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Caro

Your worst book for 2009

Freyda's comment on the Top 5 books of your year made me wonder what your worst book of the year was.  And why.  My rated books only show one unfinished book (though there were others, some of them just on hold for a while, such as Cassino and David Copperfield); it was Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich.  I have enjoyed her humorous crime novels in the past, but may have got bored with her style.  As well this one seemed to have a male protagonist who arrived and disappeared by magic, not something I want in a basically realistic novel.  Just silly.

The one I rated lowest was called Jam and Jeopardy by Doris Davidson, some sort of crime novel that was pretty hopeless, I thought.  I feel, rather vaguely, that the writing wasn't so bad, but the plotting and ideas were not viable.  Gardens of Delight by Erica James was also placed very low - I seem to have outgrown baldly written romances.  I used to like her too.  Or else she is now writing to a formula that is very bland.  

Of books generally highly regarded I didn't rate Pippa Longstockings all that well.  I do think that, while I like lots of modern children's novels, older ones need to be grown up with, otherwise they tend to feel dated.  Pippa was very light, fun but fairly nothingy.  It may have read differently in the days before 'girls can do anything'.

I used to love reading Astrid Lindgren's Emil books to my kids and Pippa may have read well out loud too, but we didn't have her when they were young.  (My son has complained that Milly-Molly-Mandy didn't form part of his upbringing and this is obviously my negligence. Lots of things they either were allowed to do or didn't get to do are examples of my negligence as a mother.)

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Something-or-other-beginning-with-a-Z.

I guess I lead a sheltered life, but I had no idea books so bad could be published. Embarrassingly childish in concept, embarrassingly inept in execution. Unfortunately, I can't even give my copy away as, when I was reading it, I got so bored that I started to amuse myself by scrawling obscene comments in the margin.

It may well be that no book is above criticism, but stuff like this is surely beneath it.
MikeAlx

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Unfortunately, I can't even give my copy away as, when I was reading it, I got so bored that I started to amuse myself by scrawling obscene comments in the margin.

You could always mail it back to the author... Laughing
Caro

The reviews under some Amazon thing didn't seem to quite say the same as you, Himadri, though the one they gave in full did say the execution didn't quite match the ideas.  They mention words like 'sophisticated', 'dextrously', 'superbly entertaining', 'self-paradyng', etc. If you don't believe me, see  http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/espana/zafoncr.htm  

Though there were quite a lot of damning with faint praise comments.  This was typical:  "The Shadow of the Wind is a fascinating, disconcerting and (for me at least) ultimately infuriating yarn that consistently mingles brilliance and banality, acuteness and delicacy of observation with cliche."  

Mind you, reviews of Erica James' Garden of Delight are full of 5 stars and wonderful comments, and don't say this was a light frothy nothing, not well written or developed.  One says, "Gardens of Delight is a wonderful novel in which the characters and locations come to life on the pages. The way that she deals with the emotions of the characters and the difficult subjects of looking after an elderly relative is just fantastic. Everything is done with great poise and tact but also shows the grim realities of life."  Can this be the same book I read?  I liked the review that mentioned 'tripe'.

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

I actually wrote an Amazon review myself for that book, praising it to the skies and giving it five stars. I took it off after a while, but not before my “review” had collected a few votes finding it “helpful”.

As for the other reviews it got- well, I can't be responsible for what other people think, can I?
TheRejectAmidHair

MikeAlx wrote:
TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Unfortunately, I can't even give my copy away as, when I was reading it, I got so bored that I started to amuse myself by scrawling obscene comments in the margin.

You could always mail it back to the author... Laughing


Mike, if I were to send my copy back to the author, it would only show him up: those obscenities I scrawled in the margin are far and away the best pieces of writing in that entire book
Freyda

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:


I guess I lead a sheltered life, but I had no idea books so bad could be published.


You need to stay in more.  Wink
Chibiabos83

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
those obscenities I scrawled in the margin are far and away the best pieces of writing in that entire book

You're being very harsh - writing the copyright stuff on the back of the title page takes skill and artistry, you know.
Freyda

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
As for the other reviews it got, let us just say that they are not, perhaps, from readers with the most sophisticated of tastes. No, let us not say that. That would be offensive. Let us just say instead that I am a literary snob,


I would agree with that...not the last part, of course! I think if readers/reviewers limit themselves to genre fiction that is not very demanding they may well find the writing convincing and absorbing. But the review Caro quoted sounded fairly erudite, not the sort of language I would expect from an habitual reader of "lite", fluffy fiction. Maybe that proves I am also a snob?

"Shadow of the Wind" really was a worldwide best seller. Like Himadri, I thought it was utter tosh, and very dated (pre-war style?) tosh, too. I know one or two people who rate it as their best book ever. These are not "stupid" people, but they are not at all well-read. I feel this is always reflected in top favourite lists that are open to the general public. People who read very few books in a liftime are still drawn to casting their votes and that is why one ends up with Lord of the Rings etc. at the top of polls. While I never vote for anything, because I think these lists are a little invidious.

