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Don’t Tell Me You Don’t Know What Love Is

 

I brought an “upmarket” commercial novel to the beach and all I can say in a word, marshaling all of my critical skills, is: feh. From time to time, I choose a book from the bestseller list because I feel it is incumbent on me to know why certain books sell and have wide commercial appeal. Sometimes, it may be better not to look under the hood and just take the car for a ride. I wish I could do it, wish I could feel the wind through my hair. I think the bottom line for me is that I don’t look to books for entertainment. I will sit through the most flatulent Jennifer Anniston romcom twice, but I can’t read a crappy book. My interest in reading is in the writing. I don’t care that much about anything else or even what it’s about. If the writing is interesting, I’ll read about horseshoes.

What’s the last crap novel you read and why did you like it?

63 Responses

  1. I guess it would have to be mine. I opened the file and haven’t touched it since May 9th. I opened it because I had a divine inspiration to change something. And I still love it. It is a strictly ego thing.

  2. I won’t say which, but it was a werewolf romance. He was an alpha furry with even more pride than balls and she was a brilliant, strong woman (said so in the blurb) who was still Too Stupid to Live. No one who wasn’t blind with lust would have let the Big Misunderstanding stand for more than thirty seconds without asking the obvious, and the author had a tenuous grasp of the laws of physics both in and out of bed.

    It was cracktastic.

  3. What, are we going to live forever? I don’t read crap novels, there’s no time for that. And I couldn’t even start. I try to read a crap novel and my eyeballs will explode. Part of the deal I made with the Devil. Or God. Whoever. Whatever. Whichever.

    But I do enjoy Star Trek reruns, all flavors. Can’t work all the time, you know.

  4. I liked The Help. Does that count?

    • Me too. I also liked Water for Elephants, though I should admit it’s taken me a good hour to think of these 2.

      My book club has read and loved Sweet Potato Queens, The Shack, The Hot Flash Club, and that stupid Hedgehog book. I love my book club women (they can cook and they’re funny as all get out), but we shouldn’t, as a group, bother with the books.

      Stiil, it shocks me what people will buy in hardback.

      • I couldn’t stand The Shack. I tried; I really tried. Didn’t finish it, even though my mother’s voice was whispering, “You have to finish every book!” I’m older now, my mother’s dead, and I find I really don’t. Truly liberating to toss a book to the library.

      • Pamela, The Shack ranks as one of the most dreadful books I never finished.

    • I liked The Help too. You could use that book to teach a course on hooks and micro-hooks. Once one small mystery is resolved, a new one is introduced within a page. The characters were great too — I didn’t just like it, I loved it!

  5. A factual account of an attempted murder – told from the perspective of the victim. The author’s voice was so gleefully mean-spirited about everything- including snarky comments about the person who saved her life, I was amazed that only one person had attempted to “off” her. And even though the author had autographed the book to someone she apparently knew, I found the book in a thrift shop! Just the worst waste of publishing efforts, yet I read it, slack jawed.

  6. Honestly, I still don’t entirely grasp what “upmarket” means. It sounds so made up to me.

    The last crappy novel I read was Sweet Valley Confidential, and I read it to the end for 1) reasons of nostalgia and 2) because the writing, at times, was so bad it was actually entertaining.

    Overall, I’m like you — crappy novels do not entertain me. But the bad TV and movies? Bring it on.

  7. The last crap novel I read was Pat Booth’s Palm Beach. I went through the whole thing in record time, standing up, in a thrift store. I didn’t exactly read it, since that would have wrought havoc on my neck, more like scanned it. It was like eating Wise® Potato Chips; I just could not stop until the last page. The sheer sleaze of it clung to me like the grease and salt on my fingers after finishing the bag of chips. I didn’t buy it, nor did I sully my library card by borrowing it. Gosh, I feel like I have to shower, just thinking about it.

    • You people are ruining my potato chip and vinegar palate. I should have been able to blaze through V.Z.’s latest without noticing the nine hundred gerunds and non-said dialogue tags (the thats, the adverbs!). I couldn’t get past chapter one.

      Still, I loved the Harry Potters. The names alone charmed the hell out of me. Albus Dumbledore and Luna Lovegood and He Who Shall Not Be Named. The spells! The broomsticks, the slugs! That misfiring menace of a Weasley!

      I read the last book twice. Bite that.

