Books So Bad That I Threw Them in the Trash

I tend to liken books to sacred things, but some books are so awful that they need to be thrown out with the garbage.

Rambling Introduction

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. 

I believe that and also a similar take: The right book will find its way into your hands at the right time in your life. 

So what does it mean when you read a really awful book?  Is it just bad timing or was the book truly a stinker?

Let me just say that I find books to be sacred objects in many cases.  I almost never throw them out, but there’s always an exception.

I’ve been quite blessed to have read very few truly terrible books.  I’m usually one to read all the way to the end even if the book is a struggle.  Sometimes, I can tell it’s a good book and it’s just not the right time, so I’ll stop that book in the middle and come back to it at another time.

My system for picking books to read seems to be pretty good, but there have been a handful of occasions where I’ve read a book so awful, I had to throw it away.  (I couldn’t risk donating it and having it fall into the hands of another well-intentioned but unsuspecting reader.)

As I confirmed the authors’ names for this piece, I was taken aback at the number of four and five star reviews many of them have received.  I guess that means I have an unpopular opinion. It’s not the first time.

Without further ado:

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Good: This was a best-seller and a well-received book.  It had my attention when it was first published, but it took me a while to get around to it.  I could tell that it took a lot of skill and hard work to write a book with such a complex plot.

The Bad: To me, this was death by a thousand paper cuts.  So many little things bugged me about the author’s writing style: a poorly written sentence around every corner, a misplaced clause on every other page, and a sprinkling of poorly-used adverbs.  To most, these writing “errors” were hardly noticeable, but Niffenegger seemed to hit all of my writing pet peeves in one volume, page after page.

Now, no writer is without sin. There is no book that doesn’t have an awkward sentence or two, but this one was packed full of them.  Considering that, I’d say this book was more annoying than terrible.

But there was one last straw:  the protagonist of the story–the one who gets unstuck in time–runs into himself every now and then, and on at least one occasion, he decides to physically pleasure himself.  Really? 

The author is a woman writing from a man’s point of view, so maybe she thinks that this is something a man would do.  And maybe some men would, but I can’t even imagine doing it, and it’s definitely not how a heterosexual hero of a romantic story should act either.  I’ve read a lot of books with things more awful than this in them, so I wasn’t disgusted because I’m some sort of prude.  The incident simply didn’t ring true and didn’t fit the story or character at all.  Maybe, just maybe, it all made sense at the end of the book, but I never got there.

I know a lot of people love this book, but I couldn’t stand it.

Did you really throw it in the trash?

I received the book secondhand from someone I can’t remember, so I know at the very least I didn’t pay for it.  What I did with it after I stopped halfway through, I really don’t remember.  I probably threw it in with some Goodwill donations. So, no, not exactly the trash.

3. Wolves by Simon Ings

The Good: Ings writing style is very good.  He really knows how to turn a phrase and construct a sentence.  The cover of this book was eye-catching, unique, and thought-provoking, along with all the covers of his other books.  Even the copy on the back is well-written and makes it seem like there’s an amazing story inside.

The Bad: The book is not as advertised.  The cover and the copy on the back of the book (or at least the copy provided by the publisher for bookselling websites) insist that this book is science fiction.  I read the book cover to cover and saw almost nothing that resembled science fiction.  There’s some stuff about augmented reality towards the end of the book, but that’s it.  What I got was a bland story about a father, son, a marriage, I think.  It wasn’t a story that held my attention.  There was a murder in there somewhere, too, maybe.

I feel kind of bad for Simon Ings because I’ll probably never read anything by him again.  All his other books sound good and the covers look good, but once bitten twice shy.  It’s as if I started reading Stephen King with Rose Madder or Needful Things.  I didn’t care for either of those books, so I might have given up on him if I hadn’t already read some of his other fantastic titles.

Maybe Wolves is the worst Simon Ings book, but I don’t really want to find out if it isn’t.

Did you really throw it in the trash?

I had bought and read the book while I was living in Japan.  When it came time to move back to the States, I mailed almost all my other books back home.  Wolves I threw out with the week’s recycling.

2. The King Must Die by Mary Renault

The Good: It was a bestseller and a lot of other people seemed to enjoy it.  Also, it’s based on Greek mythology.

The Bad: I had to read this a long time ago in high school for an English class that I also despised with a teacher whom I despised and who probably despised me.  So maybe under other circumstances, I wouldn’t have disliked this book so much.

Around the ninth grade, I was really into fantasy, so I should have liked something based on Greek mythology, but I didn’t.

This book was so bad that I’ve blocked its contents from my memory.  I wonder, since this is a modern book based on Greek mythology, if it planted a seed in me to dislike almost all remakes and reboots that we see in modern Hollywood.  (Probably not.)

I would have much rather read the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer.  Whenever I can, whether it be TV, movies, or books (usually even video games), I go for the originals. Stay away from fraudulent fiction, unnecessary remakes, and fan fiction, kids.  That’s my lesson to you.

Did you really throw it in the trash?

I wanted to, but it was a school book, so when my class was done with it, I’m sure I was first in line to return it to the friendly school librarian.

1. The Celestine Prophecy, An Adventure by James Redfield

The Good: It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for over fifty weeks.  It’s an easy read.

The Bad: I read this book when I was in my twenties–an age where one is full of curiosity and open to new ideas–(A little older now, I’d like to think that I’m still this way)–so that I found it to be utter trash is remarkable in itself.

Each chapter tells a short part of the adventure story and then explains the “insight” that was just illustrated.

It’s basically new age trash.  I wonder if I would see it differently if I read it now. (Probably not.)

The book is written at a third grade level complete with third grade ideas.  The fact that so many people have given this book such high praise makes it easy for me to understand why our country and world is in such a spiritual crisis. 

Did you really throw it in the trash?

Yes.  My apartment complex had one of those big metal garbage bins, and my hardcover copy landed at the bottom with a resounding and satisfying thud.