Every Now and Then… Read a Bad Book

On purpose. I mean, really, who was I kidding with that last one? Even if that Dracula sequel didn’t qualify as good junk food reading, I was going to grind that mother out. Did I pick it up out of morbid curiosity? Not entirely. I can’t even say I read it out of a masochistic urge. It was simply a practice I describe to other people as cleansing the palate.

Because I’ve had it too good, maybe. A solid series of books where the worst of them is still decent… it’s too easy to take quality for granted. I honestly think throwing a stinker in there will heighten my sensitivity to the quality work, raise my appreciation.

But I have to admit that “cleansing the palate” isn’t the right phrase. Dracula the Un-Dead wasn’t a neutralizing taste so much as a mouthful of dirty pennies.

Here’s a more relatable idea: have you ever read lousy literature that raised your spirits with the thought, “Gosh, does this mean I can publish something, too?” And that inspiration doesn’t last long because what quickly follows, you know, is the realization that it also means you live in a world where textual composte can pass for art. How good do you feel now?

Sometimes I like that complicated feeling there, but for me it’s about the first thing I mentioned. It’s the noxious tang of a bad book, a pouch of smelling salts that starts me back awake when strings of goodness threaten to lull me under.


5 thoughts on “Every Now and Then… Read a Bad Book

  1. Interesting post…
    Definately an unsatisfying feeling when you realise how much junk gets published as literature. Soul crushing.
    I don’t think of low-quality literature as palate cleansers so much, I think they’re hard work but often pay off in terms of learning what NOT to do.
    and they’re often quite funny, because while you’re inevitably disappointed by what passes for quality, you’re also shocked by how ridiculous the people who accept this junk are.


  2. I never thought of this before, but it’s so true. “A mouthful of dirty pennies” is the best phrase!

  3. This is certainly a very good point to discuss. The thing is: what makes a book “good” or “bad” and who gets to call it either? You can take current divisive books like “twilight” or any Dan Brown really, or even “the time traveler’s wife” and you’ll find people who hate them as much as people who praise them to the heavens.

    I for one disliked “the lovely bones” and people look at me like I’m crazy! At the end of the day, as corny as it sounds: one man’s garbage is another’s treasure.

  4. @ littlegirlwithabigpen: You bring up an important point. From a writer’s perspective, lousy books can be helpful teaching tools. But when they become bestsellers? One hopes, then, that aspiring writers can tell the difference between good writing and salable writing, and when the twain meet.

    @ Kimberly: Thanks!

    @ Nate: That’s a great discussion that every so often results in bloodshed. I think it’s worth a future post.

  5. You are so right. When I was the book editor of the Plain Dealer, I got 400+ books a week, and you can’t imagine how bad some were.

    I would sift through the stacks thinking, “I can’t believe that got published. I could do better than that.” And the experience helped to give me the confidence to write my first novel.

    So I’m with you on this one. Thanks for much for making a good point you rarely hear on blogs.

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