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The Books I Read Last Year: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh (Part 1)

Here at Persephone, we pride ourselves on being a bunch of bookish book lovers (you saw the Middlemarch Madness, right?), and I am no exception. A few years back, I realized that I had been neglecting reading in favor of my long-term romantic partner, Television, and that my brain (and conversational skills) was showing the neglect. So I started keeping track of my reading habits, trying to one up myself in the number of books I read every year. This works out swell for me, because in addition to being bookish and clever, I am one competitive bitch.

So at the end of the year, I exported my reading list from Goodreads, patted myself on my back for being such a good reader, and then felt my heart sink as I realized so many of the books on my read list were terrible, a lot of them were meh, and there were a scant few I would call good. I’m not even holding the term “good” to mean literary quality ““ I just want something enjoyable to read.

Part 1 – The Bad: (My Pain is Your Gain)

The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

Things that will sucker me into picking up a novel: haunted houses, ghosts, haunted houses that have ghosts in them, haunted houses with ghosts in them set in the Midwest. I’m a simple girl who asks for simple things in life. When I started hearing buzz about a haunted house novel set in an old birthing house, I thought I hit the jackpot.

Where did it go wrong? The protagonist was actively unlikable and one note, the plot was a mess, the ending was confusing, and the whole thing felt like someone threw a Halloween party in the attic and thought you might really think the peeled grapes were eyeballs. Also, books that give off the impression that the author might have a problem with women really irk me.

Let me put it this way: I read 76 books last year, and this one stands out to me as the worst one of all.

 


 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by Josh Boyne

I am slightly worried about how people might judge me for citing a book about the Holocaust as one of the worst things I read last year, but when I mentioned this to my husband he said, “Oh, you mean Boy in the Striped Pajamas? Oh, yeah, that was objectively terrible.” So at least it wasn’t just me. (Actually my entire book group hated this one.)

I had a really hard time suspending my disbelief to accept that the 10-year-old son of the Commandant of Auschwitz had never heard anyone say anything terrible about Jewish people. In fact, even though it’s supposed to be a fable, I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to accept 90 percent of what happens in the novel. Jane Yolen treads similar ground to much, much better effect in her novels The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose.

 

 


 

Dominance by Will Lavender

Another book with an exciting premise and sub-par execution ““ a literary theme mystery novel about a book that may or may not have been written by a serial killer and whose fans may or may not turn into serial killers? And Live Action Role Playing novels is an important part of the plot? Yes, please! It sounds like book nerd gold mine.

Have you seen Silence of the Lambs? Good, then you don’t need to read this.

Anyone want to LARP The Hero and the Crown with me?

 

 

 


 

Demons by John Shirley

In the not-too-distant future, demons have crossed over into our world and roam freely, wreaking havoc on whatever humans have not yet died. In one part of the novel, in which we are to understand how horrific life is now that demons have invaded the earth, the President of the United States is forced to give deadly fellatio to a demon on live television. Because that is gross. And scary. Are you scared yet? Penises! Goo! Slime! Boogity boo!

There is also a lone female character in the novel who is saintly and saves us all through her mystical pregnancy, as she is possessed by spiritual entities that keep her virginal. I don’t even want to touch that one.

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.

13 replies on “The Books I Read Last Year: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh (Part 1)”

I just re-read The Blue Sword over Christmas break. I would LOVE to LARP The Hero and the Crown with you (and everyone else).

Also, I haven’t read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas but I wanted to say thanks for the shout-out to Devil’s Arithmetic. I read that in 7th grade and I still think about it.

Oh me too – thanks for the heads up!

Maybe we need a “I read them so you don’t have to” post?

I also can’t read ‘The boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ as everytime I see it I start to giggle.  The preview was out when boroboy and I went to see ‘Valkyrie’.  There was also another WWII Nazis movie being previewed.  We felt that it was saying, “Well, if you like movies about nazis, here’s more for you!”

Man, I was literally about to buy The Birthing House form Chapters Online- it keeps getting recommended by their website, and I think it is Canadian( I may have made that up)?- but now I will avoid it like the plague. Thanks!

 

 Also, books that give off the impression that the author might have a problem with women really irk me.

So very true; this is one of the reasons I gave up on Terry Goodkind. The fact that in his world, the most powerful women were given their power by men, and that the naturally occurring power in women was never really as strong as that of the male, really started to piss me off, never mind the extremely unsubtle pro-capitalism metaphors.

Er, so that’s weird. My response went to the wrong post.

I am really disappointed in The Birthing House. It really was a great setting for a ghost story, but the author just seemed to have no idea where to go with the story.  I’d be curious to hear what you think of it if you do decide to read it. (But maybe get it from the library!)

I would count very few of them as ‘challenging’ reading. Middlemarch was a slog to get through and I ended up putting down ‘Visit from the Goon Squad’, but I did a lot of books that only took me a couple of hours to get through.

May your reading go better than mine.

Ultimately it was my own fault. I had a hankering to read some old-school King style horror novels, and most of the people that ape his style aren’t very good.

I’m gonna have a ‘Good’ and ‘Meh’ section of the reviews as well! It just became unwieldy for one post.

I’ve been really wanting to re-read Hero for a while. Maybe I should think of it as a palate cleanser and attack it over the weekend.

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