My Least Favourite Books of 2017

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Yesterday I uploaded a top 10 list containing my favourite books out of the ones I’ve read this year. There were plenty of super obvious and unoriginal choices on the list but it’s hard to deny how great they are. Whilst I was writing it I couldn’t help but feel that my book choices have improved somewhat this year. I may not have made great strides in terms of the number of books I’ve read this year because, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t feel that reading should be a competition. However, I haven’t read as many books that I’ve disliked this year. Normally I would have fallen into the trap of buying super cheap thrillers that are always half price following their super hyped release. I’m talking books like Girl on the Train and similar psychological crime thrillers. The kind of novel that always follows the same path as the previous psychological crime thriller but with a heroine with a slightly different emotional crutch. This year I made the bold move to stop myself being taken in by the hype marketing that surrounds certain books. I just can’t do it to myself any more. I’ve done quite well on the whole so, when I was reviewing the books I’ve read in the last 12 months, I was shocked to find so many books that I’d enjoyed reading. There were a few glaring errors though and I thought it only right to highlight these to prevent anyone else making the mistakes I did.

  1. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus : This is the book that I’m most annoyed at myself about this year. I have a long and complicated history with YA fiction anyway but this has the added dread of being a crime thriller. On paper it sounded perfect. It was being billed as something of a mix between The Breakfast Club and Murder on the Orient Express and I bloody love both of those things. However, this book is everything that I’ve come to hate about bad YA fiction. I’m sure there is some Young Adult literature out there that isn’t determined to dumb itself down for its audience but this book was so simplistic. It was painfully obvious from the first page who was responsible for the murder that the rest of the novel was just dragging out the inevitable. Then you have all the staple YA cliches and stereotypical characters. There was nothing original, exciting or worthwhile about this book. The writing was uninspiring and fairly insipid. The characters lacked development and the dialogue was so bad. This, more than any other YA fiction I’ve read, felt like a grown adult trying to remember what being a teenager was like but failing miserably. I, honestly, don’t think I could find one positive to say about this novel. I really don’t think I’ve ever hated a book as passionately as I hate this one. It wasn’t worth my previous time.
  2. Losing It by Emma Rathbone : This was the first book I finished this year and was one that had been part of my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list. I had super high hopes for it being a triumphant work of feminist insight. Instead, it made me all ranty and horrible. The novel was supposed to open up a dialogue about our society’s obsession with sex but, instead, it just made virginity seem even more depressing and humiliating. This is a book intended to be read by young people. YOUNG PEOPLE. You know, those hormonal and already confused and anxious bunch who have enough trouble working out their attitude towards the opposite sex. They don’t need Emma fucking Rathbone coming along and writing a book telling them to have sex asap. I didn’t just hate Losing It because of it’s content, of course. Emma Rathbone is, without a doubt, one of the worst writers I’ve ever read. She has no idea how to utlitise the English language in an appealing and entertaining way. There were moments in this novel that were just awful. I highlight a few in my review which were super bad. This was so close to being my most hated read this year. Luckily for Rathbone, One of us is lying came in to steal the crown from under her nose.
  3. The Plague by Albert Camus : Now, strictly speaking I didn’t hate this book but, as this list so far consists of two YA novels, I felt the need to bulk out this post. The Plague was one of two books this year that I started but didn’t finish. I don’t know why but I just couldn’t get into this story. I’m going to blame the translation that I used for it being inaccessible but I just found this book to be very stiff. It’s a fantastic story and Camus is, obviously, a great writer. I just couldn’t get through it. Maybe it was bad timing? I don’t know. It’s not necessarily fair to include it considering how much I hated the previous two books but, again, I needed the numbers. 
  4. Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling : The other book that I failed to read this year? Yep, it was the second in the Harry Potter series. When it comes to this series I’ve always said that Prisoner of Azkaban is my number one book and film. I love it so much and think the series really took off from the third instalment. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to really struggle with the first 2 books. They are both so childish and badly written that I have never been able to fully reread them. I managed to push on through with The Philosopher’s Stone this year but genuinely couldn’t get through its successor. Chamber of Secrets is, by far, my least favourite book in the whole series. So little happens in it and there is so much preamble before we get back to Hogwarts. It is so slow and, again, it was during JK’s first experiences of writing. It’s so immature and simplistic. There was nothing pushing me on to finish because I kept remembering what I had to get through before anything interesting happens. I think, if I ever try to reread the entire series, I could happily skip past this one completely and not feel I was missing out.

