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Why I Read Bad Books

I read popular books to understand what everyone is talking about. But why on Earth are these horrible books bestsellers?

            I have this obsessive need to know what everyone is talking about.  I also believe very strongly that you can’t criticize something unless you have experienced it first hand.  Otherwise, I am just parroting other people’s opinions, and I don’t like to do that.  I am blessed with the ability to read rather quickly, so it doesn’t take me long to get through most popular literature.  As a result, I have found myself reading a whole lot of very bad books in recent years.

            A few years ago, everyone with two X chromosomes had read the Twilight series of books, and had very strong feelings about whether the main character, Bella, a mopey, whiny 16 year old should be on Team Jacob, and spend all of eternity with her childhood friend who just happens to be a Werewolf; or Team Edward, and spend all of eternity with a 200 year old vampire who glitters in sunlight and has a knack for rescuing Bella from her own stupidity. 

            I have no issues with the supernatural genre.  Frankly, I don’t have issues with any genre so long as it is well written or entertaining.  As a result, I love love love Sookie Stackhouse books.  They are fabulous mind candy.  Not much substance, but fun, enjoyable characters, and creatively written.

            But Bella?  Holey moley that chick drives me up a tree.  I suffered through the first three books of pouting, and will not read the fourth.  Bella struck me as your typical sullen teenager, totally self-absorbed, whiny, and overly dramatic.    She is described as being only slightly better than average looking.  She has not a single humorous bone in her body.  Her father, who, despite being the local Chief of Police, has the observational skills of peanut butter, doesn’t seem to notice that her 200 year old boyfriend sleeps in her bed every night after climbing into her bedroom window.  And we are supposed to believe that he actually sleeps.  Edward, who has less of a sense of humor than Bella, is supposed to be this hyper-intelligent, worldly, sophisticated, drop-dead gorgeous guy, who, for reasons left unclear to the reader, has decided that of all the people on planet Earth, he wants to spend his time with this miserable teenager because she smells good, but is too virtuous to put the moves on her, despite sleeping by her side.  Riiiiiight.

            I could go on, and with very little prompting I would, but I know I need to keep these posts short and I want to fast forward a few years.

            So now, everyone with two X chromosomes seems to be obsessed with 50 Shades of Grey.  Before I read them, I was told that there was a great deal of racy sex, but really, the reason to read the series was the relationship between the characters and the interesting psychology.   So I read the first two books.  I will not be reading the third.  In these books, we are supposed to believe that a smoking hot 21 year old (Anna) has never ever even had a guy attract her enough to make her desire a kiss.  She is oblivious to all the hot men in her life who are obviously falling all over themselves to get to her.  She somehow manages to get an exclusive interview with Christian Grey, a young, eligible, self-made gazillionaire (who made his gazillions saving the environment) for the college paper because her editor roommate conveniently gets sick. 

            Naturally, as a result of her completely run of the mill interview questions, he falls madly in love with her, and she with him, and they find themselves entangled in an affair that takes three books to describe.  She goes from total cold fish to hot to trot in approximately one dinner date (granted, it is a dinner date involving a private helicopter, but still).  He has Deep Dark Problems, which make him like kinky sex, and she just wants to ‘fix’ him by having kinky sex with him to prove to him that she really cares.  Within three weeks, they are engaged, because super brilliant entrepreneurs have nothing but time on their hands to spend all the time they want with a new girlfriend, and are known for being impulsive and mercurial.  She regularly admits she doesn’t understand him at all, but it doesn’t really matter, because he is super hot and she loooooooooves him, and isn’t that what matters in the end?  To top it off, the writing appears to be done by a writer with the level of sophistication shown by, well, Bella.

            Can you think of a single lesson in any of that you’d want your daughter to learn?  I wish my friends and acquaintances would just be honest.  You are not reading these books for the psychology.  You are not reading these books because you care deeply whether or not Anna and Christian can work out their relationship problems.  You are reading them because you like reading the sex scenes.

            What irritates me the most, I suppose, is how much money the authors of these books are making.  I mean, I’m as capitalist as the next person, and if you can convince someone to pay money for what you’ve created, kudos to you.  But there seem to be so many great writers out there, who know how to turn a phrase, who know how to create characters that come to life, who can make us think and laugh, who can’t earn a penny from their writing.  These writers – and you only need to look as far as my fellow Patch Bloggers – struggle with day jobs and dream of being published one day.  But no, all the valuable shelf space and marketing dollars are going to Anna and Bella’s creators.

A good book introduces you to friends.  When you pick it up, you are visiting your friend, and finding out what happens next in their life.  When you reread a book you love, it is like visiting old friends.  There are good popular authors out there: JK Rowling (Harry Potter); Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games); and Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum), just to name a few.  So why any woman capable of reading a 500 page book would want to shell out upwards of ten bucks a pop to spend time with either Bella or Anna is beyond me. 

So here I am, whining about the whiny-ness of these characters, which just goes to show you that perhaps you shouldn’t listen to me, either.  So, go read some Patch Blogs, and let us know if you like what we are doing, or, better yet, call your cousin the literary agent and tell him you’ve found the next great author.  If you can’t do that, find an actual good book, and talk about it non-stop so that the next book I read is the one you recommended. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Karsten Torch October 16, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Lori, good points, but keep in mind that you are asking these questions of a society that watches Honey Boo Boo. 'Nuff said... I've read the Twilight books, and most others you've mentioned, but no desire to try the Shades of Grey books. The wife has read them, but didn't seem too enthused about them, honestly. What bothered me most about Twilight was that Edward is the whiniest man I think I have ever come across. Holy crap, he just makes my skin crawl. But, I guess that's the difference in perspective, looking at this from the male or female perspective.... But I also take into account that these books kind of are what they are - entertainment. Much like a good action movie that gets torn apart by critics for hard to follow storylines or implausible action sequences (like most Schwarzenegger movies), sometimes they exist purely to provide escape. And having the good fortune to write books dealing with the most popular thing going on currently (vampires, werewolves, whatever) doesn't hurt, either.
Lori Duff October 16, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I get the desire for escapist fiction. Like I said, I love the Sookie Stackhouse series, which is the whole vampire/werewolf thing, as nutritious as cotton candy, and just as delicious. What I don't get is why people like lousy escapist fiction. They like the Schwartzenegger movies because they have entertaining special effects, and funny catch-phrases and good looking actors. The lousy 'action' movies on the Sci-Fi channel aren't as popular because they have the same paper thin plot without the bells and whistles. So that's my question, I guess. Why are people settling for special effects where you can see the strings when you can get something that is at least visually plausible. Going back to the candy analogy, if they are the same price, why would you eat a circus peanut when you could eat a Godiva Chocolate bar?
Terri Bianchini October 16, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Very funny and well said. I can't read a bad book. I have to put it down. I could pick through the local deli trash to find a cookie but I'm not going to go through it.
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