While browsing through the Quora site  – an excellent site, by the way, which frequently deals with two of my favourite topics : books and cats  – I came across an article inviting comments about books that disappointed, and read the first fifteen comments with a sense of absolute kinship. The Quora  readers list of Books that Disappoint was a mirror image of my own list. Top of the pops was The Monk who sold his Ferrari  closely followed by Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist.  My own personal top baddies, closely followed by rude remarks about The Celestine Prophecy.  Absolutely.

I was happy to note that Quora readers panned the Twilight series and the 50 Shades of Grey series for really bad writing, and one brave soul even had a go at the sainted David Foster Wallace, who is usually lauded to the skies.

One surprise on the list was the inclusion of Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance which is by now a cult classic, but it failed to meet a new reader’s expectations. I recall reading the book many years ago and being blown away at the time.

I n 2012 I bought From Elvish to Klingon, an on-line purchase that was a major mistake. With on-line purchases, this occasionally can happen. One reader’s review can be another reader’s poison (to mangle a common catch-phrase).When I was a kid I read ALL the Dr Doolittle books and was inspired to be a polyglot, just like him. Granted, he was talking to animals, but it’s the idea that counts. Because I absorbed the local Chichewa language through my pores as a toddler, and because my first school was a convent run by French speaking nuns, who were determined to drum French into our uncomprehending little skulls, and because I learned Latin and Afrikaans at high school, and because I knew at least six Portuguese words, I thought I was well on my way to achieving my youthful goal. Later in life I learnt Italian and re-learnt French (use it or lose it, and the saying is true) and even later on, had an unsuccessful stab at Mandarin, so a book on languages intrigued me no end. lIj daj . And that’s Klingon for ‘forget it’(If I’ve looked up the correct phrase). It was a Bad Idea.

Another new, hot favourite on my list is Graham Swift. I read Wish you Were Here,  and deeply wished I wasn’t. I had to force myself to finish the book, spurred on by the chorus of praise from other Book Club members. Swift may be a Booker Prize winner (1996 – Last Orders) but he ain’t my cup of tea. His endless repetition and circular movement through his characters’ heads, the minute examination of every thought, the replay – OVER & OVER AGAIN – of events and dialogue, on and on and on: just exhausted me.

The story lumbered to a climax, which I couldn’t call gripping – it just came as a relief that the whole dreary saga was at an end. I deeply dis-enjoyed the book.

Which goes to prove that you can’t win them all, in the world of books and reading. Not to mention life!




  1. Sue Beeson

    Fabulous article, Alison. I go along with a lot of the listed books that dissapointed. Like you, I was surprised about Zen and the Art of MotorCyle Maintenance, which had a huge effect on me all those years ago.


  2. Alma

    As I told you I forward this to my bridge partners who are prolific readers and
    they are thrilled and do so enjoy reading your blog. Alma


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