Well, well, it is quite hard to believe that the year 2015 is almost over, so I'm going to do a little retrospective of some of the books I read this year, including some I have not yet discussed here at Reading Rainstorm. In order to save the best for last, I'm starting with what I've rated as the worst books I read in 2015. This is a little harder for me. Usually, through either good luck or discernment, I tend to read mostly books I like. The bad ones I toss aside without bothering to get into. On occasion, though, either through obsessive desire to adhere to theme and finish everything or the old "never leave a book unfinished" thing I've been trying to get over, a few epic fails slip through. Whether just all around awful, or disappointing glimmers of goodness, here are a few from this year! Oh boy!
Worst "Non-fiction" (seriously, massive quotes there!)
This book is ridiculous, utter garbage. If Scott Wolter’s first book was filled with unsupportable suppositions and madcap correlations, this one goes completely off the rails in terms of making any sense whatsoever. I found it nigh unreadable, as the author goes off on tangents that have nothing to do with any subject he’s trying to present; there seems little evidence of any sort of editing, one topic just rolls, turgidly, into the next leaving the reader cut adrift in a sea of nonsense.
As a student of the contentious local roadside attraction here in Minnesota, the Kensington Rune Stone (future entry!), I had to read this. For those not steeped in this strange little world, though, the rest of the bizarre rambling and mean spirited griping of “Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers” is best avoided.
Even if it were true that the runestone is an “authentic” fourteenth century inscription, none of it would have anything to do with the frothing pablum presented here; Oreo cookies being imprinted with the same symbology as the runestone (if you squint just right), for example, because Templar/Masons rule the world and wish to secretly let this be known by manufacturing delicious pastries with their symbols on them. It just throws everything in there! The Pyramids! Jesus! George Washington! The weird urban planning of St. Paul, Minnesota! It’s like Assassins Creed fer reals.
Wolter’s feelings on these secret rulers he is certain exist seem strangely opaque- I was unable to tell if he actually supports “them” for making a better world, or is trying to warn us of their nefarious plans. In spite of Wolter’s constant invocation of the “scientific method” that he uses above the mushy “social sciences” of his academic opponents, there is not a lick of actual hard evidence or information literacy anywhere to be found in the pages of this book.
Worst Comic/Graphic Novel
This was the least successful comic I’ve read this year, with really nothing to recommend it. Mediocre art, dialog hammier than Austin, Minnesota (home of Spam), and a plot about subtle as an Afterschool Special with rabies make LARP! a game I do not want to play. The forced attempts at humor and totally annoying characters notwithstanding, the messages rang hollow and the high school setting and culture seemed dated and hackneyed.
I mean, it's been far too long since I’ve actually been in high school, but nothing here rings true in my experience. If this were a TV show, you can bet the characters would be played by actors in their late 20s. Here we have the perennial battle between the “nerds” and the “jocks,” the “cool kids” and the “geeks.” Of course, we’re on the side of the nerds.
I found a lot to question about the message, though; pretty much your typical be yourself, and don’t lie to your friends aesop, I guess? Maybe this would have worked if our protagonist Pete, of the super nerdy interests and newly discovered super tennis skills, realized his attempt to hide his gaming from his “cool” new jock friends while keeping his athletic skill from his nerdy “LARPer” friends were simply the product of his own insecurities. However, the “cool jocks” were set up from the beginning as utterly, irredeemably evil bullies- high school kids who harass a grown man in his place of business.
Pete seems mainly to be called to task in the comic not merely for lying, but for betraying his “true” kindred among the geeks by practicing tennis- being “cool” and being a bully seem to be one and the same here, as if self-proclaimed geeks could never be bullies. What makes the smirking villains “cool” seems to be vague too, as if playing sports and having a lot of Twitter followers (???) makes you automatically hate and make fun of people who like video games. Even the antagonistic geek group hinted at in the summary join in to humiliatingly defeat the jocks in the ending confrontation.
To make matters worse, the book contains one of the most ham-fisted “coming out” twist I’ve ever seen, an event anyone could see coming a mile away from the first insultingly stereotypical word coming out of the character’s mouth. Needless to say, the women in this story are mere tokens and are the real cusp of the dilemma of which clique Pete should join; not who’s less evil, but whose chick is more likely to date him.
Worst "Humor" Book
Wrote a little bit about this one in my last Subcultural Studies Reading Rainstorm post, but might as well toss it under the bus again! It may be that this slight little book is five years past it’s sell by date, but, TBH, I don’t think it had much going for at the get go. Sure, hipster mockery is always good for a cheap laugh, but here I think the author’s own ego detracts from what could be a funny look at goofy people dressed in goofy outfits.
Grainy, pixelated, unacknowledged photos of people dressed in weird costumes from the user submitted website are crammed into the pages with some of the least insightful commentary I’ve seen. I mean, a lot of hipster “culture” is certainly ripe for criticism (as the hipster racism demonstrated by the many photos of dumb white kids dressed in absurd and insulting headdresses show), but the limp captions, with questionable use of ableist, transphobic, and racist sentiments seems to smack of hypocrisy (just a little bit). If it were just the pictures, PBR, huge glasses, and thin mustaches it might have had a bit more appeal, but the authors’ rather scolding tone comes off as bitter.
Griping at people for not “really believing in anything” and “apathy” for what looks like, apparently, having fun and dressing in silly costumes seems to little more than grumbling, under your breath “what's wrong with kids today!” I haven’t visited the website that spawned the book, but perhaps it has a bit more to offer.
Most Disappointing Fiction
I didn't dislike this Danish literary thriller/urban fantasy as much as the others, but I did find it a little disappointing, a quick paced novel that does not quite carry through in delivery. Jon Campelli, a Copenhagen lawyer discovers, upon the mysterious death of his estranged father, an antiquarian bookseller, that reading has more power than even he had ever known of. Drawn into this secretive world of "Lectors," people with arcane abilities to infuse power into the written word, of whom his father was the foremost practitioner in Denmark, Campelli's talents as a lawyer makes him most suitable to mediate in a long standing division between the Lectors of Copenhagen. As he nurtures his own talents and relationships among his father's students, he comes to believe that some other sinister group is responsible for the recent strife in Denmark, including his father's death.
The writing in the Library of Shadows is probably its weakest aspect; plenty of egregious info drops, lackluster characterizations, and a tendency to simply narrate what is happening makes it come off as clinical rather than mysterious. Some of the blame could be placed on the translation from the Danish, but I have read other books from the translator which preserves some great writing, so I have to think it stems primarily from the original. While there are a lot of intriguing ideas thrown out there, the powers of the lectors, in spite of plenty of "Well, as you know," moments, did not really come together logically for me. I was often left with a lot more questions on how "receivers" and "transmitters" actually work and what they are actually capable of.
Finally, the plot turned out to be woefully predictable, with the "true" villain pretty evident from the first time he is mentioned, and the proceedings just lacked much of a sense of urgency. I had been curious about this conflict among the book magicians of Copenhagen, but I was never really in suspense about anything, even as the nefarious "shadow organization" closes in. The stakes just never seemed that high and the conflict never drew me in. The abrupt ending does not help, and little seems to have been resolved. I'd recommend checking out anything by Eco, Perez-Reverte, or Ruiz Zafón before this one.
Well, stay tuned tomorrow for the best of 2015!
*Theme music for this entry: "Think About It," Flight of the Concords, 2008