My husband read a bad book. He downloaded it for his kindle, and because it was free, he hadn’t done more than read the description. When he began to read, it became quickly clear to him that it was BAD. He gave it more of a chance than I would have, but he quit at the halfway point. We discussed this book, which shall remain anonymous here, and I’ve been thinking about what makes a book bad or good. I think that there are some absolutes.
What exactly am I talking about? What makes a book all-caps B-A-D? Here are those characteristics I would consider to be unforgivable:
– Blatantly wrong grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
– Excessive use of simile and metaphor, or flowery adjectives and adverbs that don’t even make sense. If the word choice keeps me reading solely for laughs and the book isn’t intended as humor, that is BAD.
– Contradictions in the setting, character motivations, or plot that are so bizarre that they can’t be attributed to secret motives, hidden plots, or other authorial devices.
– Disregard for research in a particular skill or trade, or complete ignorance of the laws of physics or biology when no effort has been made to say that the world in the book is different than ours. I can forgive some mistakes in areas that I am familiar with (fencing, horses, medicine), but if this is a central aspect to the plot or a main character, you’re going to lose me.
Most of the items on this list would be caught by a good editor (if the book was even accepted for publication in the first place). These are problems that I come across mostly in self-published works. The book that my husband read was self-published, although the author had gone to some trouble to make it appear that it was not. This is not to say that self-published always = BAD. The problem with a lot of self-published books is that there is no filter (i.e. agent, editor, copy editor, publisher). Anyone who can type and fiddle with some software can now publish their own book on amazon and other outlets. When I’m offered books to review, many of these are self-published. I try to give them every chance. If the description or blurb interests me, I still won’t take the book on unless I can read a sample of it. I’ll look at Amazon’s preview feature or I’ll check the author’s web page. I reviewed one self-published book some time back, and it was quite good. I have at least two more in my queue to be read.
I have also read (or tried to read) what I would consider a bad book from a major publisher. One in particular from last year comes to mind, but it will also remain anonymous here. I found the word choice to be bizarrely amusing when it should not have been, and the plot was incomprehensible. I’m not sure why – was there a shake-up in the editorial staff? Was it rushed to print? Am I so dense that I just didn’t get it?
Have you ever looked over reviews of one of your favorite books and found that some horrible terrible awful confused person gave it a one star review? Were you even reading the same book? Have you ever picked up a book that everyone loved to find that it was nonsensical drivel? Here is where I think the variety of styles, genres, and the multitude of human personalities and tastes comes in. I picked up a romance novel by a best-selling author a few years ago just to try to read outside my favorite genre of science fiction and fantasy. (One of my favorite science fiction books is largely a romance, so I’m not opposed to this as an element or theme.) I read this best-seller (that was also made into a movie), but despite the appeal to other people, I found the book boring and sappy. I don’t think that makes it a bad book. It simply wasn’t for me.
I’m also not talking about taste as in, “You have good taste. He has bad taste.” I think that all that taste means is that everyone has different preferences. I didn’t pick up George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and expect it to be the same as Harry Potter. Yes, they’re both fantasy, but TOTALLY different. There are readers who love one series and can’t get through the other. For some, GRRM’s writing is too graphic and the characters are too dark. For other readers, Harry Potter is too juvenile and stereotyped. (I love both of these series though.)
Have you read any bad books lately? Are there other factors that you feel may put a book in that BAD category? How about your tastes – have they changed over time? How varied are your tastes as a reader?