Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Here’s a meme that is a little bit different from the usual sorts because it is a negative meme. I usually celebrate all the wonderful books I read and review on my blog, but there are some books that I wish I had never invested the time into finishing. In spite of my “100 page rule” where I stop reading a book at page 100 if I still dislike it at that point, I sometimes finish books that I really really wish I had simply “lost” on the subway when I had the chance (I think “rehoming” books is the correct way to deal with those that I don’t like). Below the fold are some of those books that I read in 2008;

Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art by Gene Wilder. I have loved Gene Wilder ever since I was a kid when I first saw his delightful film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, that starred Gene Wilder as the eccentric candymaker. However, this book opened my eyes to all the things I wish I had never known about him: his inarticulateness, lack of intelligence and selfishness.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. This is a retelling of a rape, torture and murder of a child, told from the point of view of the child’s ghost. That premise alone made the book really stupid in my opinion, but the writing makes this story just really .. ridiculous. I think the book would have been far more interesting if told from one of the parent’s points of view, or from the point of view of a shrink for either the parents or one of the detectives — the point of view of a peripherally involved person who can present a coherent story as well as an analysis of the people affected by the events depicted in this story.

Sixty Days And Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson. This book is the third in a trilogy that I read and reviewed on my blog. The other books were somewhat stupid, but seemed to have potential, so I finished it. But this book transformed the entire trilogy into a big cesspool of wasted time. Worse, the author used this last book to simply poke fun at people in general, and scientists in particular — how far would his readers follow him into his absolutely stupid, ridiculous worldview? Read my review of this crappy book.

Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution by Mark S. Blumberg. This book describes people and animals that are physically deformed and uses them as examples of how basic developmental programs gone wrong and how adapting to these birth defects reveals evolutionary flexibility. The premise is interesting but the book is so disorganized and inconsistently written that the premise is lost. This book reminds me of a Barnum & Bailey Circus without all the cute animals and odd people.

Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David Kirp. I am cheating by listing this book because I have not yet finished it. I am still struggling my way through it, under the impression that there is an important revelation (or solution) to be found here, but unfortunately, I have not yet found it. Them. Or maybe I did find it but it was obscured by the astonishingly impenetrable prose. I am a very well-read person and I read a variety of genres, so I think few will argue with me when I say that this book was written and published as a cure for insomnia.

Tell me what books do you wish you had never read?

Comments

  1. #1 Zeno
    December 30, 2008

    The Khembalese “hocus-pocus” on toddler Joe irritated me no end. Otherwise I rather like reading Robinson’s stuff. His climate trilogy wasn’t as good as his Mars novels, though.

  2. #2 Kurt
    December 30, 2008

    Should that be “The Lovely Bones” instead of “Lucky”?

  3. #3 Tlazolteotl
    December 30, 2008

    Hands-down winner for me would have to be “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. I don’t think anything by Kim Stanley Robinson could ever be that sucky.

  4. #4 Frasque
    December 30, 2008

    For me it’s “The Holographic Universe”. I’d heard vague stuff about the theory and decided to pick up the book. What a mistake! The author claims in the first few pages that it’s lucky he’s psychic, and it goes downhill from there. Turns out holographic universe = magic.

  5. #5 "GrrlScientist"
    December 30, 2008

    ah yes, thanks kurt for the correction. unfortunately, alice sebold’s books all blend together.

  6. #6 hg
    December 30, 2008

    Thanks for the reminder :-/ “Atlas Shrugged” was considerably worse than “Fountainhead”. I reread both in electronic form this past year, and continuously wondered why I couldn’t bring myself to delete the books before finishing.

    I also reread “Dune” and “Dune Messiah” and found both to be very irritating – maybe it was all the pseudo-mystical/religious gobbledygook.

  7. #7 Kay
    December 30, 2008

    I’d second Atlas Shrugged. I picked it up in middle school – having heard of it, but not really knowing anything about it. The first chapter involved a nerdy romantic gesture and made me cry. Then the rest of it…I kept reading, thinking it would get better, but it only went the other way. (There was a couple hundred pages of reprinted essay in there, presented as a radio address-slash-epic societal turning point. Wow.)

  8. #8 Cath the Canberra Cook
    December 30, 2008

    I haven’t read The Lovely Bones, but fictional ghosts don’t bother me at all. It’s, well, *fiction*. Bad writing is a big problem, though.

    If you enjoy the supernatural detective genre, I recommend Mike Carey. Author of the Lucifer graphic novels as well as a few regular novels; he rocks! And my pick for bad is Charlaine Harris. I got Dead as a Doornail as a freebie recently. Poor writing, utterly sickening MarySue protagonist.

