by Ted Bell
2006 Atria Books (Simon & Schuster)

First sentence: He had never expected to survive the sinking of his boat.
Favorite sentence: Food and drinks are prohibited from this section of the library.
Three pages of clichés: the river a quiet mirror, endless jungle, fallen silent, the peace was suddenly shattered, a rain of lead, engulfed in flames, sold to the highest bidder
You might also enjoy: contact sex with your cats, soccer

Other reviews: What James Reads, Large Print Reviews

Oh Atria Books, can you produce anything that isn’t shit? I’m starting to feel bad for suggesting that Atria is just a front for a meth lab, because that horribly disparages meth labs and the hardworking men and women who strive to create a pure product that brings joy to so many. Atria Books is more like a terrorist organization, which wants you to die, and is willing to sacrifice themselves to make you die.

This book begins with a prologue, which in a work of fiction is like a middle finger to the reader. Is the prologue important to the story? It wasn’t good enough to be a real chapter, so surely I can skip it… Will it contain a useless sideshow prequel that sets the mood of the main plotline? Or is it just some crap that didn’t fit anywhere so you tossed it there?

I elected to skip the prologue and start at chapter one because nothing comes before one except zero. And zero is the part where I am sleeping, which is a better use of my time than this book was.

At first it wasn’t clear if this was a shitty book or not, but then I saw this sentence, like a dead shitty giveaway:

The river was alive with death.

Oxymorons like this are tricks hacks use to make you think they are clever, but this is the most cliché-infested writing I’ve ever seen. Reading along further, Bell inserts an inexplicable vernacular apostrophe that completely stalls your thought process:

When he heard the explosion for’ard, and felt the yawl stagger and founder…

I must have glanced back at that for’ard twenty times because I couldn’t believe it was really there.

I will give Ted Bell credit, though, for packing in a lot of action in three pages. Here’s what happened in that span:

  1. a boat travelling on a river hits a mine and gets strafed by machine gun fire
  2. the survivor enters the water only to be attacked by a “water boa”
  3. he is then captured by indians and sold into slavery
  4. he fights off his captors and escapes
  5. he fakes his own death, then jumps back into the river
All that in just three pages. And yet, Ted Bell is such a shitty writer I was bored by this story.
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by Emma Donaghue
2010 Little, Brown and Company

Method of selection: One-word titles

First sentence: Today I’m five.
Worst sentence: There’s the stain I spilled by mistake getting born.
Anthropopomomorphised objects in  first three pages: Wardrobe, Bed, Skylight, Lamp, Rug, Mr. Five, Rocker, Watch, Duvet (really???), Mirror, Kit, Shelf, Bath
Things I’d rather read: the dedication plates on park benches, toaster instructions

This book is written in a bit of a vernacular. It’s also written from the point-of-view of a five year old, which is similar to, but stupider than, a vernacular. Even talented authors rarely write vernacular well, and five-year-olds are not the best writers anyway, so you can guess how I feel about this book, in spite of its unique story.

As the book opens, a child and his mother share a small room, where the child anthropomorphises and capitalizes everything, eliminating articles, so when they talk they sound like cavemen, or stereotypes of Native Americans:

  • Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp.
  • I jump on Rocker and look at Watch.
  • When are presents meant to open?
  • Why are the eyes of the me shut?

There’s 320 pages in this book. I’ll never make it.

I don’t know five-year-olds who talk like this. But I only know maybe thirty or forty five-year-olds, or I did but now they’re buried in my basement. What I worry about most (besides the Children of the Basement reanimating and stealing all my Juice Boxes) are Emma Donoghue’s two young children. She clearly hasn’t been talking to them and they may need to be liberated.

The concept of the book is actually a great a idea: a woman imprisoned in a tiny room with her young son tries to make the room liveable for him, but he is oblivious until he starts to notice what is going on. But why a five-year-old? Wouldn’t a nine-year-old at least have been better, so we didn’t have to slog through all the caveman talk? I don’t want to call it shitty, but as you can see my hands are tied.

