Friday, July 24, 2009

Berating the Remains of Henry James

From Erin Miller:

"A review of "The Ambassadors", Henry James, found on Several interesting things to note here: first, "Hemmingway" recommended the novel--seriously. If this was in fact Ernest, I can only imagine that took place at Sloppy Joe's in Key West after a night of vodka shots. Secondly, this may have launched a new category: the 'This Book was so Bad I'm going to Go Berate the Author's Remains.'"

T rated it: 1 of 5 stars

Has a copy to sell/swap — Read in October, 2008
recommended to T by: Hemmingway (seriously!)
recommends it for: bourgeois intercontentals
Far, far too much punctuation, thus ruining this read. Twenty pages and it was tossed away. The ashes of Henry James are interned in Cambridge, just around the corner, so I'll stop by to ask him why he ruined a good story with poor storytelling.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review of The Old Man and the Sea

Another great submission from Erin Miller, a Goodreads review of the Hemingway classic.

Matt rated it: 1 of 5 stars

bookshelves: overrated, school-forced-me-to-read-this, sucked
Read in January, 1999
recommends it for: mermaids
Worst book ever.

Just throw the fucking fish back in. Fuck.

Hateful Review of Terry Eagleton

From William Bradley, this smart and thoughtful dissection of Matt Taibbi's evisceration of Terry Eagleton's book, Reason, Faith and Revolution:

I have a nominee for your Bad Book Review contest. Frankly, I think Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi's blog post/ review of Terry Eagleton's recent book Reason, Faith and Revolution could easily qualify for "The I Don't Get it Award", "Most Sarcastic-Aren't-I-Wicked Award", and "The Best I-Missed-the-Point –Entirely Comment/Review," but if it has to be nominated in just one category, it probably belongs under "Most Hateful Signed Review/Blog Comment." Taibbi himself, I think, is a somewhat inconsistent writer-- I've enjoyed some of his stuff, but not a whole lot of it. But he frankly doesn't seem to understand Eagleton's point, which is that much of the "New Atheism's" dismissal of religion entirely is based upon a limited understanding of history, art, literature, and theology in general. Instead, Taibbi's offers up lines like these:

"Like almost all great defenders of religion, Eagleton specializes in putting bunches of words together in ways that sound like linear arguments, but actually make no sense whatsoever."

"Anyway this is the kind of stuff that permeates Eagleton’s work: a lot of masturbatory semantics and naked goalpost-moving buried in great gnarled masses of old-world sneering and unnecessary syllables."

"[Eagleton and Stanley Fish] seem determined to prove that the quality of not believing in heaven and hell and burning bushes and saints is a rigid dogma all unto itself, as though it required a concerted intellectual effort to disbelieve in a God who thinks gays (Leviticus 20:13) or people who work on Sunday (Exodus 35:2) should be put to death."

[This despite Eagleton's own criticism of American fundamentalism that "thinks gays... should be put to death."]

"If you ever want to give yourself a really good, throbbing headache, go online and check out Eagleton’s lectures at Yale, upon which the book was based, in which one may listen to this soft-soaping old toady do his verbose best to stick his tongue as far as he can up the anus of the next generation of the American upper class."

This last line is actually my favorite, as it reveals that Taibbi apparently knows nothing about the guy he's writing about. People may like or dislike Terry Eagleton, but the man's devoted his academic career to Marxist literary theory and politics. He's not gonna... y'know... do that to the upper class.

Anyway. This "review" (I'm not sure if it can properly be called that, as it occurs to me that Taibbi at no point claims to have read the book he's criticizing) remains a favorite of mine for its vituperative stupidity and anti-intellectualism.

You can find the full review here:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reviews of Virginia Woolf and Henry Miller

I was going to wait a little bit to post some more silly book reviews, but these entries from Lauren Scotto are too good to delay.

All reviews were taken from (go figure)

Tropic of Cancer - Miller

The first review is short and sweet. I am not sure this needs an introduction, other than to point out the best book reviews are usually the ones where the reader takes the time to read past page 4. Also, doesn't the misspelling of "disgusting" look almost Freudian?

1.0 out of 5 starsThis is not a good book, AT ALL., Jun 17 2004

By A Customer

This book is one of the worst books I have ever seen. I got to about page 3-4, and I didn't read any more. It offends women, it's discusting. This is a book I would not read if you gave it to me.

The next reviewer seems to be more of a Miller fan than he is a fan of the novel itself. I learned that Miller is cool, unlike "joyce and pound and those fools". Also, Miller is wordy but "damn good at it". So good in fact that the reviewer will not even speak to anyone who has not read the book. I'm not sure I understand the part of the review that states, "he's one of the only writers you can read while starving and not getting all that much" but I can overlook it because the public service announcement at the end of the review feels really heartfelt.

5.0 out of 5 starshenry miller rocks!, Feb 27 2004


RIZZOB "Rizzob" (People's Repubic of Earth) - See all my reviews

henry miller is the best american writer of the 20th century. fitzgerald had more raw talent but miller used more of his. he abandons linear narrative and uses associative devices instead. he didn't read all that much, compared to joyce and pound and those fools, so his word choice is a little exotic at times, and he's wordy too, but he's damn good at it. i won't even talk to anyone now who hasn't read this book. miller makes it feel good again to feel sorry for yourself. he's one of the only writers you can read while starving and not getting all that much. read everything he's written, then go out and get drunk, but don't drive.

Mrs. Dalloway - Woolf

According to Kevin Golden, Mrs. Dalloway is the worst book ever written - and he should know evidenced by the typo of Woolf. Maybe I'm a stickler, but I firmly believe when reviewing a book, the reviewer should take careful pains to correctly spell the author's name. Clearly more disturbing is the idea of reanimation: "Virginia Wolf has been dead for quite some time now. Let us pray to God she stays that way..." Mr. Golden has a lot of scathing one-liners and one can practically hear him shouting ZING! I had to include this review because it's the first time I have ever seen someone claim a book to be worse than AIDS. Poor, poor Mrs. Dalloway. The review is oddly rousing, as if he's trying to start an undergraduate revolution of anti-canonical reading. Join together! Burn every sentence Wolf ever wrote!

1.0 out of 5 starsWORST BOOK EVER WRITTEN, May 6, 2005


Kevin Golden

The only good thing to say about this "literary" drivel is that the person responsible, Virginia Wolf, has been dead for quite some time now. Let us pray to God she stays that way as we, the people, all work together to make sure that no future generations ever have to read this nonsense again. Lets burn every sentence she ever penned to end all the unneccesary suffering that curious readers have to go through when they first pick up "Mrs. Dalloway." Aside from being dreadfully boring, might I add that it is also terribly written? Thats right, you heard me. The narrative reads like the inner thoughts of a sugar crazed autistic kid with ADD in the middle of a carnival. Stream of conscience you say? Groundbreaking prose? Get off your high horse you pathetic first year English students and admit, THIS BOOK IS WORSE THAN AIDS! You should not feel compelled to like it just because your professor tells you how brilliant it is.

Review of Moby Dick

Here's a great one sent in by Erin Miller:

I'm not sure if this is really unintentionally funny, or if it's the "wish you'd written a different book". Here it is:

3 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful, February 19, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Moby-Dick (Bantam Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Moby Dick is the most BORING book I have ever read! I think if you made it into a short comic strip, you would have liked it. But this 550 page account called a novel? No way, man. I implore you, do NOT read this book. If it's required, then do so. But if you have other options, turn to those. We were given a list of books in English class, and I chose to read this. After a week, I was just in page 103. It was needed the next day, so I panicked and switched books, and bought War and Peace. And I finished that book in 8 hours of straight reading.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bad Review Contest

In a short story by Ellen Gilchrist, a New Orleans society matron reviews a novel by skipping the contents entirely and focusing her animus on the author’s photo on the book jacket (who coincidentally is described as looking a lot like Ellen Gilchrist). The story ridicules the reviewer and the author unwittingly exacts her revenge. What author hasn’t wished to see his or her detractors paraded naked through the streets (figuratively, at least!)? After toiling for years on a book, and shepherding it through the editing and publication process, it can be disheartening when a reviewer say, doesn’t actually read your book or gets basic facts wrong, or does the equivalent of reviewing your author’s photo. As writers, we just have to live with this occupational hazard. Stiff upper lip, onward and upward, get on with it, and all that. Fine, but why not review the really atrocious reviewers from time to time and at least have a little fun with them?

So I’m sponsoring a little contest to ferret out some really atrocious reviews and blog comments. The rules are simple.

You can’t nominate a review of a book by yourself.

If possible, provide a link to the review or post, with relevant quotes included. You may quote magazine review, blog reviews, Amazon ratings, Shelfari comments, Goodreads rankings, etc.

Explain succinctly why the review is silly, idiotic, etc (and of course, not simply because you disagree with the reviewer’s taste).

It strikes me that this might on occasion simply be depressing rather than funny, but let's press on . . .

For example, take this website in which the original poster on Kafka AND most of the comments that follow are fairly lunatic. It starts with this sage observation:

"Two things strike me about Franz Kafka. First, the almost complete absence of ideas in his work. Second, how obvious it is that his work is fundamentally about either repressed or closeted homosexuality."

Actually, the best response to this nonsense comes from a fifteen year old who writes, in effect, that it's absurd to say that a book lacks "ideas" simply because the reviewer isn't insightful enough to understand them.

You can read the entire bizarre discussion of Kafka at

Personally, I would probably nominate this review for the Best I-Missed-the-Point-Entirely Review.

Go ahead, try to find some absurd review/comments about authors who deserve better. It's easy and it's fun in a depressing way!

While there are a lot of hateful reviews and comments about books on the web, the hateful review has been around for a long time (as have insipid reviews that overpraise a book). For instance, in 1984, Guardian critic Ronald Hayman writes of Ernst Pawel's biography of Kafka, THE NIGHTMARE OF REASON:

"Every biography is a mixture of fact and surmise, but there are ways of letting the reader know which is which. Writing without footnotes in prose which resembles the permanently raised voice of a frustrated lecturer, Ernst Pawel is at pains to blend his guesswork, his jokes, his generalisations and his critical comments into his narrative, but, like an anchovy in fish-paste, Kafka's life loses its texture."

He goes on to call Pawell's biography "cancerously garrulous," in a cancerously flip manner. Pawel's biography certainly doesn't deserve such excoriation. It's the tone of the review I find absurd, not the opinion of the reviewer -- though I should come clean and say that I love Pawel's biography of Kafka.

Still, I would nominate Mr. Hayman for the Most Sarcastic-Aren't-I-Wicked Award.

Okay, enough of the Kafka kick. I'm just using him as an example. Go find your own. And be careful. It's a jungle out there.

At the end of the year, the nominator of the winner of each category (as judged by a panel of book reviewers) will receive $25 and the nominator of the overall worst review/comment of the year will receive a hundred dollars.

Some Categories:

Most Hateful Anonymous Review/Blog Comment

Most Hateful Signed Review/Blog Comment

Most Inane Anonymous Review/Comment

Most Inane Signed Review/Comment

Most Unintentionally Funny Review/Comment

The I-Don’t-Get-It Award

Most Sarcastic-Aren't-I-Wicked Award

Most Irrelevant Review/Blog Comment

Most This-Isn’t-The-Book-I-Wanted-the-Author-to-Write Comment or Review

Biggest-Crackpot Award

The Most Humorless Comment/Review

The Best I-Missed-the-Point –Entirely Comment/Review

Most Insipid Positive Comment/Review

Email me your findings at and I’ll post ones that follow the guidelines above.

Happy Hunting!