Tag: bad books

Why I am a Tough Book Critic

hate booksIf you came to my house you would see wall after wall lined with bookcases and books.  I couldn’t even tell you how many books I own but when I moved in 2013 I had 24 boxes, and I’ve certainly added to it since then.  I love to read and find the experience of a great book one of the most exhilarating I can have.  I’ve also persevered in many a book club and am currently in one that I love and possibly starting up another.  I love books!

With all that said it might surprise you to hear about a conversation my sister Megan and I had a couple of weeks ago.  With her being an author, I often report to her my feelings on books I’ve read.  In 2015 I read quite a bit and enjoyed reading classics like The Jungle Book and Dracula was interesting, but my favorites by far was Finding Audrey and The Martian.  I loved those books so much!  Reading those books reminded me of why I love to read.  I loved the characters, humor, emotion and combination of everything in the story.

Unfortunately there were a lot of books I read last year that I really didn’t like.  Megan said to me “Rachel, you are a tough critic when it comes to books.  You seem to be a lot tougher on books you don’t like than on movies you don’t like”.  I think being an author Megan is more forgiving of plotholes and flaws in books than I am.  She recognizes the struggles of producing a novel and is willing to ignore things or explain them away where I am not so understanding.

The biggest difference between movies and books for me is time and emotional investment.  I recently saw an animated atrocity called Norm of the North.  It was so bad I sat there in disbelief that anyone financed and produced this garbage.  That said it was 90 minutes of my life.  A bad book or even an underwhelming book takes days sometimes weeks for me to read.  I’m living with these characters and I get more emotionally absorbed than in most movies so when an ending sucks or the characters are stupid it ticks me off.  If a book is boring it’s days of boredom (the horrors of reading Dune come to mind….).  If a character is annoying it is days of annoyance.  You get the idea…

I guess if I was a speed reader and could finish books in 2 or 3 hours than maybe it wouldn’t be so bad but I’m not.  I look at a book as a real investment and I will call it out if that investment doesn’t pay off.  I usually try to point out some positives (with movies too although some like Norm of the North there really isn’t anything).  This is particularly true for book club as I don’t want to appear like a complete grinch.

Like today we are discussing The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion which I hated but I will talk about my empathy with her situation and sufferings.  I do feel bad for her but it’s a rough read.  It has to have one of the most deceptive titles in recent memory.  There is no magic.  Only death and comatose loved ones.  Yippee!  And not that every book has to be happy but reading someone’s therapy journal and a bunch of statistics about death and grief- kill me now.

Again it’s worse than a bad movie because I’m living with this woman and her awful book for days!  And bad books seem to take so much longer to finish; thereby, extenuating the badness.

Now if you think I’m tough on books I’m even tougher on TV shows because that’s investing literally years of my life too. If you don’t believe me check out my thoughts on the How I Met Your Mother finale

I’m also pickier when it comes to characters and tone in books.  I can handle spending 2 hours with unlikable characters in a movie; although not my preference.  But a book? No thank you! A recent example is The Revenant.  It was a great film but brutal and has nothing but jerks in it.  I can’t imagine reading a book of the Revenant.  It sounds completely miserable.

That’s why I loved The Martian so much! It was about a nice guy that I loved spending time with.  I loved the movie but the book allowed me to be with Mark for days.  That was great!! Elizabeth Gaskell I love because the characters are so wonderful.  I love spending time with them for days.  Same with Jane Austen.

The other reason I am tougher on books than movies is there are a lot more saving graces in movies than books.  What I mean is in a book you have the text, characters, plot etc.  In a movie there are so many more factors to judge and that can save a movie from total disaster.  For instance, I hated Chappie so much.  It was one of my worst films of the year, but even I have to admit the visual effects were pretty good and Hugh Jackman was good.  If I had to read the novel of Chappie that would be awful!

You see what I mean?  I can really dislike a movie but the animation is good or a performance is impressive.  Sometimes the special effects are cool or there is some good writing or cinematography.  With books it is just the book that can either sink or swim.

What do you guys think?  Are you tougher on books than movies?  Which side do you land on?  I’d be curious to know.  What are some good books you’ve read recently?  What are some bad and why?

Forced Books

My friend over at Sueys books just had a fun post on book she was forced to read.  She uses ‘forced’ in quotation marks because she says “I’ve never in my life felt at all forced to read something. The word forced and read just don’t go together in my brain.”   I don’t know if I can agree with that but I liked the concept.