  9. #9 Sheri Williamson
    December 30, 2008

    The Ruins. I got suckered in by the bait-and-switch setting in the Yucatán (hoping the plot might be based on Mayan mythology), struggled with a bunch of shallow, stupid, characters you couldn’t even remotely care about, and endured gratuitous, sadistic, yet oddly comical gore, gradually losing all hope that the offensively stupid premise would gel into something worth killing trees for. It’s one of the few books I’ve ever read that made me I wish I had a fireplace (and I don’t say that lightly).

  10. #10 speedwell
    December 30, 2008

    Books 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in Robert Jordan’s fantasy series The Wheel of Time. What a goddamn waste of paper.

  11. #11 Vasha
    December 30, 2008

    I just recently answered this same question on a forum thread.

  12. #12 John S. Wilkins
    December 30, 2008

    Anything, including shopping lists, by either Stephen Donaldson or Dan Brown.

  13. #13 Miguel
    December 30, 2008

    The first four because the stories are pervaded by mystical New Age nonsense/religiosity, and the last because it was erratic and just bloody boring:
    1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.
    2. Dracula by Bram Stoker.
    3. Prince Ombra by Roderick MacLeish.
    4. Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell.
    5. Japan Sinks by Sakyo Komatsu.

  14. #14 "GrrlScientist"
    December 30, 2008

    miguel, i also read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and i also hated that book. But i read it a few years ago, after it had first been published.

  15. #15 Miguel
    December 31, 2008

    One thing I have recently come to realise (perhaps after looking at Susan Stepney‘s book reviews, but I’m not sure), is that I don’t have to struggle through a rubbish book, just to finish it (e.g., I binned Prince Ombra after only 38 pages). Life is too short to waste on bad books.

  16. #16 llewelly
    December 31, 2008

    If the topic is novels I wish I’d never read, Contact is currently at the top of my list. Yes, the same Contact Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan wrote. The first half is a fine SF novel. Then they climb into the big machine the message from the aliens told them to build, and they flip it on, expecting to be transported to, or put in contact with, the aliens.

    But no! Instead they find themselves in a horribly trite hollywood near-death experience, complete with a short vist to a cheesy afterlife. Worse, when they come back, their video recorders, and recorders of all other sorts, are mysteriously blank! There is no evidence whatsoever they ever went anywhere, or had a second contact with the aliens. Awful, awful, awful.
    Before reading Contact , I had read several Sagan / Druyan books that ranged between good and wonderful. After reading Contact , it was years before I could bring myself to give Sagan or Druyan another chance.

  17. #17 Miguel
    December 31, 2008

    “GrrlScientist” wrote:

    miguel, i also read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and i also hated that book. But i read it a few years ago, after it had first been published.

    I read it back in 2003, but it’s still #1 on my “bad books” list.

  18. #18 northern grrrl
    December 31, 2008

    Primate Visions by Donna Haraway – even with a PhD I couldn’t get it
    Digital Fortress and The DaVinci Code by Dam Brown – writing that bad shouldn’t be that successful

  19. #19 gmm
    December 31, 2008

    The Davinci Code
    The Shack
    Eat Pray Love
    Tweak- not the book per se, but it pissed me off to read it
    Oryx and Crake
    Lullabies for Little Criminals

    Yeah- it is a good thing I read fast because it could have been a lot more time spent completely choked……

  20. #20 Bob O'H
    December 31, 2008

    complete with a short vis[i]t to a cheesy afterlife.

    It can’t be any worse than having the afterlife start in King’s Cross Station. :-)

    I’m impressed that nobody has stooped to throwing the Bible in yet. I guess that’ll come as the meme spreads.

  21. #21 Lassi Hippeläinen
    December 31, 2008

    The Bible isn’t that bad as a book (or a collection of books). Just don’t take it any more seriously than other works of fiction.

  22. #22 Danimal
    December 31, 2008

    Well I bet you can’t wait for the movie version of The Lovely Bones by director Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame?

  23. #23 Moopheus
    December 31, 2008

    As a professional proofreader/copyeditor, that would include most of the books I read this year. It was particularly bad this year because of the election-related political books. Facts? Logic? What are those? I think there were some vampire romance novels in there–there usually are, that and Highlanders. But never vampire Highlanders. In fact, I hardly get to read anything I don’t get paid for these days, which is a little annoying in itself.

  24. #24 Bob O'H
    December 31, 2008

    Is there a support group for proofreaders? It sounds like it would be needed.

