Do bad books exist?

The BookDepository

If you had asked me that question a few years ago then I would have immediately reeled off a list of several bad books. I was under the impression that the world was piled high with them and that good ones were hard to find.

Since I discovered blogging my attitude has slowly changed.

I am finding it easier to discover books that I enjoy reading, but I am also beginning to think that there is no such thing as a bad book. Whenever I come across a book that I hate, I discover a whole army of people who love it. I can’t think of a single book that hasn’t had at least one person stepping up to defend it. We all have a very different taste in books and so it makes sense that one person’s reject is another person’s gem.

Publishers receive thousands of manuscripts each year and only publish a select few.

Surely any book that is chosen to be published is the cream of the crop? Some people prefer the ordinary, others the bizarre – I prefer a mixture of the two!

Family Legacy

Even all those unpublished manuscripts must have some merit, even if it is just to bring joy to the families of the author. My Granny had a short story published a while ago. I don’t normally enjoy short stories, but I love hers – simply for the fact that her personality shines through. I think it is fantastic for a family to have a legacy that will last for years after that person has died.

Guilt free negative reviews?

Thinking about books in this way also makes me feel less guilty about writing negative reviews. There is no such thing as a bad book – I’m simply not the target audience for a the specific one.

Authors should also be comforted by this notion. They should stop worrying about trying to find hundreds of people to read their book and concentrate on finding a handful of people who are the perfect match for it. They should also stop worrying about bad reviews – all this means is that their book has slipped into the hands of someone who isn’t right for it.

What do you think?

Are some books genuinely bad, or do all books have some merit?

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  1. Aishwarya says:

    As I grow older (I’m not sure I’m old enough to be allowed to say that yet!) I am finding it harder to genuinely dislike books. One thing that studying English gave me was the ability to find some angle from which a book could be interesting, if not enjoyable.

    But there are bad books out there. I’ve read (and reviewed) books for which I’ve struggled to find a single positive thing to say about them however hard I tried (I don’t want to be a cynical, ranting book-hater!), and I don’t think you could convince me that in those cases merely being the wrong audience could explain it away. Luckily not too many of those come my way, but they are out there and they do get published and I will never understand why.

    1. Jackie says:

      Aishwarya, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!

      It is good to know that we seem to get more tolerant as we age.

      It is interesting that you have found some bad books. Surely the publisher loved them and felt they were worth publishing? There must have been someone that loved them? Perhaps I should just stay locked in my rose tinted world?!!

  2. Sam Sykes says:

    Personally, I’ve been a fan of this idea for a long time. Quite some time ago, I was able to accept the idea that there may be books that are good that just don’t jive with me. At the same time, though, I can see why this isn’t always a favorite line amongst reviewers.

    See, what’s basically being proposed is that “quality” is indefinable: there is only what works and what doesn’t. This isn’t so much a problem until you consider that a lot of reviewers think their job is to define quality. I’m not sure this works (because how would you explain the success of a lot of popular books that are loathed by critics?)

    That’s not say that reviewers aren’t important, though. Rather, their role (in my opinion; I’m sure some will agree) is not to say “this is bad/good” so much as to say “this book has these issues that worked for me or didn’t work for me, maybe it’ll be the same for you?” Speaking as an author, this attitude helps writers much more than the “this is bad and I hate the author” that some reviewers seem to take.

    Again, this is only my opinion. But if it makes you feel better, I certainly agree with you.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sam, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!

      I agree that quality is impossible to define in a book. As an example I can see that Wolf Hall has a very high quality of writing, but personally I didn’t like it – I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the book. I know that lots of people love it, but as a novel it just didn’t work for me.

      I think the fantastic thing about blogging is that it enables people to find others with a similar taste in books to them and then get good suggestions from them. It is impossible to tell from an individual review from a person that you don’t know whether or not the book is for you and I think this is why bloggers will have an increasing role in helping others to decide what to read in the future.

  3. GeraniumCat says:

    I find negative reviews nearly as informative as positive ones – even if the person who is reviewing has similar taste to me, I know we aren’t the same, and sometimes their reasons for disliking a book might be reasons why I will like it! On the other hand, one book I reviewed seemed to me to have almost no merits whatsoever, except that I could think of a number of people I knew who would probably like it. I think I would only say a book was bad if I thought it morally derelict.

    Mind you, I am beginning to have doubts about Beatrice and Virgil!

    1. Jackie says:

      GeraniumCat, I often find negative reviews more helpful than positive ones. WOW THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! Isn’t very helpful, but reading the words “This book was too emotional for me” in a negative review would have me thinking about getting a copy.

      I’m beginning to think that Beatrice and Virgil is a fantastic book. I hated it, but it is so vivid in my mind and has got everybody talking. I can’t see that being a bad thing really.