[I do use my political vote, much good it may do me. Hundreds of women in Holloway Jail with forced feeding tubes...I owe them that much. And that poor racehorse!  Sad  Wink  I watched the film about the Obama election the other night, thousands standing in line to vote, like something in an African country where people value it and risk a lot to use their democratic right.] Sorry, I'm getting completely off topic.
TheRejectAmidHair

To be serious for a minute…

While I think it is true that it requires intelligence of a certain type to appreciate literature, it doesn’t follow that those lacking appreciation of literature, or those for whom literature does not play a large part in their lives, are necessarily unintelligent. For instance, one of the most intelligent people I have ever come into contact with was my supervisor when I was a postgraduate student. He was a professor, and a quite brilliant mathematician: merely being in the same room was enough to give me an inferiority complex. And yet, when it came to films, his preference was for the most trite and simple-minded B-movie westerns. Sit him down in front of a cinematic masterpiece by Renoir or Bergman or Ray, and he’d get bored: he much preferred some shoddy piece of tat featuring Randolph Scott or someone. Does that mean he was unintelligent? Of course not. But it doesmean that, for what it’s worth, his taste in films wasn’t particularly sophisticated. Similarly with books. If someone thinks that The Shadow of the Wind is a wonderful novel, that’s their opinion and of course they’re entitled to it. Holding that opinion does not mean they are unintelligent: for all I know, they may be intellectual giants in their particular areas of expertise. But it does mean – once again, for what it’s worth – that they do not have a particularly sophisticated taste when it comes to literature.

As for snobbery, much depends on definition. For many, it seems, the mere fact of liking James Joyce and disliking Dan Brown makes one a snob; the mere fact of thinking that certain works have inherent merit that raises them above certain other works makes one a snob. Faced with this sort of thing, I generally find it simpler just to admit to being a snob: it saves a lot of time.

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything snobbish about saying that The Shadow of the Wind is pisspoor stuff: to me, that is mere statement of fact. And if challenged, I am prepared to provide detailed reasons and arguments, as I did some time ago on this board to support my opinion of Dan Brown’s writing. But this is not to imply that those who like The Shadow of the Wind or The Da Vinci Code are necessarily stupid: that would be snobbish, and is no more reasonable than to say that people who like Randolph Scott cowboy films are necessarily stupid. But no, these books really aren’t very good. And if saying so makes me a snob, then fair enough: I can honestly think of worse things to be!

And as for polls of “best books” and the like, they’re good fun, but there’s really no reason to take them at all seriously.
Hector

With regards to my worst book of 2009, this is certainly a difficult choice as by and large I have enjoyed everything I read in 2009.

A resolution going forward is to perhaps leave my comfort zone a bit more and read books that I would not necessarily pick up. My latest read is off the back of a recommendation at the moment which is going well. The Good Read last year was useful in this respect too.

It almost pains me to nominate a Roth as my worst book of the year but I think The Anatomy Lesson just sneaks it. It certainly wasn't without merit but perhaps felt more flawed than the two proceeding novels in the trilogy which I thought were superb. The humour seemed to disappear in this book as the protaganist suffered from chronic back and neck pain. I think that I just didn't connect with it as much as I normally do with the author.

Regards

Hector
Apple

Nana by Emile Zola this is a controversial choice as every book I read last year I enjoyed to a point so this one was the one I enjoyed least of all, my reasons are all on the Big Reader poll thread for this book from the beginning of last year, but to reiterate the best bit was the end!
Green Jay

While it wasn't a stunningly great year of reading for me, it wasn't full of shockers either. Looking in my notebook, which I may not have completed fully, as it looks a bit thin, I see that I did not think much of The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold, having quite admired her previous fiction and non-fiction, The Lovely Bones and Lucky. But I think that's very subjective in this case; it was well-enough written and I wasn't offended by the subject matter (daughter bumps off demented mum) but I simply didn't care for any of the characters in any way. Maybe the writing didn't make me, but more likely it was me.

Another dud was Love Falls by Esther Freud. Can't recall anything much about it, except that it was weak compared to her previous books, all of which I've read with varying degrees of admiration; the cast of characters was a bit tiresome.

The last was 1980 by David Peace - which formed part of the grim Red Riding police series that was televised later in the year. I'm sure it's a fascinating and challenging book, it was just too unrelentingly grim for me, so bleak, and with a weird style of highly repetitive, rhythmic, almost Biblical language. Bit like a UK version of Cormac McCarthy! I'm never going to read another Peace book - I just don't need to go into his vision of the world, thanks. Just as I'm never going to read The Road or see the movie.
Jen M

The book I enjoyed least in 2009 was Affliction by Fay Weldon.  I wrote at the time that written by another author and with a different cover the first part could be classed as chick-lit; two female friends gossiping about their partners and pregnancies.  Later, it became a tale of horrible people doing horrible things to each other and it depressed me.

I've read a few chick-lit books which I approached as chick-lit and enjoyed as such; I'm afraid I expected something better from the generally well-regarded Fay Weldon.  Perhaps her books are just not to my taste.
Freyda

Jen M wrote:
The book I enjoyed least in 2009 was Affliction by Fay Weldon.  I wrote at the time that written by another author and with a different cover the first part could be classed as chick-lit; two female friends gossiping about their partners and pregnancies.  Later, it became a tale of horrible people doing horrible things to each other and it depressed me.

I've read a few chick-lit books which approached as chick-lit and enjoyed as such; I'm afraid I expected something better from the generally well-regarded Fay Weldon.  Perhaps her books are just not to my taste.


