As I recently wrote in an email to a friend, it is hard for me to stop discussing books. This was after a simple question she had put forth about the question of the aesthetics of favorite books and what it says about an individual’s personality. It’s quite an interesting question and something that I think would be an excellent thing to write about in later posts, but in the meantime, I’m also curious to know about why we reject certain books.
One of my least favorite books of all time is Don DeLillo’s White Noise and some of the reasons I hate it include the hype I heard about it for years and the postmodern drooling of English majors styling themselves as a certain kind of intellectual.
This list, however, is along the same path of dislikes, although the reasons vary. Sometimes a book is just bad; but then there are those that haunt culture proclaiming something that no one really wants to refute.
Least Favorite Books of 2011
The Believers by Zoe Heller
I need to learn to stay away from the Amazon Under $5 section. I bought this book after reading a little about the author and her previous book Notes on a Scandal, which had received high praise, and thought the premise of this book sounded interesting. Heller describes a fairly common situation: a prominent father has a heart attack or stroke, and with his collapse, the family is left aimless and lost. In this narrative, however, we learn that he has been cheating on his wife for years, which she knows, and also has a child with a black woman, which she doesn’t know, prompting a strange whirlwind of insults, discussions on the liberal elite of America and innate racism, and what happens to the children of such individuals. Although the book begins in London (the wife is British), we never go back to that world and instead are thrown into the family’s fights and pettiness and the general sad state of unhappy people. Unfortunately none of the characters are sympathetic or interesting enough to warrant having to read about their awfulness, and I came away reading it with a terrible “taste” in my mind.
Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater by Frank Bruni
There is so much one wants to like about Frank Bruni and his passion for food. But as I noted in my earlier review, this book really should be retitled, Confessions of a Bulimic Gay Man. Bruni is a wonderful writer and at times you can glimpse it in his prose, but the narrative becomes heavy-handed as he tries to create a thesis for his years of over-indulgence. The strangest part is that for a book or memoir about food, there are surprisingly little descriptions or comments about it.
The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth
I am not entirely surprised that I didn’t like this book, given that Philip Roth is akin to Don DeLillo in the postmodern canon. Roth is a brilliant writer, but there are times even that can’t overcome the writer’s innate narcissism, misogyny, and overall, unsympathetic tendencies. I can see how some people would like this book, but I found the themes, especially the coming of age of a young Jewish writer in the 1960s, too far away from my own world. I do not normally have a problem reading about things that are not similar to me or my world (in fact, I often enjoy them more), but there were many times when I wanted to throw this book across the room in sheer frustration.
My Bookie Wook by Russell Brand
For such a delightful and witty comic, this book should have been a delightful romp through Brand’s sex and drug fueled days of the early 2000s. However, this was once again a memoir that took a rather overly confessional format, without Brand’s iconic wit, and left me wondering how being a drug and sex addict could be so utterly boring. At over 400 pages, it was a feat that I even finished it.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
This was by far the most disappointing book of the year. Egan, who won the Pulitzer for it, describes a series of events relating to an aging music producer and his young assistant. Trying to chronicle the years of punk-infused America and the romping scene of 80s music, Egan falls into a series of stories, each with a different protagonist, that left me feeling like I had read a Wikipedia entry on the topic rather than a personal narrative. The structure also did not work – just as I was becoming interested or attached to a character, Egan started the narrative of a new one, who often was seemingly unrelated to the last.