Monday, May 07, 2007

Luxuriantly Bad

In a previous post, I'd commented and referenced an essay by Joe Queenan in the NYT's Book Review of this previous Sunday. Basically, Mr. Queenan states in Why Not the Worst?, that "bad books have an important place in our lives, because they keep the brain active. We spend so much time wondering what incredibly dumb thing the author will say a few pages down the road. One caveat: As with bad movies, a book that is merely bad but not exquisitely bad is a waste of time, while a genuinely terrible book is a sheer delight."

One particular passage strikes very close to (my) home.
"Most of us are familiar with people who make a fetish out of quality: They read only good books, they see only good movies, they listen only to good music, they discuss politics only with good people, and they’re not shy about letting you know it. They think this makes them smarter and better than everybody else, but it doesn’t. It makes them mean and overly judgmental and miserly, as if taking 15 minutes to flip through “The Da Vinci Code” is a crime so monstrous, an offense in such flagrant violation of the sacred laws of intellectual time-management, that they will be cast out into the darkness by the Keepers of the Cultural Flame. "

Mr. Queenan is handy with the verbal sword, so be careful as to how close to him you stand.

Any real genuine stinkers in your past? One(s) you'd admit to paging through from hesitant beginning to glorious end? I'll admit that Clan of the Cave Bear and Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent were up a the top of the heap along with Bonfires of the Vanities. I can't think of a pseudo-historical novel at this time but I'm sure there was at least one, most probably a Slavic one dealing with Mother Russia, a man and his tractor, and a bank all coming together in a plot involving safe sex.

Or something equally bad.


An intriguing post, I have to say...
I wrote my diploma thesis on (style of German) kitsch literature and have considered myself out of danger ever since ("I know how they do it"!). So yes, I still read the stuff if it is on a certain level. Hell, I even earned a few bucks as a student by writing love stories I have forgotten ever since...

Of course I desperately need good books inbetween, but I never thought it is one's duty to stick to any ivory towers in any way.

My tresspasses include:
- LOTR (in 3 languages. The films several times)
- Harry Potter (last book pre-ordered, can hardly wait. Seen all films)
- Terry Pratchett (still reading)
- The Little Prince (?)

Serious sins:
- Gone with the wind
- a "biography" of Napoleon
- lots of esoterika and related things
- a novel about a female Pope Johanna (courtesy of mother-in-law)
- a German novel of an unhappy woman suffering from bulimia who gets married in the end (courtesy of a girlfriend)
- ... other things I don't remember

I don't intend to tell you about my childhood reading preferences, though... I'm sure you can half imagine them.
Those on my "so bad, it's good" list include many in the pulp noir category...Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, William Gresham (whose ex-wife was married to the late, great C.S. Lewis which has to be a great story), and then there's always the completely deranged Hunter S. Thompson. I have already experienced the casting out by the Keepers of the Cultural Flame. ;-)
Alcessa and Gwynne,
Thanks for the comments. I'm not sure if the books you'd mentioned would qualify as fodder for the Heap of Bad that Mr. Queenan was referring to. I'm thinking that my pithy list would not qualify either. Perhaps Alcessa's novel regarding a female Pope Johanna (courtesy of mother-in-law) may be the only candidate. And let's face it, a book from one's mother-in-law is a dangerous thing; a test? a suggestion? a subtle slap in one's face?
Gwynne, I don't know about you, but both of the Thompsons (Jim & Hunter) would most definitely not be on the bad list as the element of surprise is consistently evident in their books. If you can predict what the writer is going to write next, it's a good candidate for the Heap of Bad. At least for me, the joy of the Thompsons' writing was that I could never predict what dark and strange path they would be going on. Perhaps a book by Hunter Thompson's dog may qualify for the Heap of Bad, but, as of yet, I haven't been able to find that tome.

Your thoughts, ladies?
(I tried posting a comment at the same time as you, DV, and my thoughts disappeared in a sea of ones and zeros. Apologies if the earlier comment shows up and repeats myself.)

I have to confess I still enjoy the novels of Tom Wolfe, although Bonfire is the only one I've read more than once. In a similar vein, Jay McInerney's The Good Life is so bad, it's good. Reading him, you'd think every girl in Manhattan was "gamine." Well, that may not actually be the case, but it should be.