      1. Dan Holloway says:

        That’s very interestng – that “lingering” thing. I was humungously fortunate to be at the Reading festival last year where Radiohead were headlining. On the night I remember at times hopping from one foot to the next to stay awake wondering what on earth was going on. When I was still waking up in the middle of the night with “Lucky” blazing through my head, I started realising I’d been at one of the most incredible performances ever.

  4. Dan Holloway says:

    Gosh this is a tough question. I concur 100% about the guilt-free negative reviews – and I think you’ve tapped into the really important reason for that – as a reviewer, people come to trust your taste and look to you for advice. If you say you love everything, even when you don’t, you will soon lose that trust. And as a writer, I would only want people reading my work if they’re going to enjoy it.

    I concur that people are too quick to write off many published books (often it’s unpublished writers who do so – in particular being rude about popular books). The fact is that the worst celeb novel is actually, compared to most unpublished efforts, way better at what it sets out to do.

    I guess it would be easy to come up with a relativist answer and say that a book could be bad if it fails at what it sets out to do (which, of course, is different in every instance), but even that is opinion. I also think writing as an exercise has value whatever comes out of it.

    Of course I have personal opinions about bad books (Graham Swift’s Tomorrow) and what makes them bad (contrivance, inauthenticity, smugness), but again that’s only opinion.

    I’d be fascinated to see if anyone comes up with a consequentialist argument – in other words, are some books bad not aesthetically but because they are dangerous – Mein Campf, for example, or David Irving’s infamous books on Holocaust denial. Which goes to show just how many meanings “bad” has.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, Great answer! I think you just prove how hard it is to define bad. Some people enjoy reading smug books and I think it is better to have freedom of speech than prevent books from being published, no matter how contraversial they are. I’m not familiar with the Holocaust denial book you mention, but I do think it is important for us to be able to get inside the heads of people that have these strange ideas. It is only through understanding the opinions of others that we can try to prevent these things from happening again.

    2. Rachel says:

      Interesting point about the consequentialist argument – but that relies on there being a universally accepted moral code, which there isn’t.

      1. Dan Holloway says:

        I agree, Rachel – but that doesn’t stop some people using the argument as if there were :)

  5. I think that there is such a thing as bad, or sloppy writing, but generally, I think that you are right when you say that publishers would not publish something that they genuinely thought to be completely without merit or function.

    I doubt that much of the writing in Mills and Boon books is high quality, for instance, but it is obviously pleasing to many people. I can’t see myself reading the Da Vinci Code but I can appreciate that it must be pacy and gripping as so many people have loved it.

    I suppose it depends on what readers personally deem to be ‘bad writing’. Some put thrilling plot above all and will forgive ugly writing, whereas for others, it is the quality of the prose that will always determine their opinion. And sometimes you know fine well that a book is deeply flawed technically, but it just speaks to you.

    1. Jackie says:

      tea lady, I remember loving Mills and Boon books as a teenager – I think I learnt a lot about relationships from them :-) They weren’t what I’d define as high quality, but at the time they were important to me and I can see why others would enjoy them.

      I also enjoyed the Da Vinci Code, but I am willing to overlook poor writing if the story is engaging enough. It just shows that there is a huge range of reasons for reading. Some people like entertainment, others education. I prefer both at the same time :-)

    2. Anonymous says:

      Publishers are quite capable of publishing something they genuinely think to be completely without merit or function if it’s going to make money; they are businesses after all.

      There are many appallingly written books out there and the number will probably grow. Editors now look after a much greater number of authors so rarely have the time to work with a writer polishing the manuscript. Also publishers have cut right back on copy editors so even well respected authors are having books published with the most basic grammatical and spelling errors in them as they are doing their own copy editing. It’s difficult to pick up your own mistakes when you are reading your own manuscript for perhaps the tenth time.

      1. Jackie says:

        Anonymous, Thank you for the insight into the publishing business! I guess that as a reader I hope that publishers are only picking the best books to publish and hope that they don’t churn out rubbish because of its commercial promise. It is sad to learn that this isn’t true and that cut backs have lead to poorer editing standards :-(

      2. Not for one second am I suggesting money-making should be the main reason for publishing a book, but surely making money IS a function? And if something is being bought, then it must be pleasing someone, even if it is of very poor quality. There must be something in it that is compelling.

        We see this in pop music all the time, some number ones are AWFUL, but they are catchy, there is a melody or a bass line that is hooking people in somehow.

        1. Jackie says:

          tea lady, I’m not sure. Just because a book is being bought doesn’t mean that someone is enjoying it. I have bought a lot of books that I haven’t liked. A poor quality book can have an impressive cover put on it ;-)

          1. Sadly, this is probably true! Marketing and design can be so seductive.

  6. The meaning of a bad book is subjective (ie. in comment above) and I would never slam a book as being bad just because I personally didn’t like it; I hate blog posts that are insulting to other readers e.g. “This book was awful and anyone who likes it has a screw loose”. What is rubbish to you or I may be someone else’s treasure and I have respect for different tastes and levels of enjoyment.

