Saturday, January 10, 2015

5 Worst Reads of 2015

sadly, most of The Books That I Loathed in 2014 were from one of my favorite genres, Horror. alas!

Let's Go Play at the Adams' by Mendal Johnson. It has interesting prose, an intriguingly disturbing premise, and a very specific world view. The problems for me were that the premise had zero logic if you spent more than a few minutes thinking about its attempt at realistically characterizing children... and the world view was DEPRESSING BEYOND BELIEF. I hate finishing a book and the main thing I'm taking away is Man, that author sure hates the world. I'm not a particularly optimistic guy, but I don't think a world view that essentially equates life to a concentration camp is one that I can get behind.

Covenant by John Everson. I just can't support an author who gets off on being needlessly cruel to his own characters. Particularly if those characters are women. Especially if he gloatingly writes about them getting raped multiple times. Everson, why are you salivating over these sorts of things?

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner. This book represents the several books I just couldn't finish. I'm not going to live forever so why waste time with drivel?

The particularly bad thing about this book is that it made me question my positive reaction to the first book in this series, The Maze Runner. In the past I've been guilty of projecting depth onto things that were clearly shallow. Young Adult novels may be my kryptonite when it comes to that because they so easily allow their readers to project their own meanings onto their spare narratives and transparent prose. Still, I got a lot out of The Maze Runner; perhaps it was all about being set in a maze. All I got from The Scorch Trials was frustration, boredom, and the feeling that I had been bamboozled into reading it.

Apartment Seven by Greg Gifune. I'm a bit abashed at putting this one on here because Gifune is a really talented author. His gifts with the prose and the pacing and the characterization are obvious. But here's the thing: don't steal from David Lynch without crediting David Lynch. Don't do that. The homage to Charles Dickens is obvious (too obvious, actually) but the lifting of themes and scenes from Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway seemed to hope that the novella's readers didn't have familiarity with those films. And judging from various doltish reviews, clearly many did not.

And that said, this is the sole book on the short list that actually increased my interest in reading more from the author. Just maybe one where he is coming up with his own plot.

Young Törless by Robert Mucil. Happily I got to include one classic on this list. Ugh, what a classic.

So this novel is brilliant. It is haunting and evocative and thoughtful and posits many interesting things for the reader to contemplate. Its themes run deep and they are the sort of themes that stick with the reader because they are about things like individuality, transcendence, being a part of the machine of life or being your own person. Et cetera.

But the book is also about the ongoing humiliation and physical/sexual abuse of a kid by three other kids. I understand that the victim functions as a sort of metaphor. He certainly functions as a metaphor to the novel's protagonist (and one of the abusers), Törless. But fuck that; if I am reading a book about a kid being victimized, I'm not going to read him as pure metaphor no matter how much the protagonist sees him as that and... no matter how much the author sees him as a metaphor. Because a victimized kid is more than a disposable thing of contemplation, he's more than a metaphor... he's also a victimized kid.

Maybe I'm just an emotional reader. But I don't care for the sort of intellectual author who is so deep in the themes he is trying to explore that he forgets that he is writing about human beings - or that his work is going to be read by human beings. There needs to be a balance between intellect and emotion. Too much of one, you're reading the diary of an hysterical pre-teen. Too much of the other, you're reading the log entries of a Nazi scientist experimenting on interesting human subjects.

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