The synopsis says this book is shocking, exhilarating, riveting, deeply human, and always moving. The best book I ever read wasn’t all those things. Why would a publisher lie just so you’ll buy their shitty book?

Other reviews: One Minute Book Reviews, Book Lover Book Reviews, Novelicious, Shelf Life

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Playing With Boys

by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
2004 St. Martin’s Press

First sentence: There were times that made me s’dang proud to be a Mexican I wept ’til my mascara melted — say, when Vincente Fernandez sang “Cielito Lindo” for the Republican National Convention in 2000.
All-time worst title for a book: “Playing With Boys”
Only way to make it worse: “Playing With Little Boys”
Way to make it funnier: “Playing With Boys While Dressed as the Easter Bunny”
Way to make it a horror novel: “She Played With Boys”
Way to make it a tragic but ultimately heart-warming story of an impoverished black family during the Jim Crow era of the Deep South: “Mamma Played With Boys”

I was unaware that Mexican-Americans are important. I thought they were just dishwashers. But Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez makes the argument that they have other important roles in our society, such as mariachi bands. She lays this out in a collection of essays disguised as fiction. I know she is an essayist because there is no story here, just a desperate female narrator using a tongue-in-cheek way of addressing the reader as “darlin'”, as “y’all”, and through frequent parenthetical statements which are supposed to be funny, but are instead the opposite of funny.

The opposite of funny is holocaust. And that’s what this book is. A holocaust. For my dignity.

I have no beef with chick lit, but someday I hope one of its many authors will explain why they have to write their books as if all their readers are high school sophomores. It’s degrading.

Other reviews: Fresh Fiction, Book Reporter

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The Perfect Poison

by Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz)
2009 GP Putnam (Penguin)

First sentence: Lucinda stopped a few feet away from the dead man, trying to ignore the fierce undercurrents of tension that raged through the elegant library.
Clichés in three successive sentences, written while the author was eating a frozen lemonade:cool and composed, as cold as ice, chill her to the bone
Pairs well with: oatmeal, dry toast, iceberg lettuce, lite beer, unsalted nuts, dental appointments and broken marriages

Jayne Ann Krentz needs to spend more time creating characters and less time writing 122 shitty novels. Krentz is another author of “genre romance”, a genre we last met with Spellbound by Patricia Simpson. But rather than being shitty and charming, this is just shitty and crappy.

In three pages she introduces the following characters:

  • a Scotland Yard Inspector who is stout, cheerful, has a voluminous mustache and a “psychical gift” for noticing small clues at a murder scene
  • the “severe-looking” spinster sister named Hannah Rathbone
  • a handsome man named Hamilton Fairborn, with his “well-modeled” jaw
  • a coterie of offended Victorian ladies

I wasn’t sure if I was reading a novel or playing a game of Parker Brothers Clue. It seems Jayne Ann Krentz gets her novel ideas from watching Masterpiece Theatre knockoffs on the Mexican PBS (which is likely acronymed “BSP” or “SBP”).

Krentz has published six to seven thousand novels (the exact number is not known by modern science) under seven different pseudonyms, in part because she is so embarrassed about everything she writes, and in part because she has killed six other authors, all of them shitty, and assumed their identity. The editor of her page on Wikipedia (who is really Krentz working under the pseudonym “James Patterson”) points out that “Krentz created the futuristic romance subgenre, and further expanded the boundaries of the genre in 1996 with Amaryllis, the first paranormal futuristic romantic suspense novel”. Paranormal indeed.

I considered suicide once for every verb in the first three pages. Luckily shit hardly happened or I would be dead right now.

