Friday, April 28th, 2017

The Worst Books I’ve Ever Read

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Every month, I tell you what I’m reading; every year, I rank my favorite books of the year. Reading is a huge part of my life and I make an effort to read the best books I can find. (See the best of 2016 and best of 2015 here.)

That being said, anyone who reads this much knows that there’s no attraction in, “This is good, this is good, this is also good.” The bad stuff — the drama, the conflict — is what gets readers really interested.

And so I think it’s time to talk about the WORST books I’ve ever read.

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and don’t plan to, so you won’t find that here. Nor anything by Ann Coulter — in fact, I’ll exclude political books altogether. Nothing by L. Ron Hubbard. The Da Vinci Code won’t be on this list, either (Dan Brown gets a lot of hate, but dude knows how to write suspense and I can’t hate on him for that). And while some people can’t stomach it, I happen to love Lolita.

Here are the worst books I’ve ever read, in my opinion. Some are great works of literature that happened to rub me the wrong way. Some are more embarrassing than that.

And the worst book of all, a book that made me physically angry for having read it and forever changed my opinion of the author, is listed last.

The Worst Book from High School: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Sophomore year was tough for me, capped by my experiences in Honors American Lit. My teacher and I butted heads from the start and I disliked much of the literature we read. I struggled to keep up, even deciding to drop Honors British Lit the following year in favor of English electives. (This is why I didn’t read Hamlet until 2015.)

And then came Walden near the end of the year. A book lauded by so many people — often including the travel blogging community. A book that took place and was written just a few miles from where I grew up.

Henry David Thoreau moved into a cabin in the woods. He read, he wrote, he observed nature and grew his own food and tried to create art from it.

“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

Revisiting Walden after years of reading about privilege in America, it becomes more striking that Thoreau was only concerned with what a wealthy independent man could do with his time, ignoring everyone else in society.

Another problem was that much of what Thoreau actually wrote was cloaked in hypocrisy. In between talking about the beauty and fragility and nature, he described how much he loved burning down half the forest. He would go on and on about how the only books people should read are classic Greek literature — as he writes a new book for them to read. Also, his mother would do his laundry.

I wrote a scathing paper decrying Thoreau’s hypocrisy.

My teacher gave me an A-.

I consider that one of my greatest academic victories.

What To Read Instead: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. It’s pretty much as much an opposite of Walden as you can get, and I found it far more entertaining.

The Worst Conclusion to a Series: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I get it — it’s hard to write a good ending to a book, much less wrap up a three-book series. But I haven’t seen anything crash and burn as badly as Allegiant, the conclusion of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

The series as a whole intrigued me a bit but ultimately made my eyes roll. In a futuristic society, teenagers take a test and are sorted into one of five groups based on their personality: Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Amity (dirty hippies), and Dauntless (the brave). But when Tris displays the traits of multiple groups in her test, she finds out she’s Divergent and she could be killed for it.

Now: the first two books were told from Tris’s point of view. In Allegiant, the story is suddenly told from two points of view, Tris and her lover Four — but both voices are exactly the same. They witness the same events. They have the same feelings. Their vocabularies and cadences are identical. I could never tell who was speaking.

Beyond that, the “big revelation” at the end of the book landed with a thump, and so many people died throughout that the deaths became meaningless.

“When her body first hit the net, all I registered was a gray blur. I pulled her across it and her hand was small, but warm, and then she stood before me, short and thin and plain and in all ways unremarkable- except that she had jumped first. The stiff had jumped first.
Even I didn’t jump first.
Her eyes were so stern, so insistent.
Beautiful.” –Vernoica Roth, Allegiant

Another theme throughout the first two books is that characters would occasionally get injected with serums that would create simulations — and sometimes led them to do evil things. The final book was a series of, “Okay, it’s time for another serum!” “Wait, here’s a serum to override that serum!” “No, that’s a bad serum, we’re the good guys, this one’s a GOOD serum!” Again and again, another serum. You’d think Roth owned stock in skincare products.

What to Read Instead: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Not only is it a fantastic novel, the story is told through several different narrators and each of the voices are unique and different.

The Worst Book Receiving Bewildering Levels of Praise: The Girls by Emma Cline

One of the buzziest books of 2016, The Girls is a fictionalized retelling of the Manson murders of the 1970s, focusing on the relationships between the women in Not Charles Manson’s cult.

One of the things I can’t stand the most is wasted potential. This book could have been so good in the hands of another author!

Emma Cline focused more on creating elaborate prose than telling a story. And when I say elaborate, that’s not a compliment — she stuffed her paragraphs with enough bewildering metaphors and similes as if they were banana peppers on a Subway sandwich (yes, I know what I did there). It goes to show that no matter how you write, if you don’t know how to tell a story, you’ve got nothing.

“Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of life. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like ‘sunset’ and ‘Paris.’ Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus.” –Emma Cline, The Girls

At the same time, the book moved at a glacial pace. By the time the action started, I was psyched to finally have some excitement — only it withered and died instantly. The big showdown I had been expecting didn’t even come to fruition.

