he American Book Review recently asked literary experts to define a bad book. The resulting list — which features bestsellers and beloved classics (see "Top 40 Bad Books" in PDF form here) — has confounded some avid page-turners. "If they're the worst," asks Carolyn Kellogg at the LA Times, "what are the best?" Here, five of the dissed tomes, including some surprises:
Revolutionary Road: What a pity, says Sean Bernard at the University of La Verne, that so many well-read individuals, including Kurt Vonnegut and Ben Marcus, have been "tricked" into thinking that Richard Yates' mediocre book — about a '50s suburbian couple living lives of quiet desperation — is good.
All the Pretty Horses: Cormac McCarthy's "arrogance" comes through in this "romance novel for men," says Christine Granados at Texas A&M University. By "wrapping characters in half-truths and idealized anecdotes," he's created a novel rife with "clichés" and one-dimensional "derivative characters."
The Da Vinci Code: This "formulaic knock-off" of fascist conspiracy theory represents the worst and weakest of American fiction, says Bonnie Wheeler at the Southern Methodist University. "I love the chapters that are only a couple of lines long." That said, Code inspired many of my English students to start writing: "Is it possible than even a Bad Book can do Good?"
An American Tragedy: This book — a fixture on college reading lists — "goes into the toilet" at the end, says William A. O'Rourke at the University of Notre Dame. Author Theodore Dreiser does a lot of "telling" but very little "showing" in the last third of his book; that's why film producers largely ignored it when they adapted the book for Elizabeth Taylor's silver-screen classic, A Place in the Sun.
The Great Gatsby: If we measure bad novels in proportion to "perceived greatness," F. Scott Fitzgerald's is surely the worst, says Tom LeClair at the University of Cincinnati. This "incredibly smug" book "manipulates convention" to create a "charming" — but ultimately empty — tale.
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