    I don’t feel guilty about writing negative reviews because it is a means for me to work out my feelings towards the book: they often intrigue others to read the book anyway, it is free publicity for the writer and publisher and “all publicity is good publicity”. I do balance my reviews (positive and negative) so that people realise that what worked for me and vice versa may not necessarily work for them or deter them.

    However, let’s not be naive: some publishers publish books that are poorly written and have no *literary* merit because they are money-makers; “celebrity” biographies come to mind but a lot of the people read and enjoy them so can we call those bad?

    I’ve felt a little … not insulted, but mildly irritated by how you have decreed Beatrice and Virgil as “an awful book” when that is simply your take (it may be mine once I read it!) I am relieved that you are now looking at it differently and not just slamming it because you were disappointed by it. I don’t think any book should be called bad or awful because you didn’t enjoy it and thought some parts ridiculous.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, Sorry for irritating you. I do think Beatrice and Virgil is an awful book, but that is my own opinion and don’t expect everyone else to feel that way. All opinions on my blog are my own, but I’d hate to think that I was making sweeping statements. I’m very happy for others to have different opinions to me and actually find it interesting to see why others feel differently. Thank you for pointing it out. I will try better to ensure that I make people aware that it is my opinion, not a blanket dismissal.

      1. I didn’t take offense at it but I hate sweeping statements and don’t think they do anything except perpetuate generalisations and misconceptions.

        I do find it tedious though that you write a blog post asking if there is such thing as a bad book and then go ahead above and stress that you still think Beatrice and Virgil is awful. Pointless raising of the subject, no? Your opinion, your blog, but I think it is disrespectful to author, publisher and fans and also to readers to raise a talking point to then go on to call a book awful anyway. It seems as if the subject has no real substance beneath it.

        I’m not arguing here or taking this personally but entering into a dialogue. If the post was trying to pick apart how we (inadvertently) insult others who love a book by saying how bad it is and moving towards a more valuable way of negatively reviewing (as most of us already do) then I’m all for it but, instead, it seems that you are instead stating that we find different merits in books and read for different functions, which isn’t original. We were just talking last week about how some books may be badly written but they serve to absorb and entertain us; other books educate and some both educate and entertain as well as being literary … it depends on the book and the reader and is entirely subjective. The joy of blogging is that we all enjoy -or dislike- books for different reasons.

        1. Jackie says:

          Claire, The point of the post is to explain that everyone has a different taste in books and so there is no one book that everyone thinks is bad. Lots of people love Beatrice and Virgil (I didn’t raise the subject of this book, just responded to a comment about it)

          I’m afraid that I was saying that we all have different taste in books. Sorry it isn’t very original, but it is hard to find a topic that has never been covered before :-(

          1. It is hard to come up with something original but Yann Martel tried and should be given credit for that ;)

            I’m not dismissing the post but think it could have been taken further and been even more interesting. Each of us say all the time that there are different books for different readers and different books/genres for different periods of our lives. I don’t recall ever reading a post that has fully examined how disheartening it can be to read that somebody thinks one of our favourite books is a bad book or a post that knocks those insulting posts that say that a book is so crappy that it can only be liked by [enter insulting analogy here] when it is a book revered across the blogosphere. Anyway, just my two pence worth.

          2. Jackie says:

            Claire, I don’t really feel disheartened when other dislike books I love, but it sounds as though you have a good idea for a post there :-)

            Thinking about my earlier reply to you – this post isn’t really about the differences in taste, but whether there are any books out there that no one likes. Books that should never have been published because they have no merit.

  7. Shannon says:

    As many have mentioned, it’s too difficult to pin down what makes a good book or a bad book – there is no one formula. If it were that easy, I think we would all get bored of books pretty quick.

    I’ve read some books that everyone else has loved and thought “what have these people been reading? It surely can’t be this book I just read.” But I have to give the book credit for appealing to a lot of people, even if it doesn’t appeal to me.

    Since I started blogging about books, I’ve been trying to see books from different angles. I don’t like to get too personal in my reviews, rather I write about what people may like about it, what people may not like about it, etc. I try not to judge so much as just help people decide if it’s something they like by pointing out features of the book. When I get a book I didn’t like, I try to remember that obviously someone thought it was a great book and would appeal to a segment of the population. (I do get more personal in my comments section about why it did or did not appeal to me.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, I normally can’t even pin down which types of books I’ll enjoy, let alone what makes a ‘bad’ book!

