Some of the contributors went with the obvious: Bonnie Wheeler (SMU) listed Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code – which seems just a little bit too easy. Marc Bousquet (Santa Clara) listed David Horowitz’s right-wing screed, One Party Classroom, and Liedeke Plate (Radboud Universiteit) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – and, again, the reader wonders whether it is even worth the ink to identify these works as bad?
Other choices appeared to deliberately court controversy: Christine Granados (Texas A&M) named Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses; Kim Herzinger (U Houston-Victoria) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; and Tom LeClair (U Cincinnati) called Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby the “worst novel in American literature.” Shocking stuff.
(If you are wondering why there are so many professors from Texas represented on the list – I was too.)
As a scholar whose stock-in-trade are authors and books that have traditionally been deemed “bad” – as most early American women writers and their writings were – and conscious of the fact that literary “goodness” and “badness” are historically contingent categories usually employed to keep marginalized individuals, voices, and opinions on the margins, ABR’s entire project struck me as suspect. Most of the scholars and writers who participated in the experiment were as suspicious as I am – and many of them speak to precisely these issues: several celebrate the “bad book” as a culturally meaningful artifact and a great object of study in the classroom; others call into question whether “good” and “bad” even have any meaning in our pluralistic society. The article is worth reading because it offers such a wide range of responses to the issue of literary “badness.”
Having stated that I think the categories are vexed, the terms virtually meaningless, and the exercise contradictory to the work I do in my classes and writing … I’m plunging in …
Here’s my nomination for a really bad book – a book I couldn’t stand – a book about which I can talk extensively, detailing all the reasons I think it stinks: Geraldine Brooks’ March.
Is this the only bad book I could name? No.
Is this the worst book ever? Not even close.
Is there something about passionately disliking a book, that makes a reader wed to it in a way that is not unlike the relationship a reader develops with a really good book? Absolutely.
So, go ahead: name a bad book. You know you want to.
– Desiree Henderson