Not So Good Books I Read Last Year
So last year I read 54 books in 52 weeks. My goals was one book per week and I surpassed that target thanks to a couple of long haul return flights (I spent approx 30 hours on a plane last year – excellent reading time).
I spent the year reading and vlogging about my reading regime, even experimenting with YouTube in the process by posting weekly book reviews – here’s a little breakdown of my vlogging experience and some of the lessons learnt.
So I read a lot and talked a lot and just recently I listed my 10 favorite books from last year – here – but to compliment that I wanted to list some of the worst things I read last year.
Not to attack any author or book in particular, more to explore the works in my own mind and clarify for myself just what it is that made for a flat and unrewarding reading experience. Analyse for myself what it is that I don’t enjoy so I can avoid writing and reading that way in the future.
Also it is worth noting that however bad or underwhelming I felt the following books were, I read them all to completion. I didn’t discard any of them 100 pages in so that couldn’t have been that bad in the grand scheme of things. Just particularly disappointing or unremarkable for various reasons.
Just to re-iterate, the following is just my humble opinion so you will probably disagree (or agree?) with me, but this is all just a light hearted analysis of some of the more forgettable books I read in a year long reading odyssey.
Heart Shaped Box
Not that it should really be that relevant but Joe Hill is the son of none other than Stephen King and he has made a name for himself over the years under this pen name. He is well established at this point and no doubt has a lot of fans but Heart Shaped Box was one of the worst books I read last year.
Given this book hit the New York Bestseller list and won a Bram Stoker award for first novel, I’m aware I’m probably alone in this, but I found it riddled with horror cliches and stereotypes.
Jude is a middle aged rock star who collects weird occult items and has a young ex-stripper girlfriend. She obviously has a history of physical abuse and he obviously used to take lots of drugs. Jude then buys a ghost on the internet!
The ghost arrives in a box, spiritually attached to an old suit, and proceeds to haunt him and his much younger partner. For some reason they seem shocked when this happens and soon they both set off on a tedious cross country journey to restore order and placate the spirit.
I found the whole thing fairly predictable and not at all scary.
Granted this was first published back in 2007, but reading it in 2016, the idea of buying a ghost on eBay seemed ridiculous.
There is little wrong with Hills writing itself, although the book was overlong by about 100 odd pages, but the heart of the story and the central characters just never grabbed me. Just 2D cardboard cutouts of character types we’ve all seen before.
I’m sure Hill has matured and developed as a writer since this debut novel, but as an introduction to the author, I was left completely underwhelmed.
The Familiar Vol 1
Mark Z Danielewski
Anyone unfamiliar with Danielewski‘s work may not be aware of his unique style that includes linguistic gymnastics and typographical games. To Danielewski the sheer constraints of the page and the structures of the words crossing it are completely up for debate.
His incredible debut novel House of Leaves is a veritable treasure chest adventure of a book in which the physical appearance of the text morphs into shapes to imitate the maze in which the main characters get lost. It is genuinely one of my favourite books of all time, such is its breathless scope and creepily original tale, the words and structure of the pages flow and morph through the book with incredible dexterity and creativity, developing a multi layered story – it’s a style and technique Ive never really seen before or since.
So going into The Familiar I was hyped.
One of the most original and inventive writers Ive come across is releasing 27 volumes, all 800 odd pages long, at the rate of around 2 per year. It’s a grand project of which Ive never heard of in the literary world, indeed Danielewski has said he is trying to bring the world of serial TV to the form of the novel.
This kind of ambition and scale is something we should all encourage and strive for, really stretching the form to its limits.
Then I read this first volume and my enthusiasm quickly evaporated.
This time around it just didn’t work, not for me anyway. In this first volume we have 4 different stories, all using their own fonts, text colours and forms, all different characters with different voices and tones, all in separate parts of the globe with seemingly unconnected story lines (I assume they will all collide at some point as the project continues).
Whereas this worked perfectly in the insular and claustrophobic House of Leave, Danielewski‘s style here felt scattergun, unsatisfying and above all difficult to read.
I just couldn’t get to grips with it and add to that the main character, a 10 year old girl, takes 800 pages to find her cat in a rainstorm, things got a little too avant-garde and sprawling for my liking.
Looking back there was a particular vein of underwhelming non-fiction books spattered through the year. I’m a lover of non-fiction and can prefer it to fiction at times but these 3 left me cold.
I think the common thread are the overly academic tones they share, an almost textbook like feel. I like to read about everything and anything so I wasn’t put off by books about Math or Science, but such subjects need a light touch and a particularly skilled delivery. See the renowned Freakonomics if you want to see a dense and seemingly dull subject delivered in a light and entertaining way to please the ignorant and the enthusiasts alike.
So I guess that is the kind of delivery I’m looking for when exploring these non-fiction books based on heavy subjects – take something complicated and dense and make it entertaining and understandable to the layman.
It is a big ask to be fair, but these few listed above were a slog to read and a relief to finish.
The Elephant Tree
Not so much a terrible book just one I’ve almost completely forgotten almost every aspect of. I remember searching for some transgressive fiction, stories about horrible and damaged people was what I essentially wanted. I love books like Fight Club and American Psychos, books that centre around pretty horrific and questionable characters, so a quick google pointed me in the direction of The Elephant Tree.
I remember it involving some low level criminal who buries something at the foot of a tree that has an elephant like shape protruding from its trunk. Other than that I cannot recount a single plot point, character trait, or even recall the setting of the story.
Granted I read a lot of books last year but for one to slip so completely from the memory suggests it just didn’t appeal to me enough to even register in my memory atall.
Ah Chuck, my idol and perhaps my single biggest influence as a writer. I started writing years ago mainly because of his unique and individual style offered me a glimpse of the variety and individuality you can develop as a writer. Before I stumbled across Fight Club about 10 years ago, I wasn’t really aware of how stark, inventive and shocking you could be with your prose. His writing has always felt like it embodies the punk rock spirit, full of angst and in your face.
All these years later I still regularly turn to Chuck for a palate cleanser, a shot in the arm when I need a book to kick me in the back side, last year alone I read three of his that I’d previously not touched.
So it was with a heavy heart, about half way through, that I realised I wasn’t enjoying Damned – not even slightly. Maybe it’s something about the teenage girl protagonist, a character I never connected with on any level, or perhaps it was the meandering plot that didn’t really seem to go anywhere. Regardless I was left cold and disappointed by Damned and surprised at the fact it has a sequel, something Chuck rarely does.
On the other hand, Snuff and Beautiful You (Chucks other two I read last year), were both raucous, scabrous and exactly the type of thing that I love Chuck for.
Oh well, you can’t win them all.
So there we have the low-lights of an entire year’s worth of reading, Probably not bad all things considered, 7 disappointing books out of 54 – not bad really.