  8. Yes! That is it exactly. I’ll read something that has come highly recommended and can’t get through it. It is all about the writing. The thing I detest most is that I try to keep it to myself, but then get pushed when I don’t go nuts about it. Then it ends up sounding like I only read highbrow. I could give a crap. Give me a story written beautifully. Is that too much to ask?

    And yes, it has no carryover to the candy I get from movies and television. I can watch them over and over and over and love every minute of it.

  9. Last crappy novel: Louis L’Amour. Paperback given to me by a barista at the coffee shop where I regularly write in early morning hours. She and her husband read these stories aloud to each other — so I accepted the offering. It was refreshing for the first hundred pages, easier reading that all the debut and literary fiction I’m trying to follow (swallow). L’Amour’s technical style leaves much to be desired, but his plots are fast and unpredictable — every 4-5 pages, someone faces a life or death situation. The lesson for me: keep writing each sentence as gorgeously as I am able, but make something dangerous happen much more often! It’s helped me up the ante.

  10. Like Tetman, I don’t bother finishing anything these days that doesn’t warrant the time and effort.

    And as far as questionable literature, I’ll admit I enjoyed the Harry Potter series. (Bracing for smirk.) I felt invested in the characters and immersed in the world. For me, that’s what it basically takes.

    • Fist bump, Sherry.

    • As a parent who read to her child every night, I also got pulled into the HP series. I had no choice: I read every book, no less than FIVE times, out loud, with ‘different’ voices for each character (still waiting for my Academy Award…). My son learned to appreciate the long narrative and character development- and recognize the editing process that converts such books to film. Now that he is in college, we joke about the series: but it is tempered with the memory of a happy family ritual.

      • But I don’t think the HP books were utter crap. Not The Help or Water for Elephants, either, even if they all had their flaws and might not exactly be classified as super literary. They also had their strengths. They did have some things going for them. I guess I was thinking of the true, true crap novels — the ones that neither request nor require any kind of imagination, thought, or questioning to read. I’m thinking something like a “novel” that was “written” by a teen pop star or something. Or, you know, Sweet Valley Confidential.

        Or are my standards for crap novels too low?

      • I was thinking of present company, I suppose. God knows I’ve read my share of brainless smut in the name of, uh, research. I read something by a chick whose pen name is Amber Skyze. I wish I were kidding about that.

      • I agree: HP was not complete crap- especially in comparison to what I saw this past weekend. I was able to attend the ALA conference and was appalled to learn Michael “heck of a job Brownie” Brown, as well as our former mayor C.Ray Nagin, were in attendance, promoting their versions of HK. Talk about crap books! But then, libraries are the bastion of all manner of “literature”…

      • I read some genuine crap, some chick-lit from the crappy end of the chick-lit spectrum. Gah! It’s all written in the same voice, or imitation of that voice, plus the author employs other characters to constantly comment on how witty and clever MC is. (Really, author? Your thinly-disguised fictional stand-in is awesome? You don’t say!).

        Note to self: remove my own instances of other characters complimenting MC on cleverness.

    • I make no apologies for loving the Harry Potter series. I’ve rarely had so much fun in a story. J.K. Rowling, if you’re reading, and you’d like to marry me, I’m down. I’m sure my wife will understand.

  11. The last crap novel I read was written by Dan Deweese. I forced myself to read it because he was a professor of mine, fairly recently, and in the classroom he’s a great guy, sophomoric knowledge, delivered with an old man’s surety, But his book was one of the most boring things I have ever read — Infant psychology, which I think he used to try to impress the department head which he had a thing for, she has a degree in psychology, although he must be blind because at her age she is already used up. Anyway, he has been published in quite a few mags and dredged up 10,000 bucks for a novel that is almost embarrassing. Yes, I’ve decided to name names. I have a personal vendetta for what went on in his class room. I know, It’s probably my fault for putting professors on a pedestal, My bad, my naivety, but never the less, it happened. And I remember.. I know, it’s my fault, for assuming, but how do we reason-away things that really go on? I’m not going nowhere. I just can’t figure out how to stop ranting on Betsy’s blog. Fuck-me. I try. I say fuck professors. Those who can’t do teach, and now they have created a good-old boy network where their meaningless books waste paper Art? Or a prop? But, I ask you, a prop for what? Sorry Dan, you let it go on, and, in fact, encouraged it. You’re an idiot. You’re book is boring and meaningless. And as a word of advise from someone who has been around a few blocks that you can’t even imagine, don’t be afraid of enemies. Betsy, you’re wearing me out. Damn you, woman.