What To Read Instead: American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin, a much better book about 1970s Bay Area counterculture. This one focuses on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and it was so exciting I couldn’t put it down.

The Biggest Disappointment From An Author I Love: A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

I love Uncle Tony. I worship the man. But A Cook’s Tour was not his best work.

You think combining Anthony Bourdain and world travel would be amazing, especially after his wild and raw Kitchen Confidential (one of my all-time favorite memoirs). This book is a collection of essays about his first major international trip as a food writer and personality. And he loved every minute of it.

But that was the problem — Kitchen Confidential was full of conflict. Pirate-looking chefs fucking brides in their wedding dresses in the walk-in. Crawling along the bar after work, snorting six-foot lines of cocaine. Going from cooking in world-class restaurants to flipping burgers in a crappy diner, the metallic taste of methadone in your mouth. It was gritty and ugly and utterly compelling.

A Cook’s Tour was just Uncle Tony eating food and having a good time traveling. There was no story, no narrative arc. It was just a lot of, “Hey, this is great.”

“What is love? Love is eating twenty-four ounces of raw fish at four o’clock in the morning.” –Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour

And while I enjoyed his stories from Russia and San Sebastian, Spain, they weren’t enough to sustain a full book.

Luckily, his writing changed direction in his subsequent collections, and I suspect he had a better editorial team behind him. Uncle Tony is at his best when he’s ripping on people he can’t stand.

What To Read Instead: Kitchen Confidential is great, but Bourdain’s best post-fame work is The Nasty Bits. It still has a lot of food and travel, but with a sharper, more ardent point of view.

The Worst Impulse Kindle Buy: On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

On the Island was an Amazon bestseller and I liked the concept: a teenage boy and his thirty-year-old tutor survive a plane crash in the Maldives, end up living on a desert island for years, start a romantic relationship after he turns 18, and are rescued following a tsunami and have to deal with the aftermath at home.

And absolutely nothing that happened was believable. This sixteen-year-old boy acted like a 40-year-old man the whole time. Neither character changed or transformed in any way. And even after being rescued after living on a desert island for THREE YEARS, the only thing they worried about was how people would judge their relationship that they started after the kid turned 18.

“You weren’t supposed to fall in love,” she whispered.
“Well, I did,” I said, looking into her eyes. “I’ve been in love with you for months. I’m telling you now because I think you love me too, Anna. You just don’t think you’re supposed to. You’ll tell me when you’re ready. I can wait.” I pulled her mouth down to mine and kissed her and when it ended, I smiled and said, “Happy birthday.” –Tracey Garvis Graves, On the Island

Yes, that’s an actual quote from a bestselling book.

It’s been translated into 27 languages.

I hate people.

What To Read Instead: Euphoria by Lily King. Now, THAT’S a great controversial love story set in a remote location — in this instance, Papua New Guinea in the 1930s.

The Worst Smash Hit: The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

I’ll be honest — I was hooked on the Twilight books during their height of popularity. I didn’t like them, but I couldn’t stop reading them. And my friend Beth and I made a tradition of seeing the movies on opening night amongst the superfans, only somewhat ironically.

Nothing I say here is anything you haven’t heard before. These books are poorly written. The character development is scant at best. The plot holes are the size of football fields.

But the worst part is that these books glorify intimate partner abuse to an impressionable audience of young women. The behavior that Edward exhibits — stalking, controlling, threatening, saying “no one will ever love you like I do,” leaving you with bruises and suggesting you tell people you fell down the stairs, and ultimately leading you to give up your future for him — should be recognized as alarming, not held up as a model for romance.

“The waves of pain that had only lapped at me before now reared high up and washed over my head, pulling me under. I did not resurface.” –Stephenie Meyer, New Moon

Also, a werewolf falls in love with a baby.

What To Read Instead: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It’s a much better, more intellectual book for teens that focuses on issues of justice, bravery, brutality, media culture, and utopianism, just to start.

The Best Book I Happen to Hate: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is a fantastic, gorgeous book worthy of its Pulitzer Prize and every other honor it’s received.

And I fucking hated every word of it.

It’s an incredibly frightening tale of a post-apocalyptic world after a series of unspecified disasters — a barren planet where survivors hide in the shadows and the world is pillaged by tribes of cannibals and rapists. Through the book, a dying father takes his young son on a journey to the sea, not knowing what lies there but hoping they’ll find something better than what they’ve left behind.

“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.” –Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This book is terrifying. And realistic. And that’s why I hated it with everything I had.

Maybe it shouldn’t be on this list. I appreciated every beautiful word. But it still makes me upset, years after reading it.

What To Read Instead: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Also a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it starts with an incredibly bleak beginning but blossoms into joy and forgiveness.

The Worst Book of All Time: Cleaving by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia was a commercial success, and deservedly so — a sweet if not overly literary memoir about how a directionless woman finds joy and meaning in cooking all of Julia Child’s recipes.

A feel-good tale about an everywoman with a sweet husband who supports her, encourages her, and makes her a better person. It got some hate, but it was overall a fun and engaging memoir, and it was commercial as hell, working even better as a film.