      It is hard to know what people will/will not like in a book. I’m amazed by the little details some people notice. Sometimes one little inaccuracy will put a person off the entire book.

  8. Tony says:

    I think there are bad books (comparatively, at least), and I disagree that a book’s being published means it must be good; it may well just fit in with a certain marketing strategy. A clear example of this would be the fact that in this post-Twilight apocalyptic reading world, most bookshops now seem to have a whole vampire section. I very much doubt that all of those books are there on merit…

    1. Jackie says:

      Tony, I haven’t read any of the Twilight style books, so I can’t comment on their quality. I’d love to know how they come to be published though. Do publishers buy all vampire books they come across or are authors commisioned to write on a specific topic. I’ll have to look into it!

  9. Rachel says:

    Well, it depends what you mean by ‘bad’. There’s no standard of what makes a book ‘bad’ to judge it by, so technically, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ book, because the concept of a ‘bad book’ doesn’t exist.

    I think there are plenty of bad books out there – I judge books on the writing style, the plot, the characterisation, and whether they move me or not. Any book that is sloppily or lazily written and has plot holes the size of the grand canyon is, in my opinion, a bad book. But not everyone would agree with my judgement criteria. That’s why, when I do write a negative review, I will very carefully explain why I haven’t enjoyed a book, as saying something is ‘bad’ without quantifying what you mean by ‘bad’ is not helpful to anyone.

    Personally I don’t subscribe to the politically correct statement that all books have some merit – so many books nowadays are formulaic cash cows that have no soul to them and are written purely to meet the demand for throwaway holiday reads, marekting tie-ins and magazine giveaways. They might not be ‘bad’ in the sense that they are frequently enjoyable, escapist reads for many people, but when it comes to finding some deeper existential merit or meaning in them, then that’s where I draw the line – let’s face it, these sorts of books have no lasting value or significance except to demonstrate the gradual dumbing down and capitalisation of every area of contemporary life in the 21st century, and the only people who benefit from them are the publishing companies that rake in the cash. No one even bothers to keep their copies of such books – that’s why the charity shops are saturated with them.

    1. Jackie says:

      Rachel, I don’t mind books that are purely there for entertainment. I sometimes need some lighter relief from the deeper, more complex reads and I know that many people just don’t enjoy the more literary reads. It is sad that so many of them have similar plots, but I’ve describe these as average reads rather than bad ones. You make some interesting points about the dumbing down of our society. Hopefully people will continue to enjoy literary fiction in the future. I’d hate for it to disappear simply because it isn’t profitable.

  10. Amy says:

    I agree with what you say completely – there isn’t a bad book simply a bad audience for a book. Even those books that I hate the most have their ardent supporters, so someone thinks they are good. That being said, some books might be weightier and have more depth than others, but I don’t think that cancels out the other. I think a good mix is necessary.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, Some people don’t enjoy that added depth, so I agree that a good mix of books is required.

  11. Ginny Karoub says:

    I guess it is all a matter of opinion. I am an avid reader, I also belong to book clubs. We pick the recommended books and rarely do any of us really like them.
    For the most part they are hard to read, a lot of them do not have an ending, they leave you hanging with a lot of questions.
    When reading for enjoyment I usually pick a book the “big” publisher and media has not gone hog wild (lol) over. And believe it or not, it is enjoyable and easy to read.
    When reading for enjoyment we don’t really want to “work” at reading the book do we?
    If I am reading a “bad” book, I still look for the golden nugget inside and I always find one~

    1. Jackie says:

      Ginny, Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time!

      It sounds as though the wrong people are recommending books to you :-)

      Sometimes I like to work at reading, but I enjoyer lighter reads too. It is all based on my mood. I agree that the most popular books aren’t always the best, but it is good to know that you manage to find a golden nugget in all the books that you read.

  12. Bellezza says:

    Such a fascinating post. Like you, I could have reeled off a thousand ‘bad books’. Bad, to me. But, through blogging I’ve gained a new appreciation for many by looking at them through another’s eyes. I’ve ventured places I’d never gone before, or at least not often: Japanese literature, YA, and fantasy to name a few.

    But, the converse is also true. Sometime a book has received such rave reviews by bloggers I respect that when I read it I’m disappointed. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo comes to mind; I was so sad to be about the only person in the world who didn’t love that novel!

    Certainly we influence one another with our reviews, be it for good or bad.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, I wasn’t a big fan of TGWTDT either. I think the massive hype may have contributed to my over expectations too.