Jen, have you read any other books by Weldon? She used to be an advertising copywriter and I'm afraid - for me - she still has that rather exaggerated, cartoonish, quick as a flash style - lots of short sharp paragraphs and chapters, and broad brushstroke characters. She does do a neat line in baddies we love to hate, though. If I'm in the right mood I can enjoy her novels, though some are better than others.
Jen M

Freyda wrote:
Jen M wrote:
The book I enjoyed least in 2009 was Affliction by Fay Weldon.  I wrote at the time that written by another author and with a different cover the first part could be classed as chick-lit; two female friends gossiping about their partners and pregnancies.  Later, it became a tale of horrible people doing horrible things to each other and it depressed me.

I've read a few chick-lit books which I approached as chick-lit and enjoyed as such; I'm afraid I expected something better from the generally well-regarded Fay Weldon.  Perhaps her books are just not to my taste.


Jen, have you read any other books by Weldon? She used to be an advertising copywriter and I'm afraid - for me - she still has that rather exaggerated, cartoonish, quick as a flash style - lots of short sharp paragraphs and chapters, and broad brushstroke characters. She does do a neat line in baddies we love to hate, though. If I'm in the right mood I can enjoy her novels, though some are better than others.


I'm sure I read one of hers in my train-commuting days, but I can't remember the title.  I've had a quick look on Amazon to try to jog my memory but still can't remember.  It didn't inspire me to read any other of her books at the time.  I think you are right about her "short sharp" style, and the "baddie" husband in Affliction was truly monstrous.   I won't rule her out completely, but there are too many other things I want to read at the moment.

(I'll probably now find Amazon recommending her books to me as I've searched her name twice on their site!)
miranda

The worst book I read last year was called something like The Chocolate Cookie Murders.  It was truly bad.  Truly, truly bad.  If I say it was worse than Barbara Taylor Bradford, a lot of you will understand how truly bad this book was.  

The writing was boring, the situations trite, the emotions false and basically it was bad.  Bad, bad, bad.  I do not have the words to say how bad it was.  Thank the lord I got it from the library.  

But it's one of a series.  And guess what?  There's 13 of them.....

Who publishes this crap?  And even worse, who buys it?!   Shocked
iwishiwas

It does make you wonder what the publishers see when agreeing to publish such writing. We picked a "light, easy" read for our book group over Christmas which was dire and all agreed we could probably do better.  Yet one hears of excellent writers who have been turned down many times and waited years to be published, no justice.
Apple

Miranda: I take it you didn't like it then!!  ...not even a tinsy wincy bit!!  Wink

iwishiwas: Mass appeal if its a story/genre which is en vogue at that particular time you see thousands of cheap rip offs coming out the woodwork and publishers will take them even if they are a load of crap because they know its popular and it will sell.  There are thousands of Catherine Cookson wannabe books out there, crime and murder wannabe's you name it there are rip off's of them, cheap as chips and we sell hundreds of them, I have read some and some are reasonable but some are really dire. Easy reading + stories for the mass appeal = £££££
thats what publishers go for not writing talent.
Sandraseahorse

Quote:
The worst book I read last year was called something like The Chocolate Cookie Murders.  It was truly bad.


Miranda, I was intrigued ande googled it.  It's called "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder" and as you say there are LOADS of them; "The Key Lime Pie Murder", "The Blueberry Muffin Murder", "The Lemon Meringue Pie Murder".. all with scrummy recipes.  There's nothing like a gruesome murder in your neighbourhood to give you a good appetite and a zest for baking.

Ye Gods!
Marita

I have two candidates for Worst book of 2009.
Kuraj by Silvia Di Natale and Morgan's Run by Colleen McCullough. Both sounded interesting but failed to deliver for different reasons.

Kuraj is the story of a girl from a nomadic tribe, taken to Germany by her adoptive father. It sounded interesting and the first part about her first contact with Western society is. Unfortunately the rest of the book didn’t live up to the promise of the first part. The second part was completely taken up by the story of the girl’s father and adoptive father. The third part rushed through the girl’s youth, adolescence and early twenties. Then there is the epilogue where, for her 40th birthday, she travels as a tourist to her former homeland. This third part and the epilogue could have been interesting if it hadn’t been so rushed. I found it too fragmented to hang together as a story.

Morgan’s Run annoyed me because of the main character. Although he’s supposed to be a real person, he sounded too much like a romantic hero, too perfect to feel real. The history itself was very interesting – Morgan was on the first shipment of convicts to Australia – but as this was all about Morgan and I couldn’t believe in him the book left me dissatisfied.

Marita
Gul Darr

2009 was a good year for my reading in terms of quality. But I did read a trilogy of books by Conn Iggulden about Genghis Khan. Someone gave them to me as a Christmas present and I felt obliged to trudge through them. I have nothing against historical novels, in fact I love some of them. But this particular combination of historical/war/adventure just didn't work for me. The writing wasn't bad, but I just spent 6 weeks wishing I could get onto something a bit more profound.
miranda

Quote:
Miranda, I was intrigued ande googled it.  It's called "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder" and as you say there are LOADS of them; "The Key Lime Pie Murder", "The Blueberry Muffin Murder", "The Lemon Meringue Pie Murder".. all with scrummy recipes.  There's nothing like a gruesome murder in your neighbourhood to give you a good appetite and a zest for baking.


