Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Top Fives

Top 5 worst books you've ever read

Thanks to Evie for setting up this sub forum, and I am sorry I have not been around to take advantage of it after making the intial overtones about us talking about books, but now the silly season is over I am hoping I have more time again.

I thought that debating and discussing what books we have considered crap and why would be quite entertaining as tastes vary so much and what one person considers a cracking read someone else may consider the oposite.

I think my number one worst book I have read of all time has to be 50 shades of grey, I'm pretty sure everyone is familiar with the epic rant I had about this book when I read it last year, so I don't want to really repeat myself in that respect but I think I made my reasons abundantly clear here:

A close second is Twilight, again another rant is available which gives my reasons why, but not quite of the epic proportions of 50 shades.

After much thought my third choice may come as a surprise it is Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris, the concluding book in the Harper Connelly series this series of books was excellent in my opinion the characters were interesting and engaging and the story although in the realms of fantasy was thoughtful and deep, but it became obvious that Ms Harris got bored very quickly with this character and the final book in the series was dire, it concluded an ongoing question throughout the series far too quickly and unbelievably and you were left thinking oh ok thats it then!

Number 4 - Jane Eyre I don't know what it is about this book but I have tried to like it I really have, it took me forever to actually get through the whole thing in first place it took several aborted attempts to actually read the whole thing as i abandoned it several times before finally finishing it, it didn't engage me and there was just something missing it was a complete ordeal to get through but I cannot understand why, so I am hoping perhaps someone could offer some insight as to why.

Finally, number 5 I respect this book as classic literature and accept it is a well written classic, BUT it just didn't float my boat, we all know of the background as to why I read this book in the first place, I am of course talking about Nana by Emile Zola, my views of it can be found here:

Hi Apple!

I haven't thought of five yet, but I can immediately think of one book I HATED reading which may come as a surprise to some (and I hope someone can mount a defence that they like it, rather than just an 'It's an important book' too):

The Prelude - William Wordsworth

It is the only book I read for my degree that I really don't think I got enough benefit out of for the time I put in. My very sophisticated criticism would go something like:


Dear Wordsworth,

The Epic Poem and its traditions are not about you and never will be.

All the best,


I have more time for the rest of Wordsworth's poetry than I once did, but I still get the impression that if we met I would think he was an egotistical prat.

Rant over. Normal service resumed  Wink

You do mean The Prelude, don't you?  One of my personal favourites. The finest blank verse poem in English. (Milton? Pah!)

And it's not really about Wordsworth. His principal theme was the growth and development of the human mind: he focused on his own mind because that was the mind he knew best.

There is so much about this poem that is so wonderful, that it's hard to know where to start. Book 10, for instance, which deals with the French Revolution: spellbinding stuff. Or that superb passage early in the poem where he describes taking a boat out on the lake at night. The subtlest, finest nuance of thought is unerringly captured. Or what about that visionary episode on Helvellyn in the final book? Seriously, if I were forced at gunpoint to choose a single work of English poetry, it would be The Prelude. It's a work I return to often.

(And it's also the book Andrew Motion would take to the desert island with Shakespeare and the Bible - so there!)

Not convinced? Ok, here are a few lines from Book 5. They seem to me among the most beautiful and touching lines of poetry anywhere. Those lines leading up to that startling phrase "uncertain heaven" really do take my breath away.

There was a Boy; ye knew him well, ye cliffs
And islands of Winander! many a time,
At evening, when the earliest stars began
To move along the edges of the hills,
Rising or setting, would he stand alone,
Beneath the trees, or by the glimmering lake;
And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands
Pressed closely palm to palm and to his mouth
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls
That they might answer him.—And they would shout
Across the watery vale, and shout again,
Responsive to his call,—with quivering peals,
And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
Of jocund din! And, when there came a pause
Of silence such as baffled his best skill:
Then, sometimes, in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain-torrents; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven received
Into the bosom of the steady lake.

This boy was taken from his mates, and died
In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old.
Pre-eminent in beauty is the vale
Where he was born and bred: the churchyard hangs
Upon a slope above the village-school;
And through that churchyard when my way has led
On summer-evenings, I believe that there
A long half-hour together I have stood
Mute —looking at the grave in which he lies!