I wasn’t a veracious reader until I was an adult in college (thank you Jane Austen!) so there were definitely books growing up I was forced to read.  Anyone else out there a late reader like me?  I certainly read growing up (and my parents read to us every night.  One of my best memories) but it just wasn’t a huge part of my life like it is now.  I also don’t remember reading much in high school.  I was pretty busy.

Anyway, I thought this would be a fun little post while I’m eating my lunch.  What are books you were forced to read?

 Books I was “Forced” to Read

“Forced” by a book club or group:

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller-  I hate this book.  I thought it was cynical and cold.  I don’t get why anyone would find it funny.  I disliked every character.  I hated that all the women were either nurses or prostitutes.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison-   This book contains well written prose but for a story that made me roll my eyes.  It is so dismal and pessimistic and its a long, dismal and pessimistic

March by Gwendolyn Brooks- The people over at pulitzer prize should be ashamed of themselves.  How they could pick this atrocity as a winner blows my mind.  Brooks twisting of the first novel I ever read, Little Women, into a soapy story about the father as a slave philanderer and Marnie as the wise and forgiving wife, really ticked me off.  I thought it was almost unreadable.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- I was the lone wolf in my book club on this one.  I hated it.  Everyone else loved it.  I thought all the characters were one note and obvious.  I knew exactly what was going to happen because it included every braniac makes his/her way out of slums cliche down to the alcoholic father.  Cliches can work if they are done in an endearing way but I hated all the characters except for Francie.  Maybe hate is too strong a word but I certainly didn’t think any were compelling or sympathetic.
“Forced” by another reader:
Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte.  This is a very well written book but the characters are so hateful to each other I found it hard to root for any of them. Heathcliff and Catherine are such beasts that you are almost glad when their story does not end well.  Maybe that was Bronte’s point but I still left the book with a sour taste in my mouth.  Plus, the ending feels so tagged on.

The Awakening- Kate Chopin. This is one that many women told me to read, so I finally did and I hated it.  I hate books that rationalize adultery.  Make it seem somehow more enlightened. It’s even worse when the husband is a good person and hasn’t done anything particularly wrong.  It’s just the institution of marriage that stifles our heroine.  Kill me now.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell- I had heard about this book from a number of sources and I thought it sounded cute.  I’m a huge Julia Child fan so maybe I’d like it.  I hated it!  I have to say that pretty much every blog I have read in book form has been awful but Julie took it to another level.  She is whiny and shrill.  Plus, very liberal with the f-bombs and I don’t want to read that when I’m trying to break away in a chick lit book.  Maybe a world war 2 gritty action book but not here.  She complains for 300 pages. That’s the book.

Hunger Games 2 and 3- Ughh…What a disappointment.


“Forced” to read at school:

I guess pretty much any book I read in school I was technically forced to read but a few ended up being winners and some big losers

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne- always hated this book.  The symbolism is so over the top. Hester can’t go by a red rose without it symbolizing her sin.  Geesh…

Lord of the Flies-  Does anyone like reading this book?

A Separate Peace by John Knowles- Why do kids read this in school?  It is so manipulative and annoying. As I said in my goodreads review ‘it’s like Dead Poets Society without Robin Williams’

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger- I don’t really like books with people complaining the whole time which is pretty much what this book is with some flowery language thrown in there.  I get that it is portraying that stage of growing up but even when I was at that age I thought that stage was annoying so why would I want to read about it?  It was painful for me to finish.

3 I liked-

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- I think one of the testaments of this book is that most have to read it at school and most still like it.  A noble man fights for justice that he knows is a lost cause, but he hopes he can at least teach his children something about how to live their life.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs as Linda Brendt- I was given this book by my favorite professor in college, Dr.  Matt Holland.  Naturally, I had to read it and was so moved by the story of a woman who does everything to get out of slavery even hiding in a floor slat for 7 years.  Since my first read-through I have heard that it may be the collection of a number of stories put together by the abolitionists to help their cause but the fact that anyone had to go through any of these events is worth reading.  Its shocking and yet inspiring.  The message on friendship at the end is one of my favorites in literature.

Red China Blues by Jan Wong-  I had to read this book for my Chinese politics class and have loved it ever since.  In addition, every one who I have recommended it to over the years, including my Dad, has also loved it.  Jan becomes one of the first westerners allowed at Beijing University during the Cultural Revolution.  She is a die hard Maoist to begin with but as she spends the next 20  years of her life in China she undergoes amazing philosophical and physical changes.  Great, gripping read.

So there you go.  Books I was forced to read.  What are some for you?

This is books scramble. Many books on white background.