@gailcalled It really bothers me when people say that Finnegans Wake is one of the greatest works in the English language. Aside from it barely being in English, the fact that is so experimental does not mean it is great. It’s hard for me to see high praise of that book as anything other than pretentiousness for pretentiousness’ sake.
Anyway, the worst book I ever read was probably “After” by Francine Prose, about the consequences of a school shooting that result in a dystopian Big Brother-like control of the school, mostly fueled by brainwashing emails sent to parents. It’s like it was supposed to be a social commentary, but ended up being absurd. And I read that when I was 12…
I’m reading it kind of “just because”. At first I was like “Ok, if it’s the guy’s first novel, maybe he doesn’t know how to get started.” Then it was “There ARE a lot of characters, so maybe he’s just taking his time developing them.” Now I’m like “OK, I’m more than three-quarters through this thing and I don’t care about ANYONE. Will something just friggin’ HAPPEN already?”
And now I’m so invested into it there’s no point in not finishing. I can’t believe there are five of these and people are comparing it to Tolkien. I want to smack people in the face next time I hear that.
@Seek_Kolinahr Ha. I just read the 4th and 5th book of that series in the span of a couple weeks this summer. I love it. I want to read every letter of that series and cannot wait for the 6th book :)
I do agree that there are too many characters and point-of-views that we don’t really need to hear from. But it doesn’t prevent me from loving the series. As a geography buff, the elaborate world is something I can’t get enough of. I’ve never seen such a detailed and developed fantasy world before.
At first, I was convinced that this wouldn’t be an easy question for me to answer.
I have read a lot of terrible books before—don’t get me wrong. I tend to take a Roger Ebert-like method for rating and reviewing them though. I am not going to compare a work of supernatural young adult fiction to Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great any more than he would elect to rank a summer blockbuster action movie to a French art house sleeper. Different genres, different periods, different scales.
But, BUT, then I remembered that I volunteered to edit someone’s manuscript for little pay (which they never followed through on.) It was easily the worst book that I have ever read in my life. Sure, it is not, as far as I know, published yet, but it was so awful that I blocked it from my immediate memory.
@Seek_Kolinahr That’s actually something I was thinking about :P But no, I was referring to the layout of the continents and the ancient regions and kingdoms. Most fantasy books take place in one small region that looks to be about the size of California or something. It’s nice to see an attempt at almost creating a world-spanning setting, while concentrating most of the action on one continent.
Of course, as a linguist myself, Tolkien is always going to be my favorite as far as fake history goes, but that of ASoIaF has intrigued me more than most other fantasy books I have read.
Also, in before the anti-Rand crowd. I was actually expecting more of that so far…
Quick Googling of “What the heck is the orbit of the Game of Thrones planet?” came up with a blog article, excerpted below:
It’s been a popular topic on the A Song of Ice and Fire forums, this whole matter of what causes the weird seasons. Suggested theories have ranged as far as suggesting dark planets in the near vicinity, perhaps a binary star, and more. But it’s rather fruitless; the author is prosaic on the topic and has provided the direct answer: it’s magic, trying to figure out a scientific, realistic explanation is bound to fail.
What that says to me is “I didn’t plan for my readers to see through this obvious plot abyss”.
I don’t know, I don’t get too bogged down in the details of a magical world. It’s one thing to have glaring contradictions (I will notice those and they will affect my ability to enjoy the book), but leaving a cosmological feature unexplained is something I can accept and consider trivial, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and especially considering that in ASoIaF, the human relations and political strife are number one, with magic being secondary.
I’m with Gail on Finegan’s Wake. I didn’t get through much of The Artist as a Young Man, or the Dubliners, either. I guess I’m just not a Joyce man. I think his life—his wonderfully dedicated wife, his debilitating vision problems, the things he said to other writers, his thoughts on Yeats and the Irish problem, the Catholic Church, the fact that his wife won his heart initially because she enjoyed masturbating with him and was not shy about letting him know, his artistic relationships at Silvia Beach’s bookstore, and many other things— are much more interesting than his work..
Henry James after about 1905 is cumbersome as well (but nowhere near as bad as Joyce). His earlier stuff, the work he himself hated, like Washington Square was cleaner and more direct—and there was humor in it. But he began painting with a lighter brush with dense descriptive paragraphs, beating images to death, harking to the cheapest Victorian romances rather than the more concise writing which was gradually coming into vogue by WWI. And although I’m sure he found artistic pleasure in it, I find it verbose and his artistic ego takes over, like he selfishly taking you for a ride strictly for his pleasure, not the reader’s. It seems his public at the time agreed.
Shakespeare was always tough for me, but I refused to be defeated. There was no way this guy, who was lauded as possibly the best in the English language ever, could be as boring as I thought. It had to be me; I just wasn’t smart enough to get it—and that was unacceptable. I just figured I was too immature, too impatient. I mean, there were inescapable Shakespearean moments like in The Tempest:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, we are all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
I always thought that would be a great way to leave an all night party. It would look good on a tombstone as well.