I really do love Wordsworth's poems deeply. He certainly has a place on my ideal bookshelf.

I do indeed mean The Prelude  Embarassed - clearly even more tired than I thought!

I agree that some of Wordsworth's poetry is stunning (and clearly his poetic ideas are incredibly influential), but personally I didn't feel that The Prelude worked - in spite of beautiful passages like the one you quoted. Though its subject is intended to be the development of the mind, I think it often fails to reach beyond Wordsworth's own thoughts about self. Give me Paradise Lost any day!

Plus, I'm certain that if I had more time to spend to read and study and appreciate it, I'd get more out of it. But, reading books en masse  for your degree rarely allows that amount of leisure (ironically...).  

No offence to Wordsworth - or certainly to your tastes - intended, but it was definitely one of my worst ever reading experiences when I had to read it in 2008.

What are the worst books you've read - or rather the books your disliked most - Himadri?

Generally, most books I read are from the past, and so, a lot of the filtering (separating out the wheat from the chaff) has already been done by the passage of time. I don't always agree 100% with the judgement of time, of course, but I can think of little I've read where I haven't got at least something out of it. If I find myself not getting on with a book that ha been widely admired for enerations, I'm usually happy to ay the shortcoming at my own door ather than at the writer's. And if a book really is that bad that it starts to irritates me, I'd stop reading it: life's too short!

Even a book that I think is utter piffle (see here, for instance: I had to read this for a book group I was in) can be fun, as I can always amuse myself by scrawling obscene comments in the margin!

From my vague memory of the In Our Time programme, aren't there two different versions of The Prelude? I seem to recall Wordsworth made major changes to the 2nd edition. In which case, is one of them considered canonical, or do experts still argue about it?

Pedants will argue there are 4 texts! There are a couple of versions of a shorter two  part version dating from 1798-1799. Then, there's the 14 part epic from 1805. Wordsworth then went on fiddling with the text and altering t for the rest of his life, and the state the text was in at the time of his death in 1850 was published posthumously. Indeed, all the texts are published posthumously: not even the 1805 text was published during Wordsworth's own lifetime.

The general consensus of opinion is that the 1805 text is superior to the 1850 text. I won't dissent from this, but the 1850 text is by no means negligible. Both the Norton Critical edition and the Penguin edition print the two texts on opposite pages (leaving blank spaces when some passage occurs in one version but not the other) so it's easy to compare and contrast. The Norton edition also prints the 1798 two-book version; Penguin prints this also, plus the 1799 text of the same.

(Edited to correct an erroneous date)

Yes, I believe I read the Norton Critical Edition, with parallel texts.

I wish someone would publish similar parallel texts of Hamlet and of King Lear. In both cases, the texts of the good Quarto and of the Folio are significantly different, and the indications are strongly that Shakespeare revised both works. Arden prints the two texts of Hamlet in separate volumes, but a parallel text edition would be more welcome. The Oxford Shakespeare gives us two texts of King Lear separately. All other editions give us composite versions, merging the texts together, and hence offering us something that Shakespeare never wrote.
Green Jay

verityktw wrote:
Plus, I'm certain that if I had more time to spend to read and study and appreciate it, I'd get more out of it. But, reading books en masse  for your degree rarely allows that amount of leisure (ironically...).  

That was my experience too, though it was a very long time ago. Such a pity, as bookworms think it's going to be a great opportunity. Much of my degree reading was galloped through by necessity and then I'd have to form trenchant opinions. It did none of the books, poems or plays a good service, and I think some of my worst reading experiences have come from that time. Reading to study is not the same as reading to read -for leisure, pleasure, or just to think properly in one's own time, and form links and follow reading threads, rather than a curriculum.

I'm scarred by The Prelude and Paradise Lost! As soon as I stopped having to study it I began to understand (some) poetry. But haven't been back to either of these. I think I was reading in a blind panic as a student, blind being the operative word.