Oh lord yes, I forgot about the recipes!  Honestly, at the end of each chapter you get cookie recipe!  In the middle of a murder mystery!   Shocked   Laughing

Bad, bad, bad.

Did I say how bad it was?

If you value your sanity, don't go near this book.  The author will burn in hell for inflicting this on the world.  

But ... I guess if you believe in the 'balanced universe' theory, out there somewhere is a book that is uplifting, beautiful, lyrical, poetic, emotional and fills your life with joy.  

I wish I could find it.
TheRejectAmidHair

miranda wrote:
But ... I guess if you believe in the 'balanced universe' theory, out there somewhere is a book that is uplifting, beautiful, lyrical, poetic, emotional and fills your life with joy.  

I wish I could find it.


Have you tried The Shadow of the Wind?
Sandraseahorse

But has it got recipes?
MikeAlx

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Have you tried The Shadow of the Wind?

Sandraseahorse wrote:
But has it got recipes?

If so, presumably most would involve baked beans, cabbages or lentils?
iwishiwas

Haha, very witty Mike!  Very Happy
miranda

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:

Have you tried The Shadow of the Wind?



Hmm... I've had a look at the reviews and it sounds a tad too melodramatic for me.
Evie

I think there might have been just a smidgeon of sarcasm in Himadri's suggeestion, M!   Wink

(My favourite line from a recent episode of Frasier, my favourite sitcom of all time, when Martin Crane has expressed dismay that his grandson was hopeless at playing catch - Niles replies, 'Dad, you know the Crane boys have never been any good at catching anything other than a hint of sarcasm and the occasional virus.'  Sorry, it is still making me laugh, so couldn't resist sharing it!  People who don't watch Frasier might not get the full impact.)
miranda

'M' is me?


Well, sometimes with Himadri, it's hard to tell!   And as he is such a Dickens and Tolstoy fan, I assumed melodrama was one of his things
Chibiabos83

E/V, my current favourite line from Frasier is where Ros is talking about her sleeping around at college.

Ros: I was trying to find myself!
Niles: All you needed to do was look under the nearest man.

Of course, it will probably be different tomorrow. What a show.
Evie

Sorry, miranda, yes, M is you!  I am such a lazy typist.

You obviously haven't read Himadri's comments about Shadow of the Wind earlier in the thread - I don't think melodrama was the problem!

What constitutes melodrama might make an interesting discussion though...
TheRejectAmidHair

miranda wrote:
Well, sometimes with Himadri, it's hard to tell!   And as he is such a Dickens and Tolstoy fan, I assumed melodrama was one of his things


Your confusion is very natural, Miranda, and entirely understandable, as Te Shadow of the Wind is stylistically very close to Little Dorrit, while Tolstoy, of course, is full of melodrama.
miranda

I definitely won't bother with it then!   Laughing

And I shall go back and have at look at your comments.

And what is the Universe-balancing book?
miranda

Ah!  I remember them now.  Just forgot which book!  

Tut, tut, Himadri!  Defacing a book like that......



Laughing


For me, melodrama is overblown emotion and dialogue.  The kind of stuff teenage girls like.  Best example I can think of from the top of my head is Jayne Eyre.  I loved it when I was 14 but now...... it's a BTB.
Hector

Gareth / Evie

I love Frasier too. Personal favourite:

Daphne is relieved when Martin and Niles arrive, as Frasier is depressed after his disastrous job interview

Daphne: He mumbled something about it being worse than the Dresden premiere of Schumann's Second Symphony.

Niles: (panics) And you left him alone?!


Sums the show up nicely.

Regards

Hector
Evie

Quote:
And what is the Universe-balancing book?


All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.
Evie

PS - Hector - no one panics quite as brilliantly as Niles!
Sandraseahorse

Perhaps favourite lines from Fraser should have a thread of its own.

My offering is from the episode where Patrick Stewart plays an opera director.
Niles:  That man is a genius.  Why, he staged a Philip Glass opera and more than half the audience stayed after the interval.
Chibiabos83

Philip Glass comes in for a lot of stick from the writers of Frasier, perhaps unfairly.

Frasier: There's a stunning woman who comes to the opera on the same nights we do.  She has the box right across from ours.  We've flirted a bit from a distance.  I've laughed with her during Figaro, cried with her during Tosca ... I even had a dream about her during Einstein on the Beach.
miranda

Evie wrote:
Quote:
And what is the Universe-balancing book?


All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.


Did he write No Country for Old Men?

If so, I find him hard to read because he doesn't speech marks in dialogue so it can be difficult to follow who is speaking.  I gave up on that one about a third of the way through.
TheRejectAmidHair

Seems as good a reason as any to give up!  Very Happy
miranda

I thought so!  

I was puzzled though, as to why the decision was made not to mark the speech properly.  If it was a style decision, it was a stupid one.  And if McCarthy did it as some sort of test of the reader, well... he can stick it up his bum!
MikeAlx

Isn't there quite a long tradition of not using speech marks in US literature? Some writers use the long dash instead. What does McCarthy do?
miranda

From what I can remember, he just writes it like prose.  For instance,

Mr A walked into the diner.  He nodded to the waitress and said give me a black coffee and a doughnut.  Small or large coffee she asked.  