Cleaving, the sequel, destroyed all the goodwill Powell earned with her first book.

Following the success of Julie and Julia, Powell began an affair with a former boyfriend. Her husband found out. They decided to open their marriage, though it seemed like they didn’t want to actually work on their marriage, either. And she decided to go apprentice at a butcher upstate because…food is continuity? And this memoir is about, um, all of that. It’s unfocused at best; I suspect her publisher rushed it.

But it mainly focuses on Powell’s affair with the former boyfriend, her enjoyment of the affair and obsession with her lover, and her complete lack of remorse while her husband waits in the background.

The worst part is when Powell is out with her lover and gets recognized by a blog reader. Her lover introduces himself as her husband to save face and they both get off on the scenario. This sums up the book: Powell runs wild with her id, doesn’t care about who she hurts in the process, and learns absolutely nothing.

How did her publisher agree to release this?!

“Like the muscles knew from the beginning that it would end with this, this inevitable falling apart… It’s sad, but a relief as well to know that two things so closely bound together can separate with so little violence, leaving smooth surfaces instead of bloody shreds.” –Julie Powell, Cleaving

I’ve read raw memoirs that overshare the intimate details of a marriage — Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior comes to mind. But Cleaving is far worse. I find it to be a cruel book. Cruel in its lack of accountability.

The other part I hated was that Powell clearly discovered she was into rough sex — only she never explicitly says so. She implies things and hints at others, conveniently evading details. Dude, you’re not the first person to suddenly realize you’re into a new kind of sex. Stop patronizing your readers and actually say it.

The book ends with what I’m sure she imagined was a heartfelt revelation: her lover, who had been called D up until the final page, was actually named Damian.

Hey Julie — nobody cares. Literally everyone hates that guy.

Many reviewers focused primarily on Powell’s infidelity; I don’t thick that’s fair, and much of that criticism is rooted in sexism. Infidelity itself is not the issue here. What matters is that she went about her infidelity, as well as her apprenticeship and travels, with a complete lack of self-awareness. Powell wrote a sloppy memoir about her darkest, most selfish moments without a shred of insight or transformation by the end of it. The Julie at the end of the book is the same Julie at the beginning of the book.

This book is the reason why I eat grass-fed beef today, and that just makes me hate it more. I hate that something good came out of it.

What To Read Instead: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She flew into a tailspin after her mother’s death, cheating on her husband and using drugs, but she acknowledged her failures, strenuously worked through her shit, and transformed as a result.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

Comments

103 Responses to “The Worst Books I’ve Ever Read”
  1. Great idea for a blog post! Twilight is definitely one of the worst books I’ve ever read… I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. It’s just so badly written! Sadly I also hated Eat, Pray, Love…I just couldn’t sympathise with her or even understand her point of view. I only got as far as when she’s in Italy and then totally gave up.

    • monsoonmiss says:

      I couldn’t get through Under the Tuscan Sun! The author seems nice enough, it’s just really out-of-touch for me as a modern woman/traveler. I think in the 90s it probably had more gravitas.

    • I once had a girlfriend who wanted to watch “Eat, Pray, Love” with me and I had to stop halfway through. So many clichés, such a flat story, terrible.

    • What makes Eat, Pray, Love great is the writing of Elizabeth Gilbert. I can see why some people hate it — they are also the kinds of people who think that a woman traveling the world alone is selfish. You can guess how I feel about that.

      I think you might have liked it more if you had stuck with it. Great memoirs are all about transformation, and she certainly transforms far later than the Italy part.

  2. monsoonmiss says:

    Love this idea for a blog post! Most recently, I really disliked and purposefully didn’t finish The Goldfinch, which had so much buzz AND was personally recommended to me! Same for Sweetbitter, which I found utterly unreadable. The part where she’s been working at the restaurant for awhile and can’t figure out how to clear a table of dirty dishes because nobody showed her how to is hilarious, though.

    I was really glad to see The Poisonwood Bible on here, and I hope some readers take your word on that – it’s a truly fantastic piece of writing. One of those lengthy books that you read slowly on purpose because you don’t want it to end.

    • Katie says:

      Sweetbitter– I agree! It ended and I was like uh okay, that was it? I felt the same way about The Girls on Kate’s list. All that buzz for nothing. ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed also kind of annoyed me with how self-obsessed she was, but it’s been awhile since I read it. Since everyone seemed to love it, I googled one day for reviews and found that many people who have hiked the trail think that she only did a few small sections and lied about the whole thing.

      I added a few books to my Goodreads wish list from here, thanks!

    • Mary Mejlholm says:

      I really enjoyed The Goldfinch, although a tad slow to get into. I’m glad I persevered, because unlike many books, this one still resonates with me, I still think about it. However, I preferred her earlier novel, The Secret History, which was fantastic, one of my all-time faves.
      One book I’ve tried a few times but just didn’t enjoy is Sweetness in the Belly. Just….no.

