Bad Book Exorcisms

Following on from my post about bad reviews there’s been a spot of conversation about how to exorcise the horrific experience of reading a truly bad piece of excrement masquerading as a book. Some of us write eviscerating reviews and some of us imagine or actually practice violence upon the offending item: I mentioned my desire to stab them. N. K. Jemisin says she throws them across the room.

I have a group of friends who compete to find the very worst books and then read them out loud in order to point and laugh and marvel at how truly bad they are. It is incredibly entertaining. We end up weeping we laugh so hard. It’s also educational. Nothing like reading out loud to truly expose the badness. It’s an extremely entertaining lesson in how not to write. I highly recommend it.

For an out of copyright truly terrible book may I recommend The Shiek by E. M. Hull:

The two men left standing by the open French window that led into the hotel ballroom looked at each other and smiled.

“Some peroration,” said one with a marked American accent. “That’s the way scandal’s made, I guess.”

“Scandal be hanged! There’s never been a breath of scandal attached to Diana Mayo’s name. I’ve known the child since she was a baby. Rum little cuss she was, too. Confound that old woman! She would wreck the reputation of the Archangel Gabriel if he came down to earth, let alone that of a mere human girl.”

“Not a very human girl,” laughed the American. “She was sure meant for a boy and changed at the last moment. She looks like a boy in petticoats, a damned pretty boy–and a damned haughty one,” he added, chuckling. “I overheard her this morning, in the garden, making mincemeat of a French officer.”

Lots of wonderful bad writing tics: flat, unevocative, stage-direction like description; laugh transformed into a verb of utterance; unnecessary repetition “laughed the American” “he added, chuckling,” and un-dialogue like dialogue.

This passage is from early on in proceedings. It gets much much MUCH worse-er after Diana is kidnapped by the Shiek. The dialogue in the book starts over the top but ratchets up from there. Until basically you’re reading a novel where everyone is SPEAKING IN ALL CAPS WITH EXCLAMATION MARKS AT EVERY TURN!!!!!

Reading it out loud and laughing is the only way to cope.

So, dear readers, how do you cope with the truly bad books you’ve had the misfortune to run your scared orbs across? Do you have any handy bad book exorcisms to share?


  1. Krystina on #

    I just try to forget it ever happened, and I read Harry Potter. Harry Potter is my balm…my ‘stabbing’. I also make fun of said book with friends who went through similar experiences with the bad book.

  2. Liviania on #

    Generally, I rant to my friends about my wasted time and the hideous abuses of language. Sometimes I write a bad review, and then I write another review that I can show to the public.

  3. Justine on #

    Krystina: Turning to a good book as an antidote. I like it.

    Liviania: What would we do without our friends?

  4. Trudi Canavan on #

    I stop reading. Life is too short for bad books.

  5. Susan on #

    I remember what a very clever friend of mine said in reference to an overly punctuated book: the writer “tripped on a comma and impaled himself on an exclamation point!” Gets me giggling every time.

  6. Miriam Forster on #

    Okay, I kind of want to read this book now. Out loud. With great dramatics.

    Moslty my reaction to books like that is to put them down and say “Ew, ick, no.” But that rarely happens nowadays because most of my reading list is made up of things my Internet writer friends have recommended, and so most of them are–if not downright awesome—at least pretty decent.

    I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a book. The thought horrifies me. 🙂

  7. Justine on #

    Trudi Canavan: Your comment inspired an entire post. Thank you!

    Susan: That is hilarious! I shall quote it from now on.

    Miriam Forster: The Shiek is deeply awesome. And, why, yes, I have read parts of it out loud, with dramatics. It is the best fun ever.

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