And when Juliet imagines the death of Romeo while in her father’s orchard and the intensity of her love burns through the pages and scorches the hands of the reader:
“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
I mean this dude was good. No denying that. And after five hundred years, he could still get ‘em hot and squirming in their seats. But most of it, like most of the dialogue in the Tempest just put me to sleep.
Then I heard Lawrence Olivier on stage in New York. He sounded real, natural, like some British guy in a restaurant Central Park West telling a story, not like some bombastic opera singer without an orchestra. Olivier wasn’t reading Shakespeare as a poet, he talking in fulI sentences in a meter I could understand. So, I stopped reading Shakespeare in verse. I ignored the commas and stanzas and read him in my own rhythm, in whole sentences as in prose rather than poetry, and I began to get him, his mind, his humor, his beautiful acrobatics with the language. It was enormously satisfying. Only then could I appreciate the poet. Maybe someday I’ll be able to appreciate the later James works, too. Maybe. I doubt it.
In the same vein as Shakespeare, the Bible, in the English of the early 17th century just was too much. I’ve always appreciated it as an important cultural document, but recently its literary value is becoming apparent. Age, experience, and slowing down long enough to pay attention is the cause, I suppose.
There are certainly a good number of children’s books that should not have been written. But this one is specifically designed to destroy children and their parents.
“Who am I? I’ve got lights. Ten wide tires. No A.C., not me. I’ve got doubles: steering wheels, gas pedals, brakes. I am totally dual op.” “See those bags? I smell breakfast! Crew? Get me to the curb! Lights? Blink! Brakes Squeal!”
The whole fucking book goes on like this – with all kinds of crazy fonts. Imagine reading this horseshit out loud and not wanting to burn it.
Updated: just remembered another annoying book: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Here’s my train of thought throughout my reading:
Beginning to read: Abraham Lincoln vs vampires? That’s quite a cool idea. Let’s check it out!
⅓ of the book: a little slow pace, more like a straightforward biography of Lincoln than a story. But oh well, that may be the author’s intention to introduce the scenario. Just be patient and keep on reading.
½ of the book: halfway now but why nothing has changed? It still has that biography feeling. I’m getting a little impatient, but just keep reading, maybe there will be a breakthrough in the end.
⅔ of the book: what the hell is this? I’ve been reading it for a long time now and I still don’t understand what the author is getting at! All the time it feel like the author just copy-pastes Lincoln’s biography then adds vampires randomly. There’s no plot at all! This book is just like a distorted version of a textbook, no more no less!
And that was the point when I threw the book out of the window.
Meh, I read it, too. At the time my niece was eleven, and I wanted to be sure someone knew what she was getting into. The whole series took three days of my life, which I have so far been able to suppress from active memory.
It would probably be 50 Shades of Grey but I never actually finished that so don’t class it as “read”. I couldn’t get very far into Asimov’s Foundation, either. They must have been pretty bad to me because I’m usually pedantic about finishing books no matter what. In 50 Shades of Grey’s case I could have probably finished it, it wasn’t that I couldn’t stomach it or anything, but I read about half in one sitting and put it down to go to sleep then just never had the desire to pick it back up. Foundation, well, I just couldn’t be bothered. It seemed like it was just politics that happened to be set in space, but they’re my dad’s favourites so I might give it another whirl sometime.
But the worst book I’ve ever fully read, or, well, at least in recent memory, is Ender’s Game. I just do not understand the fuss at all. I may have downloaded a not quite ahem legal copy (I’m glad I didn’t pay for it tbh) and I honestly thought maybe I’d been duped and I was reading someone’s weird fan fiction or own made-up story or something it was that bad, until I opened a hard copy at the bookshop and checked. Ugh.
^^ I liked ender’s game. I agree it was over hyped but it still beat 80% of the crappy sci-fi out there.
Try reading arthur c clark abgain. I digested all of that as a kid but re-reading some of it as an adult was like eating stale bread.
I was actually entertained by Abraham Lincoln vampire hunter. The story was sub par but the mental images of an axe weilding vampire revenge killing president was a well needed stress reliever at the time.
Oh, just realised I didn’t give my own answer, just commented on others.
As a teenager, I read a series of Christian romance novels. They were so awful – so poorly written, such bland characters, so many blaring grammatical errors – I burned the whole series in my backyard. I wasn’t going to risk those books falling into someone else’s hands.
“But the worst book I’ve ever fully read, or, well, at least in recent memory, is Ender’s Game. I just do not understand the fuss at all. I may have downloaded a not quite ahem legal copy (I’m glad I didn’t pay for it tbh)....”
Grow-Me-Up Stories for the Child Within by Edwina Dae
Here is the review I wrote on Goodreads a few years back:
This book gets two stars because it was so bad that it was great. If you ever find a copy and you want a laugh, get it. I pull this out every couple of years and laugh myself silly.
