2010: The Shelf of Shame

on Friday, December 24, 2010
Festivus is upon us which means we can count the number of days left in the year on one hand (that is assuming, like a guy I went to school with, you were born with a superfluous finger). I, for one, am getting into the Listmas spirit, looking over my 2010 reading catalog while sipping non-alcoholic egg nog (read: an egg). Rather than doing a strict repeat of last year's lists and lumping you with one massive blog post on December 31, I've decided to break my year in review down into a number of categories. I started a few days ago (unwittingly) with the best books I had read that weren't first published in 2010. Now I want to continue with The Shelf of Shame, the dishonourable mentions for what was a very patchy publishing year.

Most Overrated Books of The Year

Room by Emma Donoghue. It's not that this story of a kid trapped in a shed with his mother was a terrible book but the hysteria that surrounded its release was close on Beatlemania. The execution is fair, the kid is likeable if a little cutesy, but at the end of the day it seemed like a decent concept for a short story or, at best, novella stretched laboriously over 300-odd pages. Its descent into the pits of sentimentality had my gag-reflex working overtime. Maybe if Donoghue had trimmed the schmaltz it would have been better.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. A passably entertaining riff on future love in the great melting pot of Cybermerica, quite a few reviewers went gaga over this, the follow-up to the rather wonderful Absurdistan. I thought it was alright, but Charles Yu did it far better.

Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. Critics were hailing this as the first great American novel of the decade and the most ingenious artistic representation of Global Financial Crisis we were ever likely to read. The David and Goliath tale of a big-business land grab verged on the cheesy and was annoyingly predictable.

Boxer Beatle by Ned Beauman. A fair few lit snobs were heralding the arrival of a major new talent and, sure, this had many elements that ought to have made it a ripper. But strip away the exuberant cartoonish flair of the writing and you were left with a pretty stock standard Nazi-relic hunting story.

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt. The other debut over which people went nuts in 2010, Hunt took Winston Churchill's well-documented fight with depression and imagined it, quite literally, as a big black dog. Fantastic premise, but she faltered somewhat in the execution. Don't get me wrong, it was still a good book. But I felt that the secondary romantic plot made the whole thing a bit twee and not really deserving of the adulation it garnered.

Biggest Disappointments

Great House by Nicole Krauss. The History of Love is one of my favourite books of the past 10 years. With this one, I got the feeling Krauss was doing an experimental rehash, but with a cast of characters for whom I didn't particularly care. To put it bluntly, by midway through the book it had completely fizzled. Also, the central premise was done to much better effect almost fifteen years ago by Tibor Fischer in The Collector Collector.

Sunset Park by Paul Auster. This was not a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination but I continue to hold out hope that Auster will recapture his former brilliance and this just did not. A decent pastiche of character sketches in search, to paraphrase Pirandello, of a novel.

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut. I go weak at the knees for The Good Doctor, and have liked pretty much every novel Galgut has published. But this surreal travelogue was hardly a novel, despite what the Booker committee would have us believe. Three reasonably engaging reminiscences pasted together does not a coherent whole make!

Point Omega by Don Delillo. Ever since the Twin Towers collapsed, Delillo has struggled to recapture his almost prophetic prescience of old. Point Omega started well, and had echoes of White Noise bouncing around between the lines, but it never really went anywhere and ended without any meaningful resolution. Like with Auster, it wasn't a bad book but hardly worthy of the great writer who penned Underworld.

The Box by Gunter Grass. It only managed to slip in at the end, but the sheer laboriousness of this, the latest instalment of Grass's memoirs, made its 150 pages seem like War and Peace. A pointless exercise that shed no new light on the great author's life.

Flat Out Worst Books I Read in 2010

Admittedly none of these were published in 2010, but throughout my year of challenges I forced myself to read some pretty awful books. I shan't dignify them with a blurb, but the top 5 (or is that bottom 5?) were:
1. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
2. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
3. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
4. Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard
5. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

And in case you want to know what was that worst book I read that was published in 2010, well that's easy. Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris. Hands down. A pile of try-hard technocrap. One of the few books I've ever read where I was actually embarrassed for its author.

Agree? Think I'm a totally illiterate moron? Have a couple of your own to add to these lists? Let me know!


Anonymous said...

My mother was just given Eat Pray Love as a gift. Do I read it and torture myself/become an informed critic, or do I try not to even look at it?

The Bookworm said...

Save your mother and yourself. Get her to trade it in for a good book that you both want to read! There's no point becoming an informed critic if enough people whose opinion you respect think it is terrible. There are too many great books in the world to waste your time on dross.

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