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The World’s Twelve Worst Books?

The Circe episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses is a jeweled phantasmagoria; and it’s filled with incredible inventories, including one where Bloom’s “bodyguard distribute[s]

Maundy money, commemoration medals, loaves and fishes, temperance badges, expensive Henry Clay cigars, free cowbones for soup, rubber preservatives in sealed envelopes tied with gold thread, butter scotch, pineapple rock, billets doux in the form of cocked hats, readymade suits, porringers of toad in the hole, bottles of Jeyes’ Fluid, purchase stamps, 40 days’ indulgences, spurious coins, dairyfed pork sausages, theatre passes, season tickets available for all tram lines, coupons of the royal and privileged Hungarian lottery, penny dinner counters, cheap reprints of the World’s Twelve Worst Books: Froggy and Fritz (politic), Care of the Baby (infantilic), 50 Meals for 7/6 (culinic), Was Jesus a Sun Myth? (historic), Expel That Pain (medic), Infant’s Compendium of the Universe (cosmic), Let’s All Chortle (hilaric), Canvasser’s Vade Mecum (journalic), Loveletters of Mother Assistant (erotic), Who’s Who in Space (astric), Songs that Reached Our Heart (melodic), Pennywise’s Way to Wealth (parsimonic)…

So what, for you, would rank as the world’s twelve worst books? Please feel free to add your own parenthetical qualifying appellations.

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

6 thoughts on “The World’s Twelve Worst Books?

  1. I believe Brigid Brophy offered up “Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without” many years ago.

    Hard to imagine how much she feels these are truly works we can “do without”, though I suppose we could “do” without all of them!

    Also, do many of us read books that are the “worst”? I can’t often make it past 50 pages of books that I mildly enjoy.

    Is the biblical “Numbers” too easy a choice? I suppose one could stir up dissent and choose Kafka’s The Trial, or go so far as to say, Huck Finn, meh…

    Or, we could “split the field”–how in the world can anyone read more than a few lines of a John Ashbery poem (excepting perhaps some early work)? (Or is the poetry of blather too ubiquitous and loved for its mimesis of our indeterminate world?)

    Very well, I shall nominate Giles Goat Boy.

  2. Hi, Douglas.

    I honestly can’t imagine any of the works you’ve mentioned here being the worst books in the world.

    And yes, I’d say that Numbers is “too easy a choice.” And ditto for Giles Goat Boy.

    Are Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Trial worse than, hmm, I don’t know, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, which is hardly the worst thing ever written either?

    Also, I can almost imagine that a shopping list written by John Ashbery, or any of the other writers of the works you’re taking potshots at, would be far more interesting than any number of ghostwritten celebrity memoirs.

    A list of the worst books in the world is not easy. Once I think of a terrible book, one easily replaces it.

    1. why do you assume those are “potshots”? Were they aimless? How would I be able to characterize worst books without having read them? Or perhaps I can imagine their scope and “value” of their influence? Are they “worst” because of content or style, or some other criteria?

      When one gives legitimacy and power to certain authors in a way that allows the idea of a shopping list as having some merit if coming from their seminal pens then I would question the criteria in operation here. (This puts me in mind of a Jon Lovitz skit on SNL.)

      But, in the end, I’m saying, I suppose, that it’s a bit silly to name these kinds of things.

      And I would declare a great fondness for Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse and The End of the Road just for the sake of balance.

      Perhaps you’ve written a book I can take a potshot at.

  3. Does a book need to have reached a certain status before it can be truly terrible? Also, does a book need to position itself as serious, before you can consider it truly awful? There are many execrable books out there, most of them are not pretending to be much better than basic cable.
    For a book that at one time was reputed to be great, or significant, or something, but that I felt was unreadable- I nominate For Whom The Bell Tolls

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