The CLUNKERS of 2011
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Also for the 6th year in a row, here's the place to post your 'clunkers' (however you define this) of the year. Post one or several and tell us why it gets your vote as a clunker.
Remember: one reader's clunker is another reader's treasure!
Worst of 2006
Worst of 2007
Worst of 2008
Worst of 2009
Worst of 2010
A Corpse in the Koryo (Inspector O Novel) by James Church -- couldn't finish...felt like that Henkell Bejing book all over again. ...gave it 65 pp or so....decided to move on. Also decided to put into my 2011 Reads tag, though unfinished, just to remind myself in the future if it is worth trying this book again...naw, it ain't.
Mine were Room just did not like this book at all. Also this Life Is In Your Hands.
Without question, No More Mr. Nice Guy by Howard Jacobson was the worst book I read all year. Unfortunately, it was an Early Reviewers selection from September.
I read The Gardens of Kyoto years ago and enjoyed it very much, but I'll grant you it took a bit for me to fully appreciate it.
I suppose that the clunkers of the year would have to be the books that I started but didn't finish, namely :-
The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley;
Room by Emma Donoghue;
Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving.
Of the forty books that I did finish (so far), I thought that Susan Hill's The Bird of Night was a bit of a dud, and the collections of short stories by Algernon Blackwood and H P Lovecraft were very disappointing. The other thirty-odd, however, were good to excellent; so not a bad tally.
Cleopatra, a Life - she can parse a sentence, but clearly imagined a lot of what she wrote. Not my idea of a non-fiction book.
The Fall of Atlantis by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
I usually love Marion's books... I loved The Mists of Avalon and The Firebrand and some of the Darkover saga... but The Fall of Atlantis wasn't as good as any of them. I don't know, I couldn't care about any of the cardboard cutout characters, and the plot didn't really grab me. It was a pain to finish.
I couldn't finish Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Very dry reading, but well researched if you're interested. My book club liked this book.
I was disappointed by The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I felt it was just a mash-up of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia. My book club disliked it as well. My favorite part was when the students turned into geese.
Several. My first brush with DH Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, disappointed, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao didn't seem a worthy Pulitzer winner, I found my first duff Philip Roth novel in The Humbling. I'd also recommend you watch The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, either version being more impressive than Jack Finney's source novel.
This is what I posted in another thread:
I don't read, or finish, books that are really terrible, but here are ones that were disappointments for me, in that I had higher expectations for them.
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen. As I said in my review, "Oh, how this book went on and on and on . . . a frustrating mixture of fascinating, exciting adventure and boring looks at small town life, interesting portrayals of the world and unrealistic, overly analyzed characters, insight into life as a sailor and unbelievably coincidental plot elements."
The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak. I had mixed feelings about this coming of age/war story. Yes, it was beautifully written, moving, and hard to put down, but . . . the language was so beautiful, and the writing so good, and the choice of words occasionally so arcane that I just couldn't believe that someone who had been an uneducated young shepherd/soldier could be telling the tale. Also, there was a level of geographic detail that felt like it came out of a book.
Ice Road by Gillian Slovo. There are several reasons why I was disappointed in this book. Most importantly, it felt lightweight in comparison to other fiction and nonfiction I've read covering the same time period (Stalinist Russia during the second world war). Additionally, the characters didn't seem fully formed and often seemed there to fill a role. I also got tired of their endless thinking and worrying, especially since very different characters seemed to express themselves with the same type of language, although expressing different thoughts. I felt the research Slovo did came across as heavy-handed, and the book was too long and could have used some editing. All that said, I admire Slovo for trying to portray the feelings of people who believed in the goals of the Russian revolution, if not always in its methods, and who tried to further those goals even while making compromises with their own values and feelings.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. More than a disappointment; I actively disliked this highly praised book. Not only did the the characters seem one-sided, occasionally even caricaturish; not only were their stories often predictable; not only did the writing, while easy to read, made me feel the author picking his words; what bothered me the most were Rachman's portraits of women, especially those focused on their careers. Spoiler alert! They are driven and controlling, and pathetic idiots when it comes to men, picking losers they have to support, or who steal from them one way or another, all from fear of being alone. As I said in my review: does Rachman really hate women this much?
Worst books of the year, with snippets of my original reviews:
Empire Falls by Richard Russo - So long and so boring and so depressing. It combined the themes of middle-aged angst and "where is my life going" and disintegrating small-town life because The Mill Shut Down and school shootings. No, no, no.
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos - Instead of "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love", this book should have been called "The Mambo Kings Have Lots of Sex With Random Women and They Also Have Really Big Penises, and Both Sex and Penises Are Described On Every Other Page Using The Same Five Adjectives".
The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum - The movies are orders of magnitude better than the books. They are just so confusing. And there would be no plot at all if all the characters weren't idiots. Plus Ludlum has this really irritating style, involving overuse of italics, just constantly nonstop. Annoying, isn't it? It is like he thinks that the reader won't put the emphasis on the right word in a sentence during an argument or something unless Ludlum makes it really clear. Plus characters do a lot of shouting in regular conversations. It bugs me.
But really, the Mambo Kings book was the worst.
