The Worst Books of 2010
Someone Throw Me a Rope!
It is in our darkest times, and our darkest hours, that I feel we are true, and possibly divine. It is in these moments, too, that we learn, that an alchemy takes place and we become something better, stronger and more precious still. This can happen in literature as well. Sometimes it is in the worst books, that we find ourselves, as readers, as writers and as people!
I read some great books this year (see http://hubpages.com/hub/Book-Recommends-from-2010-The-Gravy) and as usual I read some unmemorable dribble. I am not here to talk about either of those things. What I am here to present to you, avid readers and lovers of the feel of a good book in your hands, is a list of the five worst books I read in 2010. Without their boring monologues, plastic caricature, plethora of adjectives, and dead ends I would not be the reader that I am today.
1. Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
This is a collection of 10 essays by the late David Foster Wallace. It is, unfortunately, the only thing I have read by this author. Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself in 2008, and though admired in his life, he has been named, posthumous, as one of the most influential writers of the last 20 years. I haven't heard much for or against him from my own circle of readers, but I had eyeballed a few of his novels in the bookstore, and when a friend lent me a copy of Consider the Lobster I was fairly eager to check it out. I like essays and shorts very much, and I had just read Johnathan Lethem's Men & Cartoons: Stories, so I was feeling entirely in the frame of mind for such a collection. Man, was I disappointed. The first essay, and the best, was about the adult film industry. And though I found a lot of what he had to say somewhat interesting, and a tad tragic, overall I was worried. There were footnotes on nearly every other page, and when I say footnotes I mean paragraphs, sometimes a quarter or third of the page devoted to the tiny script. These were not references or citations, but personal asides, like when you are telling a story and go off on a side tangent, only to return to the main body of your tale, to the plot as it were. Well Wallace feels the need, often, to pull away from what he is writing (which was kind of flat and wordy) and just blather. The only intrigue in that first essay was the subject matter, the porn industry. It got much, much worse when I moved onto- a review of a John Updike book, a review of A Dictionary of Modern Usage (this was just unbearable, a long winded self congratulatory exposé on dictionaries, language, and Wallace's own unmatched intellect), a story of the Maine Lobster Festival (in my home state, no less!) focusing on the morality of boiling something alive, a review of some tennis star's autobiography, and so on. Well, let's just say I was slack jawed and glassy eyed at the end. The entire book was brimming with the before mentioned footnotes! Boring, over written, pretentious. I know nothing of Wallace's novels, but I can't say I am eager to read any, given I am still reeling from those horrible essays. Gack.
2. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
It was with a luxurious sense of anticipation that I began The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver's long awaited return to the novel. I rank Poisonwood Bible in my top ten of all time favorites. I also loved Prodigal Summer. Though less fond of her earlier works, I found them well written, and I marked Kingsolver on my list of amazing female authors to watch and admire. This set the stage for a bitter and sullen series of evenings spent plowing through the mess of The Lacuna. The narrator is cold and seemingly unknowable, the settings read like something out of poorly researched history text, there is an entire whack of the thing devoted to Frida Kahlo which is confusing and weird (and I love Frida, but her appearance in this book was just odd and clunky), then there was the cameo by Trotsky! (oh heartburn). It was preachy, had no real depth, and leaned heavily on the narrative of an author who was cold and vacant. I actually walked away from this, baffled and hurt, for almost ten months, before finally finishing the last 50 pages or so. I felt I had been used poorly by Barbara, and I will not soon forget it.
3. Eva's Man, Gayle Jones
This slim volume is the story of Eva Medina Canada, a black woman who experienced a whole bunch of sexual and emotional abuse, which led her to murder her lover. She is in prison, recounting the events that led up to the murder, which was brutal. This thing read like a literary essay some angry lesbian might write to pass English Lit. It was cliched, vindictively disgusting, choppy, dark, and pretty much left me feeling seasick.
4. Underworld, Don DeLillo
This 827 page tome came to me with some pretty eminent recommends in it's favor. It was nominated for The National Book Award, and was voted the second best novel written in the last 25 years in a survey conducted by the New York Times. I had never read DeLillo, and had been told by several people that I should. The trouble started right away, in the prologue, which is a 60 page account of a famous baseball game. I don't like baseball, I was bored stiff, and I was all bristled by the several celebrity cameos (Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason). The book itself is a fairly loosely connected group of stories and ideas that follow both the baseball from the famous game, and a somewhat central character in Nick Shay, a fairly aimless guy haunted (sort of) by a sordid (sort of) past in the Bronx. Notably bad where the several chapters devoted to the stand up of Lenny Bruce. Comedy/social commentary from an era I did not experience does not stand up to print very well. The thing was long, long, long. I hated the unfinished sentences in the dialog. I hated Nick Shay and his wife Marian. I would never recommend this book to anyone and would be immediately suspect of anyone who expressed any kind of admiration of it.
5. Night Soldier, Alan Furst
Alan Furst is a well known author of spy novels. I have a love for Raymond Chandler, and though I feel contemptuous of Tom Clancy and John Le Carre, I went into this with an opened mind and fairly high hopes. It was boring, and I thought that might pass when I got more involved in the story and or the characters. Alas, this was not the case. The book was grossly saturated with details about war and eastern European landscape. The character's dialog was like a political tract read stiffly aloud. I lost track of events, and eventually began reading the thing during empty moments, down time at work, while waiting for a phone call, etc. I got through it the way you get through a bad bowl of soup when you're hungry and there is nothing else, one tasteless spoonful at a time.
It takes guts and diligence to write. Anything. Starting something, working on it, finishing it, and then editing, rewriting, editing, getting outside opinions, locking it in, and publishing, these are the tasks of real writers, tasks I strive for and have yet to attain, so I can't very well bash published authors without first tipping my hat to their accomplishments and their bravery. That said, sometimes it just sits like cement in my stomach. I am just one person, and I know that many of the above titles sit in esteem in many a reader's heart. I am grateful for the bad reads. They show me what not to do, they give me a chance to work through something difficult and sometimes unpleasant, and they always leave me a better and more attentive and appreciative reader.
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