    • Here’s a link to a review of one of Deweese’s books, which may be the same one you’re ranting about, Jeff, but I don’t know. It does seem a likely suspect.

      http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/you-don’t-love-man

      A few threads back I asked you how old you are, because I wanted to get a better idea of the lad behind the mask. I don’t know that you directly answered my question, but you have indirectly answered it here, so thank you, anyway (I also have a better idea now what part of the planet you’ve been hanging out in, for what it’s worth).

      Having my blog persona fool and fun and duel and dance with your blog persona may be of some limited entertainment value; nevertheless, my advice, which you have not sought and almost certainly do not need, is to keep writing. It’s an endeavor in which constant practice can’t help but lead to improvement. Show the Deweeses and the Tetmans and the Betsys of the world what you can do, but don’t kid yourself that you’re kicking ass every time you step in shit.

      • Thanks, Man. I am not an asshole. Well, to those who know me. But I do have a passion for art and writing. I think it is bigger than we are. I’ll be 47 in September if you must know. And yes, as always I will never stop writing or talking to folks in grocery stores. The purpose of all this? I have no idea. It feels good. It feels right. Thanks, Tetman. I have good stories about Portland State University and the professors there who slush off their work because, apparently, they imagine that they deserve better. But. I’m working on that book. No names with be associated with real people, but it all really happened. I’d give you the title but there are to many desperate writers out there. Hey! Hey!

  12. PS. to answer your question, I liked it because it made me feel good about my writing It’s as simple as that..

  13. I normally don’t read the blockbusters, but I read Twilight. I’ll admit it. Only the first book and only because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Meyer isn’t a good writer at all, her prose is basic and clunky, she has no idea about pacing, and it seems like she edited and polished the first 2 chapters and then stopped because she couldn’t be bothered anymore. And don’t even get me started about how unscary sparkly vampires are. But damn it, while I was reading it, I was INTO it. I don’t know what the heck she did, but she managed to capture something in those pages. Except, a couple of weeks after finishing it I couldn’t even remember one thing I had liked about it. Voodoo, clearly.

    On a different note, I once started reading A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford, expecting it to be terrible and it became one of my all time fave books. Sometimes you just can’t tell until you get in there…

  14. I’m not sure about the last “bad” novel I liked, but I do know that I write about enough bad novels for someone to have noticed and called me on it, leading to this post on books, taste, and distaste.

    It could be subtitled, “Why I seldom tolerate bad novels that other people think are fun.”

  15. Tetman, Hey! Obvious good plot master, I swear to god, or whatever you call it. Five minutes into a film or a TV show my girlfriend knows the plot.TV baby! I agree with you. I can tell within a page or two. Thank god for Dickens. The reason I bring this up is that as writers isn’t the reality-show, show-all run it’s course? Why not write a story? An involved, mind challenging story? I know it sounds too simple, but listening to tragedy after tragedy just might drive you nuts. I guess it comes back to who is in charge of selling books. I doubt they have a story to tell, and f they did it would be how can I manipulate the emotions of people so that the sellers make a butt-load of money. I hope that made sense. Jeff, out. And yes, Kirk is the man.

  16. I can’t read crap books. My last encounter with really awful prose was Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and the second time he described someone as giving a “dire sigh” I got pissed off and quit reading. But beautiful writing won’t let me go.

  17. I admit it, I loved The Horse Whisperer, almost as much as the fact that you just used the word feh. I usually sign all my correspondence that way.

  18. I remember saying I liked ‘The Lovely Bones’ and was slammed by a friend. When my son bought ‘The Da Vinci Code’ I slammed him too.

    • I thought The Lovely Bones was . . . lovely and heartbreaking. It resonated with me for a very long time and I’m a guy. The Da Vinci Code…pure, unadulterated crap, the writing pretty lame, embarrassing, even. Though I wish I’d thought of it first and garnered his paychecks. And, hey, can you argue with the formula that launched a thousand wannabes? The Harry Potter books? Wonderful imagination, great stories, writing could be better but Rowling improved with each book. I appreciate her rollickingly brilliant and innovative imagination. Not a dull page in any of the books with a narrative drive that’s a Ferrari. World building at its finest. Her books will be around a very long time. As for Dan Brown’s books twenty years from today–one word–feh, as Betsy so succinctly wrote.