TBT – Batman and Robin (1997)

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I’m so tired right now. I’ve had a string of early shifts this week and it’s killing me. Tomorrow is my last day before I have a week off and I can’t wait. I just need to sleep for a week. I have no plans and, quite frankly, it’s a delightful thought. Still, before I can start to relax too much I have to get tomorrow over and done with. And before I can get work finished I have to go to bed. And before I do that I have to finish this review. God, why did I leave this to the last minute again? I was getting so much better with my schedule. So, this is no doubt going to be terrible and rushed but it’s an idea I’ve been thinking about all week. So let’s just get on with it.

Apparently, back in 2010 Batman and Robin was officially named the worst film ever by readers of Empire magazine. I mean, I know it’s a terrible film, that’s not something I’m going to argue with, but “the worst” film ever made? That seems a bit melodramatic. I’ve since loads of films I’d rather watch less than I’d watch Batman and Robin. Plus, a lot of the arguments against Joel Schumacher’s second time adapting the adventures of the Caped Crusader onto the screen revolve around it being a killer of a successful franchise. When it was released this would have been true but you can hardly say that now. Without Joel Schumacher there would, realistically, have been no Christopher Nolan. It took a film so desperately bad and stupid for people to say “we need a new, darker Dark Knight”. Batman and Robin is the Joker to The Dark Knight‘s Batman. And don’t people really love the Joker?

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this film is full of redeeming features. This isn’t like the time I tried to defend the prequels to you all. I’m not stupid. I know this film is bad. However, I’m here to argue that is falls into the category of ‘so bad it’s good’. Everything about this film is trying to get me to hate it but I just can’t. It makes me cringe but in the same way that people really seem to like about The Inbetweeners. You know that everything happening before your eyes is bad and should be stopped. Can you stop watching it though? I can’t.

Of course, I’m not a fucking moron. This film is downright bad. It was a misguided attempt to turn the character of Batman into a cartoon character that would appeal to children and create loads of money through merchandising. It was film-making for all the wrong reasons and Joel Schumacher was too arrogant to see that he couldn’t pull it off. Batman, as fans of the comic books are always ready to remind us, is serious business. This film is like a fucking toy advert that makes Adam West’s television series look like a bloody Shakespeare play. It’s bad. The batsuit nipples, the bat credit card, Alicia Silverstone, Mr Freeze, Uma Thurman, Chris O’Donnell, Bane. I could sit here just typing out everything single person or inanimate object that appears in this movie because it’s all just awful.

However, I can’t help but like this film just a little bit. I mean doesn’t it kind of fill you with joy that a film could be made that’s quite this bad? There are barely any (and that’s being too nice) redeeming features of this film which, in itself, is a bit of a redeeming feature. It’s the same mentality I have about Mama Mia. I hate that film with every fibre of me being but I sometimes have a huge desire to sit there and watch it. Why? Because it’s so fucking bad and that’s kind of comforting. I think we live in what could be described as a Golden Age of Hollywood where actors are getting better, scripts are getting more intelligent and well-written, and directors are finding new ways to knock our socks off. So, when one major fuck up slips through the cracks you have to kind of love it. It’s like those contestants that somehow get through to the live rounds on X Factor despite having no real talent. The audience loves them because they are so bad.

