Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Looking back

Okay, this is amazing. The Guardian, in its typical fashion, has decided to set aside the typical "Best of the Decade" for a "Worst of" list. The result is quite spectacular. Over 450 comments where readers pour out their frustrations with what they feel are the worst books of the decade (typically, these books are ones they felt were overhyped or wrongly popular). Massively profane, incredibly upbeat about their insults, and 100% entertaining, these comments reveal 10 years worth of pent-up book hate (and on the rare occasion, love).

The grand winners are, for the most part, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith, and Ian McEwan. It's amusing, though, to see the others nominated. "Twilight", Dan Brown and Harry Potter are repeatedly mentioned as "How do people like this [expletive]?!". Many (I think almost all; "Wolf Hall" may be the only exception) of the last decade's Booker winners have been mentioned as "pure drivel" and several other popular novelists' names keep getting tossed around back and forth: "He's great! No, he's [crap]. What are you talking about, ----- was a masterpiece of modern literature! You're an idiot if you think that! Yeah, well you think--"

And people say literary discussion is dead.

5 comments:

  1. Worst Of lists are far worse than Best Of lists. With a Best Of list you can just say "oh I guess there were too many good books, no wonder my favorites didn't make the list." But what happens when one of your favorite books shows up on a Worst Of list? I moderately admire Ian McEwan, but I thought On Chesil Beach was amazing. In fact I put it down as one of my favorites of all time.

    And even the Da Vinci Code. I know it was crap writing, but I had a lot of fun reading it nonetheless. Shouldn't a Worst book of the decade have absolutely no value?

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  2. Thomas at My Porch: You're right. It's hard to seriously compile a "worst of" list because one person's favorite is another person's pile of crap. I was dismayed to see a few books I cherish pop up there on the list as well (namely: Harry Potter) and didn't agree with a lot of the hate geared towards Dave Eggers (I get why people don't like his books much, but it's a matter of style, not of quality). Even in regards to "The Da Vinci Code", you're right that sometimes "bad" books are still fun.

    I think the point is just to have some fun with it. I'm not a big fan of "best of" lists, because there are three possible outcomes: 1. I've read the book, liked it, and am not learning anything new. 2. I haven't read the book and feel ignorant. 3. I've read the book, I didn't like it, and now I feel like there's something wrong with how I read. Here, everything's a little tongue-in-cheek and you know that someone (or many someones) will start to argue and battle back and forth for every mentioned book (though few people seem to have the nerve to defend McEwan after the bashing he's received...).

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  3. Oh, this shows that really nobody agrees on anything when it comes to books and literary tastes are arbitrary, and we really have no clear sense of what makes great literature and what doesn't. Okay, maybe we can agree on works that are centuries or millennia old, but definitely not on anything recent.

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  4. It always amazes me that some people can't imagine how others might have different opinions on books. I mean just because I don't like Dan Brown doesn't mean others aren't in the mood for his whimsical stuff.

    Heck, I know there are books that I loved when I read them in my 20's that I don't like now, decades later. And vice-versa.

    When we read a book we read it from the perspective of where we are at that point in time. Our age, what's going on in our life, and our mood all changes from one point-in-time to the next. At least mine does.

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  5. <<1. I've read the book, liked it, and am not learning anything new. 2. I haven't read the book and feel ignorant. 3. I've read the book, I didn't like it, and now I feel like there's something wrong with how I read.>>

    Biblio, this is brilliant. True and amusing :]

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