In my opinion, a bad book is one that’s impossible to follow, has unbelievable characters, or a plot that never develops. According to The American Book Review and their Top 40 Bad Books List, there is so much more involved in the selection. The bad book reviews were given by a variety of college professors. I admit some of the reviews were way over my head. I had no clue what they were talking about.
Though I don't necessarily agree with their comments, I've listed a few of my favorite remarks about the authors and books that made theTop 40.
Ian Fleming’s novels consist entirely of clichés, coordinating conjunctions, and appositives. No renaissance man, commander Bond is nobody, a super zero (“a neutral figure,” Fleming calls him) who lives to advertise a watch—set, as they are in magazines, to ten past ten. He’s a “secret agent” who tells anyone his name. Being an agent, he cannot act for himself, and going everywhere, he has no real home and lives in a no-man’s land where every side has another side, a third side that can be the second side of the first two sides, so that the opposing sides often find themselves on the same side. (With Ian Fleming’s great success, I don’t think he’d care that his name appeared on this list.)
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates - Why is it bad? Because it’s tricked so many into thinking it’s good. (Though depressing, I didn’t think of this as a bad book so I’m one of tricked readers.)
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence “It’s like someone put a gun to Nietzsche’s head and made him write a Harlequin romance.”
Herman Melville’s Pierre (1852)—so extravagantly mannered as to be barely readable, and yet so exquisitely conceived, so archly comic that you can emerge from its pages at last and think that the whole assemblage is pretty good; somehow the fact that the book is bad becomes either irrelevant or else important in a whole new way. (I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to add this one to my to-read list.)
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses (1992) comes immediately to mind. I think of it as a romance novel for men, his trilogy included. Like all good romance novel writers, McCarthy uses clichés and derivative characters to sell millions of copies. He gives men a romanticized view of manliness. McCarthy wraps his characters in half-truths and idealized anecdotes, much like Jackie Collins does, only his are about the Lone Star State, the border, and its cowboy myths.
Frankenstein is a book made great by its badness. We cannot do without it.
If badness is related to perceived greatness, then I offer The Great Gatsby (1925) as the worst novel in American literature.
Gustave Flaubert, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874)—that’s my pick for a bad book. His friends told him to hide it away, not to publish it, and while it’s tempting to romanticize any negative reception of a great artist, in this case I think they were right. It just isn’t a good book.
But is anything as bad as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003)? This formulaic knock-off of fascistic conspiracy theories is a trite study for a film script—and no wonder the movie was also bad. I love the chapters that are only a couple of lines long. Again, it is a book whose publishers flooded the preview/review market with thousands of free copies. Yet for many of my students, it is the book that brought them into the English major. For others, it is the only book they’ve ever enjoyed reading. IS it possible that even a Bad Book can do Good? (I admit, I've enjoyed all of Dan Brown's books.)
What constitutes a bad book to you? Do you have a book you think should be on the Top Bad Books list?
Thanks for stopping by.
Tags: Huxley, American Book Review, Top 40 Bad Book List, Ian Fleming, D. H. Lawrence, Frankenstein, Great Gatsby, Dan Brown,