persistence. If I'm not fully engaged, or at least 75% engaged by the end of the first chapter it goes back to the library, or into the bin.

    The only one I forced myself to read was The Da Vinci Code, beause so many people said it was great.

    It wasn't, it was mediocre.

    Next time I'll trust my own judgement.

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  10. Bad names for characters bother me. I just finished reading Gone Girl for book club, and the main character's sister was nicknamed "Go". Drove me up the flippin' wall.

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  11. I have sometimes taken awhile to warm into a book but half way through Cloud Atlas I was still tearing my hair out when a friend said 'you don't have to finish it' for which I will be forever thankful..... I don't actually know anyone who has finished it !!

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  12. This guy sounds like the love child of Eliot and Dickens--wordy much?

    I detest "lady" books with high heels, purses or little dogs on the covers.

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  13. The Bridges of Madison County. I laughed when I was supposed to be crying.

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  14. One hates those novels where the main characters have their"own" language that they use and thus there is this absurd translation stream throughout the book. Also anything by Dan Brown and his clones.

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