Tuesday, 6 July 2010

So What Makes a Bad Book?

This thought occurred to me as I was reading some book reviews on the Visual Bookshelf application on Facebook. I love that application! It lets you record the books you've read, rate them, and post reviews. I quite like reading other reviews that people have written as well. I've actually discovered books I'd like to read from doing that. Hunger Games has got rave reviews and sounds like a pretty interesting read. But sometimes you come across reviews that leave you scratching your head. I've read various reviews from people who claim that Sense and Sensibility/Wuthering Heights/Romeo and Juliet/The Catcher in the Rye/Insert Other Classic Novel is the worst book ever.

Now, fair enough, we all have different tastes and we can't all be expected to like the same things. What a terrible place the world would be if that was the case! And classic novels can often disappoint us far more than any random book that we pull off the book shelves. Because a book has a reputation as a classic we assume that it will be at least pretty good and the expectations we have are sometimes too high. I really hate Frankenstein & Heart of Darkness and they're classic novels. But anyone that claims that any of the books that I've mentioned in the above paragraph is the worst book ever simply can't have read that many books! Similarly, anyone who claims that The Da Vinci Code is the best book they've ever read can't have read many books...and those other books must have been absolutely terrible. This has got me thinking about the qualities that define a bad book. The worst book in the world should have all of the following things.

It should have little to no plot or be full of plot holes. It should be badly-written. It should only contain characters that are uninteresting and one-dimensional. It should have no character development. It should be morally dubious.

By this standard, The Da Vinci Code, Frankenstein & Heart of Darkness are the worst books ever! Seriously, though, whilst I do think these books are hideously overrated, I'm sure there are plenty of books out there that are even worse. This is why I am calling these books the worst books that I have ever read and not the worst books ever.


Geneva said...

Yeah, the worst book ever would have to be one of those self-published books on Amazon that have no plot and grammar so bad you can't understand what they are talking about.

Thank you for disliking Frankenstein! I see why it was such a big deal at the time (the moral implications of science and all of that) but it is highly overrated. I was NOT sympathetic to the monster in the book and for me that is the most powerful element of more recent takes on the story. He seemed so much more viscious in the book. In other interpretations he mistakenly kills people, but he truly has bad intentions in the book. That was so disappointing for me.

Oh and the plot holes! The monster was able to learn all this stuff through observation of a family through a tiny hole in the wall? I don't think so.

I tend to compare Frankenstein with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I loved Dr. Jekyll. I think it is a lot more sophisticated in terms of exploring the implications of playing God (along with many other moral, religious, and philosophical arguments).

Hannah said...

Wow, I didn't even remember this post of mine until you left your comment!

To be honest I wrote this post quite a long time ago and I'm actually quite keen to re-read Frankenstein. That's because I saw the National Theatre adaptation of it a few months ago and I absolutely loved it. It starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller and it completely blew me away! I had more sympathy for the monster in that play, especially when Benedict played him. And that aggravating plot hole you mentioned isn't even in it. I think my feelings on that book will more than likely still be the same but I want to give it another chance.

I wrote a review of the NT version if you want to check it out (see below). There's another film adaptation of the book that's due out next year that I'm very interested in. It's got James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe and Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay starring in it.


I do really want to read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at some point but I'm not sure when I'll get round to it. I have quite an extensive to-read list!