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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
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*        = Good, with reservations


***In Search of the World's Worst Writers

A Celebration of Triumphantly Bad Literature

by Nick Page

Reviewed January 10, 2005.
HarperCollins, London, 2000.  298 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (306.874 PAG).

As you know, I only review books I like.  As a writer myself, I’m hesitant to point out what I don’t like in other people’s books, since I know there are plenty of people who won’t like what I write.  I prefer to focus on the good.

Nick Page overcomes my resistance to the idea, by choosing only writers who are already dead and selecting ones who are indeed triumphantly bad.  He rates them with a system of five stars, and the one-star writers are perhaps debatably bad.  (One of them is James Whitcomb Riley, and one example given is “Little Orphant Annie,” a poem I memorized and recited in 4th grade.  Remember that one, Kathe?)  However, his four- and five-star choices, I must admit, are indeed hilariously awful.

My favorite, which I simply cannot resist reading aloud to poor innocent family members is a poem by Theophile Marzials, which begins:

The barges down in the river flop.
Flop, plop.

It continues with many more flops and plops.

Another favorite is Bloodgood H. Cutter, who writes about an ocean voyage:

We’re on the Atlantic Ocean
And I feel a strange commotion;
Our ship doth ride the briny swell
And does perform her duty well.
Yet still when she does plunge and reel
Sometimes makes me quite qualmish feel;
Then I rush up to the vessel’s side,
And heave up in the briny tide.

Nick Page also intersperses through the text Five Golden Rules of Bad Writing:

1.    ‘Heart’ Is More Important Than ‘Art’
“Bad writers are often characterized by their good intentions.  Never mind that they can’t spell, can’t rhyme, cannot, in fact, master any of the basic techniques of creative writing, they meant well.  And as everybody knows, it’s the thought that counts.”

2.    If It Won’t Rhyme, Force It.
“In poetry, any bad writer knows that any rhyme will do.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a good rhyme, as long as the line endings sound roughly the same.  Often, very roughly the same.  All right, often, only the same if the reader pronounced them in a ridiculous way.”

3.    All Criticism Is Based on Envy.
“I think it is because, in their minds, criticism is directly linked to genius.  ‘All great artists are ridiculed,’ they reason, ‘therefore the more I am ridiculed, the greater an artist I must be.’”

4.    Memorable. . . For All the Wrong Reasons
“Truly bad writing sticks in the memory.  Like a splinter in the finger, or a speck of dirt in the eye, it is irritatingly persistent.”

5.    The Opposite Effect
“Whatever their purpose in writing, whatever emotion they were attempting to stir, the truly bad writer always manages to achieve exactly the opposite. . . .  Their tragic poems make us weep, it is true, but only with laughter.”

I don’t for a moment recommend reading this book all in one sitting.  However, it’s a wonderful book to have around to dip into periodically and have a good, hard laugh.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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