    • Liz says:

      I totally agree about Sweetbitter! Like, some of the imagery was beautiful but it was pretty clear from the beginning that this guy was an idiot and had a weird relationship with the other server, and this was not going to end well. And she just spends all her time not sober…I didn’t get what was so great about the story.

      I also threw the last divergent book across the room when I finished it because it made me so mad.

    • Hmm, I haven’t read The Goldfinch. Sweetbitter got a lot of buzz but as soon as I saw how bad the reviews were, I steered clear.

  3. Kate,
    Today’s blog had over a half dozen ads interspersed. You’re not working with Mercedes, Subway, and Yahoo are you?
    Frank.

    • Hi Frank,

      These are display ads — they are customized to you based on your own browsing habits, just like Google Adsense and other ad networks on most commercial websites. It’s just one thing I do to keep myself financially afloat when this site is my full-time job and you can lose a source of income in an instant (which I have in the past).

  4. LC says:

    I have to agree with The Girls – what a collosal disappointment. Also really hated “Vinegar Girl” which came out about the same time. And yeah, if they weren’t willing to make the last half of Allegiant into a movie, then what does that say about the book?!

  5. Sarah says:

    This was a delicious read. The first bad book that comes to mind for me is The Thorn Birds, which I read at 15, some 25 years after it was actually “a thing.” The crux of the book involves—scandal!!—a romance between a priest and a young woman. The relationship was, at best, lame, and the book was full of melodrama. But hey, if I still remember large swaths of it 14 years later, that must count for something…

  6. Minh Nguyen says:

    Twilight series is definitely the worst books ever. I read the first one and never touched the rest! I would recommend Haruki Murakami’s books. he’s such an amazing writer and his books are awesome.

  7. Elina says:

    Ha ha, I think we all have a dark past with the Twilight books… I was also obsessed with them when I was 15, but I remember finishing the last book, putting it down and feeling like “well, that’s it for that then”. More than the books I hate the trend that they started, and that every popular YA series now gets branded “the new Twilight (?)”.

    One of the worst books that I ever read was The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. I still keep wondering if I just didn’t understand it because it’s supposedly such a big classic. It was just filled with similes that were inappropriate, strange and straight-up nonsensical. Glad it was only a short read since I’m one of those people who always has to finish a book she’s started, haha.

  8. Kate Storm says:

    I have never been able to bring myself to read The Road, for the exact reasons you’ve listed. Every time I’ve considered giving it a chance, I find myself deciding that I don’t want to depress myself that day.

    LOVE The Color Purple, though. I’ve read most of your “read instead” recommendations and they are all wonderful. The Poisonwood Bible is amazing, I don’t see it mentioned enough on book lists.

  9. Katrina says:

    I loved A Cook’s Tour! I just took it for what it was I suppose…a collection of stories from his travels. I think I liked it even more than Kitchen Confidential!

  10. Ali says:

    I **love** The Poisonwood Bible! Such a wonderful book, one I recommend to people more than any other book I’ve ever read. It’s fantastic.

    The book I hated from school that so many people seem to like is To Kill a Mocking Bird. I could not get through it. I was actually assigned that book 3 separate times, and I never once made it to the end. Ugh.

    Years ago I bought Under the Tuscan Sun because I like the movie, and you know, books are usually better than their movie versions. Not so with this one. It’s basically “I moved to Italy and it’s pretty and here are some recipes. Snooze. No plot or actual story.

  11. Travelgal NIcole says:

    Two of my favourite books mentioned on what to read instead – Wild and Poisonwood Bible. I completely agree on Cleaving – what was that? The cheating and learning to be a butcher just didn’t make sense. I’m going to check out Euphoria as I have a fascination with PNG. I can highly recommend Mr Pip which is also set in PNG.

  12. This was a refreshing book review to read =o) I have read some of the books you mentioned above and absolutely agree with you about the Divergent series. The movies are just as worse if not worse than the books, Hunger games was a much better series

  13. Mike says:

    You’re not the only one who hates Thoreau with a passion:

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/19/pond-scum

    (A+ title, too.)

  14. AJ says:

    Similar to your feelings about The Road, I disdained The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Not the writing. I read through the whole book at lightening speed, it was the nastiness of what happened that haunts me. I can see the movie and be fine because nothing on film can be as haunting as what my mind creates while reading a well-written but horribly inhumane story.

    I cannot read Patricia Cornwell for the same reason.

  15. Karen says:

    The Road also terrified me, for the same reasons you stated. It could happen. Still gives me chills when I think about it.

  16. Katie says:

    I watched The Road then decided that I didn’t think I could stomach the book – sounds like I made the right decision! I am really affected by very depressing books and movies – it’s why I have never watched ‘Requiem for a dream’ – I don’t think I could hack it. I LOVED the Poisonwood Bible – one of my all time favs. I actually enjoyed ‘On the Island’ but it isn’t particularly memorable – I loved the premise.

  17. Tom says:

    The Cleaving and On The Island sound particularly horrific.

