I recently reread a memoir that had a subject pretty similar to mine. And I hated it. The premise was good. Some parts of it were super interesting. But the author couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be a journalist or a memoirist. To make things worse, she did something that some of my favorite journalists do (*ahem* Natalie Angier*ahem*), which is to show off their vocabulary until the sentences are hideously overwrought and E. B. White turns in his grave.

“I drank Scotch, my father’s favorite tipple in his sunset years”

Who fucking says “tipple” anymore? And his “sunset years”?? Please. What did he look like/smell like/sound like as he drank Scotch as an old man? Was he on a yacht in Florida or a shabby nursing home in Wyoming? Help me out here.

There’s another book that I read that was much lauded and about one of the topics I write about. And it was boring as fuck. The narrator was whiny, and she thought no one else had ever written about said subject. And she was published in the New Yorker. Feh.

But I think it is good to articulate why we hate books that try to do what we are trying to do but fail for one reason or another. Maybe it helps us avoid pitfalls. Maybe it helps us rethink structure. Maybe it challenges us to come up with criticisms outside our own inherent jealousies.

What’s your anti-book?

10 responses to “Anti-Books

  1. I love this question, especially since I just went book-shopping and left the store disappointed by a lot of what I’d found. One of my pet peeves is books that begin with the narrator in a state of annoyance. God, start at any point on the emotional register but this one.

    But that wasn’t really what you asked. I do have a few anti-books (suspense with erotic content), and I find they usually run too close to the surface where the characters are concerned, or else the writing is brusque and uninteresting. Add annoyance at the beginning and I’m genuinely pissed off at the waste of a good premise.

  2. If I weren’t so old (or maybe it’s “so ADD”), perhaps I could remember the title of my favourite-anti-books. But I can’t even remember the titles of more than a few of my favourite books. I can remember the name of (some) of the authors though.

    Anyway, I read this book recently that was anti. I read mystery books, because I love plot, and because that’s such a nice alternative to critical theory and [name of specific esoteric and jargonny field in which I work redacted]. But, I read this book about a geologist chick who was taking a white water rafting trip with her brand new husband, his born-again son, and some creep who ended up getting murdered. it was really anti. I burned it. Yeah, I burn books.

    But, let’s not be anti right now. I am in the final hours of reviewing the copy-edited pages of my upcoming (nonfiction) book. i’ve got one or two more captions to go through, a few page numbers to locate, and a text box to re-jig. My copy-editor loves me, because I love her. And I love her because she reminds me of Indy.

  3. oh, and I am so old I don’t even know how to read your posts properly any more (though not too old to beat anyone on this blog’s sorry back side in a head-to-head uphill mountain bike race. take note).

    You were making reference to anti-books in the sense of trying-to-do-what-I-do and making what I consider to be a hash of it. right? do my own books count?

  4. Great question.
    I’m not sure if I’d consider what I’m reading now an anti-book but what I’ve discovered I think is quite interesting, at least to me it is.

    The book, THE CITY AT WORLDS END by Edmond Hamilton, was published in 1951. It’s about a whole town thrust one million years ahead in the world’s future. Okay, stop laughing, it was free and I like SF once in a while. Anyway, one of the chapters is titled, “Under the Dome” and there are very Chewbacca like characters. My point…because the book is over 60 years old I am thinking that it would not be too much of a reach to think that King and Lucas might have been influenced by Hamilton and his writings. I’m half way through the book and a bit turned off, well more than a bit, I’m really turned off by the author’s depiction of women as the weaker sex, (it was the 50’s y’all), but fascinated because I’m thinking that some very successful contemporary SF writers may have been influenced by this guy. As a member of the same generation as the rich and famous I named, it would have been one of those books a young male SF reader would have inhaled.The parallels are stunning.
    As a young female SF reader I inhaled Seventeen Magazine and then Cosmo. At the time that was all the unbelievable SF I could handle.

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