When I wrote the Top 3 Books of 2011, I thought it would be cool to also have a Top 3 Worst Books list. But now that I’m choosing 3 titles, I shy away from the word ‘worst’. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a book where I think: “Now that’s the worst book I’ve ever read.” However, labeling a book ‘worst’ isn’t as bad as being disappointed by a book. There’s nothing quite like having high expectations about a book and then being thoroughly disappointed by it.
I’m not the most critical reader, I love reading, and I enjoy popular culture. I read the classics and canons of literature, but I also enjoy reading anything on the bestseller lists. I can easily read over mistakes, clichéd language or plot holes. When I have a good story in front of me, I’ll dive right in and not let go until the end. But sometimes, the writing will alienate me as a reader and then I’ll start finding faults. That’s when a book disappoints me. So, here are my three most disappointing books of 2011.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
This year I read a lot of books on food and literature (for an essay I wrote), and Chocolat was a disappointment. I’d seen the film version when it came out in 2000 with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, which I liked. So I thought I was in for a treat when I found the book. Only to discover, for the first time ever, that a film was better than the book.
The book didn’t seem to have been edited at all. There were some serious plot holes in the story and clichéd similes that ran throughout the book. I became irritated by the language pretty much from page one, and I started noticing more and more inconsistencies. The magic was not credible enough, the plot made no sense, the theme was badly realized, the characters were flat, and the motivation of the characters was nonexistent. The thing is, the mistakes could have been easily corrected. As I read, I constantly kept on reaching for a pen to comment on the sides of the pages. Perhaps the reason the movie was better than the book was because the screenplay writer, Robert Nelson Jacobs, was able to fix the flaws of the book.
The Land of the Painted Caves by Jean M Auel
This is the sixth book of Auel’s Earth’s Children Series. I bought this book once it was released, ready to plunge into the world of Ayla and Jondalar. The teenager within was happy to read Auel’s latest installment. I had read the first chapter online so I kind of knew what to expect. I sat down for a girly evening at home, opened the book, skipped to the second chapter and the disappointment began.
First of all, what’s up with writers creating names using the combination names of heroes and heroines of the previous books in the series? Take Twilight for example, and the cringe-worthy name of Renesmee. Perhaps Auel read that and thought it a fabulous idea to call Ayla and Jondalar’s daughter, yes a daughter and not a son, Jonyla… really?
I read and read and before I knew it, I’d finished the book and nothing had happened. Ayla, Jondalar and Ayla’s mentor, the Doni woman, went on a trip to visit the painted caves of Europe. In between their trek through prehistoric Europe, are long descriptions of Ayla’s Neolithic cuisine, which are pretty entertaining because you can see just how much Auel spent on research. But to what end? It was terribly discouraging to have spent three days reading a plot-less book. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with a plot less novel, but all of the other Children of Earth series had page turning plotlines.
Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende
One of my favorite authors is the Chilean writer Isabel Allende and I’ve read all her books. Her prose is simple yet powerful and all her characters are so well fleshed out that you’d think she was writing about actual people. After her daughter Paula died and she wrote a chilling biography of how it affected her, Allende focused much more on writing for the main stream, her books were still good but they missed what in Spanish would be called ‘duende’ (roughly translated as elf). They missed the spark that was present in The House of Spirits and Of Love and Shadows. Then, two years ago, she published The Island Under the Sea. It was great and the spark returned.
It was, therefore, with enthusiasm, that I looked forward to Maya’s Notebook. But something strange happened. Although I went through the book quickly, when I finished, I shrugged my shoulders and placed it on the bookshelf feeling like I was missing something. It might have been that the troubled American teenager, Maya, she writes about, didn’t quite convince me as a teenager; or it might have been that after the previous book, I was expecting something else. It might have even been that I was on holiday in Spain when I read it and had to force myself to put the book down to visit the Alhambra; whatever the reason, it just felt like an OK read with some funny moments such as when Maya names her dog Fakin (a bastardization of F#cking Dog). It didn’t strike a deeper chord like I expected it to.
So, those where my disappointing reads for 2011, on to the 2012 reading list.