Last week I found myself contemplating the world of Kindle publishing via two very different sources. The first was the astonishing Tumblr Kindle Cover Disasters, which you should all visit as soon as you get home from work, since I guarantee you will laugh out loud at a pitch and volume that makes it clear you’re not getting any work done. (Hats off, Max Wood. Hats off.)
The second was a Slate article by Katy Waldeman titled “Which Bad Novel is Perfect for You?” Waldeman’s piece focused on the Kindle Scout program, which allows Amazon buyers to vote for their favorite 5,000 word excerpts of unpublished novels. Amazon then considers the top vote-getters for publication.
Waldeman argues that the Kindle Scout program is practically designed to select and publish a specific type of books: namely, bad books. Books that
sail across that fine line between being pleasurable despite their badness and being pleasurable because of their badness. … If a guilty pleasure is an occasional, delicious bag of potato chips, these books are a nacho tower fluorescent with cheap cheese, unappetizing, weirdly compelling, “so bad it’s good.” You don’t feel guilty enjoying it in spite of its flaws. Rather, you feel some mix of superior and delighted as you devour it on account of its flaws.
A.O. Scott’s thoughtful review of the “50 Shades of Grey” movie also grapples with the so-bad-it’s-good genre:
Why do so many women read these novels, even though [most people think] they have no literary value? I’m no expert, but I can venture a guess: for fun. They seem to be the kind of books you can simultaneously have fun with, make fun of, trash and cherish and adapt to the pursuit of your own pleasures.
Scott even argues that the ineptitude of the prose has been crucial to the books’ success:
Reviewers have complained about Ms. James’s pedestrian prose, but the bad writing serves an important purpose. … [It] de-sophisticates certain sexual practices, taking them out of the chateau and the boudoir and other fancy French places and planting them in the soil of Anglo-American banality. If E. L. James were a better writer, her books would be more — to use one of Anastasia’s favorite words — intimidating. And much less useful.
I think Scott and Waldeman offer compelling explanations for why readers might enjoy books that they themselves admit are bad. But it occurred to me as I read both of these pieces that while I do adore the occasional plate of radioactive-orange nachos (Rotel dip is delicious, although legally I’m not sure it’s food), I don’t generally finish books that I think are bad. I read the first couple of paragraphs, cringe at the clunky prose, and put them aside.* The only really bad book I can remember finishing is The Flame and the Flower, and I did so more to satisfy my morbid curiosity (surely it can’t all be this bad?**) than to extract gleeful pleasure from its badness.
To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to enjoy something you think is bad. It’s just not a frequency I seem to receive on. Guilty pleasures? Yes. So-bad-it’s-good novels? Don’t seem to be for me.
So I turn the discussion over to you. Are there books that you put in the so-bad-it’s-good category? Or do you just find badness a turn-off?
* Confession time: I tried reading 50 Shades of Grey to see what all the fuss was about. I bailed when I found out Anastasia didn’t have an e-mail address. I refuse to read a book about a twenty-first-century college senior who doesn’t have an e-mail address. (Yes, I really am that detail-oriented and petty.)
** For the record: yes, it was all that bad. I almost admire the level of consistency on display in its awfulness.