You see what I mean?  Few pages of that and my head started to spin.
miranda

And I don't mind the long dash.  Roddy Doyle uses it and I can get used to that fairly quickly.  But McCarthy....
MikeAlx

Yeah, see what you mean - I just "looked inside" on Amazon. He's certainly not the first to do it. The Ann Quin book I just finished, written in the early 60s, used a similar approach. And if memory serves James Jones used a similar technique (albeit in places rather than throughout) in From Here to Eternity in the early 50s.

Having said that, I believe McCarthy's been writing since the 1960s himself!
miranda

Then maybe it is a stylistic thing.
Caro

When I read The Road I noticed this stylistic device and it only bothered me slightly, but it shocked my rather pedantic young son who wiped it from any possible reading list immediately.

Cheers, Caro.
miranda

Ah!  A fellow pedant!  Fair play to him!

To be honest, the reason I gave up is I couldn't lose myself in the book because I kept having to backtrack to work out who was speaking.
Hector

The only Cormac McCarthy that I have read is Blood Meridian (or the evening redness in the west) which I thought was excellent. It's certainly not for the faint hearted as it is probably the single most bleak book that I have ever read repleat with violence, deceipt and the odd scalping thrown in for good measure.

I actually enjoyed the rather punchy to the point writing style (although I have a soft spot for certain James Ellroy books and McCarthy is almost lightweight in the punchy prose stakes). The lack of speach marks didn't bother me either although that may be in part to the fact that hardly any character speaks other than the odd grunt or threat.

I've always planned to read All The Pretty Horses at some point although I seem to spend more time talking about my TBR list than actually reading at the moment!

Regards

Hector
Gul Darr

miranda wrote:
From what I can remember, he just writes it like prose.  For instance,

Mr A walked into the diner.  He nodded to the waitress and said give me a black coffee and a doughnut.  Small or large coffee she asked.  

You see what I mean?  Few pages of that and my head started to spin.

But the huge difference is that you've made it obvious who's speaking and when by using "said" and "she asked". I really struggled when I first tried reading McCarthy. Then to top it off, there was lots of Spanish as well. I found it more than worth the effort and perseverance though and loved All The Pretty Horses. I can't even begin to explain how, but I found that it added to the atmosphere.
TheRejectAmidHair

To say that a book was a "struggle" is not necessarily a criticism: far from it. Most of the greatest works of literature require a "struggle".
miranda

Depends on your definition of 'struggle'.  A book you have to think about, a book that doesn't lay everything out on a plate, yes, that can be a great book.  But a book where a reader can't enjoy the story because they keep having to check who is who and who is saying what?  That struggle is unnecessary, imo.
TheRejectAmidHair

miranda wrote:
Depends on your definition of 'struggle'.  A book you have to think about, a book that doesn't lay everything out on a plate, yes, that can be a great book.  But a book where a reader can't enjoy the story because they keep having to check who is who and who is saying what?  That struggle is unnecessary, imo.


Clearly, Cormac McCarthy didn't think it was unnecessary, and when a writer of such stature writes a book in a certain way, it's up to th e reader to try to work out why.

I haven't read much of Cormac McCarthy: I certainly intend reading more, as he is clearly one of the major novelists of our time. I have the 2nd and 3rd parts of the Border Trilogy lined up, as well as The Road - and I am looking forward to them. But I haven't read enough of McCarthy to comment in any meaningful sense on his work. But there are many major writers who didn't place too high a value on narrative clarity. William Faulkner, for instance. I can think of quite a few of his novels where I am not at all sure about the details of the story, despite having read them a few times. And that is because Faulkner did not intend the story to be clear. That's not a fault: the narrative obscurity is entirely intentional, and if that makes it a struggle for the reader, then struggle it is. That's what the author intended.
miranda

Quote:
Clearly, Cormac McCarthy didn't think it was unnecessary, and when a writer of such stature writes a book in a certain way, it's up to th e reader to try to work out why.


So, are you saying that an author can never make a mistake?  Or that my opinion is worthless because I'm only a reader?

And I don't really have enough life left to spending time on working out why an author would want to make his work so difficult.  I really can't be bothered.  There's too many other good books for me to bother.  

You know, Himadri, your hero worship of authors does make me wonder sometimes....
MikeAlx

OK, my memory failed me. The example I was thinking of (mentioned in a section on speech representation in a book on poetics) was not James Jones, but rather John Dos Passos. The example I was thinking of is this:

Quote:
When they came out Charley said by heck he thought he wanted to go up to Canada and enlist and go over and see the Great War.

(The 42nd Parallel)

This does say who's speaking, but there are no quote marks - it's described as "indirect discourse" in my book. The section presents seven different modes of rendering dialogue, ranging from the most 'diegetic' (ie reported or summarised) to the most 'mimetic' (ie 'realistically' rendered). Perhaps controversially, the most mimetic is reckoned to be interior monologue rather than conventionally rendered dialogue.

Anyway, I think the question of determining who's speaking is not so much to do with lack of speech marks but rather lack of attribution. For example, Pat Barker's dialogue is "conventionally" rendered, but for my taste she uses too few attributes, and I often find myself puzzling over who's saying what.

An idealist will say you should know from the voice and context - indeed McCarthy himself says he tries to make it obvious - but if people are speaking in short bursts I don't think it's always possible to build the characterisation in.

