There is nothing more disappointing than picking up a book that everyone and their mothers seem to be recommending and absolutely hating it. It has everything going for it: established critics and reviewers singing its praises, your trusted bookish friends highly recommending it, raving Goodreads reviews; yet, it just really and truly sucks. It feels wrong to get the book then not give it the time of day—even after you realize how terrible it is. Readers employ several techniques to justify reading something they don’t like just for the sake of having read it, like playing that mental game of “how far can I make it before throwing this across the room,” or abiding by your personal rules about how many pages of a book you’re required to read before you feel like you’ve given it a chance.
Recently, I read an insultingly bad book. Not only was it campy and cliché, but it was full of these weird characterizations that made me second guess all of the progress that women have made to quell sexism and horribly executed tropes that constitute A Detective Novel™. But it came to me highly recommended by friends and all the reading apps that I have, so I thought I would give it a try. I hated it just 10 pages in, but I decided to soldier on and see if it got any better (it had to, right? Everyone else loves it! I should love it!). I try not to think of it as disrespecting myself to put my brain through all of those rotten sentences, but rather expanding my horizons as a reader and learning more about what it means to appreciate the craft of writing…
While reading this bad book, and others, I couldn’t help but wonder what it meant about the current reading climate if this book has somehow become a book that people highly recommend to others. Then I got to thinking about my own reading habits, and what it meant about me and my tastes to be hating that book so much. I felt like I needed to read the book in order to understand; I convinced myself to consider it required reading in order to, perhaps, come to a conclusion about society’s reading habits. Alas, I came to no profound conclusion.
I figured it just boiled down to trendiness, the 21st-century necessity to be up-to-date on cultural relevance. It just caught on as the new thing to read, and others listened and, for reasons unbeknownst to me, didn’t speak up about its unworthiness as a New York Times best seller. Maybe they didn’t care enough? Thought the sexism and clunky mechanics easy to overlook? Just really love that genre and cared more about the simple plot than the creation of a narrative? Whatever it was that kept these millions of readers from honestly reviewing or critiquing the book, it’s amazing to me that this is something that likely happens somewhat regularly (Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, for example).
I’m certainly guilty of reading things my favorite authors or writers recommend simply because they recommend it, but they’re usually really good books! However, I try to be honest in my own reviews and recommendations online about the quality of the book (no matter how scared I am of going against an idol’s opinions). Going against the tide and saying something that might anger a few people is hard, but it’s necessary to save innocent readers like me from picking up these truly terrible novels and wasting time with them. Serious readers have a responsibility to speak up about these bad books, to not recommend them as quality reading but perhaps as a lesson in what a book shouldn’t be.
Then again, perhaps I just hated the book for personal reasons that others don’t agree with. If that’s the case, then the mystery of bad books (disguised as good books) securing spots on the large best-selling lists will never be solved.
Emily Walters is an MA student in the English Department and social media editor for the minnesota review.