More than one person has pointed out that in six long posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), I did not actually answer the titular question. So I’ll confess: I’d been using that title more as a rhetorical device and a come-on. I’m still a bit astonished that it did get published, frankly. All three books in this author’s dog series are about the same level of badness (if you believe the low-star reviews at Amazon, and I have no reason not to).
So what happened? I think we have to consider this: there are far more positive reviews for this book than negative ones. Many readers not only enjoyed it, they took the time to say nice things about it.
But how could they, after all we’ve seen here?
Their criteria for what constitutes a good book is different than mine, that’s all. Remember, I don’t normally fish in these waters, so it’s unfair of me to complain that I got catfish when I wanted trout. It might be tempting to shout Off with the acquisitions editor’s head! but she knows her audience, and I’m not it.
And God knows this isn’t the only crappy traditionally published book to see the light of day. Should we discuss the definition of a bad book? List examples of bad books in print? We could be here all night.
I did, however, google “bad books,” just to see what I’d come up with. Here are forty college professors discussing what makes a bad book, some of them more entertainingly than others. They all agree it’s usually the writing, the clichés and stereotypes, and sentimentality; Cormac McCarthy comes up again and again, as does Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. (For sheer intellectual delight, scroll down to page 5 and read the article titled “Dildo Cay.” It’s the title of a book, for real.)
One of the main reasons we bad-book lovers go out of our way to make our sentiments known is because it is a way of resisting the hegemony of good taste. If slaves to quality had their way, there would be no thrillers by Marilyn Quayle (“Embrace the Serpent”), no children’s books by Madonna (“Lotsa de Casha”), no autobiographies by Geraldo Rivera (“Exposing Myself”). If goodness fetishists were in control of the publishing industry, nothing more hair-raising than Bill Bradley’s last book of homilies would ever make it into print. That’s right, no books by Shaq, no memoirs by Rue McClanahan, no collections of ruminations and aperçus by Dinesh D’Souza. Sound like a world you’d want to live in?
How did this book get published? It’s a reasonable question without a reasonable answer, especially for those of you trying to write a publishable book. The simplest, though, is it takes all kinds of readers, and to some of the readers out there, this was a good (or a good enough) book.
That doesn’t satisfy you, I know. But remember, there are as many definitions of a good book as there are definitions of bad ones. We all have to decide for ourselves, and then seek out the ones that please us. What’s most important—and I am on record with this—is I don’t care what you read, I care that you read. So go find your book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”