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Old 11-13-2009, 09:06 AM
Mama Zappa is offline
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Worst popular books


(Guess this could go either in IMHO or CS, but since it deals with "literature"... here it is).

A friend posted on her Facebook page that her book club is agreed, Twilight is the worst thing they've ever read.

I replied that maybe it was the worst they'd read as a group, but surely there were worse ones out there!

So the challenge: Name books that were / are popular, read by a lot of people, most well-read people would have at least *heard of* them even if they didn't read them... but you think are lousy.

I know many folks will say the Harry Potter series (which I don't agree with but that's cool). Others?
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:08 AM
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I'm going with Twilight, since I've actually read the series, and I'm not going to vote for anything I haven't read.

It's probably not the worst thing I've ever read, but it's definitely the worst extremely popular thing I've read.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:15 AM
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The Bridges of Madison County.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:19 AM
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Well, I think Big Stone Gap was pretty popular, but it was so bad it made me angry.

The Kite Runner was huge, but I thought pretty bad.* Didn't get angry, though.







* I can get specific, but it'd involve spoilers.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:19 AM
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This is reaching way back, but Jonathan Livingston Seagull. How that book got onto, and remained on, the Best Seller List astonishes me. Some people just like their philosophy and mysticism in pre-digested form, I guess

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonatha...gstone_seagull
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:20 AM
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My pick for the worst popular book is The Notebook. It was so bad, I couldn't even finish it. And it's not a very long book, so I wouldn't have even wasted that much time reading it. I ended up giving to a friend. I did warn her, but she wanted it anyway. I felt kind of bad about it, though.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:23 AM
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Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Idiot plot with an idiot protagonist.

I agree that Jonathan Livingston Seagull was awful.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:23 AM
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I know it's a cliché to say it, but The Da Vinci Code really is a dreadful piece of writing. Its chief fault is the embarrassingly clunky use of dialogue as exposition.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:26 AM
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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Probably not as well known as the others mentioned, but it was a best-seller with favorable mainstream reviews. The writing is slightly better than Twilight but it has a cockamamie premise (Count Dracula is searching for someone to catalog his library) and the story is full of silly coincidences and contrivances.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:30 AM
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I just remembered one of the worst ones I read, years ago: "The Clan of the Cave Bear".

A very interesting premise... by a hack writer who used such phrases as "the idea that sex led to babies was inconceivable". ::::cringe::::

And the sequel (which I borrowed from a friend for reasons that still escape me) which veered into bodice-ripper / soft-core porn territory.

There are several hours I'll never get back.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:31 AM
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The DaVinci Code belongs in there, too!

eta: what Colophon said.

Last edited by Labdad; 11-13-2009 at 09:32 AM. Reason: slow on the "submit" trigger!
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:34 AM
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I know many folks will say the Harry Potter series (which I don't agree with but that's cool). Others?
Well they are disqualified because Stephen King says they are good and even if he didn't write so many books he reviews thousands every year.

The worst well known book I have read is Mein Kampf. I bought it as a book prize for topping some subject in high school. I imagine, since the prizes were awarded by a local politician, that I thought picking stupid books was "cool" because every prize I bought was equally dumb.

After awards night I made several attempts to read it but all were futile. It was garbage.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:41 AM
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There's nothing wrong with the Harry Potter books! They aren't for everyone, true - they are looooong and complex and stuffed with the HP mythology, but even if you can't handle one of those doorstops yourself, that doesn't mean they are the "worst popular books"... Stephen King cranked out a whole lot of garbage while high as a kite in past years, even he admits it. I quit reading his stuff after The Tommyknockers...I vote for anything by Danielle Steele and 99% of chick-lit books. I know they are popular sex n' shopping fantasy-wanking for the typical female, but I'm not the typical female!
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:48 AM
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I just remembered one of the worst ones I read, years ago: "The Clan of the Cave Bear".

A very interesting premise... by a hack writer who used such phrases as "the idea that sex led to babies was inconceivable". ::::cringe::::

And the sequel (which I borrowed from a friend for reasons that still escape me) which veered into bodice-ripper / soft-core porn territory.

There are several hours I'll never get back.
Yeah, those got really bad fast. The first one was....interesting....then downhill fast.

I couldn't get through Da Vinci Code. Made me too angry.