      I have also discovered some new genres thanks to blogging. Graphic novels are an area I would never have ventured to before. Isn’t blogging wonderful?! :-)

  13. Jo says:

    I don’t think I’ve got lot to add really. Simply i agree with most of what you say. I think there are books I don’t enjoy, and books I can’t even finish, as well as ones I would never consider reading, but that doesn’t make them intrinsically bad, just not good for my tastes.
    I do sometimes think I’d like to rifle through publishers reject piles though, as, if sugested here, so much is dependent on whether it will make a profit there might be some gems there that never make it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, Part of me would love to rifle through the reject pile, but another part of me thinks about the massive TBR pile I already own and runs away in fear!!

  14. Marieke says:

    I love this discussion! I’m a person who LOVES reading a negative review, if the review seems warranted, of course. I also think you’re being overly generous if you’re claiming there are no bad books, just misdirected books. There is some BAD writing out there, as well as bad editing. That said, I do agree that most published writing does have some redeeming value, for someone.

    No one seems to have to justify a rave endorsement of a book, even if they’re just repeating what thousands of other enthusiastic readers have said. Why would a more critical viewpoint need so much more justification and apologising?

    We are all entitled to our opinions. I totally respect any blogger or critic who doesn’t like a book and attempts to give some reasons why. Even if the reasons are based in personal preference, I think that’s valid.

    1. Jackie says:

      Marieke, Perhaps I’m lucky enough to have never come across a bad book before. Or perhaps I just don’t notice bad writing!!?

      It is good to find another person that likes negative reviews ;-)

  15. I think there are poorly written books, and then books that merited publication but that I happen not to like or even to hate, great books, and many others all along the continuum. But that’s a different point really than positive and negative reviews by bloggers. I think that’s what blogging, as opposed to professional reviewing, is all about: saying our personal opinions based on who *we* are and what *we* like. I think it’s just fine to say you didn’t like a book and tell why. I like reading all kinds of different reactions, and that often means a blogger not liking books that everyone else likes. Or better yet, having new and different perspectives. If I don’t like a book, I fully expect readers to take it as they take my personality: i.e., that’s just *me.* We can’t all be the same, or there would be no distinctions between good and bad!

    1. Jackie says:

      rhapsodyinbooks, A different perspective is something I love too! It doesn’t have to be good or bad, but some people have a great way of looking at things in a different way, spotting things I would never have noticed.

      1. I read a review today of A Wish After Midnight that had a totally new way of thinking about the book and showed, to me, what an idiot I had been. But I love, love, love that! I mean, it’s not like looking in the mirror and seeing what you don’t like but you can’t change it or it’s too hard. Instead, you read different reviews and you get to learn and maybe improve yourself! I love that!!!!!! So yay (again!) for different opinions! :–)

        1. Jackie says:

          rhapsodyinbooks, I had a similar experience with a review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It changed the way I looked at the book and improved it a lot. Reviews are great!!

  16. Melissa says:

    This is a great post. I agree that the more I read and the more I read other people’s reviews, the harder it is to think that a book can be “bad.” There’s always someone out there who loved it.

    Another hugely important element is that each reader brings their own unique views and experiences to every book. So you may love/hate a book because of something completely unrelated to the book itself. It could remind you of something or you could be going through something awful in your own life, etc. That’s the beauty of reading. The art is born first in the writer’s mind, then reborn in the reader’s mind.

    1. Jackie says:

      “The art is born first in the writer’s mind, then reborn in the reader’s mind.”

      I love that quote :-)

  17. “We all have a very different taste in books and so it makes sense that one person’s reject is another person’s gem.”

    Agreed. I have been surprised countless times by the fact that a book I’ve found endlessly irritating has been the subject of an “Oh, I’ve just finished the most amaaaaaazing book” discussion amongst differently-minded readers. On top of personal taste differing, reasons for reading vary, and approaches to the ways in which we might respond to works of art/entertainment vary too. This is a layered and complex subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately myself.

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedInPrint, I have wondered if a person with a similar taste in books will like the same films, TV programms, outdoor activites etc. I think that might be a whole new post though :-)

  18. sakura says:

    That’s a very healthy way at looking at book reviews. And I agree! There are so many factors that affect your reading experiences on top of the book not quite being your thing. Like you, since I’ve started blogging I’ve found countless books that I have loved that others have hated and vice versa. I believe there is such a thing as a perfect book for a person (at a particular time in their life), and we can only find it by reading widely. Great post!

    1. Jackie says:

      sakura, I’m always worried about missing that perfect time to read that perfect book. I’d hate to miss out on it because I’ve matured too much to enjoy a specific gem. It would be great if books came with a “read by” date warning like:

      Warning this book is suited to those between the ages of 20 and 25. It will appeal to you less once you’ve reached the age of 30.

  19. Annabel says:

    Another thought-provoking post Jackie. I agree that there is such a thing as bad and sloppy writing as others have said, but there’s no accounting for people’s taste, and what is awful and unreadable to one will be brilliant for another and that applies to both ends of the spectrum and all points in between, (I hated the Alchemist, but loved the Da Vinci Code – utter tosh but great fun, and there are plenty of completely opposite views on those in particular). Books can also disappoint because you’re not in the right mood for them.

