Books You Hate

stacked books

Have you ever been so disgusted with a book — the story, the editing, the whatever — that you’ve felt the desire to chuck the book against a wall? I have. As a reader, I’m annoyed, dissatisfied. As a writer, it’s an interesting lesson on what can go wrong, and pulls on the fear that maybe I won’t see the problem.

I’ll give you examples, but I’m not going to name names. In both cases, the book was traditionally published, and the author is a respected writer in their genre.

The first one is the one I remember most vividly, as you’ll understand. Imagine this scenario: An industrial civilization of about the same capability as a century ago is isolated on an island, and the island is sinking, slowly sinking.

Their great minds come together to make a plan. The plan will not save all. It will only save a handful. And it will need to perfect a new technology (in this case, flight) to work.

Now if I were on an island that was slowly sinking, I’d build a boat. I’d build many boats. It’s a tried and true technology, not difficult at all. Any challenges of navigation would be equaled or surpassed by the challenges of perfecting flight.

But NO ONE in the story thinks of or suggests boats!

There’s no given reason why a boat can’t work.

Yes, this is a real story, published by an author whose other books are probably (most certainly) on the shelves of your bookstore. This isn’t a plot hole, it’s a cave, a big f-ing cavern.

Author, agent, editor(s), publisher; all signed off on this, marketed it, and sold it.

This book actively attacks the reader’s intelligence, tries to dumb you down.

Yes, I pledge that I will never buy another book by that author.

Another example for you, less egregious.

There’s an author who writes books that are pleasant to read but disposable. No one’s going to stay up late in a dorm room arguing over the meaning of these stories. But if you have a long journey, by train or plane. They have engaging stories and recurring characters. You know what to expect. These are good, simple reads.

Except one.

In this one, perhaps the tenth or eleventh with the same core characters, all of a sudden everyone is acting differently. Competent people suddenly aren’t. Friends no longer trust each other. Co-workers are now lovers.

But it wasn’t a bold move, it didn’t totally shake up the universe and make you gasp. It was weak. It just put all of the characters off from the familiar ground that the readers had come to expect them to occupy but without a payoff that made it worthwhile (there was no explanation or attempt at a plot twist or payoff. This was just the new normal in that universe).

I wondered later if this wasn’t a contractually obligated book – perhaps the author didn’t want to write it but owed the publisher one more title in the series.

Or maybe the author is burned out and was trying to stretch, to re-kindle his creative flame. Either way, it was a boring mess that did a disservice to the existing franchise. I won’t be buying another of his novels any time soon (well, maybe second-hand, but not at full price).

Now, as a writer, this is bothersome at a different level. What if my books have similar problems, what if my I can’t see it?

That fear makes me hold on to stories much longer than i should. it makes me meter my submissions to one or two at a time, so I can judge feedback and look for missed flaws. It’s forced at least one possibly unnecessary rewrite of a story that’s already over 100,000 words and in need of letting go.

Readers, tell me, what’s a story that’s frustrated the hell out of you?