And, oh my God, how did Robert Ludlum ever sell a book? The Bourne Identity is HORRIFICALLY bad.

On the other hand, I thought the first Twilight book was very readable for teen lit. I don't know why I liked it - the writing was atrocious - but somehow I read the whole thing and felt the guilty pleasure of a wasted enjoyable read. People who think Twilight is the worst thing they've ever read really haven't explored the depths of badly written popular fiction.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:48 AM
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Anything by L. Ron Hubbard published after his death (might not fit the bill because sales where inlfated by $cientologists).

The Left Behind books.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:52 AM
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And the sequel (which I borrowed from a friend for reasons that still escape me) which veered into bodice-ripper / soft-core porn territory.
I would have expected that book to be set before the invention of the bodice.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:54 AM
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Mein Kampf was never really popular. It's well known, but not often read, and it's never been well-liked.

For fiction, I don't think there can be anything worse than Twilight out there for something which has attained popular success.

For non-fiction, I would cite The Secret, although there's a laundry list of other popular "spiritual," type garbage that's just as bad.

I suppose Ann Coulter's books deserve a mention too.

Last edited by Diogenes the Cynic; 11-13-2009 at 09:56 AM.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:58 AM
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Tom Clancy. Clive Cussler. Dan Brown. They all started getting repetitive and derivative. Frankly, I got bored.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:59 AM
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Mein Kampf was never really popular. It's well known, but not often read, and it's never been well-liked.

<...>

I suppose Ann Coulter's books deserve a mention too.
You're being redundant now.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:59 AM
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There's nothing wrong with the Harry Potter books! They aren't for everyone, true - they are looooong and complex and stuffed with the HP mythology, but even if you can't handle one of those doorstops yourself, that doesn't mean they are the "worst popular books"...
Not HP7. No, the seventh book was an unmitigated pile of incredible garbage, written by a writer with no clear concept of plot or even understanding what coherency might vaguely sound like. It was a giant sequence of deus ex machina, irrelevancies, broken characterization, and pulling completely new plot elements out of her ass with no warning and usually for no purpose.

It sucked as badly as the first few were charming and well-written.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:00 AM
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Yeah, those got really bad fast. The first one was....interesting....then downhill fast.

I couldn't get through Da Vinci Code. Made me too angry.

And, oh my God, how did Robert Ludlum ever sell a book? The Bourne Identity is HORRIFICALLY bad.

On the other hand, I thought the first Twilight book was very readable for teen lit. I don't know why I liked it - the writing was atrocious - but somehow I read the whole thing and felt the guilty pleasure of a wasted enjoyable read. People who think Twilight is the worst thing they've ever read really haven't explored the depths of badly written popular fiction.
I know, I stayed up all night reading it and hated every minute. Can't explain it. Think it's a horrible thing for young girls to read, though.

I'd vote Jonathan Livingston Seagull as well.

ETA - I almost forgot Hope for the Flowers! Cute illustrations, but saaaaaaappppppy. Everybody used to have a copy of that one.

Last edited by Zsofia; 11-13-2009 at 10:01 AM.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:03 AM
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Anything by L. Ron Hubbard published after his death (might not fit the bill because sales where inlfated by $cientologists).
You only really need the first five words of that sentence to be accurate. I've tried not to let my dislike of the man's actions or those of his organization influence me in my evaluation, but I really fdo think that if the man had died before publishing Scientology, I'd still hate his works.

Besides which, the only reason Battlefield Earth sold so many was because of his Tactical Buying Squad. Later on people read them because they were ubiquitous. But i don't think even that helped with his Mission: Earth "dekalogy"
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:05 AM
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There's nothing wrong with the Harry Potter books! They aren't for everyone, true - they are looooong and complex
They're long and complex? No offence, but you need to expand your library.

(PS It's great that the HP books inspired a whole generation to get excited about books, it's just a shame they weren't a bit better.)