Other reviews: Jandy’s Reading RoomWorking Girl ReviewsPenelope’s Romance ReviewsMore Vikings

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Zero History

by William Gibson
2010 GP Putnam’s Sons (Penguin)

First sentence: Inchmale hailed a cab for her, the kind that has always been black, when she’d first know this city.
Idiotic clauses (see below): Glyphed in Prussian blue…a smoother simulacrum of its black ancestors…its faux-leather upholstery a shade of orthopedic faun.
You will enjoy this if you are also a fan of: eating your boogers

Perhaps I am too dumb to read William Gibson. I know what all these words mean, but they don’t fit together. It’s as if William Gibson chopped up a thesaurus with a hatchet and hammered the pieces together to make a novel. Every time I come across one of these clauses, like, “multiply flapped and counterintuitively buckled” I wait for a light to go on in my esoteric brain, the part that enjoys Baudrillard and jazz (I don’t enjoy jazz but I pretend to like it for all the jazz pussy), but instead I just groan and get sleepy. By the second page, I was in a coma.

It shared a richly but soberly paneled foyer with whatever occupied the other, westernmost, half of the building.

William Gibson, you are trying too hard. Clever, richly-appointed prose has a place, but you give your reader’s imagination no room to expand. You fill out every passage with stumbling blocks like, “Japanese herringbone Gore-Tex” and “one might have ridden a horse without having to duck to clear the lintel”. Every time you write something, your reader has to think about it. If this were a poem, it would be perfect, because we know it’s going to be over by the end of the page. But this goes on for 401 more pages! And besides being an obstacle course to read, I can safely estimate that at least 200 pages of this shitty book are unnecessary filler, which means you skimped on story.

Go back and read Hemingway. He wrote prose like this:

I woke up with a headache and took a drink. I farted. It burned. Then I beat my wife. She cried.

It’s simple, it tells a story, there’s implied tension, emotion, even humor (especially the part where he beat his wife — what a clown!). And best of all it has no confusing speedbumps like, “the floor plan gave evidence of hesitation”. You don’t have to write exactly like Hemingway, but there’s probably a happy medium.

And lastly, I don’t see why people make such a big deal about you inventing the word “cyberspace”. I’ve never said the word “cyberspace” in my whole life except when I was talking about William Gibson and his shitty books.

Other reviews: Mostly Fiction, Iceberg Ink, Big Dumb ObjectCity of Tongues

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Mister B. Gone

by Clive Barker
2007 Harper Collins

Selection method: Wanted to find non-shitty non-Stephen King horror fiction. Failed.
First paragraph
: Burn this book. Go on. Quickly, while there’s still time. Burn it. Don’t look at another word. Did you hear me? Not. One. More. Word.
First, page 2: What are you waiting for? You don’t have a light? Ask somebody. Beg them.
First, page 3: What’s the problem? Why are you still reading?
Most totally idiotic: …the book sat somewhere through the passage of many centuries in a pile of books nobody ever opened.

I was convinced that Mister B. Gone was young adult fiction, and that the library had misfiled it. It’s not, because Clive Barker thinks you are retarded. In fact, this is considered “metafiction”, which isn’t even a real word (see my feelings on “meta” in general) and I guess that is supposed to impress me. Instead of being impressed, I took up arson. And I was BAD at it.

I read through the first three pages of warnings about how evil this book is just to find out how shitty it could get. It didn’t take long, with the narrator revealing, “Yeah, I’m a demon.” Yeah, you’re a shitty book. Clive Barker must be taking writing lessons from James Patterson now. There was nothing compelling, suspenseful, scary, or macabre in those first pages. The only good thing I can say about it was that there were no spelling errors. And the cover design was nice, but that was the work of Mary Schuck, whose career is now ruined.

Even if Clive Barker were to claim this was young adult fiction, I would never let a child of mine read it. I wouldn’t want them to grow up thinking it’s okay to write this way. Clive Barker may have even sensed that this book was shitty, and so in a stroke of genius, spent three pages telling you to stop reading and burn the book, which is so meta my nuts just exploded from a hipster orgasm.

Don’t read this book. It is shitty. Put the shitty book down. Now. Burn the shitty book.