I have to say, from the few pages of 'The Road' I read on Amazon, I didn't have any trouble working out who was saying what. But then not a lot was said!
TheRejectAmidHair

miranda wrote:
Quote:
Clearly, Cormac McCarthy didn't think it was unnecessary, and when a writer of such stature writes a book in a certain way, it's up to th e reader to try to work out why.


So, are you saying that an author can never make a mistake?


No, I did not say that.

miranda wrote:
 Or that my opinion is worthless because I'm only a reader?


And I most certainly did not say that either. Even if I were to think such a thing, I trust I'd have better manners than to say something like that.

miranda wrote:
And I don't really have enough life left to spending time on working out why an author would want to make his work so difficult.  I really can't be bothered.  There's too many other good books for me to bother.  

You know, Himadri, your hero worship of authors does make me wonder sometimes....


An author of McCarthy's stature requires an awful lot from the reader, and that if the reader isn't prepared to put in the necessary effort - if the reader "really can't be bothered", as you put it - then it is unfair and unreasonable to blame the author.
Caro

Yes, but there didn't seem any real point to the lack of punctuation, Himadri.  There didn't appear to be any subtle idea behind it, and certainly it wasn't the same thing as an author having an obscure narrative.  I don't recall anything particularly obscure in the narrative.  It may have been just to fit with the sparse style, but I don't think that would have been compromised by direct speech marks.  He didn't stint on punctuation in other forms, as far as I can remember.  It wasn't that he was forcing the reading to struggle; most of the time the reading and words were quite simple.  One or two odd uses of vocabulary that he repeated, again for reasons that I didn't follow and that, in a lesser author, I would certainly have assumed was carelessness.  They didn't add anything and did detract a little.

I was brought up to think that if an author put words in it was because they deliberately wanted them there, but I am not so certain about this now.  I daresay they can be mistaken like the rest of us - or want to make points when the reader can't be expected to read their mind.  

Cheers, Caro.

(I am finding this site very slow to access these last few days - are others?)
TheRejectAmidHair

I am afraid I cannot comment specifically on The Road, as I haven't yet read it, but, having read All the Pretty Horses, I have no doubt of McCarthy's abilities as a writer. He is clearly a very major writer.

The point I am making is a general one: if a writer whom one knows to be a writer of quality writes in a certain manner, then it is up to the reader to try to understand why the writer in question has chosen to write in such a manner. All literature of quality requires effort.

This is not to say that an author cannot make mistakes, but criticism only really carries weight if there is evidence that the criticism is a result of thought, rather than because the person making the criticism "can't be bothered".
Evie

But there is a great deal of point to the lack of punctuation.  McCarthy's books would read very differently if he did use speech marks, and his deliberate decision not to use them is not, I would say, just for some arty farty effect, it is intrinsic to the atmosphere and impact of his writing.

Without speech marks, the mood of his books sustains an extraordinary laconic quality that underlines the story being told and the lives of the characters involved in it.  It means he doesn't break up the flow of the prose.  It allows him to use his prose as an intrinsic part of both the story itself and the experience of his readers.  He varies the length of his sentences as a means of creating an ebb and flow of emotion or of intensity, and this works in part because of the relative lack of punctuation.

It is not style for style's sake; it is a writer taking as much care with his style of writing as with what he is writing about.  The two are inseparable.  This is what, for me, makes him such a great writer, that the art of writing is still high on his agenda, and he practises it with great skill and care and subtlety.
Chibiabos83

That rings very true. The only McCarthy I've read is All the Pretty Horses, which I found frankly heavy going and didn't feel I could come close to appreciating on the basis of one reading. That's my shortcoming, though, not his. It never came into my head to question aspects of his style, it seemed so organic. The lack of speech marks gives an extraordinary directness to his dialogue that I can't remember seeing in any other writer. Even though I didn't really get it, I couldn't blind myself to its power. I'm not sure he is a writer one can or should read frequently, but I certainly intend to read more.
MikeAlx

From the snippet I read, I actually found the lack of commas more of an impediment to easy reading than the absence of speech marks and attributes. Apparently McCarthy never uses semi-colons - he's not alone in this; Kurt Vonnegut joked that they serve no purpose other than to prove you went to college. Personally I rather like them.

I doubt McCarthy is harder to read than a book like A Clockwork Orange, or Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, where you really have to really get into the swing of the dialect before comprehension becomes automatic. Here's an example from Riddley Walker (the whole book is written in this language):

Quote:
Lorna said to me, 'You know Riddley theres some thing in us it dont have no name.'
I said, 'What thing is that?'
She said, 'Its some kind of thing it aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals. May be you dont take no noatis of it only some times. Say you get woak up suddn in the middl of the nite. 1 minim youre a sleap and the nex youre on your feet with a spear in your han. Wel it wernt you put that spear in your han it wer that other thing whats looking out thru your eye hoals. It aint you nor it don't even know your name. Its in us lorn and loan and sheltering how it can.'
miranda

I think I'm going to step out of this cos I'm just gonna end up annoyed.  

Fine, McCarthy is a great writer.  I'm an ignoramus, an idiot, a lazy lump and a terrible person.