PPS My nomination for the OP would probably be Dickens. He wrote amazing sentences, great paragraphs, intense chapters, but lousy books.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:06 AM
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I actually had The Satanic Diaries out from the library when the fatwa was declared. I had already discarded it as being one of the worst reads I could recall.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:06 AM
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Mein Kampf was never really popular. It's well known, but not often read, and it's never been well-liked.
Oh, it was massively popular -- in Nazi Germany. If you had any Nazi friends, it was a good idea to buy a copy and leave it in a prominent place. And if you were a Nazi, then you definitely would buy a copy. I doubt it was read all that often, but the sales made Hitler wealthy.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:11 AM
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It was displayed in households as a patriotic symbol, but even then hardly anyone actually read it. It's all but unreadable.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:13 AM
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I actually had The Satanic Diaries out from the library when the fatwa was declared. I had already discarded it as being one of the worst reads I could recall.
The Satanic Verses, maybe?
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:14 AM
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Running with Scissors -- I remember tons of hype around that book when it first came out and when the movie premiered. I finally got around reading it this year.. .and it is awful! Burroughs basically just tears apart everyone he ever knew as a child, and gives them few moments of humanity. Everyone's dirty, stupid, perverted, and selfish, while Augusten looks down his nose at them all. Plus, his writing style is just terrible and better suited for TMZ than literature.

Alice Hoffman's Here on Earth is one of the worst books I've ever read that tries to pass itself off as real literature. I don't know how popular it was, but it did make Oprah's reading list. The novel is a modern adaptation of Wuthering Heights, but not one character has a quarter of the intensity of Bronte's characters. They were all poorly contrived, shoehorned into certain situations to fit the classic's mold, all the while the lead villain was ridiculously awful and only needed a Snidely Whiplash mustache to twirl to complete the picture.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:16 AM
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I'm going to go with Catcher in the Rye. We get it - he's a whiny brat with an over-developed sense of entitlement.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:20 AM
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" I had already discarded it as being one of the worst reads I could recall. "

It must have been! Apparently you didn't get past the first words of the title. :-Þ
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:37 AM
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Running with Scissors -- I remember tons of hype around that book when it first came out and when the movie premiered. I finally got around reading it this year.. .and it is awful! Burroughs basically just tears apart everyone he ever knew as a child, and gives them few moments of humanity. Everyone's dirty, stupid, perverted, and selfish, while Augusten looks down his nose at them all. Plus, his writing style is just terrible and better suited for TMZ than literature.
Oh, yeah, I hated it. I don't care if anyone's all weird, but neither are you necessarily clever or interesting because you're weird.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:45 AM
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Anything by Dean Koontz.

Stephen King is the WalMart of Horror literature and Dean Koontz is the Pamida.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:51 AM
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I've never read crap by Coulter, Hubbard or some of the other morons mentioned above.

Of the authors I have read Meyers and Brown are quite bad, but Chrichten was the king of terrible writing. I'm amazed his junk ever saw the light of day.

I note that I never finished any book by these people. I have only read parts.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:52 AM
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My feelings are hurt. I thought Jonathan Livingston Seagull was the deepest, most thought provoking book I ever read. When I was eight. The Notebook was even worse, though.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:59 AM
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High Fidelity. I got about a third of the way through and I was so disgusted that I just left it on the train.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:59 AM
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IA very interesting premise... by a hack writer who used such phrases as "the idea that sex led to babies was inconceivable". ::::cringe::::
I think that word does mean what she thinks it means.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:13 AM
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I actually had The Satanic Diaries out from the library when the fatwa was declared. I had already discarded it as being one of the worst reads I could recall.
Wow. Jokes about naming error aside, I thought it was amazing. Rushdie has a rather opaque and dense style, and it's not to everyone's taste, but he is definitely literate (and IMO an amazing prose artist. Midnight's Children is one of my top 5 books).
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:19 AM
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Practically every book by John Grisham, as far as I'm concerned. He's a dreadfully dull writer, and his plots are idiotic. "Pelican Brief" is probably the worst of the bunch.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:30 AM
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I just remembered one of the worst ones I read, years ago: "The Clan of the Cave Bear".

A very interesting premise... by a hack writer who used such phrases as "the idea that sex led to babies was inconceivable". ::::cringe::::
Personally I liked Clan of the Cave Bear or parts of it at least, but its sequels should have gotten the author deported to Siberia regardless of where she was born. Ayla stopped just short of using bamboo stalks, mammoth tusks and bison hide to build a sewage treatment plant. (I stopped reading by the third book but I think that's one of the series that the author just stopped writing halfway through as well.)

