Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Nothing Nice to Say

You know that old adage, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all"? For blogging purposes, I’ve decided to reinterpret that as, “If you have nothing nice to say about a few books, say it all in a single post to get the negativity over and done with at one time”. I’m just coming off of an unlucky streak of having read a few books in a row that, at best, fell short of my expectations and, at worst, really annoyed me. Here are the culprits:

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine was the worst offender of the bunch. It actually prompted me to go into uncharted territory and give it a meager one star rating on Goodreads. This book was a complete impulse purchase for me. I hadn’t heard anything about it until I saw it on the bookstore shelf one day and was amused by its premise: A recent college grad, struggling with her job, her boyfriend, and life in general, has an “Aha!” moment while reading the classic Treasure Island and decides that she needs to start living her life according to the adventurous ideals that Robert Louis Stevenson sets out for his characters. It sounded like a fun spoof and the narrator promised to be one of those unlikeable heroines who’s actually a little bit lovable in the way that she bungles everything she touches. I can now safely say that this was not the case. It’s definitely a satire, but one without much actual humor, and the protagonist was purely unlikeable and extremely annoying. I found it to be an extremely depressing read, not because of any tragic subject matter, but because of its bleak and boring point of view.

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma was another book that I had high hopes for based on the premise alone. A memoir, it’s about a reading streak that the author and her father start when she’s a young girl, when they set the goal of reading aloud together for 100 nights. They meet that goal and continue on, then continue on some more, and finally end their streak by reading together one last time the day the author leaves for college. The idea of the reading streak is very sweet and I wanted to like it solely based on that, but I felt like the author didn't connect the reading theme to the rest of her life as strongly as she could have. Anecdotes about the quirky ways she and her father found time to squeeze in reading (in a parking lot after a late night play rehearsal, or just before leaving for the prom) didn’t provide enough of a narrative arc to tie the book together, making the various chapters feel only loosely connected and only vaguely interesting.

And finally, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever is a short story collection by Justin Taylor that garnered a fair amount of critical praise. A lot of the writing was quite good. Some of the stories, when taken individually, had the feeling of something that you might read in a writing workshop, written by the best student in the class. That probably sounds like the most backhanded of compliments, but I actually did think it added a nice quality to some of the pieces. Where the real problem lay was in the fact that I didn’t find much meaning in the characters or in the themes the stories explore, and was left feeling pretty disinterested by the time I got through the collection.

Since I don't want to be the only Negative Nellie today, tell me, have you been disappointed by any books lately?


  1. I've been stuck in a Joyce Carol Oates book (can you believe it?!) longer than I care to mention. I may have to put it back on the shelf and try again later. It's too depressing...even for me.

  2. What bad luck! I have had incredibly good luck recently and haven't really had any stinkers, thankfully. I've been tempted by The Reading Promise several times, but have resisted - glad to hear I'm really not missing out on anything.



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