But I don't think either of these authors quite reach the virtuosic levels of "badness" that so impresses Queenan. To find that level in my library, I have to stoop and reach for Frank Miller's Sin City capers. Over-the-top, unironically cartoonish in its mean-spiritedness ... man, that stuff is bad! And I like it.
OK, Darko, I think I see now. And I am ready to confess an atrocity: Barbara Cartland... Don't remember the titles, but this is where I learned my German verbs. *blush*
I suppose the one that stands out most loathed in my memory - the one that springs first to mind when faced with questions such as these - would be "The Quincunx", by Charles Paliser.

A book which many bloggers I have read rate amongst their Top Ten favorite books of all time.


I bought into it, but after a while - with, like, fifteen thousand pages still to go - you spend your time wondering What masterful piece of emotional manipulation is this bozon going to throw at us next? Heroine going to be raped? Aaaah - here it is: heroine raped in debtor's gaol!

That and "Da Vinci Code", whose chapters I realized were episodes from "24". But one of Dan Brown's other books - one about cryptography and matrix thingy's - is way, way worse than Da Vinci. He really sucks at math.
FCB, and this book, The Quincunx?

Dare I ask how it is pronounced in polite company?

(As per your notes, Amazon seems to have recorded 4.5 out of 5 stars rating for this doorstop)

We'll take your word on it that badness runs through it like feed through about to be foie-gras geese.
..Oh Oh.
FCB, this is part of one review of your suggested book.
"In conclusion, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this to anyone looking for an intelligent, captivating, masterfully written novel. I simply cannot praise it highly enough. It is not, however, for the individual who expects to be spoon-fed by an author. In other words, if you are looking for something one can read while putting the brain in neutral, you'd best look elsewhere. With this novel, what you get out of it is directly proportionate to what you put into it."

In addition, seems the NYT gave it a very large thumbs up.

I believe, in the true American adverserial manner, if you've accused this book of being BAD and it has come back with its argument, as displayed by the positive reviews on Amazon, it is now your duty to defend your position.

We expect the same high level of "off-the-deep-end and miraculously back again" style that you so well demonstrate on your blog.

(Here you should be hearing the sound of a gaunlet dropped)
Some people fawn over anything that is "well-written", which this clearly is. But -far more predictably - they will fawn over anything writ as nineteenth century Drama!, dear, which reeks of a Charles Dickens pulled down by laudanum.

Even though it must be twenty years since I read it, it still sets my teeth on edge just thinking about it.

Seriously, absolutely and totally manipulative book.

It wasn't that I didn't "get it", nor see what it was alluding to; it's that I did get it, and despised it. Reading this book is like being hit over the head continuously with the sh*tty end of the Pathos Stick.
Perhaps a book by Hunter Thompson's dog may qualify for the Heap of Bad

See now, there is almost such a book out there, not by the late great HST's dog but by Paul Auster's dog, also along the noir (but not quite Pulp noir) vein. And it's EXCELLENT! It's called Timbuktu. If you haven't read it, you should. :-)

I do understand though what Mr. Queenan is getting at, I think. You noticed, I listed my selections in the "so bad, it's GOOD" category. But I also have a "so bad, it HURTS" category and that would include the sequel to Bridges of Madison County (which just proved the guy had only one book to write).
With fear that I will be struck dead by Mr. Queenan, Gwynne, I believe you are being kind to the mentioned author by using the word "book" in reference to his prior work.

OUch!! Zapped by static electricity and Joe Queenan.
My nomination for the 'Heap of Bad' is the infamous 'White Indian' series, hella bad hella good!

I like Scott Turow, he's actually pretty good.

I read at some point a book where the heroine was some sort of Ukranian and she gets captured by Turks, I think it's called Roxana or something, lots of gore, lots of battles, lots of sex, lots of romance, but still kind of a 'Heap of Bad' special.

Clan of the Cave Bear has two major flaws, 1. WAY too much gratuitous oral sex. Women don't want to read about women giving head! 2. NO WAY she invented all that stuff, it gets boring hearing her talk to the animals too.

Oh another wonderful bad book, sort of a sequel to 'Gone with the Wind' Scarlett, hella bad hella good!
I am stomping my dainty little boot-clad foot right in the middle of all this...

GONE WITH THE WIND should be right up there with the major works of Shakespeare or Dickens - not a secret reading vice.

I will confess my reading sins, though they were in my much younger literary days when the vapors could overtake me with one good kiss in a paragraph of stuffy English history:

The Mistress of Mellyn and Menfreya in the Morning.

Besides, I rarely find a book that doesn't have some redemption.

Except maybe stuff by Joseph Conrad...
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