Other reviews: Fantasy Book CriticWhat We’re Reading Now, No Room In Hell, Morbid Outlook

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The Dog Walker

by Leslie Schnur
Atria Books 2004

Selection method: Went looking for the worst book title I could find. Instead got the worst author’s name I could find. Schnur is a Pokemon character. Schnur! Schnur!
First: Nina Shepard was in love with a man she’d never met.
Worst: It was funny how she could know more about a man she’d never met than all the men she had met put together.
Most profound: After thirty-five years, she liked her legs.
Misspelled word used to describe Lenny Kravitz on page two: white-bread

Leslie Schnur likes hyphens. She wants you to know. She uses them to construct witty-and-familiar-but-not-that-familiar-and-not-that-witty adjectives. They’re easy to spot, like a curly black pubic hair in a bowl of warm cream. And good thing because I was not going to read more than three pages of this shitty book. Here is a selection, which I swear I didn’t make up:

  • soon-to-be-ex
  • way-too-long life
  • only-in-New-York sight
  • lovely-to-look-at alt-lifestyle junkie
  • irony-is-dead-or-not-dead argument
  • cinematographer-libertarian-vegetarian-qigong-expert ex-husband
  • real-life-adventure-tragedy-on-Everest-in-Antarctica-in-Krakatoa-with-sharks-with-fire stuff

She also desperately wants you to know about her dog. He is the best dog in the world, and his name is Charlie and he is a mutt from the ASPCA and he apparently is great enough to be listed in her dedication right next to her flesh and blood children. Thanks, mom. Happy to know we’re as important to you as a dog from the pound.

It is also important to know that Leslie Schnur has been an editor and publisher for over twenty years, and this is her first novel. In writing this wonderful piece of shit, she gives us further evidence that editors don’t know how to read. How could she even approve her own work? Cosmopolitan Magazine wouldn’t print this. Fake Chinese Teen Cosmo wouldn’t print this. And the label “chick lit” is too high a compliment, as it implies “literature” which this is not. I suggest instead the term “curdled festering placental tread marks on society’s sweaty undergarments” (which I think was also a song by Carcass).

This is a New Yorker clearly infatuated with her life and her city, which she thinks are crazy and vibrant, respectively, but which in fact are both alcohol dumpsters. I’m not saying Leslie Schnur is an alcoholic, just that there were a lot of wine stains on the cover and I got contact drunk while holding it.

The offending publisher here is Atria Books, which is where Simon & Shuster flushes everything not good enough for their flagship imprint. We last met Atria Books in Jennifer Weiner’s unputdownable (no hyphens necessary) Goodnight Nobody. We are far from surprised, then, that Jennifer Weiner lends the first puff quote to the back cover — the shitty pot calling the kettle shitty. But no less than the esteemed US Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, also claims to like this book (he’s lost his mind, and my vote….when I get my illegal absentee ballot from Minnesota). I’m looking into whether Atria Books is really a business front for a meth lab.

I would like to round up every person who read this all the way through (start with her own list of acknowledgments), put them into a rocket ship, launch them into space, and drop them all on the Moon. Then blow up the Moon, impeach Al Franken, blow up Minnesota, and finally mix the Moon debris and Minnesota debris into a giant ball and make a new Moon. Then fire this second Moon directly into the Sun using futuristic ion rockets. Then burn the factory that made the rockets and have a party.

Other reviews: The Romance Reader, Trashionista, Curled Up, The Best Reviews

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The Pale King

by David Foster Wallace
2011 Little, Brown, & Co.

First sentence: Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the AM heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butterprint, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.
Words in that sentence that are also names of bluegrass bands: cutgrass, foxtail, wild oat
Words in that sentence that are also names of shitty rock bands: shattercane, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, muscadine, goldenrod, creeping charlie, ragweed, vetch, blacktop, downriver,
Words that are shitty metal bands: nightshade, rust 
No. of children in Africa who died of malnourishment while David Foster Wallace was writing that sentence: One zillion.

The reason David Foster Wallace hung himself in 2008 was that he had written most of this book and finally realized that it was shitty. That first sentence takes up half of the entire first chapter. The first three pages are mostly white space and I was forced to read a whole extra page just to get a sense of where DFW went wrong. I can reasonably say he went wrong by exiting his mother’s womb.