    The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer is by far the most atrocious book I’ve read, and Gordimer is a former Nobel Laureate! After ninety pages I realised I had no idea who the characters were, and didn’t care either. Plus Gordimer used hyphens of different length to indicate speech so I could never tell if a person was speaking or not, or if the speaker had changed. There were a few flashbacks that were never clear either. It felt like writing done by the most pretentious student in a high school creative writing class.

    Beneath The Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste was disappointing, set in Ethiopia when Communism rose up. The ending ruined it.

    A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki was awful too and I don’t know how it got so much acclaim. It’s an interesting concept – a Canadian author finds a Japanese schoolgirls’s diary that has been washed up after the tsunami – and is told from alternating perspectives. However the problem is that only the schoolgirl’s perspective is worth reading. The segments narrated by the author character go on and on about things like soil composition, trash floating in the ocean, and a myriad of other things that have no relation to anything. If Ozeki had cut the author’s part out and just left it with the schoolgirl, it’d have been a much more palatable novel. I wanted to hurl the book across the cafe I was in when I’d finished reading it.

  18. Tina Oldham says:

    My worst? The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I enjoyed the lyrical prose, but the unrelievedly depressing ending made me want to throw it against the wall. Instead, I wrote an Amazon review but only after fussing at my husband for recommending it in the first place. I can’t remember the last time I was this mad after reading a book.

  19. Marisa says:

    I hate Heart of Darkness because, like The Road, I was terrified of it. I also could get into the elusive characters. It’s short, but I could never finish it.

    I also loved Wild. I was driving one day while listening to her on an NPR interview for Wild when it first came out. I was so caught up in it that I sat in the parking lot so that I could hear the whole thing. I was captivated by her use of an epic solo trip for emotional healing. It inspired me and changed my life.

  20. I really enjoy your book reviews – even these ones. I’ve been considering reading The Girls, and since I don’t have time to read too many books I’m happy I didn’t. Your book reviews are always very helpful and I take a lot of tips from them!

  21. I hated “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read it while backpacking in Nepal, and everybody at the hippie hostels where I stayed seemed to be reading it, and I felt pressured to know what the big deal was. I think I was not ready for magical realism, or maybe magical realism works better as a movie (“Like Water for Chocolate”) than on the page, where I constantly had the reaction of “huh?”
    To read instead: “No Longer at Ease” by Chinua Achebe, the sequel to his groundbreaking novel “Things Fall Apart” about colonialism in Nigeria and corruption.

    • karyn says:

      I loved One Hundred Years of Solitude years ago, but magical realism is an acquired taste. I think that you either love it or hate it. I happen to love it and loved Isabel Allende’s novels too.

      I think if I were to re-read Gabriel Garcia Marquez today, I might have too many issues with how gender works in his books. I haven’t re-read them. I don’t want to spoil the great memory.

    • Sasha says:

      Like Water for Chocolate is a wonderful book! I’d be curious if you like it as much as you like the film (which I haven’t seen).

    • There are much worse examples of magical realism than “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (which in m mind is the book where that technique worked).

    • I actually meant to read 100 Years of Solitude while on my Colombia trip — I should have done that.

      • Whitney says:

        I think Love in the Time of Cholera is much better than 100 Years of Solitude if you are looking for a Garcia Marquez book to read.

  22. karyn says:

    I pushed through The Road, but loved it and hated it in equal parts all the way through. I was thoroughly fascinated with the style and think that the writing itself was a work of art. But, yes, getting through the story itself was harrowing. I think that I read it in 2-3 days max and remember it vividly. Regardless of the content, I admire any writer who can create this kind of reading experience.

    I feel the same way about Heart of Darkness, but it was a less intense experience for me. The style and framing of the story was just fascinating. (Plus, it’s a great example to bring up when discussing identity politics- a book written by a Pole in English about Belgians in the Congo)

    One more example in this fascinating/terrifying category is Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

    • I read Disgrace. It was one of the books for my African Lit class in college (I dropped it a few weeks in because the professor eviscerated my first paper and told me I needed to learn “basic writing skills” — this was one semester after I received the writer of the month award at my university! I was already taking six classes simultaneously so dropping it wasn’t a big deal, and I felt that dealing with a prof like that would be a nonstop battle). I kept the books from that class, though, to read on my own time. Dark and harrowing, but worth the read.

  23. Haha I wonder which book is the worst I’ve ever read.

  24. Erin says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for including A Cook’s Tour on this list. I love Tony Bourdain. I have for years. Kitchen Confidential is also one of my all-time favorite memoirs (and my favorite memoirs are usually by women, see Swamp Songs by Sheryl St. Germain, Adventures with Ari by Kathryn Miles, Heroin by Julie O’Toole). But I cannot for the life of my get past the third chapter of A Cook’s Tour. I’ve tried for years. I’ll pick it up and start at the beginning or in the middle and it just sucks. I didn’t even bother to buy the Nasty Bits, but on your recommendation I will go out and get it because Tony, he rocks and all writers have at least one bad book in them, it’s just a lot of us are lucky not to have that book published.