  25. #25 Sister Novena
    December 31, 2008

    @Moopheus: As a bookseller who has to shelve thousands upon thousands of crappy mass-market romance novels, I can confirm that the vampire-highlander sub-sub-genre does indeed exist.

    I’m still waiting for the vampire-highlander-small town sheriff-vaguely BDSM genre-cross, though.

  26. #26 Sister Novena
    December 31, 2008

    @Moopheus: As a bookseller who has to shelve thousands upon thousands of crappy mass-market romance novels, I can confirm that the vampire-highlander sub-sub-genre does indeed exist.

    I’m still waiting for the vampire-highlander-small town sheriff-vaguely BDSM genre-cross, though.

    The most recent book I wish I hadn’t spent the time on: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I’m sorry, I know how many people dig that one. But it’s a terrible book.

  27. #27 Trin Tragula
    December 31, 2008

    The Bible & Flying Saucers by Barry H. Downing. The section about how UFO anti-gravity beams could have been responsible for the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus was imaginative. The rest of the book was merely tedious and contrived.

  28. #28 don
    December 31, 2008

    you people should either stick to Harry Potter or just read from Oprah’s bookclub!

  29. #29 Bob O'H
    December 31, 2008

    Oooh, don’t get me started on Half-Blood Prince…

  30. #30 Eric
    December 31, 2008

    I wasn’t going to comment until I saw “Merle’s Door” listed on the sidebar under “reading/viewing”. Kerasote’s approach to living with a domesticated dog is a poorly disguised rebuttal to “The Dog Whisperer”, which is perfectly fine, but really only meaningful to someone who happens to work from their home in the-middle-of-nowhere, Wyoming. This scientist, currently trapped in the suburbs, decided to set this one aside until retirement.

  31. #31 Darr Sandberg
    December 31, 2008

    There’s only one book on my ‘I wish I’d never read it’ list – “A Confederacy of Dunces” – absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever read.

    Some of the other rejected works people have posted about at least were useful as a warning, some even taught me to recognize their peers before I got to a cashier.

  32. #32 Doug Alley
    December 31, 2008

    Lately?
    “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”.
    Thank goodness there will be a prequel.
    Must miss.

  33. #33 Ruth Seeley
    January 1, 2009

    Oh, there are so many, most of which I read solely for purposes of ‘cultural literacy.’

    At the top of my list is Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy, which I read when I was working in a bookstore and heard it had outsold The Bible. Bridges of Madison County, which I refused to buy or even borrow from the library, because I suspected it was going to be really really bad – and it was, a tarted up Harlequin Romance. The DaVinci Code, for sure.

    I’d also add Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes – it didn’t irritate me anywhere near as much as his second book, ‘Tis, which I wanted to throw across the room, but being a Potato Famine Irish descendant myself, there was no net new for me. And yes, pretty much everything Ayn Rand wrote – had I known at the outset that she wrote the same book over and over again, I would have read the thinnest one and saved myself from Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. :)

  34. #34 Mel Menzies
    January 2, 2009

    Hi fellow blog carnivalist! My first ever story was written from the POV of a ghost and it was a dog, at that! What, I wonder, would you have made of that? But then you probably weren’t born when I wrote it. It secured for me my very first rejection slip. But I was only 14 years of age!

    Still, it makes me wonder whether my latest book, A Painful Post Mortem (a novel)would come into the category of those you wish you’d never read? Mine? I think it has to be The Poisonwood Bible. Everyone I’ve ever met loved it. And I simply couldn’t get into it.

    Thanks for your post. I’ve enjoyed it and all the comments. Mel.

  35. #35 Lilian Nattel
    January 2, 2009

    I think this is all very funny. I envy people who can write about books that they wish they hadn’t read, because I’m too slow a reader to finish anything I don’t love. Plus, as a writer, I have to admit that I sympathize with the writers even if I don’t like the book. Even if it gets me angry and I want to throw it at the wall (before I decide I am not going to finish it). But I have enjoyed reading this as, thankfully, none of my books are on the list. Phew.

  36. #36 Isaac Yassar
    January 15, 2009

    Very interesting, the discussion is more alive than the post itself, I guess. I personally hate Crichton’s “The Lost World”, I love the film (Jurassic Park: The Lost World) but the book is so much different, awful and wasting time. Watching the 2 hours movie gives me much more satisfaction than reading the book for a week.

  37. #37 reflibman
    January 19, 2009

    Interesting, because as per my memory (which is unfortunately VERY fallible) I think these two might have been Choice Outstanding Academic Books.

    Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution by Mark S. Blumberg.

    Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David Kirp.