    I’m more likely to read anything these days too and be able to see something in almost all books, but am not afraid of negative reviews – my own or others – they’re always fascinating!

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I think the problem is that some people are sloppy speakers and so don’t appreciate good writing – they prefer sloppy writing :-) There is no accounting for taste!!

  20. Fascinating post! While I do believe there are books of varying levels of quality in terms of literature, I tend to agree. Books have redeeming qualities; few books are perfect, and when I think so, there is usually a special connection to some part of the story. I also think beyond mere personal difference of opinions about the enjoyment of books is the issue of time. I imagine some books I still call my favorites may not resonate with me now as they did when I first read them. Conversely, books I didn’t like in previous years might strike my fancy now. So much of my mood and mind go into reading, it’s bound to vary not only from person to person but also over time.

    To play devil’s advocate for a moment, I would argue that there are bad nonfiction books. Accuracy matters, and it’s a very different argument for bad nonfiction than bad fiction.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, You make a very good point about non-fiction books. Some people are really annoyed about finding small inaccuracies in fiction books and I wonder if they are large non-fiction readers. I know how important it is to get the facts right with non-fiction, but I am quite tolerant of little errors in fiction.

  21. Jeane says:

    Very interesting post, and all the comments too. I don’t have much to add, except to say that I have come across poorly-written books before: uninteresting storylines, inconsistent characters, awkward dialog, pointless meanderings, editing errors galore- when that’s all present in one book it can be pretty hard to read! But for the most part, books I don’t like are just that: they don’t appeal to me personally and I know they will to someone else. I try to make that clear in my reviews: is it a book I thought wasn’t well-written? or just not the one for me. Most often it’s the latter.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, I’m lucky not to have come across books with all those errors in before, but there are probably people who like that sort of thing – maybe??! :-)

  22. Shannon says:

    I know what you mean, and on one level I agree. But on another, much more snobby level, I would say there are definitely “bad” books, lots of them – yes people still enjoy them, but they have crappy writing, crappy structure and pacing, poorly developed characters and every other flaw you can think of. Not every publisher is that discerning, not every editor is very good at their job. Subjective, yes. But anyone who’s studied language, English, symantics, how to actually write, would I think agree that a book is more than its story.

    There are books I don’t like but still admire, books I don’t like but acknowledge I’m the wrong audience for … and then there are the shit ones. The ones that are so badly written, so flimsily put together, that I mourn for the tree that was sacrificed for it. I can’t ignore their existence. And I confess I cringe when other people can’t see the flaws that I can.

    (Can you believe, I only just got notification of this post and already you’ve got this mad long discussion going? My notifications must be really behind!)

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, LOL! I love the thought of you mourning for the trees used to make some books! I take your point, but still note that you are having to cringe when people don’t notice the same faults that you do. I’m afraid that not everyone is as discerning as you – some enjoy books packed with faults :-(

      1. Shannon says:

        I know I know – we are full of contradictions,
        as humans. There are books I love that have
        faults but I just don’t care, I still love them!

        I often wish I could be less picky about the
        writing. It’s spoiled many a possibly-good story.
        But once you notice faults it’s hard to overlook
        them, if the story isn’t strong enough to overcome
        them. I only upset myself, after all.

  23. Stujallen says:

    no ,just wrong blocks and wrong holes jackie ,i think every book has a owner that will love it and some that won’t but that is the beauty of books the is one for every one out there and sometimes we all get a square peg for our round hole :) ,i can’t write negative reviews ,its just me i m postive about books and hate to give a downer ,i may write tepid reviews but feel as though i m constantly amazed by the written word and where it takes me in my mind :) ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, Great analogy! I hope everyone manages to find the right book at some point :-)

  24. diane says:

    I’ve always believed that a book review, should be an HONEST reflection of the reader’s assessment of the book, regardless if the book was by a favorite author, or the reviewer received a free copy of the book.

    Personally, I tend to lose respect for reviewers who ALWAYS write glowing reviews. IMO, no one hits a home run every time, with every book. Some books are just “bad books”…., whether we choose to admit it or not.

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, I don’t follow anyone who writes only glowing reviews. They aren’t very helpful – even a very good book has some flaws and it is nice to know about them.

  25. Jenners says:

    Very well said! I do think that each book needs to find it reader … not all books will fit all readers, just as all clothes won’t fit all people. That is a bit why I think I struggle with my whole ranking angst … a book might not fit for me, but it might be perfect for someone else. But at the same time, it helps your readers to know what you look for and love in a book. I think blogging is a bit like reading books … you need to look for a blogger whose tastes are close to your own … then you can really find books that fit you.

