The Books I Read Last Year: The Good, The Bad, and The Meh (Part 2)

To recap ““ last week, I mused on the novels I read in 2011. My quantity count was high but my quality count was low, low, low. Last week looked at 4 novels that I would count among the “bad.” Next week will get to the “good.” But this week, let’s talk about the “meh.”

“Meh” is an arbitrary designation. Many of the books I – perhaps even you – come across in your life would fall under this umbrella. They were good, but not great. Maybe you laughed a couple of times. Maybe the plot developments puzzled you, but not enough to provoke you into throwing the book across the room. And one day, the particulars have faded from your memory and you might have even forgotten the title, and then you download your reading list from Goodreads and go, “What, I read that?” By you, dear reader, of course I mean me.

Part 2 – The Meh: (Meh)

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

A gaggle of beauty queens en route to the Teen Dream pageant find themselves crash-landed on an island that is cross between Lost, Lord of the Flies, and flavored with a touch of The Prisoner. The girls practice their beauty routines, their bathing suit competition, and get super tan, all while trying to unravel the mystery of the mysterious island. There are even reality show pirates! But no one gets their rubber mask pulled off while muttering, “I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you damn meddling kids!”

I can’t tell you why this book didn’t really click for me. It had its moments of cleverness and a good sense of pageant circuit personalities (some of which felt like they had been cribbed from Drop Dead Gorgeous or Miss Congeniality). But it didn’t hold my attention and I finished it out of sense of obligation. I found myself having the same problem with the author’s Gemma Doyle trilogy – I loved the first two books, and the third just felt “blah.” I still don’t know what happened in the third book, since I wandered off halfway through it.

Of course, plenty of people loved this one – check out fifthpevensie’s glowing review.

 


 

Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown

I am completely confounded by how such a charming movie came out of such a meh book.

There are funny moments in the novel and the story is more or less the same, without the “coming into one’s own” theme the movie plays up. But the Elle of the book is much more unlikable, a little more devious, and has no one really to play off of. I’m not sure how I would have felt about it if I didn’t watch the film every time it shows up on TBS, with the specter of Reese Witherspoon beaming brightly at me, but as it is, the book ends up on the “meh” list with a sidenote of “disappointing.”


Austenland by Shannon Hale

I was a major Jane Austen hold out. I had it in my head that they were stupid books for silly girls about love, and frankly, I could find the same kind of stories written by modern authors. But I grew up, I watched a couple of BBC mini-series, and realized that Colin Firth is a hunk, which in its own way, lead me to discovering Austen.

Since then, I’m often snookered into picking up Austen-themed novels. Like Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies which sold me on the zombies and added ninjas for my additional enjoyment. I’ve got a hold placed for PD James’s Death Comes to Pemberley. I may or may not have picked up Mr. Darcy, Vampire.

So I totes picked up Austenland. It is, as things go, an enjoyable look at the kind of ex-English majors whose romantic lives are ruined for want of their own Mr. Darcy. Austenland is light-hearted romantic fluff, great for dreary afternoons with a cup of tea and PBS on in the background. It just is what it is, which isn’t bad, isn’t great, and is”¦ well, I guess, something I’ve now read.

 


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I think, sometimes, we lose sight that a good portion of our population don’t understand and aren’t interested into peering deeply into our very complicated racial history. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or ignorant people, or stupid people, they’re just trying to get by. Books like The Help aren’t really aimed at someone like me, or probably you, progressive, thoughtful individuals who know a bit more about the civil rights era or about the appropriation of minority voices. They may not understand what the big deal about Skeeter’s ability to leave and go to New York means, and they may not remember what Jackson, Mississippi was like. Books like The Help have a niche because they approach ugly history in a gentle way.

I read the book and then took my daughter to see the movie, after which she read the book as well. And then she had questions – what did this mean, what did that mean, who was Medgar Evers? She would have learned this history eventually in school, but the story opened up an opportunity for us to discuss it at length, and to direct her towards other reading. I know that this is not unusual. Sometimes you have to approach people on the level in which they’re ready to accept a conversation about complicated topics, and use it as foot in the door to keep pressing towards the bigger picture.

It is my own conflicted feelings about the book – the allegations of story appropriation, the dialectical choices, the “white woman gives minority women voices” issues – that push the book into the “meh” category. This wasn’t a book for me, but it was a book for a lot of people.

For further discussion of the novel, check Coco’s piece “What Jackson Mississippi Really Means“ and Jill’s “My Problem with The Help.”

Published by

[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com. She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

19 thoughts on “The Books I Read Last Year: The Good, The Bad, and The Meh (Part 2)”

  1. I didn’t remember you reading any of your bad books, but I remember all of these floating around the house.  I’m a little surprised about Beauty Queens– I liked it- but you also only recently read The Hobbit so I’d understand if all other books you read in 2011 were eclipsed by its amazingness.

        1. Ok, I mostly saying that to needle Mini. But I did read the Hobbit for the first time last year. I’ve tried to read it repeatedly and could never get past the first 50 pages. But because I made a bet with Beau (he read The Handmaid’s Tale to my Hobbit), I pushed myself to get through it.

          I laughed at a couple of places. I asked several questions about story continuity with LoTR. I liked it but I wasn’t crazy about it. Which I sort of expected to be, given how people talk about the book.

          1. “Laughed at a couple of places”?  You cackled like a barmy loon.  I don’t know why you’re playing like you didn’t like it.  You say it now to needle Mini and I, but the infection had begun.  In, like, two years you’re going to have a crazy urge to reread it and then we will have won!

            HAAhahahahahaha….

            1. Or you’ll get the compulsion to read the rest of the series, instead of just making us watch all the extended versions in a row until we get so bored that all you notice is the proclivity with which they bathe and all I can manage is making fun of Legolas in Gimli’s voice.

  2. Thanks for sharing!  I read Legally Blonde years ago and still have the book, but I found the Elle in the movies to be much sweeter and more likable than the Elle in the books.

    I keep looking at Austenland, too, but have put it on my maybe-read list.  It is pretty cheap on Amazon right now, though.

     

    Beauty Queens is on my must-read list.  I love Libba Bray.

     

  3. I’ve been eyeing Austenland, and your experience echoes what I’ve felt every time I think about buying it. It looks interesting, there are a lot of elements that I am excited about, but… maybe next time. Now I know that I don’t need to push myself to get it, unless I am desperate for a new read.

Leave a Reply