  25. No abuse in Twilight says:

    “But the worst part is that these books glorify intimate partner abuse to an impressionable audience of young women. ” – I have seen this opinion, but I’ve not seen it justified convincingly. The arguments for it take facts out of context, give a negative spin, where there is a clear positive interpretation, and ignore major facts, which doesn’t fit. Edward always puts Bella’s well-being first. He is attentive, caring and gentle. He doesn’t control Bella or threaten her to get her submission. They talk about their problems openly and at length. Bella stands for herself and achieves all her goals throughout the story: they stay together, she keeps Jacob as a friend, she has sex with Edward while human, becomes a vampire, keeps her baby. Edward overcomes his predatory nature to be with Bella. He leaves her to keep her safe, doesn’t have sex with her to keep her safe, puts up with Jacob and is ready to step aside, if Bella chooses him. Bella acts as his equal and Edward treats her as an equal, though they both think that they are not good enough for each other.
    Bella and Edward are two different people with different priorities and goals. Edward always puts Bella’s well-being first and Bella puts their love first. They have different views on the future of their relationship. This is where their problems and conflicts come from, nor from abuse. The story shows how difficult it is to make decisions in a relationship, where two different people have to make common decisions, where you need to stand for yourself and at the same time you not only affect your partner with your choices, but he/she has to participate, which should be her choice. This makes the story realistic and meaningful.
    I suppose the idea of labeling their relationship as abusive may have come from the need to give a simple convincing reason why Bella should not have made it the most important thing in her life. Guess this comes from the fear that teenagers may give their relationships the same importance and get seriously hurt or lose their identity and independence. I think that this fear is not founded by the contents of the story, where keeping the relationship is Bella’s own personal choice and a major goal, worth fighting for in her dreams for happiness the same as any other major personal and professional goal, which people choose to strive for, where Bella stands for herself, makes her own choices and fights for them, where Edward is always attentive and puts her well-being first, and where they struggle through great difficulties in their relationship and make it work as equals, with thoughtfulness, mutual respect and love.

  26. Anne says:

    I love the category of “best book that I hated.” I think the Neapolitan quartet and A Little Life both fall into these categories. The whole time I was sitting there thinking, I can’t stop reading, but I am so disturbed and angry right now and I hate all of these characters.

    It’s possible that the worst book I have ever read is Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Wanted to love it. So many missed opportunities for this Jane Austen fan!

    • Kristen says:

      100% agree with you on both of those. I tried to read the Neopolitan novels (well, the first one) two separate times, a year apart, and both times just could not get through it even though I’m an avid reader. And I ended up stopping A Little Life 100 pages from the end because it was just too much for me.

    • Oh man, not my beloved Neapolitan Novels!!

  27. Sasha says:

    Ahhhh, not The Hunger Games! I have basically opposite opinions of The Hunger Games and Divergent from yours. 🙂 I liked the Divergent story and thought it was well-written through all three books, although I agree with you regarding the serum overdosing in the last book. I also liked The Hunger Games story overall, but I felt like the writing went downhill after the first book, and it was so bad that I couldn’t really get past that and back into the story. Suzanne Collins’ portrayal of Katniss’ PTSD was god-awful– totally one-dimensional, flat, and unrealistic. It still drives me nuts years after finishing the series, and so much of the book was presented via Katniss’ thoughts that it overpowered everything. I was actually pumped to see the movies because it’s pretty much impossible for film to narrate the same way as literature …. which in this case was a very good thing.

    Ever read the Eragon trilogy? You think Twilight is poorly written …. not disputing that, but these will set the bar even lower.

    Fun post! Great idea!

    • I know a lot of people hated the final Hunger Games book, and I didn’t overly love it, but the message was that war is hell and destroys everything. And even if you find a bit of happiness at the end, it’s always going to be ensconced in those hellish memories. That was my take. 🙂

  28. Stef says:

    I couldn’t finish On the road by Jack Kerouac. I was very curious about it as everyone seemed to love this book but neither I nor my friend who brought the book on that trip could find anything good about it. I read almost half because I thought maybe it will get better. But it didn’t and I just didn’t want to read it anymore.

    • Same here.
      Had always wanted to read it because so many people talk about it. Didn’t find a single interesting bit, didn’t warm to the characters and didn’t understand why they have to write a book about not knowing what to do with their lives.
      Like you, I kept going, but at about 2/3, I gave up.
      Overrated!

    • I agree, Stef. I read The Road the summer before my final year at university and I just couldn’t see what made it so famous and great. I also read Lolita that same summer and LOVED it…

  29. Kaley says:

    The Road also scared the shit out of me! I wouldn’t say it’s a bad book, nor the worst I’ve ever read, but I couldn’t keep going. Had to stop!

  30. Oh my god, Twilight! I hate that book so goddamn much, for all of the reasons you mention. And The Road is one I read years ago but think if every so often – it’s stayed with me in a way no other book has.

    I had to give up on The Paris Architect earlier this year – great potential in the hands of a subpar writer. And The Pearl that Broke Its Shell gets my award for worst book ever – its touted as a coming-of-age tale of Afghan women under Taliban rule, but it may as well have taken place in Akron, Ohio; that’s how little it’s setting and context mattered.