So shoot me.
MikeAlx

Um, I believe it's possible to be an intelligent, non-lazy person and not like a Great Writer. I can't see why different tastes or differing opinions of a writer's greatness or otherwise should be construed as a personal attack on one's intellect or stamina.  Confused
miranda

Well, maybe I am overreacting but my first post was that I didn't like No Country for Old Men because the lack of punctuation made it difficult to read.  A personal opinion.   It wasn't an attack on the writer.  I never, at any point, said that McCarthy was a bad writer.  

And so far I've been told:

Quote:
To say that a book was a "struggle" is not necessarily a criticism: far from it. Most of the greatest works of literature require a "struggle".


I'm no good at reading great works of literature as I don't appreciate the 'struggle'.

Quote:
Clearly, Cormac McCarthy didn't think it was unnecessary, and when a writer of such stature writes a book in a certain way, it's up to th e reader to try to work out why.


He's a great writer (in Himadri's opinion) and I'm lazy because I don't want to put the work in to find out why the author chose to write the way he did.

Quote:
An author of McCarthy's stature requires an awful lot from the reader, and that if the reader isn't prepared to put in the necessary effort - if the reader "really can't be bothered", as you put it - then it is unfair and unreasonable to blame the author.


I didn't blame the author.  I never said the author shouldn't do it.  I said 'I' couldn't be bothered because there are lots of books out there I would enjoy more.   But again the implication of laziness.  

Look, McCarthy is a fine writer.  I get it.  I don't like him.  I put the book down without finishing it.  It's a personal thing.  It's no reflection on the author, ok?   But I am getting a little tired of being treated like a second-class citizen on this board when I say I don't like something that I'm supposed to regard as 'fine work.'    

So my opinion is not worth as much as someone who likes Dickens or McCarthy or whoever.  

So, like I said, shoot me.
TheRejectAmidHair

Miranda, I take responsibility for what I said, but can’t take any responsibility at all for what you think I said.

miranda wrote:
And so far I've been told:

Quote:
To say that a book was a "struggle" is not necessarily a criticism: far from it. Most of the greatest works of literature require a "struggle".


And I stand by that.

miranda wrote:
I'm no good at reading great works of literature as I don't appreciate the 'struggle'.


I didn’t say that. I didn’t even imply that. How you can infer that from what I am quoted as saying, I cannot imagine.

miranda wrote:
Quote:
Clearly, Cormac McCarthy didn't think it was unnecessary, and when a writer of such stature writes a book in a certain way, it's up to the reader to try to work out why.


He's a great writer (in Himadri's opinion)…


No, not just my opinion.

miranda wrote:
… and I'm lazy because I don't want to put the work in to find out why the author chose to write the way he did.


Once again, I stand by what I am quoted as saying, but I did not say that you are, or that anyone else is, “lazy”. And neither can I see where I implied such a thing.

miranda wrote:
Quote:
An author of McCarthy's stature requires an awful lot from the reader, and that if the reader isn't prepared to put in the necessary effort - if the reader "really can't be bothered", as you put it - then it is unfair and unreasonable to blame the author.


I didn't blame the author.  I never said the author shouldn't do it.  


Here’s what you had said earlier:

miranda wrote:
But a book where a reader can't enjoy the story because they keep having to check who is who and who is saying what?  That struggle is unnecessary, imo.


The struggle required to read McCarthy’s book is, you think, “unnecessary”. Seems like blaming the author as far as I can see. I responded to that politely – i.e. without attacking you personally.

Let us stop this now: it is getting tiresome. If you choose to see offence where there isn’t any, then that is entirely up to you.
Green Jay

Hector wrote:
The only Cormac McCarthy that I have read is Blood Meridian (or the evening redness in the west) which I thought was excellent. It's certainly not for the faint hearted as it is probably the single most bleak book that I have ever read...

Hector


I would certainly second that, Hector. I did finish it, but it left me feeling that perhaps I shouldn't have, as I was not much wiser and certainly less happy by the end.

The only other book of his I've read is All The Pretty Horses. It has rather more of a redeeming sense about the humans involved. None of the characters in Blood Meridian actually paid off my reader's sensibility of wanting to invest in a character and hoping to find something good, however small, in there. I felt that what McCarthy was saying about humanity, certainly in that time and place, was so frightening and despairing to me that I am not willing to tackle books of his like The Road or No Country For Old Men which I know are also full of his bleak vision. I'm an optimist; I might struggle to maintain that view; so I like a bit of help, rather than hindrance. But I am going to go on with the Border Trilogy.
Evie

The Road has a hopeful ending - all the more hopeful *because* of the apocalyptic bleakness throughout the book that has seemed to be irreversible.  It's not exactly a bundle of joy, I grant you, but McCarthy clearly does have some faith in humanity.

John Grady Cole, hero of the Border trilogy, is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time - magnificent creation.  Few characters inhabit my inner world in quite the way he does - I often think about him, and then realise he is not real!  There is so much warmth in McCarthy's writing, despite the harshness and violence.

Sorry, this is supposed to be about our worst books of the year, isn't it?!  I can't remember reading anything awful, but I can't really remember what I did read before September...
miranda

Ok, I would like to apologise to everyone but especially to Himadri for losing my temper earlier.  My only excuse is that I have toothache and I really ought to know better than to get involved in debates when I'm in pain!

