Tuesday, 28 July 2009

What’s the Worst Book You’ve Ever Read?

I’ve always despised Jeffrey Archer, probably for exactly the same reasons that other people who despise him despise him: because he’s an odious smug liar and thuggish whore-mongering thief who parades his character flaws as if they’re virtues. Wonderfully vocal Archer-hater Ian Hislop once described him as having ‘a supreme vanity that meant he believed he should take centre stage in the country, and he wouldn’t be put off by the fact that he had no talent, ability or moral character’. I’m not sure it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that he has no ability, considering the amount of times he’s crawled out of the gutter of his own turpitude and slithered his way into a position of considerable influence, but still – an awful, repugnant human being all the same.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I’ve never read any of his books. Until now. I’m currently about 30 pages into Shall We Tell the President? and I must say, it is absolutely bloody awful. I’m reading it because I’m looking for tips on how to write thrillers, and because someone whose opinion I respect (I won’t embarrass him by naming names) mentioned this book to me, and said that he’d enjoyed it as a teenager. Plus, I thought, one can’t really go through life slagging off someone’s writing (as I have done) without having actually read one of their books. So I intend to finish it, even though it’s some of the most leaden, inauthentic tosh I’ve ever had the displeasure to tolerate.

Really it is. Here’s a little example. This is the passage on which I assume the rest of the book hinges, a passage in which a corrupt Senator and a gaggle of would-be assassins discuss their plans to murder the president, in a restaurant kitchen, in earshot of a Greek waiter. Unbelievable enough in itself, obviously, but what’s really infuriating is the inconsistency in the Greek's speech patterns, the way in which his knowledge of English grammar comes and goes, like a tide of bullshit...

Ugh. It's like the writing of a retarded child. Could Jeffrey Archer really be one of the most popular writers on the planet? How can that be? Stephen King summed it up in this interview here when he said, 'There'll always be a market for shit, of course. Just look at Jeffrey Archer! He writes like old people fuck, doesn't he?'

I think it’s fair to say that this is the worst book I’ve read since I forced my way through The Difficult Second Book by Chris Moyles earlier this year.

Actually, I’m not sure I can think of any book I’ve actually finished which is worse than Moyles. I’ve started a few which would have given it a run for its money, including Learning to Fly by Victoria P Spice, but I couldn’t finish them.

Speaking of bad books written by WAGs, this five-star Amazon review of Welcome To My World by Coleen McLoughlin is perhaps my favourite ever review…

‘I really really liked this book. You get to know Coleen so well. There is a chapter on all the things that she may or may not have for breakfast and sometimes the writing is done in real handwriting instead of boring typing. Also, my favourite colour is pink which is good because I have never seen so much pink in one book. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in someone who is married to a celebrity.’

Ahh, Jim Nixon, the doyen of toothbrush reviews.

Speaking of bad writers, I was reminded of my hatred of Carla Lane on Saturday by an appalling television programme about appalling television programmes, and I came across her website, which features a selection of her poetry. Here is an example. It is called Thoughts

Think of the plight of the fox in flight,
The beasts in the slaughter house.
Hear their call as the hunted fall,
And the cry of the scientist's mouse.

The scientist's mouse! Squeeeeeak! I wish Carla had written a book. Oh, wait - she has! Great title too.

Anyway, I seem to have meandered. My thrust is this: Jeffrey Archer may be about to replace Chris Moyles as the writer of the worst book I've ever read. So. What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

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gongman said...

Can´t help you on this one Bete.

I have never read a bad book.

Started a few,but as realisation dawned simply let them go without continuing any further.

Life is too short to waste time on bad books!

Anonymous said...

The worst book I've ever read - well, it has to be Jilly Cooper's Wicked! I hate to say it, as I loved her first few books with a passion - and think the world would be a much more interesting place if only she could design all its men.

In Cooperland, Conservative MPs are devastatingly handsome bad-boy aristos - in real life, they're William Hague. In Cooperland, high flying TV execs are darkly alluring Machiavellian sex gods - in real life, they're Alan Yentob.

Christ, in Cooperland, even headmasters are irresistibly hot in a kinky Severus Snape kinda way - whereas my own could have gone out pulling with Danny de Vito, and still have been considered the ugly mate.

But Wicked was absolutely God awful. It's about a posh school and a rough sink estate comprehensive who mix together. The descriptions of the posh school aren't so bad, but the bits about the sink estate comprehensive lent whole new meaning to the word 'cringe'.

I swear, you've never truly understood the phrase 'buttock-clenchingly embarrassing' until you've read Jilly Cooper writing about a crack den.

