Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why Books Make Us Mad: a top 10 list (part 2)

Yesterday we examined a vitriolic comment from this very blog and discussed some of the top reasons why books can cause their readers to experience unpleasant emotions. And you can bet your best bonnet that Ayn Rand was mentioned. Today, we continue that list, with less Rand but more rant.

6. It's not nearly as funny as it thinks it is: One of the most grating books I've ever picked up was Christopher Moore's Lamb, a light-hearted retelling of Jesus' life that relies almost entirely on hackneyed, toothless jokes. I didn't mind Moore's irreverent approach to religion. What got under my skin was the humor, which couldn't have been safer or more predictable. Ho ho, someone said "wanker"! Oh man, they did the thing where a character is like "No WAY will I ever do X. Not in this life, buddy." And then in the next scene they're TOTALLY DOING X. "The King of Queens" tries harder than this.
7. It tries way too hard to impress you with smarts: If the author keeps name-checking philosophers and Great Canonical Writers and using five-dollar words when there's no need. That's usually a sign that there's nothing else there. A variation of this is when the author tries to go all brainy-punk and combines coarse vernacular with academic language, so we have "fucking faggot-ass reconstructivists" and "Carolingian as shit." Nobody talks like this in real life.
8. It’s like everything else: “So, yeah… I’m a white dude living in Brooklyn. I have this novel and it’s sort of about isolation and stuff. Stuff like yearning. And how women don’t understand me. In Brooklyn.” A handful of disaffected musings about the banalities of day-to-day life in an urban setting do not the next Ulysses make. Generally speaking, this kind of stuff makes the reader sleepy, not angry. But it CAN make the reader angry, IF…
9. It’s totally overrated: “Chabonathan Safran Auster’s latest unreliably-narrated nonsequential memoir in verse is an unputdownable tour de force of wry, but shockingly honest, compellingness.” —The Adulation Press
I’m not entirely certain what it’s about, but I instinctively dislike this book already. Problem is, my friends are reading it, so now I have to too if I want to be able to participate in conversations with them. Of course, the added element of duress is doing nothing to alleviate my previously existing disinclination to like, but whatever, I’ll just read it really fast and get over—hey wait a minute, is this a new narrator or just some weird drug sequence? Now I’m confused. And I feel like a failure. Curse you, book! You did this to me. Curse you and your sequels. And your sequels’ sequels!
10. It doesn't believe in anything: One of the problems with "South Park" is that its creators will wade into some hot-button debate, make fun of everyone and their strong feelings, and then back out, leaving a mouthpiece character like Stan to say, in effect, "You're all giant babies and the only intelligent response to this problem is to not care about it." Caring about things doesn't make people weak or foolish; it just makes them people. This is less a problem with books, since writing a book is a big pain-in-the-ass undertaking and you probably won't try it if you don't actually have something to say, but it pops up sometimes in prankish, intellectually posturing works like those of Mark Leyner or Tao Lin. (No offense...)

Well, that wraps up our list. Once again, thanks to my DC correspondent for his contributions, and I encourage one and all to chime in with quibbles of their own. In closing I'd like to say that while I may be critical from time to time (and more so than usual in this post) I love all books--especially the ones that make me mad.


  1. Ha! Not to hijack your rant post, but I also hated Lamb, for most of the same reasons.

  2. Thank you, I never finished Moore's Fool because it felt like he was constantly screaming "Wait for it... wait for it... wait for it..." right into my ear. His miserable attempts at sounding British didn't help either.

  3. This is such a well thought out argument - I really appreciate you taking the time to delve into this issue! There are few books that I have downright hated and regretted the hours I spent reading, but one is The Catcher in the Rye. And after your thoughtful posts, I have identified two good arguments as to why I threw this book at a wall once I finished it. Thank you! :D

  4. As you get older, you learn not to get angry about books (or other things) because it is bad for your heart, blood pressure, you don't want to stroke out, have a coronary, etc.

    At the first sign of incipient anger, most of us older readers (I am 72), just stop reading the damn book.

  5. What about a post about books that need to be revisited after gaining life experience (or perhaps reasons to revisit old reads)?
    #6 works for people, too.

  6. Actually, I might try my hand at that. Your list will probably have more readers though.

  7. @skatej Make that list! I would read the hell out of it.

  8. @skatej This list sounds fantastic! Let me know if you might be interested in doing it as a guest post or some such.

  9. I did it on my blog already. if you want to check it.