I'm sorry, Himadri.  This doesn't mean I agree with you because I don't.  But I did overreact.  And I did get rude, which was unneccessary.
Ann

Toothache is miserable, Miranda, you have lots of sympathy from me. I think any pain within the head is harder to bear than most (probably because I'm prone to headaches). Despite your anger I did find it a very interesting discussion. I hope you can get the tooth dealt with soon.
Evie

We will inevitably rub each other up the wrong way from time to time - lots of us have strong, and strongly differing, views, and there are bound to be frustrations.  

Hope your toothache gets better soon - it's amazing how a tooth can make you feel completely horrid!
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Miranda, thank you very much for that - it really is most kind of you. And don't worry about anything - we all lose our temper from time to time: I certainly do ... as my children will tell you! And I obviously rubbed you up the wrong way without realising it - so sorry about that. I can be a bit obtuse at times in these matters.

So I suggest we forget about this. As for disagreement, this is what the board is about - but perhaps we should take up this particular disagreement later. In the meantime, I do hope that the toothache gets better.

Cheers, Himadri
Caro

If it's any consolation, Miranda (and it probably isn't - apart from anything nothing is much consolation when you are in pain), I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  I rated it 16 - 20 (out of 20) when I always just find one mark to give a book.  This was an exception, as I could recognise the great writing, but I won't read another of his books.  There was, as Evie said, some slight reprieve at the end of the book, but I couldn't see it ending anywhere but bleakly in the long run.  (In fact I almost thought he was giving a little sop to his readers.)

What Evie said, in this thread or another? about the lack of punctuation made perfect sense, but I still don't understand why he used the word 'lave' instead of 'wash' several times.  I can't think of a reason to do that.  Once and it looks like an interesting use of language, even twice, but several times seems peculiar.  Unless it is a much more common word in America than it is here, it seems like an irritant for no reason.

We read this for our book club and I think others would read more of him.  Or maybe not.  They were still talking about some of the events in it months later.  I don't think I am ever affected quite like that by fiction.  

Cheers, Caro.
miranda

Just to let you all know, I went to the dentist, accompanied by my OH.  I am absolutely terrified of dentists so this was the first time in about 15 years!   Embarassed

He had a look and said one of my teeth is infected so he gave me amoxycillin and said that he would arrange an appointment at the Dental Hospital.  I was so nervous that they are going to have to knock me out to get the tooth out!   Laughing

And I've found the only painkiller that actually works is to hold a bag of frozen veg wrapped in a teatowel against my jaw.  I went to sleep the other night with it tied to my face by a scarf... very attractive!
Ann

sad1
Lots more sympathy. I've had tooth infections and the pain is really extreme. Hopefully the amoxillan will calm it down fairly quickly. They are nice at dental hospitals and can give you more time and sympathy than one often gets from a dentist (though mine is lovely). Best of British, Miranda.
miranda

Thanks Ann!
TheRejectAmidHair

I'm sure you'll be all right, Miranda ... they'll knock you out and you won't feel a thing. I once had so large an abscess in the root of a tooth that a nerve had become exposed, and I was literallly jumping up & down in pain. Eventually, my wife had to drive me into casualty at 2 in the morning, and they gave me a shot of morphine to deaden the pain, and told me to see a dentist to get the abscess seen to before the effects of the morphine wore off. I wouldn't wish something like that even on Simon Cowell! You'll be fine - these guys know what they're doing!
Evie

I hope it goes OK, Miranda...I haven't been to the dentist in more than 20 years, so can sympathise with the fear...though now it is also the thought of the cost that puts me off going!  I have no specific problems, but they are bound to find all sorts that needs doing, if only to make me feel even worse about not going for such a long time.  I hope you can manage the pain until they sort it out.
Caro

You're all making me feel good and brave!  or maybe just goody-good.  I go to the dentist every couple of years, and then I feel a little bad because I don't go more often.  It does seem to me amazing that anyone ever goes to the dentist, what with the pain and the expense.  I always find it surprising that so many people allow dentists to give them injections in their gums.  I find it is much preferable just to put up with the pain for a moment and have it over and done with.  Needles are not something I am very fond of.  

Best of luck with it all, Miranda.  Pain is not something they expect us to put with any more so I am sure it will be fine.

Cheers, Caro.
iwishiwas

I think I must be lucky. I have been going to the dentist every 6 months since I first got my teeth, and that is a lot of years now!! Although I have had various treatments, I haven't had any bad experiences or anything which was too painful.
miranda

Thanks everyone!  

If they knock me out, they can do what the hell they like!  I just don't want to know about it!
Scousedog

The Electric Michaelangelo by Sarah Hall.  Not really bad, just dull.  I think  it put me off reading for most of 2009.

Scousedog
iwishiwas

Scousedog, long time no see! I have The Electric Michaelangelo moving up the TBR, maybe I will move it down a bit!
Scousedog

Hey there!!  Well, it wasnt awful, I just didn't feel as if I got to know the characters.  And the plot... well I could go on.  It's got a nice cover though!
Billy the Fish

A quarter of the year in.......the worst book in 2009 for me was Twilight, every bit as bad as the film, both of which seem unaccountably popular. I'm holding my breath, as I don't have a worst book for 2010 yet; with any luck there won't be one!

(It hasn't stopped being heated here, has it, from the content of this thread!)

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