I, too, read Empire Falls this year because it was recommended to me, though I do not consider it a clunker, just flawed. That school shooting was too melodramatic, too much like television. And there was a scene of dog abuse that I found very disturbing. If I had known about that scene, I would never have read the book, as it is now burned into my brain.
The rest of the book showed promise, but the flaws suggested some lazy writing and lack of imagination.
The Bonfire of the Vanities
Okay, this was written by an author I like, but I just couldn't get into the book at all. I despised all the people introduced in the first few chapters, and decided that I had better things to do with my reading time than waste it on these jerks.
It might be good for someone else, but not me. Sorry, Tom.
I, too, couldn't read Room, but listened to it. While it still wasn't great, I did finish it. Amazingly I who love Chris Bohjalian did not like Night Strangers.
Room was horrid, it easily goes on my list. Don't get the hoopla on that one. I was trapped on a flight or else I would have never finished it. I also thought two of my Early Reviewer books were terrible: 1) Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward; and 2) Tea of Ulaanbaatar by Christoper R. Howard. The other wretched book I sorta read was The Death of Bunny Monro by Nick Cave which techincally, I did not finish, but felt with getting 100+ pages, I can say it truly sucked, rather painfully, until that point. I tried hard too because my boyfriend (at the time, ha, should have been a red flag) really pushed me to read it.
But I'm like a lot of readers, I usually have a 60 page rule for reading duds. Early Reviewers are my exception, because I feel obligated to complete the book to make a solid review.
Only one book in my experience The Elegance of the Hedgehog - turned it around @ half-way point. Usually they don't. And life is too darn short for bad literature. And there are too many excellent books to choose from.
Another one I disliked, but this one I finished:
The Scarlet Letter
What a waste of ink and paper! Like The Bonfire of the Vanities, everyone in this book (including the 'love child') was either weird or a jerk.
So much for 'classic' fiction.
I had purchased this book at a Habitat for Humanity thrift store, but I returned it so they can sell it again and make money for their cause.
Reading Tom Wolfe is difficult because you know from the beginning that everyone is going to get it in the neck. That's why I gave up early on A Man in Full. Didn't enjoy seeing people set up only to be mowed down. But Wolfe was a journalist, and that's how they operate.
#19, 20 I don't think The Bonfire of the Vanities holds up. It was terrific in the 1980s, at least for those of us in NYC, because it could so easily have been true, and the portraits of the characters were so realistic.
The biggest dud for me this year was The Passage by Justin Cronin. I disliked parts of it intensely, and disliked the reader (it was an audiobook) even more. I'm not sure why I listened to it to the bitter end (well, getting through it was bitter but ending it was not), since like RebeccaNYC I don't usually force myself to finish anything I don't like, except that so many people seemed to love it, I kept expecting it to turn around and get better.
My clunkers of 2011, which I did not finish:
The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley - nothing new with which I could resonate, reflect
My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winston - horrid tales, not enough humor to make it worth the cringing
The City and The City by China Mieville - tried it, but just not my type of read
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter - thoroughly engaged while reading it, but when I wasn't, I didn't care to pick it up, so I let it go
The Magicians by Lev Grossman A mess of unlikeable characters and the theft of ideas from Harry Potter and Narnia.
Anthropology of an American Girl From a writer who clearly loves to write but didn't seem to have anything to say in this book.
Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny I like fantasy but this one wasn't doing anything for me.
Oh, so sad to hear you didn't like The Chronicles of Amber, DMO. It's one of my faves, as is its author. Too bad.
(30) Zelazny's Amber books are a favorite of mine as well.
To each his own, hmm?
fuzzi and jnwelch: I will try again with Zelazny. I know so many people who love his works.
29> That is a perfect description of Anthropology of an American Girl.
Going Dutch by Lisa Jardine — Should have been right up my street, but it didn't make a coherent case for whatever it was it was trying to prove, and it told me nothing I didn't know already about the 17th century
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey — not a bad book, just a disappointing potboiler from someone who can do a lot better
Specimen days by Michael Cunningham — a bad book from someone who can do a lot better
De helaasheid der dingen by Dimiti Verhulst — several people told me that I must read this very funny book about Belgium. They were right about it being a book about Belgium...
My Clunker of 2011 was Temptation by Douglas Kennedy. So bad I left it on the beach. Disappointing, because I loved The Pursuit of Happiness.
Of course, it's always surprising, somehow, to see some of my favorite books of the year listed as other people's worse but, that's the way it goes, eh?
I was glad to see that the only other person who confessed to reading The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian also disliked it. It had a good start, faltered as it went along, and completely jumped the shark by the end. The credulity of the chief characters is unbelievable. I mean completely. Had it been the first book I'd read by this author, I'd never read another.
Several clunkers for 2011:
I finished but despised Alma Mater by Rita Mae Brown. It was Runnymede lite without the love.
The only Peter Wimsey novel by Dorothy Sayers that I actively dislike was a re-read that confirmed my dislike: Five Red Herrings.
Bookclub books that I couldn't finish:
Dreams of my Russian Summers by Andrei Makine
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
Carry Me Across the Water by Ethan Canin
March by Geraldine Brooks
And, finally, a bookclub book that I finished but actively disliked: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
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