    Great post.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, It takes a long time to find bloggers that match a specific reading taste, but I think I’ve finally managed it. It is dangerous to know so many people with a similar taste – the pile just gets bigger and bigger :-)

  26. Jenny says:

    Out of curiosity, would you say there is such a thing as a bad film? Because it seems like people in general have very few reservations about labeling films as bad – something like Sex and the City 2, for instance, which by all reports is as mindless and offensive as can be. I guess if you are defining “bad” as “has no merit of any kind whatsoever and could never produce any positive feelings in anybody”, then there’s no such thing as a bad book – but if you’re defining it as a book that is written poorly, plotted poorly, and has bad character development, I think there are books that are bad. There’s definitely a scale, and what’s bad for me can be superb for other people (I don’t like alienated narrators, for instance, but some people do); however, as with any scale, there has to be something at the low end of it.

    By and large, though, I agree with you. Blogging has given me such a clear way of seeing that the exact qualities that make a book soar for me can ruin it for another reader.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Interesting question. Last year I came across a terrible film. The sound was so bad that I couldn’t hear what was happening a lot of the time. The camera was shaky and nothing seemed to happen. I looked up some reviews and found that everyone else LOVED it. They loved the voyasitic nature of the film, the way it felt as though the characters were being spied on and not filmed. I think that just proves that there is no such thing as a bad film either!!

  27. I think there’s sort of a question of quality and then a question of “good” versus “bad.” I think there are books that are of a lesser quality than other books — they’re not as carefully written and edited, they don’t have as much imagination, whatever. I think there are probably criteria you could come up with for what makes a quality book, and then what a book that lacks quality has.

    But good and bad? I think that’s harder to judge. I think there’s some merit in about every book, and, like you, when I dislike something I’m starting to assume I just wasn’t the target audience and that others would like it better.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kim, I guess it is a bit like food. You could produce the best quality blue cheese in the world and I still wouldn’t like it as I don’t like blue cheese. Quality and enjoyment are often two very different things.

  28. mee says:

    I smiled when I read your first paragraph because it sounds familiar! I too used to go through a phase of reading many “bad” books in the first years of my reading life (pre-blogging). But now there seems to be so many selections of “good” books, or to be exact, the right books for me. I agree, quality of book is in the eye of the reader.

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, It is really good to know that I now have a large selection of books that are right for me. Blogging has improved my reading choices so much!!

  29. LizF says:

    Blimey Jackie you did reap the whirlwind with this post didn’t you?
    I have come to the conclusion that it is not up to me to decided what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’, all I can work on is whether I enjoyed it or not and why.

    There are genres and authors that I just can’t ‘get on’ with and sometimes I just want to read something that will entertain and divert me (although if I can learn something from it, then all the better).
    I don’t always want to analyse something or look for hidden meanings, or have to refer to the dictionary every third paragraph because the author wanted to show how many big words they could throw in there – I have a much better than average vocabulary but some writers are just plain pretentious!
    Sometimes of course I feel the need to challenge myself a bit more – just to make sure that I am still capable of understanding something more demanding. Doesn’t always work but I do try!

    I do value negative reviews so long as the reveiwer can explain why they didn’t like the book, whether it was style or tone or subject matter or something less defined.
    You are brave enough to put your head above the parapet and I value that and a lot of the time I agree with your judgement, so keep on with what you are doing – if you get this sort of reaction then you must be getting it right!

    1. Jackie says:

      LizF, Thank you for the kind words. It is good to know that you often agree with me.

      I do wonder if some authors genuinely have a fantastic vocabulary or if they get the thesaurus out when writing – I’d love to know the answer :-)

  30. Lori L says:

    You’ve started another great discussion, Jackie! There are several books I’ve read that other people loved, but I would say were awful. They were bad – bad for me. Most often it is simply because I’m not the target audience, but sometimes the book is truly bad, as Shannon said: “The ones that are so badly written, so flimsily put together, that I mourn for the tree that was sacrificed for it.” The negative reviews written about books are often more enlightening than the gushing “I love this book!” reviews. I respect reviewers who can tell me why they didn’t like a book, or point out any problems they had with it – and I expect people to allow me to have an opinion too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lori, I think I must have been lucky not to have found those terrible books yet. Fingers crossed I stay away from them!!

  31. Have you ever read a book, and either half way through (or on finishing) just shut it and thought: “this is just bad” – might be simplifying things a lot, but in my opinion, that book is “bad”! The emphasis though remains on “in my opinion” as opposed to “bad” for I’m pretty sure that for any book I dislike, there are at least twenty people who think otherwise.

