*These are just my opinions. Don’t come for me.*
Being an adult, it is rare that I am mandated reading outside keeping up with what I assign my students, though it happens yearly when I take classes for continuing education credits. Basically, reading is a favorite hobby of mine, and I can — and do — read mainly whatever I choose. I usually read reviews and try to choose books I truly think I will enjoy, because I almost never dnf (did not finish) a book. It hurts my sensibilities to think that I might put one or two hours into a book just to stop reading it and never find out what happens, which might only take another couple hours. (My husband, on the other hand, argues that I shouldn’t bother wasting hours of my life finishing a book I don’t like when I’m supposed to be reading for fun.)
I have finished a lot of clunkers in my life — books I really and truly hated at the time and even still — and the four or five hours it took to read them is time I will be begging for as I lay dying. That seems as good a place as any to begin.
1.As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
I read this novel because I was in a phase where I wanted to work my way through “the classics” that I wasn’t assigned to read in school. I remember thinking, “I really liked ‘A Rose for Emily.’ It’s time I read more Faulkner.” Well, that’s the last I read from Faulkner because, as it turns out, he sucks. The plot goes a little like this: a mom/wife dies so the family has to travel with her casket to bury her somewhere in the deep south, but they are terrible at it. It’s all sort of hazy in my memory, but I think there was a flood scene where they almost lose the coffin. Mom starts to smell as they travel (of course). And I know Dad steals money from his kids to get dentures so he can remarry as soon as his dead wife is in the ground. I just…can’t. I’m sure my college professors would have found some way to make this more memorable, enjoyable, or poignant, but I read it alone and had to bribe myself to finish it by setting intervals on my timer with snack rewards in between. I kept thinking, “This much bad stuff really wouldn’t happen to one family in such a short time,” yet the book just kept going…on…and on…until I thought I would still be reading it when I was riding in my casket in the wagon driven by my untrustworthy husband and delinquent kids.
2.Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
I can seriously not roll my eyes hard enough to portray my dissatisfaction with this piece of trash. Here’s the plot, in a nutshell: Rich man of her dreams marries her and turns into an emotionally abusive psychopath who wants to keep her locked up in a room in the basement. It starts on their honeymoon, I think, when he keeps her trapped in a room in, like, Singapore, or somewhere — he’s rich so I guess the hotel staff got good tips for helping him? She wants to leave him, but he keeps her passport. He says he’s going to kill her disabled sister when they get back to England so she devises a plan (with an alarmingly low chance of success in real life) to kill him first. I hated this book so much, mainly because all of the events seemed contrived and unrealistic. There was little explanation for husband’s behavior. The ending was cringe-worthy. The characters were flat and their actions were predictable. Skip it.
Finally, my memory is telling me this book is written in first-person present perspective, which is my least favorite narrative style.
3.The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
What is this book even about?! Holden Caulfield is a whiny, arrogant jerk who mistreats people and thinks that anyone who doesn’t do or say exactly what he wants is a “phony.” While perhaps a realistic look at the world through the eyes of a mentally ill teenage boy in the 1940’s, I, as a thirty-something woman found the protagonist unbearably irritating and the story uninteresting. Shockingly, this book still sells a million copies a year worldwide (according to Wikipedia), so somebody’s reading it. I’m guessing that it’s college kids forced to buy it for their American Literature course. Trigger warning: this book contains some language and at least one scene that is considered homophobic.
It is narrated mainly in first-person past tense, where Holden tells us what happened leading up to his current time. This is less annoying than first-person present, but still not my favorite.
4.The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
I dislike books for a variety of reasons, but this is an especially bitter case for me. I heard so many great things about this book — excellent reviews, pumped up recommendations from Booktubers — that I unintentionally let my psyche build it up to be “the awesome and terrifying American sadist novel of our time.” In all honesty, that was my bad — a rookie mistake. I should have known better, especially after seeing that Hutchison had never written an adult book before. The story seemed right up my alley — a serial killer captures, tattoos, and keeps teenagers in cages and poses them like butterflies mounted for display when he kills them. I was even on board with the villain recruiting his son to help tend the menagerie, or whatever. What I couldn’t get past was the stilted, forced, unrealistic dialogue: truly, some of the worst I’ve ever read. Each time the main character answered a police officer’s question, she was essentially performing a rehearsed dramatic monologue to a group of speech judges. Rather than an authentic portrayal of a police interview in which a victim is explaining the torment her abductor put her through, Hutchison writes it like a soap opera with our protagonist devising cliffhangers and puzzles and witty wordplay and cryptic foreshadowing, offhand, every time she talks. It’s beyond annoying. I would give this book zero stars if I could.
Is this another first-person perspective book? Is the Pope Catholic?
5.The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (and all other dying-children fiction)
As much as I respect John Green for his history videos, I could not fathom reading another book he has written if The Fault in Our Stars is his most popular. Part of the problem with this novel is the “cleverness” of the characters; it reads like someone spent a lot of time thinking up witty responses. The other part is the concept of this and other novels like it (My Sister’s Keeper, Thirteen Reasons Why, etc.) — fictionalizing children dying or being maimed by disease or losing their loved ones while making other issues the real focus of the book is in bad taste and gratuitous. Even if the story was interesting (it wasn’t), I would still feel the subject matter is nothing more than manipulative shock-value-based drama. To be clear, I am not arguing that writing about sick children is immoral. There are many actual children battling illness who could be interviewed and their story could be told in a powerful and memorable biography. Writing about fake kids who are facing diseases people actually have, while focusing on an improbable (and also boring and age inappropriate) love story trivializes a serious and terrifying subject.
Imagine this novel without childhood cancer. Imagine the characters meet at a church potluck and get together and decide to go to a book signing by an author they love, yet he rejects their questions. Then imagine Gus dies in a car accident instead of slowly withering from cancer. Would the story really be different? I mean, the characters would have to be well-rounded instead of flat (as they are in the book) — and otherwise the storyline wouldn’t change much. That’s how we can tell the cancer portion really is unnecessary to the story Green wanted to tell.
Furthermore, there is a risk of glamorizing dying that I fear negatively affects some of the most vulnerable: young teenagers struggling with finding ways to ‘matter’ or make an impact.
Do I feel this way about every single book where a kid is killed? No, because the subject matter is handled differently: as an important plot device integral to moving the story forward rather than an “excuse” for actions which set up “the rest of the story.” Books I’ve read that handle it best include Bridge to Terebithia, The Lovely Bones, and If I Stay.
Another flaw: it’s written in first-person present perspective, because of course it is.
6.Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Good heavens, listening to this on an audio book was literally torture. I would not be at all surprised if it was piped into the cells at Guantanamo on a loop. The “I’m so clever” first person present tense/keeping a fake diary to play the long game/husband not knowing how to act like a normal human thus creating added suspicion — nope, I can’t. I just cannot.
Side note: this book utilizes first-person past and present narration — the bane of my existence.
7.The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (and all other Holocaust fiction)
The issue I have with this book is the same as the “dying kids” trope: there are actual survivors of the Holocaust to write about in a poignant way, so why are authors making up fake people to cover a sensitive topic fantastically? Is death as narrator (who literally gives away crucial plot points and ruins any possible foreshadowing or surprise) that inspiring or original? Or could we just write a narrative biography with no fantasy but make it interesting? It would probably take too much effort — why bother to research when authors can just make up stuff they don’t know or use deus ex machina to solve otherwise unsolvable problems, such as how to make a main character survive a neighborhood-leveling bomb. I am just so tired of lazy writing.
Oh, and is there a bunch of first-person and present tense writing in here? Is the Queen British?
Happy reading, friends.
Peace and love.