It crackled with all the raw authenticity of a chick-lit rom com penned by Andy McNab.

Not to be confused with the other Wicked, which got turned into a musical. Athough I hated that book, too...

And I quite agree that Jeffrey Archer is the most vile human being on the face of this planet (with the possible exception of Piers Moron). But hey, who doesn't :-)

J x

La Bête said...

You're a better man than I, Gonga Din.

Juliette, Wicked sounds wicked, almost worth checking out. As for everyone hating Archer, they really don't, you know. Check out some of the comments on his blog. He has his admirers, and they are legion.

Catofstripes said...

"He writes like old people fuck, doesn't he?'"

Fuck right off, we fuck pretty damn good, actually.

La Bête said...

Ooh, hello. Touched a nerve there.

Ms Mac said...

How old are these old people who fuck? I hope I'm not one of them.

The worst books I have ever read have been by popular women's writer Jodi Picoult. Be thankful you'll probably never pick them up.

I also enjoyed Archer in my early 20s though. First Among Equals was my favourite, I think. I don't know how they would stand up now.

jenheffa said...

ooooh excellent question!

Captain Corelli's mandarin/margarine - shittiest ending in a book *ever*.

The Abortionist's daughter - 1st time I've ever wanted to burn a book. That'll teach me for reading something that had a 'Richard & Judy book club' sticker on it...

And I have an answer to your question about Jeffrey Archer's popularity: because many, many people are complete and utter morons.

(long time reader, 1st time poster)

Alison Eales said...

I'm not sure about the worst book I've ever read, but in terms of the best Amazon review I've ever read, all the reviews for this book are pretty amazing.

JonnyB said...

'On the Road'. Hundreds upon hundreds of pages of wishing that he'd just fucking get there. I persevered. God knows I persevered. But it was the literary equivalent of sitting in gridlock on the M6 and having the winner of 'Britain's got Pseuds' yabbering away in the passenger seat. Jeffrey Archer, for all his faults, could have written 'On the Road' in half a page. Frankly, a decent writer could have done it on a single Twitter thing. I never want to read 'On the Road' again, and I never will.

Catofstripes said...

welllll, you're writing like JA, without a fucking clue what you're on about.

If you'd said like ugly people fuck it might have had some meaning, except I've fucked some pretty damn ugly sods and they do it just fine.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like Gordon Ramsey, the worst fucking books I've ever read are those fantasy fiction ones that come in 23x700 page instalments. And I've never been that keen on Pratchett. And Catherine Cookson, obviously.

Boz said...

Snobs, by Julian Fellowes. Frankly, it's crap.

Jemima K said...

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. Some warped logic told me to read this instead of the Da Vinci Code (I *knew* that would be bad and someone thought I would like Digital Fortress). The result was that I read total crap and still couldn't keep up with the cultural references to the Da Vinci Code. Avoid avoid avoid.

Pueblo girl said...

Hi - worst book ever is an impossibly tall order. Worst books on my shelves at the moment: “In the kingdom of Gorillas”, where two smug, vitriolic authors use 370 pages to smear a fellow primatologist and glorify themselves, and “Renta 2008: Manual Práctico”, where completing your Spanish income tax form is explained in 3,452 easy steps in a compact 720 page practical handbook.

La Bête said...

Mrs M - Jodi Picoult eh? I see you read more than one though. I reckon you must've liked 'em really.

Hello, Jenheffa. ooh, I never read Corelli - I assume it's just the ending you didn't like though?

Thanks for that, Alison. And God bless the internet.

JonnyB, yes, I couldn't agree more, although I didn't persevere. I fucking hate Jack Kerouac.

Stripey, come on now, don't get a cob on. Do you know that poem by Peter Porter? Sex and the Over Forties: 'It's too good for them, they look so unattractive undressed- let them read paperbacks!' My grandmother loves Catherine Cookson. But she doesn't fuck anymore. I wish she did, but I know that if she did, it wouldn't be the vigorous hurly-burly of limbs it may have been in her youth. I think that's all that Stephen King was getting at. Old people are generally not as physically capable as young people. Maybe you're the exception that proves the rule.

Boz, that's very frank of you. Thank you.

Jem, I must say I'm tempted to try some Dan Brown at some stage too. I'm pleased it's bad.

Puebla Girl, hello. I hate primatologists who smear one another. I really think that's going too far.

Kirsty said...

Biggest shocker has to be a book called 'Maggie's Tree' written by Julie Walters. Just goes to show that one shouldn't assume that someone good at acting is also good at writing. I can make it through most things, but not this, it was utterly appalling. Don't do it..