  31. Reshma says:

    Finally, somebody made a list! I’m glad that I have not read any of these except Twilight, which is one of the worst books!

  32. Katie says:

    I’ll admit I was nervous to read this post because as someone who’s tried to sit down and write a novel (or several), I tend to admire *anyone* who can crap out even the worst fictional turd. It takes a certain stamina to finish the job — so much so that I even wrote a public apology to E.L. James for the negative verbal assertions I made about her writing after attempting some long-format of my own.

    For the sake of discussion though I agree with you on Twilight, but I would probably throw the Hunger Games in there under “worst conclusion to a series.” (I didn’t read Allegiant.) I felt like the author couldn’t make up her mind on whether she wanted to write a love story or a political statement and ended up failing at both. I think I’m also one of the few people who didn’t love The Girl on the Train. I just didn’t find it as engrossing as everyone else seemed to think, and it’s one of the few instances where I thought the movie was better. The thing I love about reading though is that my impression of different works can change with time — what affected me as a teenager might give me an entirely different impression now.

    Anyway, I love your book lists, and maybe I’m weird, but I’m far more interested in the “this is good,” “this is good,” kind. There’s so much negativity out there, and enjoy spending my time reading things that inspire. 🙂

    • It’s not negativity to call a bad book bad.

      In your mind, is the criminal justice system a sign of negativity because it sentences people?

      • Katie says:

        Ha, no. Reading a blog post is not the same as the day-to-day functionality of our criminal justice system. I’m addressing her comment that readers are more interested in the drama and conflict — which is probably very accurate when it comes to most people. But I prefer Kate’s lists of what’s good, and I’m more inclined to click the affiliate links to buy the books she recommends over the books she doesn’t. Plus, writing a book is difficult and both readers and authors (hopefully) evolve over time, but an unkind word on the internet can last a lifetime. That said, Kate, I don’t think you were particularly unkind in your critiques. So thanks for that!

    • You know…along those lines, the other night I wanted to watch Garden State, a movie that I can sink into and makes me feel things. It’s been years since I watched it — and this time my reaction was THIS IS TRITE AS HELL. Ah, we all must grow up sometime…

      Thankfully I still love Eternal Sunshine! (I watched that two days after the election to get myself to feel feelings again…)

      • Katie says:

        So funny you say that — I’ve switched to attempting to write a screenplay, and I recently just read through Eternal Sunshine for inspiration. SUCH a good film, and now that I’m taking some time to explore the source, it’s kind of cool to see where it all stemmed from.

  33. Marjorie says:

    Couldn’t agree more about The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The book made such an impression on me that I’m actually afraid to watch the movie! If it is any good, then having all that very realistic apocalyptic horror as live action might be even worse. It’s been sitting in my Netflix queue waiting for me to work up the courage.

  34. I don’t have the patience to continue books that I don’t enjoy after the first chapters (after all, there are hundreds of other books I want to read next: https://andreasmoser.blog/contact/books-my-wishlist/ ), and unfortunately “The Road” fell into that category.

    I absolutely share your sentiment on “Walden”. There are a few nice thoughts in it, but they could have been condensed to a few pages. I have no idea why this book is so hyped up.

    Another classic which I didn’t finish, nor understand the allure of, is “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. It’s just a bunch of guys who don’t know what to do. That doesn’t need to go into a book.

  35. The worst book I ever was a novel called Sweetbitter about a girl who moves to NYC right after college in 2006. I thought I would like a book about a character who is my contemporary doing the kinds of things I was doing at that age, but it was just a navel-gazing, awful mess.

    • I wanted to read Sweetbitter because I waitressed through college and love fine dining today — but after reading the reviews, I realized that this was a horrible book with great marketing.

  36. Laura Oganowski says:

    The Poisonwood Bible is amazing!

  37. jj says:

    I’ll probably get flamed for this, but by far the worst book I’ve read in the last few years is the first Game of Thrones book – I didn’t read any more of them. It was recommended by my brother, whose judgement I usually trust, and about a million Amazon readers. But it was basically sadoporn for a 15-year-old boy. There’s a lot of physical and sexual violence, but what made it untenable was the lasciviously detailed and completely gratuitous descriptions of those scenes – it just felt like the author really enjoys writing rape and torture scenes. I pushed myself through the first book just to see if there was any kind of denouement (nope) and then went to read all the hundreds of one-star Amazon reviews, just to make sure there were other decent people in the world who were disgusted by this book. It scares me that so many people think these books are great and that it’s fun to watch torture and violence. Our acceptance of violence shows our society’s values, just as the gladiators were a sign of Rome’s cultural rot.

    • I can totally understand your feelings on that. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was difficult to read and watch with its awful rape scene in it.

      I need to read the first book in a series I’ve never read before for my book challenge this year, and it definitely won’t be the Game of Thrones series.

