(Bad news first; I’ll give you the good tomorrow.)
Let’s count down to the very worst:
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1871; translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 1995)
There’s a good book contained in Demons, but you’d have to remove at least 400 of its 700 pages. It reads more like a satire of Dostoevsky’s style and themes than a cohesive narrative. The scenes that are effective aren’t worth the slog. And, unlike Dostoevsky’s other works, there’s no likable character to hold onto for the duration.
(To be clear: Pevear and Volokhonsky are incredible translators; they did their absolute best.)
In my cruelty, I tried to obtain a full confession from him, though, by the way. I did allow that to confess certain things might prove embarrassing. He, too, understood me thoroughly; that is, he clearly saw that I understood him thoroughly; and that I was even angry with him, and was himself angry with me for being angry with him, and for understanding him thoroughly.
Recommended instead: Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation of The Brothers Karamazov.
Joseph Heller (1984)
The concept sounds like great Heller fodder: King David tells us his life story in modern vernacular. But, holy hell, this book falls short. Heller’s circling-the-same-events style, which works to such great effect in Catch-22 (review) and Something Happened (review), feels like a series of false starts that never get off the ground
Who needed a Messiah? We had no heaven, we had no hell, we had no eternity, we had no afterlife. We had no need for a Messiah then, and we have none now, and the last thing any sensible human being should want, to my way of thinking, is immortality. As it is, life lasts too long for most of us.
I’m not even sure we really had that much need for a God as much as we did seem to have a need to believe in Him.
Recommended instead: Something Happened
Robert A. Heinlein (1959)
I covered the title story earlier this year (review), but the rest of the tales in this collection also fall short.
“The stuff under my nails has little to do with the story. It served its purpose, which was to make fearful the Sons of the Bird. They knew what it was.”
Recommended instead: The R.A. Lafferty Fantastic Megapack
Ira Levin (1997)
To mangle Oscar Wilde or whoever, once you commit rape, the next thing you know, you’re not paying your debts.
Recommended instead: See #8 in Best Books of 2016
Stephen King (1990)
Built on an impossible-to-swallow premise: an author’s pen name manifests in reality as a murderous psychopath.
I kept waiting for something interesting, something half believable to happen, but this world never develops into something you can be invested in. The more King tries to explain what’s going on, the more ridiculous it becomes.
“It’s incredible, all right. You know it, I know it, and they know it, too. But Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes say at least one thing that still holds true in crime detection: when you eliminate all the impossible explanations, whatever is left is your answer… no matter how improbable it may be.”
“I think the original was a little more elegant,” Thad said.
Recommended instead: See #10 in Best Books of 2016
Vladimir Nabokov (1958)
This was great through Part 1. Then it kept going. And going. The subject matter didn’t throw me; it was the boredom.
If Nabokov was a genius wordsmith putting all sorts of intellectual games throughout Lolita, his cleverness is far above my head. A miserably long, droning book for what it is.
There would have been those luminous globules of gonadal glow that travel up the opalescent sides of juke boxes.
Recommended instead: The 1997 film (yes, I’m saying Adrian Lyne’s version is better than Kubrick’s).
Michel Faber (2000)
Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 film adaptation of this book blew me away; it felt like seeing 2001 for the first time. Like 2001, I assumed the book would create a satisfying companion piece to the movie. Wrong. Very wrong.
Under the Skin has an interesting concept but no writing muscles to hold it up. The style reminded me of Twilight with its hot-headed, emotionally ugly, self-pitying lead character that we are supposed to find beautifully tragic.
He spoke the word as if it were something very expensive he’d found lying in the street somewhere, which would ordinarily be far outside his purchasing power, but which he now intended to flaunt to everyone.
Recommended instead: The film.
Douglas Coupland (2013)
An attempt at mixing Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (review) and C.D. Payne’s Youth in Revolt without the clever, wicked humor of either. Coupland’s narrator is a lazy, unimaginative man who simply curses a lot.
He’s not the worst person ever. If he was he’d be interesting.
I needed to convert my bachelor’s dump into a fuck hut, and quick.
Recommended instead: Coupland’s JPod
Thomas Harris (2006)
This is Hannibal Lecter’s origin story, and you know what? He’s not such a bad guy! He’s a Nazi hunter, see. The people he kills are worse than he is.
In Red Dragon, Lecter was a monster. With each book, Harris shifts him closer to a vigilante who takes out rude and evil assholes. And hero serial killers aren’t my bag.
(Along with that, this book is poorly written.)
The fire beneath it crackled and the sparks flew upward. Lady Murasaki was in the water. In the water was Lady Murasaki; like the water flowers on the moat where the swans swam and did not sing. Hannibal watched, silent as the swans, and spread his arms like wings.
Recommended instead: Red Dragon
Charles Bukowski (1971)
A hateful book parading as satire. We’re supposed to cheer when Henry Chianski sticks it to the man; he’s saying what we all wish we could, right?
I feel worse for spending any time with this character.
I’ll say one thing for that bitch. She could cook.
“It’s over,” she said. “I’m not sleeping with you another night.”
“All right. Keep your pussy. It’s not that great.”
“I’d like to speak to Miss Graves, please.”
There she was. The bitch. I fondled myself as I spoke to her.
Before reading Post Office, my knowledge of Charles Bukowski was limited to lyrics from two songs. I think I’ll recommend those:
Modest Mouse “Bukowski”:
God, who’d want to be such an asshole?
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “We Call Upon the Author”:
Bukowski was a jerk.