La Bête said...

Ah, yes, funny you should mention that - I came across it yesterday bimbling about on Amazon. It does have the most appalling reviews. I might get it out of the library.

misspiggy said...

Jim Morrison's poetry

My Idea of Fun by Will Self

Oh and I spent two years living in China, pre internets, where the only novels in English (left by the previous expats) were Dick Francis. Dark times. Modern Chinese literature, on the other hand, is excellent if you don't mind weeping your eyeballs out in despair at the cruelty of mankind...

Marie said...

Another vote for On The Road. Navel-gazing tedium.

White Oleander wins the prize for worst sex scene. Something happens with seahorses (unless my memory is playing tricks).

Panda said...

Has to be Andrew Flintoff's tedious and self-eulogising garbage, 'Being Freddie' - in which he eloquently paints a picture of cricket as: "...great when you're doing well, but (can) also make you feel terrible when you're struggling..." - well, what a revelation. The entire book is an unforgiveable waste of paper and I had to read the bloody thing because it was a present.

The 'fiction' I would rather eat dog vomit than read has got to be the new novel 'Sapphire' 'by' Katie Price. Even just reading the synopsis in the product description brings one out in hives.

Catofstripes said...

I hadn't heard of that poem and I sort of wish I still didn't. Never mind. Just wait another 10 years and have someone compare your bedtime antics to Jeffrey Archer's writing. See how you feel then!

Catherine Cookson only writes about sex, but it's all about how naughty it is to do it, what with being so poor and lower class and all that. I never realised until I inherited a boxful of the damn things in a wet summer.

Llia said...

That is not how Greek people speak English, by any stretch of the imagination. And believe me, I'm swine-flu'ed up to the eyeballs right now so my imagination is very stretchy.

Er, what was I saying again? Oh yeah. Archer is shit at approximating how Greek people talk. Offensively bad, I would say. I am offended for my people.

the fly in the web said...


Tim Footman said...

I once read a Stewart Home novel that was so bad that I've forgotten the title. Probably WANKYBOTTYPLOP!!! or something shocking like that, 'cos he an anarkist, innit. There was a skinhead who kept giving people blowjobs, and SH used exactly the same description for each one. And then there was a revolution and lots of rich people got killed, blah blah blah, yeah, whatever, Stewart.

But of ones I can remember, it's probably Sushi For Beginners by Marian Keyes, which is slightly hampered by the fact that Marian Keyes clearly knows nothing about sushi. That, or Middlemarch.

Wisewebwoman said...

Gee BDJ:
You really have to stop being so wishy washy and sitting on the fence about everything.
For once, just have the courage of your own convictions and state an opinion.
There's a lad.

Autolycus said...

The Da Vinci Code. And the Da Vinci Code.

The only consolation was that your eyes could skate over the pages at great speed as cliché predictably skipped after Hollywood cliché.

I can only apologise to the jumble sale that it went to.

La Bête said...

Hey, Piggy. I read My Idea of Fun and it certainly didn’t enamour me of Will Self. He’s a bit of a masturbator, isn’t he? Not read any Dick Francis. Horse chap, isn’t he? Hmm. Yeah, pretty sure I never will.

Seahorses, eh? Phwoar.

Hey, Panda. It’s funny how almost all of the reviews for Sapphire – except for the silly one, seem to mention how quickly it took them to read it like that’s a sign of greatness. ‘I read it in four hours!’ Some people, eh? Eh?

Chin up, Stripey. Ooh, apparently Cookson took up writing to combat depression. How ironic.

Lila, nobody speaks English like that.

Hi, Fly. Bless you.

Hey, Tim. I was reading about him a couple of weeks ago on the back of the death of Steven Wells. He sounded interesting but potentially awful.

Auto, one day I’m going to give Dan Brown a go. Just for a laugh. But for now, back to Archer.

WWW, um… OK!

amy grace said...

I don't hate anyone more than I hate Ayn Rand. I felt the need to study her. So I read Atlas Shrugged. Worst thousand pages of my life.

Andy said...

Honeymoon by Amy Jenkins. Went to look for it just now (I've been keeping it to remind myself never to buy a book like that again) but I guess it got lost in the last move.

I'm quite grateful, really.

Andrea said...

Thanks Bete, I'd been trying to convice myself that Carla Lane was dead and now you've reminded me she's not.