I'm one of thse who would have loved to have studied literature at a higher level (I last studied literature formally when I was 16.) I still harbour some hopes of embarking on an Open University course once I've retired.

I don't know, incidentally, that forming opinions is necessarily the point in studying literature. The more I read about literature, both on and off the net, the less interested I find myself about opinions - even my own opinions. More interesting, for me, is the ability to construct argument. Anyone, after all, can have an opinion: what arouses my interest is a well-constructed argument, even - or, rather, especially - for points of view I'm not sympathetic with.

Concerning Paradise Lost and The Prelude, they're both obviously great masterpieces, and I'd guess that consensus of informed opinion would side with the former as the greater of the two. But it is The Prelude that I feel much closer to. It seems to me to be on a more human scale, and is a much warmer, more intimate work.

There- how about that for an unargued opinion? Wink

I had some incredibly positive reading experiences while studying English too - amongst the panicked reading en masse. I don't think I'd ever have read Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons or spent enough time on Paradise Lost or read Shakespeare well without my degree, but I do empathise with the scarring left by studying some books!

Himadri, I think going back to study literature when you retire would be perfect for you - I hope you get the opportunity to do it. Also, I thought when you mentioned parallel texts of Hamlet and King Lear that I had relatively strong memories of reading them both in parallel texts - especially Hamlet as it was one of the first seminars I did at Cambridge and I had an argument with another girl about whether the two versions could be regarded as two different plays in their own right rather than merely versions. I did a quick search and I think these must be the versions I'm thinking of: Clearly I benefited from borrowing them from my college library and didn't have to pay full whack!

I think constructing arguments and forming informed opinions are both important parts of studying literature, but a big part of what it was about for me was learning to read better and more richly.

Some of Paradise Lost feels beautifully tender and human to me, but right now I am without my (heaving annotated edition incredibly intimidating to an 18 year old about to start university) copy of it, so will have to come to its defence when I can lay my hands on one. I am without many of my books here - as much as I love my house, it would benefit from space for a library, preferably on a Beauty and the Beast type scale Wink

Apple, I feel a bit guilty about derailing your thread without having responded fully to your post Embarassed

I've only read one of the books you mention, Jane Eyre. Can you say a bit more about why you struggled with it, or is it really impossible to put your finger on?

I'm also glad you hated 50 Shades and Twilight - both are books I've consciously avoided and it's nice to have my suspicions confirmed by someone who's actually read the books.

Like Himadri the books I would dislike tend to be filtered out before I get to them, not because of the test of time but because I know the sort of books I am likely to dislike and avoid them.  (My book club has shown me that this is not a perfect method since I read books there I would never have read and love them. The ones set in India, especially.)

Ones I rate poorly are often just light ones that I know won't be great.  The disappointing ones are I think often older ones, perhaps because I assume the writing might be better than more modern ones.  But it often isn't and certainly the story and the depth is often barely there at all in older light novels.  But to five books I have not enjoyed when I thought I would:  The Chase by Candida Clark we discussed and almost came to fisticuffs.  She tried much too hard - and failed. Some awful overwritten prose. The Hardy Boys book I tried as an adult.  Lord of the Flies, which I think I have feelings of teeth-gritting because of the subject matter and the rather unrelenting misery.  That goes for Misery by Stephen King.  (Unrelenting misery isn't always a turn-off - A Fine Balance I thought an excellent book, though it did have considerable humour and characters to admire and love; just nothing good happens to them.)  And I was very disappointed when I reread Wuthering Heights as an adult; not only was it not at all romantic as in my memory, but I thought the structure was poorly done, the writing nothing great and a modern editor would probably require considerable rewriting.  Unlike Himadri I am not going to try endlessly to see what others see in this; there are many other books, both classics and other, that I do want to read.

verityktw wrote:
Apple, I feel a bit guilty about derailing your thread without having responded fully to your post Embarassed

I've only read one of the books you mention, Jane Eyre. Can you say a bit more about why you struggled with it, or is it really impossible to put your finger on?

I'm also glad you hated 50 Shades and Twilight - both are books I've consciously avoided and it's nice to have my suspicions confirmed by someone who's actually read the books.
Don't worry about it, its nice to see the discussion and how the thread evolved.

