“Most bad books get that way because their authors are engaged in trying to justify themselves. If a vain author is an alcoholic, then the most sympathetically portrayed character in his book will be an alcoholic. This sort of thing is very boring for outsiders.” – Stephen Vizinczey
Last week, I discussed my yearly reading challenge, which I keep track of via Goodreads. At the end of the year I always like to take some time to review what “literature” (scare quotes definitely required for some of these) I’ve consumed. I’m constantly surprised to find that I’ve forgotten large numbers of the titles, which might be understandable given how many books I read in any given year. The ones I forget generally fall into what I call a ‘meh’ category – fine, perhaps enjoyable at the time, but with no lingering impact on my memory or imagination. The ones that stand out tend to be really, really good – hello, The Drowning Girl, I’m looking in your direction – or phenomenally, book throwing bad. This week, it’s bad books. We’ll keep the good ones until the end.
It seems useful to pause for a moment and consider what I mean when I say “bad.” There’s bad that’s enjoyable. Into this category I’d slot Showgirls, Zombie Strippers, the oeuvre of V.C. Andrews, Lifetime Movies of the “threatened mothers and teenaged girls” variety, Dean Koontz’s Phantoms, which I read for the fourth time last year, and When Ghosts Attack.
Then there’s bad that of the teeth grinding awful, embarrassment by proxy flavor. Here we’d find Lifetime Movies that take themselves too seriously (really, Lizzie Borden Took an Axe?), Razor Blade Smile, and every Anita Blake book written after Blue Moon. Please just stop Laurell K. Hamilton. You’re killing me. For our purposes here, my “bad” books fall into this category based on a variety of sins.
I certainly do not cast aspersions on anyone who enjoys “bad” literature, TV, or movies. I can’t, not when my reading history is available for public scrutiny and the entire editorial staff is aware that I once called for canonization of the dude who uploads Lifetime Movie torrents to Pirate Bay. I will, however, side eye anyone who seeks to convince me that “bad” is actually “good” in an athletic and energetic attempt to make themselves feel better about the low-browness of the pop culture they enjoy. It’s OK, man. Really. Just embrace it.
Art Geeks and Prom Queens by Alyson Noel
I have a certain fondness for teen YA novels, something I know many of P-Mag’s readers share. There are certain tropes that are common to the genre and are to be expected in a book whose title references “Prom Queens.” We will find bitchy teenaged girls who eat each other’s souls, socially, political rivalries based on heteronormative ideas of “hotness,” and the artsy kids are always misunderstood outcasts. What an entry in this genre shouldn’t be is a barely disguised adaptation of the movie Mean Girls that follows the exact same story arc, hits all the same big scenes, and cribs the language of the script. Mean Girls was groundbreaking in the way it examined how easily Cady became Regina George when she had the chance and the hollowness that victory brought her. Very few YA novels involve the main character making the crossover into the privileged popular circle for reals – many center around someone being assumed into the popular circle later to discover it’s some sort of trick or con.
Art Geeks shamelessly reproduces Mean Girls without adding anything at all to the narrative, except to make Cady Rio really, really beautiful (her mom is a famous model instead of an academic) with a pixie cut. Rio makes friends with the arty kids, gets a tour of the lunchroom, gets to go shopping with the super popular girls, checks out the very popular girl’s bedroom, lusts after the unavailable guy she can’t have, becomes more popular than the reigning Queen Bee, and gets taken down after learning a very important lesson, the specifics of which I don’t recall and don’t care to look up. Also, sometimes people do coke, which is how we know this book is edgy and real and not at all about Mean Girls because the worst thing they consumed in the movie was shooters.
Ten by Gretchen McNeil
In a similar vein, where Art Geeks goes for the high school queen bee story, Ten takes on the teen slasher genre with about as much success. There is literally nothing new here – every single scene has been shot before, every herring has been painted red before, the people who make it out alive are the ones you expect to. If you’ve already read Christie’s And Then There Were None (which, hint, hint, is also known by the title Ten Little Indians), just recast that entire plot in your head with the kids you went to high school with. Just make them richer. If you are very rich, make them poorer. If you’re unable to guess the killer it’s probably because you’ve never seen April Fool’s Day, Harper’s Island, And Then There Were None, Happy Birthday to Me, I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream, Urban Legend, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Sorority Row, or I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer.
Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich
Ladies, just remember, no one will really love you until you lose all that weight. Afterwards, you’re honored to have all your fine qualities recognized by a hostile jerk of a boyfriend who couldn’t see past your unsightly fat to the great woman you were all along. Not discussed in the book: don’t ever regain that weight, because shallow assholes will dump you.
One suspects that Stephanie’s much more famous and less gross aunt, Janet, of the charming Stephanie Plum series, had something to do with this drivel getting published.
The Never List by Koethi Zan
When I finished this book last year, I immediately knew it was going on my “worst books read” list, because it is just terrible. I suppose that is a fairly subjective review – one man’s terrible is another man’s mediocre after all – but I’m not troubled by that at all. The characters are all one-dimensional cardboard, the plot sacrifices any semblance of believability for increasingly ridiculous plot twists, and the big reveal is so deeply unsurprising my cats probably could have called it out. I also instinctively dislike books in which the ending is an obvious set up for a completely unneeded sequel.