  38. Michelle says:

    Love this! Hope you’ll do more in the future (not that I hope you read more awful books, but hey, it happens! ;))

  39. Rena says:

    The worst book I have ever read is Fifty Shades of Grey. If you think Twilight is poorly written, this one is a thousand times worse! Throughout the book there are groups of sentences that are literally copy pasted. I don’t know why on earth they desided to publish this … book. It is disgusting and obnoxious, and the worst thing is that some young girls may read it and find it cool, and think what’s in this book is normal. Well it’s not, it’s just appalling. I couldn’t even finish the first book, let alone read the other two.
    I read it in English and English is not my first language, I don’t think I could ever read it in my native language!

  40. Jenn says:

    I love your take on a book list. So many of us fall into the trap of best sellers and find that the book wasn’t even good to begin with. We feel the need to keep reading it b/c everyone else has read it. I felt your pain with the Twilight and the Divergent Series. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the last divergent book b/c of how off it was getting. I read the synopsis and didn’t even want to go there.

  41. Becky says:

    I would save the worst books I’ve read have been Twilight and Allegiant. I’m so not proud that I’ve read those books, but I do appreciate the alternatives you suggested. I’ve read the alternatives and totally prefer those books to the ones that were pretty bad, at least in my opinion. I don’t get what all the hype was about with those worst books.

  42. Audrey says:

    Hahaha – I love the title of this post…
    I’m actually reading Walden right now, and I totally get where you’re coming from.

  43. Ron Mitchell says:

    Thank you for a hilarious and respectable post. Please, don’t ever read my book!

  44. Eva says:

    I haven’t read a lot of these (thankfully, apparently) but YES to the Divergent and Twilight series. Ok so I read the latter when it first came out and I was in college, and it was so bad it was almost good. But like you I was horrified at the message. Like, how many times does Bella have to fall over in an “adorable” way? We get it, you can’t control your body and apparently that makes teenage vampires/werewolves go wild. I actually enjoyed the sexual tension in the first book (I went to a choir college ok? You get it) but after that I just read them because I couldn’t NOT. Divergent however? I barely got through the first book and didn’t read the rest of the series. I was intrigued by the idea like you but MAN that writing was some of the worst I’ve ever read. The ending action sequence made so little sense that I had to reread pages multiple times to determine who had actually died and how. Like, what? The writing was just so piss poor that I really couldn’t continue. And I wanted it to be the next Hunger Games because I totally agree with you on that one!

    • So much of that series bothered me, too. Did you really have to state that it took place in the ruins of Chicago, the city destroyed, but apparently the Bean is intact and somewhere people go to hang out? You don’t HAVE to fill it with Chicago landmarks…

  45. Tessa Clare says:

    One of my worst books was Atonement. Also the jane Austen book club. The movie is SO much better

  46. Marcelle says:

    Hands down, The Catcher in the Rye. It took me multiple months to read a small book, and every time I opened it I wanted to throw it away. A teacher friend of mine said it was a good book because it brought out emotion in me, to which I said, yes, extreme hatred.
    Hated it. Whiny little boy who throws money at ducks then is sad that he doesn’t have any money.
    No.

  47. Rosana says:

    That list … respects everyone’s opinion and may even criticize me, but Dan Brown’s Inferno book could perfectly fit into this list, because of all the books he wrote, this one I really found very bad. I love the others, but it annoyed me when I finished reading.

  48. Amelie says:

    A book I read a few years ago and coincidentally the movie version is coming out very soon is The Circle by David Eggers. There are certain interesting aspects about the book that are great for debating at large: what role technology plays in our society, what does privacy mean in this day and age, how desensitized society has become at oversharing things on social media. However, beyond that, I hated the book. The main character was a wimp and an idiot, simply a vehicle to move the story along. I haven’t read any other David Eggers book but just based on The Circle, I found him to be a terrible writer. I didn’t care about any of the characters or empathize with anyone, they were all flat and very 2D. That being said, I am interested to see the movie because Tom Hanks and Emma Watson are in it and I’m wondering if they were able to make the source material more interesting in a visual way.

    And I agree about Allegiant 100%. Divergent was interesting, I wanted to see where the story went. By the second book though, Roth lost control of her narrative. There were too many serums, too many simulations, and it just seemed to be a terrible rip off of The Hunger Games, which isn’t completely off the mark to say since Roth started writing the first book in college when The Hunger Games books had already been published. I don’t even think the last movie came out in theaters, I think it went straight to Netflix.

    • I read The Circle and it FREAKED ME OUT. I found it to be a frighteningly realistic depiction of what we could be seeing in the future. (But how much do you wish we had their healthcare? Sigh…) I haven’t read any of Eggers’ other books, either, but I’d be open to it.

      Now I’m wondering whether I should take my friend who works for one of the big tech companies The Circle is based on to go see it…

  49. Paula says:

    Great list – several I did not enjoy here too!
    I am so glad you included A Cooks Tour. I am a massive Bourdain fan but I also really struggled with that book. I don’t think I ever did finish it. I have not bothered reading any more of his work and have just stuck with the shows but perhaps I will check out The Nasty Bits and give that a shot.

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