But that’s not the only reason to love it. Batman and Robin is camp and shitty, undoubtedly. But it’s meant to be camp and shitty. It plays off against the super dark Tim Burton offerings to get back to the unintentionally camp and shitty 60s show… on purpose. If nothing else, you have to admire the fact that Joel Schumacher sees Batman for what he kind of is. Yes, the comic book character is dark and gritty and everything. But there has always been an inherent silliness to the character. He’s a billionaire who dresses like a fucking bat. He has loads of bat related toys, gadgets and vehicles. That’s always been silly. This just puts that at the forefront instead of pretending this is all just very cool and realistic. The reason this film is so reviled is not because it is truly “the worst film ever” but because it’s the worst Batman film ever. For awful comic book fans that’s the worst thing in the world.

They need to chill the fuck out. Now, I love Tim Burton’s Batman films more than any other films that have been made about Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. But I have to admit that there are some improvements here. These feel more self-aware and less bogged down with u necessary tension. George Clooney makes a pretty decent and not-someone-you-instantly-want-to-punch-in-the-face kind of Bruce Wayne. Yes, he’s not great but he brings a softer and more human side to the character. It’s nice. This is the one of the few versions of Bruce Wayne that you might actually want to have a beer with. These positives aren’t anything to write home about but they’re something.

I’m not going to pretend this film is good: it’s not. It fails at being a comedy, it fails at being dramatic, it fails at telling a decent story, and it fails at creating interesting characters with interesting arcs. It is the results of three or four small plots being sewn together by someone who has never seen a needle and thread before. However, it does succeed in being terrible. Which, quite frankly, is not nothing. It’s something. And it’s something that demands to be remembered every now and then. Because, how else will we all remember Arnie telling us it’s “ice to see you”?

Tuesday’s Reviews – Losing It by Emma Rathbone

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So last night I finally finished the book that has been plaguing me since mid-December. I say finished but, if I’m honest, I got so bored that I skim read the major points of the final chapters. I always feel guilty reading to the end without getting all the way through but I knew early on that I was never going to finish this any other way. And, as I’ve mentioned on my Instagram, this is the year that I don’t waste time pushing my way through books I don’t enjoy. As the finish was unexpected and I’m really in the mood to talk about this book, it does mean that my intended review of The Nice Guys will be put off until next week. I’m sure you’ll survive. Plus, this promises to be a traditional Motherbooker rant so that’ll more than make up for it. Seriously, this book has cause me so much offence since I started reading it. I know I know; I need to get a life. It might just be old age that’s making me so sensitive or maybe I’ve always been this annoying? Either way, I have to get this rage out somewhere.

Losing It was part of my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list because everything I heard about it was positive. I read reviews that claimed it was a fresh take on an all too familiar subject and that it was a triumph for women everywhere. I mean, I have no fucking clue which book they read but it can’t have been this one. Emma Rathbone presents the story of a 26 year old woman who is feeling a shitload of anxiety because she has failed to lose her virginity yet. Obviously, because in our society this idea is so absurd, this leads to much hilarity before she finally manages to achieve her goal. Of course, there is an additional attempt to add emotion and heart by getting the 26 year old virgin to live with her aunt who, by huge coincidence, is also a virgin. I had so much hope for this novel when I first heard about it. There was plenty of potential for it to open a dialogue about virginity but, instead, it just perpetuates every stereotype out there. Instead of representing a young woman happily living a life without sex it shows a someone who finds her inability to get any as a massive failure. Literally everything she thinks about comes back to sex. She leaves her job and moves in with her aunt to find a man. She becomes obsessed with the first guy she meets at her new job and will literally fuck anyone who shows willing no matter where she is or how it comes about.