    Adjectives such as “good” and “bad” are so personal and subjective that it makes it hard to use them in an absolute statement. For example, I thought the Twilight books were just *bad* but I spoke to about four people today (in my family) who had a completely different opinion. I don’t hold that against them – I just figured it’s not one for me. I think the important thing is to appreciate the fact that people may approach a book or subject differently, and their opinion(s) should count equally.

    I think the only books I’d actually go out of my way to refer to as “bad” are those which seem to be written for purely commercial reasons, and nothing else: where the writing is poor, the research incomplete and the plot a poor excuse to spark a controversy. Unfortunately, some books like that have hit the shelves, but I guess, on the flip side, books like that can change non-readers to readers, which is never a bad thing?

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, You are right in that it is more likely to be non-readers who pick up those books, but I wonder if that is a good thing. If the only books you pick up are the poorly written commercial ones it isn’t surprising that they won’t be likely to read many books. I wish that fantastic books were targeted towards the non-readers. If they enjoyed their reading experience then they might be more tempted to pick up another book in the future?

      1. Well, in theory, yes.

        However, some of the commercial books are the ones that become raving successes, which the “non-readers” tend to like (this probably is a bit of a sweeping statement). For instance, people who don’t read that much would tend to love the Stephanie Meyers and Dan Browns of this world. Yep, there are many avid readers out there who also enjoy their books, but, if you’re having a conversation with them, they’d be loathe to say that one of them is an all-time favourite.

        One of my most disturbing moments in my first year of university was when someone told me their favourite author was Sidney Sheldon. She was doing a three year honours degree in English Lit!!! Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed reading books by Sidney Sheldon. In fact, I’ve read some of his books late into the night before an exam, simply because they’re fast paced and addictive. However, would I ever say that’s “good reading”/”a favourite”?

        The thing with the more commercial paperback books is, it’s easier reading and relatively fast-paced, i.e. perfect for people who don’t enjoy reading that much.

        I might be generalising a fair bit in this comment, but am looking at the “extreme” end of the scale.

  32. violet says:

    however credible your arguments might me, I still think there are “bad” books. I have come to the conclusion after reading a couple of really bad self-published books. It is absolutely clear that the authors did not know how to write neither they had a good subject or story to write about. All I can say is it’s just about the thrill of seeing your name in print.

    Maybe I’m being too harsh. But yes, there is always the family loving whatever you do.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, I have only read one self published book so far and it was quite good, but I can imagine that many are published for vanity reasons. I still think that any book selected by a publisher must have some merit, but maybe I am niave.

  33. ibeeeg says:

    You have received many comments, and I do not have much new to add. So, I am going to say…

    I agree with you. I don’t think there are any bad books out there, but books that just do not agree with me so I am then not their target audience (I like that part…thanks)

    As far as writing a “negative” review. I don’t anymore. Why? Not because of guilt, but because it takes times to write my thoughts down and then post….this time can be spent elsewhere. So, for me, I only write about the books that I like, love, want to give a shout out to.

    Ahh…just read Violet’s comment, and must agree with her in the respect towards self-published books. I think there could be a bad book when self-published because of the writing. There is some merit as you put it….well, yeah, with the publishing companies…I imagine that they would not want to waste their time or resources on something if they did see some value. I did read a few self-published, and published by small companies (not under a larger company) and the writing was bad. Still though, even in that situation, there were those who did like the stories. Hmmm…now my mind is a bit muddled. hahaha
    I will stick with, there are no bad books…for the most part. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      ibeeeg, I understand your review policy. We all have to make the best of limited time.

      Sorry to muddle you :-) I have to admit that I have become muddled about this topic a bit too! Part of me thinks that some publishers might be churning out poor books just to make a bit of money. I really hope they don’t do that though :-(

  34. Kinna says:

    Great question, Jackie. And I think it’s mostly subjective. I think that there might be unpublished books out there that are bad all around. The thing about art is that there is so much censorship between the creator and the consumer. Writers self-censor and then the industry withholds. So who really knows about bad books.

    Two years ago I read A Short History of Tractors in the Ukrainian. I just didn’t get the point of the book. It didn’t appeal to me. I thought bad book. But my mother liked it. It’s become a running joke in our house with me referring to that book every time I want to say a book is bad.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kinna, I think I enjoyed Tractors in the Ukraine. I can’t remember much about it now though…does that make it a bad book? Should a good book be memorable? I think that might be a whole new post….

  35. You said it so well:

    “Thinking about books in this way also makes me feel less guilty about writing negative reviews. There is no such thing as a bad book – I’m simply not the target audience for a the specific one.

    Authors should also be comforted by this notion. They should stop worrying about trying to find hundreds of people to read their book and concentrate on finding a handful of people who are the perfect match for it. They should also stop worrying about bad reviews – all this means is that their book has slipped into the hands of someone who isn’t right for it.”

    That should be a clear message to authors!!


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