  19. I can actually put up with a lot of poor writing just to be entertained, but I can’t remember the last time I picked up a genre novel that I enjoyed or even finished.

    Everything–thrillers, mysteries, romances, women’s fiction, even literary–it all feels so tired and done before.

    I think that’s why the YA market took off, because for a brief moment it felt fresh.

  20. Okay, so we all have to escape sometimes so I’ve taken a vacation with Game of Thrones. I enjoyed these quite a bit after I got over the urge to cut three quarters of the text, Of course, got the idea to read them from the HBO series that my son’s friends were talking about. It was too bizarre when one of them said George R.R. Martin was his favorite author since that was my sister’s husband’s roommate at Northwestern. I did love that short story my brother-in-law showed me in Omni so long ago.

  21. I’ve got one: Chloe Does Yale. Read it a few years ago. Occupied a weekend.

    More recently, I read Bangkok 8, at its heart a detective thriller, but quite respectable as far as that goes. P. D. James need not fear the competition, however. She’s a “first-class novelist” (quoting an NYT review I just dug up) whose books happen to involve murder and detection.

    Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, which I’m slowly working my way through, may also be in essence genre fiction (as I think James Woods insisted in The New Yorker), but it’s very high quality. The same goes for novels by William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Stanislaw Lem, all of it worthy fiction despite the science-fiction category.

    Beyond Chloe Does Yale, I’ve read other stuff that’s basically trash–a medical mystery by Tess Gerritsen from about 10 years ago comes to mind–but I’ve never read much of it. It serves a purpose, though: distraction. A reader’s version of snack food. Fine on occasion, but don’t try to live on it.

  22. swedish murder mysteries (Henning Mankell/Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö/etc.etc.) are terrific for both setting and mood–it’s the brisk, abrasive lick of wind and snow that does it for me. as police procedurals, they plod along but I love the main characters.

  23. Goodnight Tweetheart was a good, light read. And yes, it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be about. A romance based on a Twitter hook up.

  24. Swine by Jimmy Buffet. It was just awful. I liked some of his short stories and his songs bring me back to the Keys. A line from A Pirate Looks at 40: “Made enough money to buy Miami but I pissed it away so fast (chorus: Pissed it away so fast.). Never meant to last…” Just amazing stuff.
    You know, now that I think about it, maybe it was a kid’s book and I just didn’t understand it. Oh well, I still like some of his tunes.

  25. If I like it, it’s not crap. That’s the definition.

  26. Hunger Games. Read it on my own at my older kids’ urging and liked it. Reading it again to my 11 year old daughter and liking it all over again. Ah well, In many ways my mental maturity stopped at 11. The sequels are beyond dreck, sadly. There’s crap, and then there’s the stuff that crap craps.

  27. While I ripped through it in a single sitting, i thought “Room ” was a crap novel–coy, manipulative, melodramatic.

    • I just have this hard time thinking about reading a book that is inspired by such horrific real life incidents. It just strikes me as tawdry and rather sad. And, somehow, morally bankrupt.

  28. I’m reading Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri–about a few women in an Irish village who are grieving and designing underwear. It’s a breeze and a delight. Harper, 2009.

  29. The Thorn Birds is as crappy as I go. There’s a scene early on where a doll is destroyed. I felt devastated, so perhaps it wasn’t crappy after all. That was long ago, and I still remember.

    Real crap? Not me. I’d rather be bored. I’d rather hyperventilate on a plane than read a crappy sentence to escape that little tiny space. And I’m enough of a mimic that I try to be careful whose voice is in my ear.

  30. I attempted a page of Harry Potter, and thought, this writer needs an editor — so let the TV reruns begin. And, if this is what passes for a good read, perhaps it’s not a bad thing that my eyes have reached the far side of 50, so I need reading glasses: now I debate what I choose to read far more judiciously.

    For genuine trash, try “Peyton Place,” “The Best of Everything,” or “Valley of the Dolls.” Definitely period drama — but Rona could write.