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Practically every book by John Grisham, as far as I'm concerned. He's a dreadfully dull writer, and his plots are idiotic. "Pelican Brief" is probably the worst of the bunch.
Personally I liked A Time to Kill, The Firm and The Client as "before you doze off" entertainment reading (though Grisham himself has compared TIME to To Kill a Mockingbird which may be true in plot but not at all in quality). Unfortunately after those he became so cookie cutter plots and cardboard characters that you could literally read the opening chapter and tell pretty much every twist and turn it was going to take other than the ones that were completely unnecessary and almost non-sequitur. (For example: in The Rainmaker I'm convinced he inserted a plot he dusted off from something else- the one about the abused girl the character falls in love with and her trials and tribulations and arrest- because it just doesn't fit with the rest of the book.)

Some of my least favorite reads- and with some I admit I kept reading the series even when I stopped liking it-

First Man in Rome and its many sequels were great in concept as well but hack written (imho). They were incredibly well researched- I bought a couple of them just strictly for the notes and glossaries at the end- but the dialogue especially was dreadful with a big helping of "Men don't talk like that!" (True it's ancient Rome but even then I doubt people talked that flowery or whatever.) I never read The Thornbirds or Tim so I don't know if McCullough's always a hack or was good but was just slumming with this series.


And of course there's a special spot in this thread and in hell for Anne "I will not be edited because it insults by Dickensian principals" Rice and her 7,392 "Beautiful bisexual European becomes a vampire and spends the next hundreds or thousands of years thinking up new ways to whine about it" books. Aside from the fact that ultimately all of her characters sound like Lestat there's the fact that even in her best books (the earlier the better- Interview and Vampire Lestat weren't bad) the woman can spend 8 pages describing a tree when all she really needs to let you know is that there's a big tree with lots of moss there.

Ayn Rand- it has nothing to do with her philosophy- she's simply a dreadful novelist. Perhaps it had more to do with English not being her first language, but I can barely read anything she writes. I think she included the sex scenes strictly for press and to get people to read past the first few pages.

As classics go, Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel has some of the most beautiful passages and phrases I've ever read. Unfortunately they're black pearls in a mound of rotting oysters. Another "would you please get on with the damned story!" style writer who can spend 35 pages telling what other writers describe perfectly well in 5.

The absolute worst bestseller I have read in years was The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. It's about- sort of- Brigham Young's apostate wife Ann Eliza who divorced him, and also a modern day boy from a polygamous cult in Arizona, and it alternates their stories- interesting in principal but Shiatsu Jesus was it awful.
I should admit a bias: Brigham Young was once a biographical obsession of mine and I read everything about him I could find at the library and in bookstores and I knew all about Ann Eliza and to most people she's pretty obscure, but it wasn't so much the fact he changed history as he changed it for the much more boring and left out all the most interesting parts of her story. He rewrites her memoir (Wife Number 19) to include graphic sex scenes in romance novel prose- something a woman writing in 1877 would not have done in a memoir for mass marketing (I'm not even sure she legally could have) and then includes these long neverending go-nowhere florid purple prose inserts from other characters all of whom talk exactly the same. My personal favorite (or least favorite) was a deposition written by Ann Eliza's brother for her divorce trial in which he spends 30 pages describing sunsets and how the cat slept on his chest as he made this major life decision and how he heard his baby girl crying and blah blah blah as he awakened spiritually and blah blah yawn and again- THIS IS A DIVORCE TRIAL DEPOSITION! And then the far more interesting storyline- the modern day one- he lets hang and never fleshes out the characters at all.
Anyway, horrible novel, but what kills me is that on Amazon.com it gets 4 stars and has 100 glowing reviews. I am a wordy writer- it's invariably the biggest criticism of my writing- yet Thomas Wolfe makes me look like a Hallmark card writer in terms of brevity while David Ebershoff makes Tom Wolfe look like someone who writes Jeopardy questions. The American reader's attention span just isn't long enough for me to be convinced that 100 people wrote in to praise this book in such glowing terms when not only is the writing floridly horrible but there are plotholes you could drive the Mormon Battallion through and no two of the dozen or so characters who write in the first person sound different from each other. I'm convinced the writer- a creative writing professor- called in favors from all friends to give it glowing reviews.

Last edited by Sampiro; 11-13-2009 at 11:35 AM.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:35 AM
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Some of the books listed above you might not like, but the worst? Catcher in the Rye is really worse than the following?

The Shack.
Memoirs of a Geisha.
Eat Pray Love.

