The Popsugar 2016 Reading Challenge (Part One: Worst Books)

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This post is spoiler-free!

Hi everyone!

I’ve been busy reading these past few weeks, trying to get my reading challenge done by the time I move to Seattle.

I decided to do one post about my 3 favorite, and another for my 3 least favorite books! The favorites list will be released sometime in the next week, but for now, here’s the worst three books I read this year:

 

The Worst

I could only find three books I absolutely hated on my list so yay!

This first book, from the category “a book based on a fairy tale” inspired a hit Broadway musical, and was inspired by a book I own a 1940’s edition of. It was the third worst book I read this year.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

SynopsisYou’re probably familiar in one way or another of a girl from Kansas being sucked up in a tornado and dropped off in a strange land called Oz. But did we hear the full story? Like any good tale, there are two sides to the story of Oz. In this critically acclaimed novel, Elphaba, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West, tells hers. How does one become Wicked? And what about those shoes? Maguire reimagines one of America’s most famous stories to find out.  

Review: I was horribly disappointed with this book. The only good thing I have to say about it is that Maguire was able to create a crisp, vivid, and sprawling world of Oz, complete with religion, politics, race relations, and even nursery rhymes. Every other facet of the book, however, was an utter failure.

The plot didn’t really kick in until about halfway through. The first half was largely used to build the world of Oz, and introduce us, sloppily, to the characters. The plot was disjointed, tried far too hard, and was almost entirely disconnected from the previous world of Oz (either in the movie or the book). Maguire lacked taste in pacing, lingering too long on moments that were unimportant, and flew too quickly through others that needed more development.

Elphaba’s dissent into wickedness felt like an afterthought, ironic given the premise (and title) of the book. It came far too late and was half-assed and unbelievable at best. Glinda was a shell of a character, and the periphery characters felt cumbersome and unimportant. The Wizard was perhaps the only decently written character, and even he felt stunted in his wickedness. For all Elphaba’s conspiring and concern, the Wizard’s evil doings and corrupt politics came up short in comparison.  Overall, this was a huge letdown.

The second worst book of the year was the inspiration for my second favorite movie of all time. It (the movie) features a panda suit, the girl from Bate’s Motel, and a whole lot of laugh-out-loud moments. It’s my choice for “YA Bestseller.”I’m of course talking about Me and Earl and The Dying Girl written by one Mr. Jesse Andrews (yes – the same man who wrote the book).

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Synopsis: In the same vein as The Fault in our Stars, Andrews spins the expected by writing “the funniest book you’ll ever read about death.” Greg Gains is used to being on the outside. In fact, he prefers it. By sticking to the periphery of all social groups, Greg is able to have all people like him, without the commitment of having to maintain friendships. And it works. Well, it works, that is, until his mom forces him to hang out with a dying girl. Cue the end of everything Greg has ever known.

Review: Honestly, here’s what I think happened here: Andrews wrote a book as a sort of “writing warm up” to his movie of the same name. See, as the old adage proclaims “the book is always better than the movie,” and yet, as in most things, exceptions persist. Much to my disappointment, Dying Girl, was one such instance.

The plot was disjointed and unspectaulur and the characters were flat. These characters weren’t just one-sided or underdeveloped; they barely lifted up off the page. Outside of Greg’s (the protagonists) dry humor and self deprecating catchphrases (”I want to punch myself in the eye), which, at best, were awkward and cumbersome to the rest of the text, very little of Andrew’s other characters showed any life at all. Even Earl (whose worthy enough to grace the title) didn’t show his foul mouth persona until over two-thirds of the way in.

While the movie portrayal is a hilarious and depressing examination of death, his novel by the same name lacks direction, thought, and development. I highly encourage you to see the movie, but as far as the book goes, this isn’t even worth picking up from the 99 cent bin at your local thrift shop.

 

And, at last, we arrive at the worst book. This was a Man Booker Prize finalist, a New York Times Bestseller, and the winner of Worst Book I’ve Ever Read In My Entire Life. Everyone, I present A Little Life.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Synopsis: Four former college roommates move to New York City to pursue their dreams. While the novel focuses on each of them, it primarily follows Jude, a brilliant lawyer and broken man. As the decades roll on, friendships deepen and change, addictions develop, and Jude’s past slowly unravels as it collides with his future.

Review: What Yanagihara does well is to create an accurate and deep portrayal of the long lasting effects of trauma. She also fiercely captures and details friendships in its many forms and under the ever-changing stresses of life. Most impressive though, is her ability to vividly describe multiple, very different worlds. She perfectly captures life as an artist, as an actor, as a mathematician, and a lawyer. She’s able to hold nothing back in the tangible expression of her character’s mundane life and interests. Unfortunately, and much to my dismay, this is where the buck stops.

The characters in A Little Life are shallow; they are entirely white or entirely black. In situations that are so compellingly imagined, it’s an awkward juxtaposition to encounter such fabricated and lifeless characters living them. Behind these situations and lifeless characters is a cliché and romanticized New York, a Big Apple we’re all too familiar with. Anyone (and possibly everyone) is an artist of some sort and easily passes from rags to riches. It’s a dreamy cliché that, compared to the tragedy and realism inside it, makes it feel all the more faked and predictable.

Stylistically, Yanagihara’s prose gets in her own way. It’s sloppy and confounded, and the plot gets tripped up on it on every page. Her (or her editor’s) choice of organization is terrible and really is a disservice to the rest of the work. The books and chapters are awkward, together and as a whole, and, every so often, Yanagihara decides to shift perspective, a move that isn’t successful and is, at best, jarring. Maybe I would’ve understood that choice at the end of the novel, but I doubt it. Her layering in of Jude’s past is also unpredictable in quality. Sometimes, when we find pieces of Jude’s story, it’s welcome and flows easily in and out of the present tense, but just as often, it’s an awkward inclusion and it isn’t clear why we’re being presented with it.

                   My biggest issue with A Little Life, however, is how irreverent real life struggles are presented. This book made me angry for victims like Jude, who have been told repeatedly they are weak, a narrative this book perpetuates.

 

 

 

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