As far as Jane Eyre is concerned I really can't put my finger on it, the plot should be something which I would enjoy and yet I really couldn't get to grips with it, it bored me and it was like wading through treacle trying to read it, I gave up so many times with it because I really couldn't be bothered with it, all I can say is it really just didn't click with me, but why - I have no idea!

Twilight really bugged me it was so bad, the characters were so annoying, and yet the ideas in the story felt to me like they were lifted straight from (the far superior, in my opinion) Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. As for 50 Shades I can't begin to express just how bad that first book was.

Five worst books:

I had put a list together of books I had not liked and noticed they were all fairly recent reads. I read the oldest in 2005. I wondered at this. Surely there must have been books I didn’t like before that. But only one came to mind, one I attempted to read for school in the late 70’s. 40+ years of reading and the worst books I read were all bar one in the last seven years? Quite impossible. I must have erased a fair few from my mind. Those I remembered in chronological order:

Gangrene – Jef Geeraerts.
Gangrene is a series of four books but I can’t remember which one I started to read. Probably the first one: Gangrene 1: Black Venus. Geeraerts is considered a big name in Flemish writing but this is one of the very few books I didn’t finish. It is set in what used to be Belgian Congo where Geeraerts worked as a colonial administrator until it became independent from Belgium. It is likely that it contained quite a bit of autobiographical material. It may even be an interesting portrait of Belgium’s colonial past. I don’t know. I was put off by the hard-core pornographic descriptions of sex, rape practically. I could not continue reading it and haven’t looked at it since.

The Professor – Charlotte Brontë
This is the forerunner of Charlotte’s later work Villette but was first published posthumously. I feel it would not have been published if it hadn’t been a Brontë.

Shadows of Glory – William Woodruff
I read this because it was a present. I thought the author had been rather lazy when I noticed a paragraph copied just about word for word. If it was done for effect it failed rather as it only succeeded in irritating me. The characters weren’t well developed either. They were the cliché of the cross-section of society found in war films, etc. Sometimes the writing felt sloppy as if the author was just writing to fill the page, sometimes so overworked it lost all freshness. To sum up: why did I bother reading this?

The Reluctant Suitor – Kathleen Woodiwiss
Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote historical romances. I don’t think of them as historical, only as romance, a kind of fairy tale for grownups. They would be guilty pleasures if I felt guilty about reading them. This particular one started off well but sadly deteriorated quickly.  The story was totally unconvincing – I know, romances generally are, but this was unconvincing for a romance novel – and there were quite a few gaps in the storyline. It seemed there were two stories in the book, neither big enough for a novel on its own. So they were cobbled together and stuffed in the required amounts of pages.

The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance – Trisha Telep (Ed.)
I don’t read much on holiday generally so I took this collection of stories for an easy read. The stories were apparently specially written for this collection. Some were OK, bearable for a holiday read. Most were just silly. I discovered gems like ‘molten liquid’ and ‘gilded with a silver light’ which brought some light relief but also made me sad that this was actually published, in a book, sent by an author who must have thought it suitable to be published, selected and approved by an editor who must have read the stories. The editor should have chosen the stories with more care.

Two that nearly made the list:

Morgan’s Run – Colleen McCullough
This novel covers the first shipment of convicts to Australia and the establishment of settlements there. The history itself was very interesting, but I had a problem with the main character. He is supposedly a real person, but he sounded too much like a romantic hero to feel like a true person. He’s innocent but convicted; he’s kind; he’s intelligent; he’s good-looking …really too good to be true.

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
This should have been a great read for me - I love history – but it didn’t do it for me. I had to get used to the way it was written and often had to read parts again to know who 'he' was referring to, Cromwell or the previous person speaking. I finished it but nearly gave up on it a few times. The problem was that it didn’t grab me. I definitely couldn't 'smell the rain-drenched wool cloaks' nor 'feel the sharp fibres of rushes underfoot'. I was not transported back to the 16th century. I won’t be reading Bring up the bodies.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Top Fives
Page 1 of 1
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum