Where do the bad books go? With hardcover fiction ready to top thirty bucks a pop, trade paperbacks routinely going for seventeen/eighteen dollars and so-called ‘rack sized’ or mass-market paperbacks becoming a vanishing breed, where the bad books go really ought to be the fiery furnaces of hell. Bookaholics browsing their credit card statements can get queasy, particularly if some of the bookstore and online charges were for books that kind of, well…sucked.
Of course, a bad book to me could be a cherished favorite of yours…and vice-versa.
My own cozy writing lair (which really is cozy, fortunately, now that Mid-Autumn’s pretending to be a prematurely snowy Winter) has an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling bookcases behind me and a long row of four-shelf bookcases on another wall, all of them jammed full. Only the ‘keepers’ end up on those shelves. There are lots of books bought and read that I’m just not interested in holding onto. Example: I’ve read more current events titles the past three years — things being pretty ‘eventful’ – but will be pleased to consider those books obsolete soon…one way or another. For those and others that I’ve enjoyed but simply don’t wish to keep, there’s a big carton out of sight beside my printer stand for books destined for periodic disposal.
And that’s where the bad books go.
Recently I was asked if I love every book I read, since a visitor here only sees rave reviews. First, to be clear, I don’t think of any of my book posts as ‘book reviews’ or myself a reviewer. I’m just sharing remarks about recently read books with followers/visitors who likely have similar interests. But, it’s true: You won’t find much in the way of negative ‘reviews’ here. Karma, baby. I’ve never understood why self-appointed unpaid book ‘reviewers’ want to bad-mouth books. I’m of the ‘if you don’t have something good to say, say nothing at all’ persuasion. I’ve violated it a time or two with older postwar paperbacks, but those novels were decades old, the authors long deceased. With so many good projects to chat about, why spend time being snarky about the bad ones? (Once again, keeping in mind that my good might be your bad, and vice-versa.)
But, are there bad ones? Good God, yes. Lots.
Bad books usually find their way home with me because of eye-catching cover art. I’m easier to hook than a hungry fish. Good covers are often wrapped around bad books, or books that just don’t interest me once I plunge in. Cozies masquerading as something grittier (or steamier) are frequent culprits. Pretentious self-indulgent ‘literary’ fiction runs a close second.
The most painful and recent example that comes to mind wasn’t a particularly expensive mistake. I eagerly looked forward to a novel that caught my eye at multiple sites and print venues. The $16 trade pb sported handsome illustrative retro-pulp cover art and was set in a familiar hard-boiled mystery/crime fiction milieu (or so I thought). But it turned out to be something quite different, and not far in, I began to skip tedious (and shockingly frequent) expository paragraphs and intrusive stop-the-narrative backstory. Nearing halfway I was already skimming, and soon just jumped to the end to see what the resolution of the mystery was (not that I cared very much by that point). For me, that was a bad book. A really, really bad book, but made all the worse when I spotted the author’s thank you to her agent in the acknowledgements…an agent who’d recently rejected me. Let’s assume the agent considered my project a bad book. Or enlisted an intern to crank out thanks-but-no-thanks emails to unread queries…who knows? And no, I won’t mention the title or author name here. But I’ll admit – that one left me bruised (and out the sixteen bucks).
Bad books and just-not-keeper books used to be donated till I learned that they weren’t sent to literacy programs or needy libraries, but merely pulped for pennies-a-pound. Now the baddies are turned in at a used bookstore chain, with whatever I earn (no surprise) usually spent before I can escape. And ‘round here, that’s where bad books go. Hopefully into the hands of readers who don’t think they’re bad. After all, someone thought they were good, good enough to get an agent, acquisition editor and retail buyers’ approval, right? So, I like to think those ‘bad’ books became someone else’s good books. Unless, of course, I see them back on the used bookstore’s shelves a few weeks later.
Top photo: Christopher Lowell, 2006; Bookstore window by Edson Rosas, Above (c) 2009 Holly Henry.