I'm not sure of the worst book I've ever read, I've read plenty of well respected books that haven't been to my taste,(Jack London, Joseph Conrad) but it's not fair to say they're bad books. The biggest disappointment was April Ashley's biography, he insistance on refering to a penis as a wanger was just ridiculous, shame as she really has had a fascinating life.

Oh and I remember reading a really badly researched true crime book, which couldn't even get the names of the Manson family right, can't remember what the book was though.

Anonymous said...

Ah, this is more like it. 30 comments and counting. We all like to slag off stuff, eh?

I read an interview with Carla Lane recently, in which she proudly boasted that she'd never read a book in her life. She came across as just a little bit mental, actually.

Tony Parsons - Man And Boy


The Sagittarian said...

He looks very much like the character from the Simpsons - Burns!
Bad book - um, only ever started a few am too impatient to give them a go if they haven't grabbed me within the first few chapters.

Innocent Loverboy said...

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Why did this even ever get published? I had to read it for my English degree, so sat down with it, read the first chapter...

...no, I'm missing something...

restarted the book and read the first two chapters...

...no, I'm still missing something...

went back again and read a few pages, and suddenly realised that I wasn't missing anything. It just genuinely is that dull.

La Bête said...

AG - I don't really know anything about Ayn Rand so I've just been reading Wikipedia. She sounds like a horror. Am now downloading the film of The Fountainhead. I hate Gary Cooper.

Andy - you'll be pleased to hear they're making a film of The Honeymoon, which sold over a quarter of a million copies in its first year. Her second novel has also been optioned. But is she happy?

Andrea - I think we've all tried to convince ourselves that Carla Lane is dead at some stage or other. She was definitely dead when she wrote Bread.

Welly - don't talk to me about Tony Parsons. He's another one I haven't read but despise on principle. Suppose I'll have to give him a bash one day.

Hello, Sagittarian. Archer makes Burns look like Jesus.

IL - But... but... it's a classic! Apparently. I've not read it, and thanks to you, I never will.

Emma said...

Double Vision, by Pat Barker.

For such an acclaimed writer it was a real let-down: poorly-written characters, weak dialogue, rubbish ending. Don't bother.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a good comments haul.

Books: some seven-hundred page fantasy nonsense that was obviously someone's Dungeons and Dragons adventure world-made-book populated by men with swords on horseback talking like American high-schoolers. And Hannibal Rising. I have a big soft spot for Hannibal Lecter books (I even like Hannibal), but Rising read like a half-arsed movie script in hardback.

Panda said...

I saw Will Self at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and made the mistake of idly asking him something simple when I went to get my book signed. His answer was totally incomprehensible and endless. I just stood there not understanding a word, nodding blindly and getting redder while the eyes of about thirty people standing behind me in the queue bored painfully into the back of my cranium. I will NEVER make the mistake of doing that again.

And the book was utter shit.

Chris said...

I have tried one or two Danielle Steel and had to quit. She's what I would call a skim-writer. So much can happen in one of her run-on sentences that it should be a novel of it's own. She's like so many things these days...cheap, overblown and no substance.

neillockwood said...

The Bible, load of bollocks.

CarolH said...

To be honest most of Irvine Welsh's books are tosh - hate they way he just has to make them as vile as possible just to shock. ITS GETTING BORING NOW.

Oh and one called 'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen. No idea how I came by it and how I managed to finish it.

CarolH said...

Oh and I forgot, I tried to read a Will Self book once. Never again.

Nicky said...

A Sensible Boy, Vikram Seth. My mother bought me the trilogy. I felt obliged. It was the most tedious pile of bollocks imaginable. It did have one redeeming point though - it was my wake-up call never to waste any part of my life again reading a book I wasn't enjoying.

Henk Van Vleck said...

I don't think Will Self is entirely deserving of all the criticism levelled at him here. Great Apes still sticks in my mind as one of the best books I have read - and I read it ages ago. I think the worst book I have read - certainly in terms of the writing - is Homer's Iliad (Penguin Classic version, not the original greek admittedly). Those greeks were heavily into lists it seems and large chunks of it read like a audit report.
I'll get my coat.

Anonymous said...

"A Sensible Boy, Vikram Seth."

Isn't that A Suitable Boy? I LOVE that book! It's epic, has amazing characters and gives a comprehensive and itneresting view of post-partition Indian politics.

I review a lot of books so I've had to read some right bollocks.

The most recent worst one was this:

Hackneyed, cringe-worthy writing; utterly dull (they detail Italian bureaucracy, what they pack to go on holiday etc), and the pics accompanying the recipes are printed in an unfortunate black and white which manages to make Italian food look like someone's cat has sicked up a mess of tar and worms.