It’s all of these super-cutsey pseudo children’s stories that are suposed to be theraputic to adults recovering from various forms of abuse. Here are some of the stories I remember.
1. A gumball machine that broke itself because its owner put prank flavored gum in it. Total grossout ick moment—detailed description of an elderly couple pulling out their false teeth and rolling the gumballs around in their mouth.
2. A Teddybear that was emotionally abused by a stuffed donkey addicted to butterscotch.
3. A box of watercolor paints that was emotionally abused by a box of crayons.
4. A story that begins with a sentence with the word, “BloopbloopbloopbleepbloopbloopbloopbloopbleepBLOOP
If we are going more mainstream I’d say Twilight was the worst.
I had to read Twilight for work. I was a young adult services librarian. I had to force myself to get through it. It was painfully bad. I’ve never been on Yahoo Answers, sorry. But I know I’m not the only person who thought it was a poorly written Mary Jane of a book.
@keobooks I never read Twilight, but I’ve seen the movies. Annoying as hell. And the endings are just too softened and ridiculous, like: “No matter how bad the situation is, the good guys are always safe and sound, and the bad guys will see through their mistakes and make peace with the good guys”. Think about how fast a person’s opinion can change according to the movies…
Really have no idea why many people here like them. Probably because they fit their wish of “a soft, easy love”.
One reason why I couldn’t go through A Game of Thrones was the amount of characters in the prologue that all die anyway at the end. It felt like such a waste of memory to have to recall that entire scene with everyone’s unique personality and then they all fucking die. Thanks. Thanks for wasting my memory.
But going back to @Seek_Kolinahr about world building, I wouldn’t mind the whole inexplicable seasons thing simply becuase the world doesn’t have to follow normal rules. It’s his creation. For all we know, the world in that series is not a planet, but an other dimensional realm that defies our understanding of how reality exists. Whenever I open up a fantasy book I know that I am entering a world unlike ours in some way. All those arguments about “That can’t really happen in real life” becomes moot, unless the authors themselves try to emulate part of the real world.
Gared was the one executed in the first chapter, but in the prologue he stays behind with the horses while Will and Waymar Royce go ahead (and get killed), so I don’t think it implies Gared dies twice…
1) The book belonged to the kids, that’s why, and they loved it.
2) I don’t still have the book. This was 25 years ago.
3) Do you seriously think I sit down every 6 months and read The Pokey Little Puppy for my own entertainment or something? Get off your high horse.
So apparently Mr. Hemingway revolutionized the way authors wrote, but his short stories are so hard the plots are so bland:
Someone sees a cat in the rain and wants to rescue it, but when she goes outside the cat is gone. Then a maid brings her the cat and she dreams about having long hair.
@dxs Totally agree with you.
His classic, “The Old Man and The Sea”, is no better. A man whose sole desire is to catch the biggest fish goes fishing, finds one big fish, catches it then has it eaten by the shark, and continues to fish. And that’s a masterpiece? It’s just like I’m writing about my everyday life.
The letters he wrote to working-class, poorly educated Nora Barnacle are a marvel, but it sounds as though you are familiar with them.
From the 1978 NYT, Irving Howes’ review of “The Selected Letters”, this might tempt non-Joyce fams into having a look;
“Knowing the reticence Nora had inherited from the culture of Irish Catholicism- a reticence from which he himself was by no means free- Joyce chose the most obscene images, the most “dirty” words he could think of. Through language he called “ugly, obscene, and bestial” he wanted to shake Nora into a fervor of sexuality. His usual lyricism would not suffice: it was too tender, too becalming. He therefore set out to shock her- apparently, with some success.
Withheld until now from publication, the several obscene letters and passages form the most “sensational” aspect of Richard Ellmann’s new selection of Joyce letters….”
I had owned a copy but cannot seem to find them. Pity.
@dxs But everyone seems to consider that kind of confusion and blandness as: “a revolutionary”.
You’re so lucky you aren’t required to read any Hemingway’s work. “The Old Man and the Sea” was one of my textbook’s lessons. To tell the truth, I couldn’t understand a word of it with the confusion from this story and from the teacher’s explanation (I guess he didn’t understand the story either). To make the matter worse, it was chosen as one of the 3 stories in the textbook that would appear on the test! Luckily it never really appeared.
At least there’s one good thing I can say about it: it’s still better than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
I read once that Stephen King has a similar limitation.. Being a writer and knowing when a fellow writer has put an effort into a story, he finds he cannot get through somethng that really doesn’t grab his interest.
Just recently I picked up a novel that had a premise that really intrigued me. The book had very good reviews as well. But several chapters into it, it just wasn’t doing anything for me and I found no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t go any further…
I give five chapters or 100 pages, as a general rule. The exceptions are if it’s a series I’ll give it to the end of the first book, or if I fall asleep three times before completing five chapters, it’s gotta go.