The first character we meet is named Sylvanshine, which I believe is Elven, or if not, then very very gay. From what I can tell, this is a story about an accountant. Wow. DFW is a genius.

I have never understood the cult surrounding this man. The guy wore bandanas and his books are shitty and I say that having read not just one, but zero of them. It is amazing that a man can write so much and have so little to say. This book would be better shredded into packing material — more entertaining, too. The publishers should have left this unfinished novel unfinished and not besmirched DFW’s name further.

I feel a little bad trashing a dead guy, but last I checked, corpses couldn’t defend themselves, and suicide is cheating.

Other reviews: Literary Sluts, Writerly Life, 26 Books, Of Books And Reading

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Goodnight Nobody

by Jennifer Weiner
Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) 2005

Method of selection: Asked the librarian directions to the restroom. This was the book I found in the toilet.

First sentence: “Hello?” I tapped on Kitty Cavanaugh’s red front door, then lifted the brass knocker and gave it a few thumps for good measure. 
Types of diabetes I came down with trying to slog through this: Type 1 (body does not produce insulin), Type 2 (body ignores insulin produced), Type 9 (only affects people who read this book, and cannibals who eat the brains of people who read this book. I did both, so now I also have Type 12 diabetes).
You will like this book if: you’re a hospice patient with nothing to do but wait for death.

Why do authors write books about normal people doing normal things and complaining about it? I know how boring life is already. I do it every day, and complain about it. Where’s the robot fellatio? Where are the Templar Knights travelling through time to have sex with you? And how long must I wait to get to the murder parts? Nobody I ever know gets killed. Life sucks! We know!

The first three pages of this are about a suburban mom and her sad lonely life raising three kids and a husband who ignores her, and the sexy cool moms who are sexier and cooler and less Jewish than her. My hope was she would bury her three children alive in the yard and then go rape the sexy moms, but she hardly did any of those things.

The publisher’s synopsis calls this book “unputdownable”, but I didn’t have any trouble putting it down, which means either the publisher is lying, or someone drove a 1/2-inch bolt directly through her palms and into this book, and used a locknut on the other side. That story would have made for a more interesting read, as do most instructions on playing billiards.

Other reviews:  The Infinite Shelf, Tiny Little Reading Room, Capricious Reader

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A House of Secrets

by Patti Davis
Birch Lane Press 1991

Method of selection: Set a cow loose in the library. This was the book she was munching on when they shot her.

First sentence: I am the child of storytellers.

Worst sentence: …I’ve seen questions scurrying away, frightened by the light.
Worser sentence: Reaching my arm up at just the right moment, I could graze the edge of the moon; velvety and pale, it would leave a fine dust on my fingertips.
Word I hate in that sentence more than any: velvety

Do you know who Patti Davis is? I didn’t. She isn’t the Patti Davis named Patti Smith, which is what I thought at first. But it turns out I’ve seen her naked, which is probably why this is such a shitty book. She was too busy getting naked to learn to write.

Patti Davis is Ronald Reagan’s daughter, and notorious in the family for being a liberal, and something of a libertine. She appeared in Playboy in 1994, in all her Mr. Universe-armed glory. I’m not sure why she thought she could write a novel, but people do crazy things on steroids.

The talking points on the front flap say this is a book about a woman “coming to terms”. This is the first warning that this is a shitty book. Unless she turns out to be coming to terms with her gigantic penis, or coming to terms with her insane desire to kill people and fuck their corpses, you can be sure this book isn’t going to be very interesting.

The second is how every sentence is written out to be a big deal, such as:

My father waited until my mother’s shape no longer filled the doorway, until the sound of her footsteps had disappeared.

You know what works even better? “Mom left.” Even better than that is to not write anything, and go to bed. I really don’t care that the woman’s parents are really Ronald and Nancy Reagan. They’re old and they’re dead. But I suppose they were still alive in 1991, sorta. It should be pointed out that this book is very, very out of print. So now it’s collectible!

(Support this site by purchasing this shitty book through one of the links below.)