Nicky said...

@Anonymous Yes! A Suitable Boy. Hey, maybe I'm just not that into post-partition Indian politics ;-) I found the characterisation very fragmented and the epic nature of it over-the-top and unnecessary - it felt like it was "for the sake of it". Once I got 1/3rd of the way through I was losing the will to care about anyone or anything. But I'm glad you loved it - I have a spare, almost pristine copy you can have: only read once :o)

Bea said...

Jodie Marshes autobiography! Ok ok hardly surprising is it. I was given it by a publisher - I didn't buy it, honest! Lol. What a sad, sad lady. It was painstakingly boring reading, but if I start a book I have to finish it :-/

Another one I was given was Pure Evil (no that's what it was called :) It's the mothers tragic story of the road rage victim, Lee Harvey.

It's her account of events. What would she actually know about what went on behind closed doors in their relationship? The book was dull and didn't really give any more information than what was gleamed from the news, albeit we learnt about his character obviously from a biased mother!

Now if it was Tracie Andrews (the killer) book that would be interesting - an insight to the warped mind of a killer, and what on earth possessed her to kill her lover.

I've nearly finished your book Bete, and I'm loving it. It's hilarious!

La Bête said...

Hi, Emma. I’ve never been drawn to Pat Barker – I think it’s her name and her titles. I feel even less drawn now.

NK, you’ve always had rather infantile tastes in books, haven’t you? Bless you. ~ruffles NK’s hair in enormously patronising manner~

Panda, yes, he does come across as something of a bore.

Cheers, Chris. ~crosses Danielle Steel off list~

Oh, now, Neil, I must disagree with you there. The Bible is wicked. Literally, wicked. But yeah, I guess you’re right. Also bollocks.

CarolH, yes, I know what you mean about the shock thing. I really like a couple of Irvine Welsh books, but then he started to annoy me. Even the titles started to become tedious after a certain point.

Nicky, I think I prefer A Sensible Boy.

Henk, no! I really enjoyed The Iliad. Oh, hold on, no I didn’t. I got bored and never finished it. It was The Odyssey which I was enjoying. Although I didn’t finish that either. God, I’m rubbish. Life’s too short though. I mean, to fit everything in.

Anon - The Dolce Vita Diaries? By Cathy Rogers and Jason Gibb? I LOVE that book. No, just kidding. It gets very good reviews on Amazon though. Amazon’s shit, isn’t it?

Bea – please don’t lol in my comments. Thanks. (Glad you’re enjoying my book though!)

annie.sh said...

This awesome comments thread has saved me vast amounts of time -always suspected I'd hate On The Road and Will Self, and now know I will. Although there is a chunk in the middle of Captain Corelli that I loved at the time; terrible beginning, dreadful end, but a nice passage about death and some war stuff that made me cry.

The worst book I ever read was Louise Bagshawe's Career Girls. I got it free with a magazine and have a secret guilty pleasure penchant for chick lit, but, dear god, it was awful. Every time someone walks into a room, their outfit is described in great detail (even if it interrupts the flow). One of the main characters is called Topaz. When I finished, I actually threw the book across the room in rage.

I am, however, back on to your book, having finished some work ones I had to read. It's wonderful. I keep staying up too late because I can't put it down.


Anonymous said...

I read A Suitable Boy as 3 separate books (it was packaged like that in some places), and it was wonderful.

On the Road was okay, but has been overrated.

Couldn't agree more about Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I thought it was tedious, obvious and frustrating. Couldn't finish it.

Stephen King, Jeffery Archer - you think one is better than the other? Though King's short stories are interesting, and his On Writing is very useful.

I think you could have used a worse paragraph to perhaps outline Archer's awfulness. It grabbed my attention.

Will Self is okay, and I like Irvine Welsh, too, even though I thought I wouldn't.

My worse book, sheesh, I can't remember them. Perhaps Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui. Pretty gratuitous, but not skillful.

anon who is anon correcting anon who is me said...

Worst book!


Ann X Smoker said...

In my English lectures, I've learned what I've always suspected: that good writing is writing that flows, that makes sense, without the unecessary frills.
The worst book for me, only because I couldn't shift beyond the first 2 chapters (I've owned the wretched thing ever since it was published) is Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. I hate that frigging book and I'm not a big fan of his other work.

One Fine Weasel said...

Da Vinci Code. Fucking shite. Even Abi Titmuss's autobiography was better than that.

Mike said...

As someone once said:

"Everyone has a good book in them. Except Dan Brown."