This book just offers the opinion that it’s so necessary for us to lose our virginity in our early teens that you should go to any length to make sure it happens. Julia even says at one point that, despite having no interest in the man she is with and really not wanting to, she felt the need to continue because she wanted to get it over with. It’s no wonder we live in a world full of sexual assault. Having trouble getting laid, well why bother waiting to find someone who’s up for it when you can just take it for yourself? Now I’m not trying to accuse Rathbone of promoting rape but her novel does promote the idea that if you don’t have sex then you’re some sort of freak. And we already live in a society where sex is problematic. It’s got to the point now where it has become such a basic human right that the internet is full of threats of sexual assault and we live in a world where violent outbursts occur when someone rejects sexual advances. Maybe I’m just oversensitive after I read Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town last year but there’s a sense that the desperation to have sex as soon and as often as possible is getting out of hand. I would have preferred Emma Rathone to understand that before adding her toxic novel to the already tumultuous landscape.
Of course, I realise that this is probably just me reading too much into this and, had the novel been better written, I wouldn’t necessarily feel so strongly about it. However, Rathbone’s writing style is just awful at times. There are moment when she strives for pithy one-liners but just ends up saying something absolutely ridiculous. My personal fave was “A cave was the most inside place you could be, the most private place.” I mean what the fuck does that even mean? Inside is a finite thing. You can’t be more or less inside than something. It’s just Rathbone trying to be philosophical and failing miserably. There are parts of this novel that are just laugh out loud funny… and not for the reasons that Rathbone was hoping. 

The fact is, none of this novel feels real. It doesn’t read like the struggle of a young, single woman in modern society trying to get to grips with things. Instead, it feels like the fictional idea about young people today from the mind of someone at least 5 years older and who has been happily married for years. Take the internet dating that Julia, the books heroine, indulges in. The dates are all completely farcical and the kind of nonsense that would be dreamed up by a committee of sitcom writers rather than something a young woman would allow herself to be subjected to. Losing It is pretty much the literary world’s version of those awkward and cringey comedy shows that think they’re funny and relevant but are only watched ironically by hipsters. The reviews praised Rathbone for her shrewd and detailed insights into the modern world but it is merely the insights into the modern world as seen by bitter middle-aged people.

Losing It also fails to have any real purpose. The story doesn’t really go anyway and basically just comes down to Julia talking about sex, making snap judgements about everyone she meets, snooping around behind her aunt’s back, and generally just being the worst person in history. Now, I’m all for an unlikeable narrator but there has to be a purpose for it. Julia is just selfish and narcissistic because Rathbone doesn’t know how to create convincing characters. Just like she doesn’t understand narrative structure… because there isn’t really one. This isn’t a cohesive plot expertly weaving it’s way through the pages. This is a selection of events that happen are only connected because they happen to one person. And we have all the great sitcom tropes here: internet dating, sex at a funeral, car accident leading to a broken promise, the hilarious but totally unrealistic “oops in my haste I’ve sent this email to everyone I work with” bit, and the amazing “my parents are sexually liberated and I’m all skeezy about it” thing. It’s laughably bad.

And to top it off, Rathbone clearly knew she was in danger of not having a point to make so hastily attached one right at the very end. Yes, amidst everything, we have an awful final paragraph where Julia decides it’s time to stop worrying so much and just relax. Which is a fine point to make, if it in anyway related to what we’d just read. Julia never came to the realisation to stop worrying about her virginity, which is the thing she spent the entire book worrying about. She just finally lost it. That’s not the same thing. Anyone can look back after getting through something traumatic and say “it wasn’t that bad I guess”. It doesn’t make them a better person; they’ve just moved on. There’s no message here. This isn’t some woman overcoming her anxiety and accepting who she is and accepting the path she has ended up on. This is a woman who can stop feeling anxious when she has got rid of the thing giving her anxiety. If someone in a similar position were to read this book, they wouldn’t close the pages and think “maybe this isn’t such a big deal after all”. No, they’d think, “fingers crossed someone I know dies soon so I can fuck a random stranger at the funeral and finally lose my virginity.”

As a 28 year old woman, I am offended that this is the way in which women of my age are being represented. This novel is irrelevant, badly written, and lacking purpose and substance. I have to assume the people who gave it glowing reviews never actually got past the first page. I’ve never been happier to finally put away a book than I was with Losing It. Normally, this novel would sit on my bookshelf going dusty or be donated to charity. I don’t like the sound of either of those options. Instead, I’m going to burn it or something. Cathartic.