If I had to pick only one of the above, I couldn't.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:41 AM
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The Celestine Prophecy is probably the worst thing I've had the misfortune of slogging through. James Redfield was the Dan Brown of the early 1990s, but for whatever reason did quite end up reaching Dan Brown's level of "success".

I'll 2nd (3rd or 4th) Tom Clancy, starting with whichever book it was that ended with a Japanese pilot landing a 747 into the US Capitol.

Last edited by fiddlesticks; 11-13-2009 at 11:42 AM. Reason: tags
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:45 AM
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I just remembered one of the worst ones I read, years ago: "The Clan of the Cave Bear".

A very interesting premise... by a hack writer ...
My mother & I read The Clan of the Cave Bear together. I must have been about 18. We both liked it. Then we both struggled through Valley of the Horses and completely gave up on the "throbbing members" of The Mammoth Hunters. Ugh.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:49 AM
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The Celestine Prophecy is probably the worst thing I've had the misfortune of slogging through. James Redfield was the Dan Brown of the early 1990s, but for whatever reason did quite end up reaching Dan Brown's level of "success".
I'm trying to figure out if Carlos Castaneda continues this sequence back to the 70s or if he'd be more of a spiritual predessor of "The Secret" instead.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:53 AM
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The Celestine Prophecy is probably the worst thing I've had the misfortune of slogging through. James Redfield was the Dan Brown of the early 1990s, but for whatever reason did quite end up reaching Dan Brown's level of "success".
Damn ain't that the truth. I read it because friends who worked in public libraries and bookstores said they couldn't keep it on the shelves. Absolute dreck; a bright 7th grader who'd seen a couple of New Age documentaries and a travelogue about Indians could have done better. have no idea what the man's secret was to selling that many copies of crap but I want to consult with him if I ever decide to sell a book.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:56 AM
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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Probably not as well known as the others mentioned, but it was a best-seller with favorable mainstream reviews. The writing is slightly better than Twilight but it has a cockamamie premise (Count Dracula is searching for someone to catalog his library) and the story is full of silly coincidences and contrivances.
I've managed to avoid Dan Brown & Bridges of Madison County. Excerpts & opinions from people I trust warned me away. But I actually read Kostova's tripe--hey, it had a nice cover. It was a trade paperback.

Kostova was trying to impress us with her well-traveled, educated background. But she can't write. A big "surprise" was telegraphed. And the introduction referred to a fictional terrorist event that supposedly displayed the inability of Christians & Muslims to ever get along. However--the plot showed Christians & Muslims cooperating.

Pompous crap.
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Old 11-13-2009, 11:57 AM
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I didn't think Clan of the Cave Bear was the worst, but the "ignorant caveman" thing is laid on way too thick. Is there anything the Clan can do that Ayla can't do better?

She's a better hunter, a better medicine woman, better with animals, basically figures out how reproduction works by observation, and so on.

Reading it, at times I wondered how the Clan and their race managed to survive for as long as they did. Yeah, they knew a lot of stuff, but they seemed mostly incapable of learning new things. Which begs the question, how did they learn anything they knew how to do in the first place?
  #47  
Old 11-13-2009, 12:21 PM
Stealth Potato is offline
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Originally Posted by StoutHearted View Post
Running with Scissors -- I remember tons of hype around that book when it first came out and when the movie premiered. I finally got around reading it this year.. .and it is awful! Burroughs basically just tears apart everyone he ever knew as a child, and gives them few moments of humanity. Everyone's dirty, stupid, perverted, and selfish, while Augusten looks down his nose at them all. Plus, his writing style is just terrible and better suited for TMZ than literature.
This had me really confused for a while, because I thought you were addressing without quotation a book mentioned by Running with Scissors. Then I looked through the thread and realized that Running with Scissors had not posted. About that time it dawned on me that there might be an actual book titled Running with Scissors...
  #48  
Old 11-13-2009, 12:24 PM
Dung Beetle's Avatar
Dung Beetle is offline
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Throwing in another vote for Anne Rice. Also, Sampiro, check your PMs!
  #49  
Old 11-13-2009, 12:25 PM
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If you think the book Running With Scissors is bad, try the movie.
On second thought......Don't.
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  #50  
Old 11-13-2009, 12:25 PM
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The Satanic Verses, maybe?
D'oh!
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