  31. A mon avis, there’s no such thing as a crap novel. If you like it then it’s good. I LOVED the Help and I couldn’t eben finish The Finkler Question or The Thousand Jacob Whatever. Like any art beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Who the hell am I to say what’s crap and what isn’t? Betsy is qualified, me, not so much…

  32. The first bite always tastes the best. A cliché I heard and tested as a kid. Thinking lots of bests are in that bucket, wondering how many single bites from of all those apples it would take to make one complete apple made of only best bites I sat down on the cold floor of our garage and chomped down on every single apple in the bucket. Made me sick, got me in trouble and taught me a lesson. Meaning accumulates, can’t be tested by how fast you turn a page. I liked “The Road”, I liked “Austerlitz” both of them one bite at a time until the end.

  33. Come on guys! Louis l’Amour? The Help? Water for Elephants? These aren’t crap, the last two are just middlebrow and the first is classic pulp western written by someone who reminds me of my grandpa.

    When I left publishing, I read the entire Twilight series in like a week and a half and I.Loved.It.

    So there.

  34. i hearted rob lowe’s biography and don’t give a damn if everybody knows i only bought it for the pictures in the middle.

    not too long ago, i bought vc andrews from a used bookstore because i was nostalgic for the times when i would hide behind the sliding doors of my bedroom closet to read books i wasn’t supposed to in 6th grade.

  35. Water for Elephants is the last crappy novel I read, and “read” isn’t exactly the word to describe how I got through it. I skimmed every few pages, in the bathroom, over a few days, and didn’t even care enough about the plot to finish it. Sentimental, sappy, melodramatic. But my cousin LOVED it, so I had to try to, cuz I LOVE my cousin.

  36. Call of the Wild. Fabulous. The actually-French people speak English to each other with French accents: “Look at zat dog! Wat deed I tell you? Zat dog ees wondairfull.” I exaggerate only slightly. Yet somehow he’s a great writer. It’s like those moments when you are surprised to find that Jerry Lewis could be funny. Okay, no.

  37. I can’t do it. I once tried to read The Devil Wears Prada and couldn’t get past the first scene. (A Porche + a stick shift + a cigarette + NYC traffic = conflict! Not!)

  38. I’m thinking “crap novel” and “crappy novel” are two different distinctions. The last crappy novel I read all the way through was the first book a publicist ever sent me for review. It was a small press translation and theoretically I’m all about that stuff, so I slogged all the way to the end and then just couldn’t review it, it was so awful — I’ll poke and prod at a book that has its good points, but I don’t like to pan. I’ve since gotten over my reviewer’s guilt (and my mother’s admonishment that I should find something nice to say about everything) to know when a book isn’t working for me and cut my losses earlier, but this one was a learning experience.

    As for crap novels, probably some mystery I let a coworker talk me into ten years ago… I don’t have much patience for that stuff. I sound like a snob now, but whatever. Life’s too short.

  39. Definitely the Twilight saga. I fell for Edward so hard it was creepy. I made my husband dress up as a vampire for weeks. Luckily the appalling acting of the movies’ lead trio cured my obsession. Am I the only one who didn’t like Water for Elephants? Feh is right. And I agree that A Thousand Autums of Jacob Whatever was less than spectacular but I still loved it only because of the lingering effects of Cloud Atlas. I don’t bandy the word around easily but David Mitchell is a fricking GENIUS. If any of you out there haven’t read Cloud Atlas yet, you should drop everything and rush out to get your hands on a copy of that book. It blew my head right off.

  40. Does “The Help” count? I liked it.

  41. I think anything by Phillipa Gregory qualifies as crap. She says she researches her historical novels but damned if I know where! Many years ago I read Wideacre and not only was it crappy melodrama but parts of it were down right “icky”. Life is too short to waste time reading any more of her works…..

  42. I like a little crap. Loved Valley of the Dolls. I even thought Devil Wears Prada was okay. But I can’t stand the “middlebrow” stuff that pretends it’s literature: The Help, OMG, horrible on every level.

    Thought I’d like Twilight but the writing style is so blah — like a fourth grade language arts text.

    I’d like to read a book that gives me what I want: sex, mental hospitals, car crashes, alcoholic mothers, apres ski parties, haunted houses, AND honest to god good sentences AND good characters. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

  43. The Snooki book. I couldn’t even finish it. I gave up around page 70. I’ve never seen Jersey Shore. I have no idea what compelled me to check that book out from the library. Some strange sense of summer slumming, I guess. It bit me in the ass, so I switched to a biography of Elizabeth Taylor. Slumming with class, let’s call it.

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