2019 Airing of Grievances: Least Favorite Books of the Year

24 Festive Tasks: Door 19 – Festivus: Task 1

Overall, 2019 was a phantastic reading year for me with decidedly more highs than lows.  Of the latter, my worst reading experiences were, in no particular order:

Laura Restrepo, Hot Sur: OK, forget the “in no particular order” bit for a moment.  A main character expecting me to empathize with her for siding with the psychopathic rapist of the woman she calls her best friend … and actually trying to talk her best friend into agreeing her horrific experience was all just a “misunderstanding”?  Sorrynotsorry — just, nope.  A hard DNF, and that main character deserved everything she had coming to her as a consequence.

Renée Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn: Shallow, infantile in tone, and, most importantly, abominably bady researched.  I didn’t DNF quite as quickly as Hot Sur, but I barely made it past the 1/3 mark.  I might have been marginally more understanding if it had come across as YA fantasy (which was frankly what I’d expected), but it’s written as historical fiction — and getting core historical details wrong in a book of historical fiction is just about the worst sin you can commit in my book.

Sam Kean, The Disappearing Spoon: Well, let’s just say Mr. Kean is decidedly not Helen Czerski (which is NOT a good thing), and he also isn’t half as funny as he apparently thinks he is.  What he seems to think is humor, to me comes across as arrogance and unwarranted judgmentalism — and his research / fact checking on everything “non-physics” is plainly abominable.  Almost as importantly, his fractured narrative style and lack of clarity completely failed to translate to me his own professed enthusiasm for his subject.  Another book where I never got past the initial chapters.

Georgette Heyer, A Blunt Instrument: Heyer at her worst — clichéd, biased, snub-nosed, with one-dimensional characters and a mystery whose solution is staring you in the face virtually from page 1.  I only finished it for confirmation that my guess was correct (which, dare I say “of course”, it was), but it was a struggle of the sort I never experienced with Heyer before or since (and I’ve finished all of her mysteries in the interim).

Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star: I know Lispector is highly regarded, but she’s obviously not for me — I detest speech that is so deconstructed to barely make sense (even to mother tongue speakers, as it turns out); combine that with the drab narrative (if that word is even justified) of a drab character living a drab life, and you’ve lost me for good.  It was a blessing that this is a very short book; if it hadn’t been, this would have been another DNF.

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(Task: The airing of grievances: Which are the five books you liked least this year – and why?)

 

 

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ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/2022452/24-festive-tasks-door-19-festivus-task-1

Sam Kean: The Disappearing Spoon


DNF @ Chapter 4

I think it’s fair to say that if I prefer doing office admin chores and listening to a(n albeit truly fascinating) memoir about growing up in and getting out of North Korea to reading this book, that’s a pretty good indication I won’t be getting back to this.

Chapter 4 started readable, but within 2 pages we had the next bit of arrogant nose-snubbing, at the scientist authors of one of the most groundbreaking papers in all of 20th century science writing no less, with a casual misinterpretation of two lines by Shakespeare tagged on in another asterisked footnote — and I decided I just couldn’t take it any longer.

Writerly tone aside: if I find that I can’t trust an author’s pronouncements on the bits of his book that I can instantly verify based on my own knowledge, experience and interests (e.g., European history and Shakespeare’s writing) … how can I possibly trust him on the bits that I cannot verify quite as easily and quickly?

So Huggins must regretfully record that I’m outta here as well.  I think we may seriously need to review our Flat Book Society book selection procedure …

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1838679/dnf-chapter-4

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Prior Status Updates

31 Pages:

Well, let’s just say Mr. Kean clearly isn’t Helen Czerski (and that is not a good thing).

He either has no clear conception of who his target audience is, or he doesn’t know how to talk to his audience.  Someone with an average to advanced training in science obviously wouldn’t need any explanations as to the structure of the periodic table, to begin with.  The rest of us might need one — but (and it speaks volumes that I even have to emphasize this) a clearly structured one, please, not an assortment of anecdotes that blows any explanatory structure clean out of the window.  Also, if you’re writing a book subtitled (in part) “…Tales of … the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements“, wouldn’t it be a good idea to give your readers an idea when and how the periodic table itself made its first appearance in the history of the world?  Just a paragraph or so, for reference in conjunction with its basic structure, so we know where we are, both in chemical terms and the history of science?  (Ms. Czerski did just that.  But as I said … Mr. Kean clearly isn’t Helen Czerski.)

So far, he’s managed the feat that only one of my school teachers ever managed, and that was my physics teacher, who, like Sam Kean, presented his material full of enthusiasm as to the magic of it all, or the big joke associated with a given scientific fact / discovery, or some other reaction clearly warranted in his eyes, while completely failing to transport to the rest of us — and hence, leaving us entirely mystified — what all all of this had to do with any of us and why it was actually important (other than in a way that only the initiated would be able to appreciate).  I used to actually like chemistry in school (unlike physics), and I believed I had a fairly good grip on the subject — an impression my teachers seemed to share, judging by my grades.   A major reason for this was the fact that (unlike in physics class) I never had a moment’s doubt as to why what I was learning mattered, and how it all fitted together in the grand scheme of things.  But if I didn’t at least have this distant reservoir to rely on, I’m pretty sure I’d be entirely baffled already.  And I can only hope that this state of affairs is going to improve, because otherwise I’m either going to throw in the towel or it’s going to take me eons to finish this book (and it won’t earn a particularly high rating, either).

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1831685/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-31-out-of-391-pages

 

63 Pages:

The fact that I actually finished chapter 3 the day before yesterday and it took BT’s first status update for me to remember to also comment on my own progress probably tells you all you need to know about the priority this book has in my reading.

Well, the good news, I guess, is that chapters 2 and 3 are actually readable.  I don’t think I’ll retain from them much more than I already knew (and chapter 2 is another example of Kean getting stuck on two elements, amplified on by way of numerous details, after setting out to make a more general point), but at least he held my attention for the duration of those two chapters, and chapter 3 also contains a historical positioning of the periodic table.  Since this is the final chapter of the introductory section of the book, I’ll retract my criticism that he didn’t give any sort of historical introduction at all.  Which however doesn’t excuse the amount of condescension and outright innuendo going on in the description of the key biographical details of the scientists whose works he is describing in chapters 2 and 3.

That said, two days have gone by and I still haven’t been able to bring myself to move on to chapter 4.  As I mentioned in my comments on BT’s status update, somehow the combination of atoms as a topic and this author’s fractured approach to narrative and explanations doesn’t portend much encouragement.  Nor does his approach to the presentation of scientific theories (psst, Mr. Kean — that’s where footnotes just might be put to good use) … or his dealings with the biographies of several eminent scientists of the past, who can actually count genuine, important discoveries among their achievements.  I’ll be on a full-day trip tomorrow, and although it will include some train travel, I don’t see myself actually taking this book.  I also don’t think I’ll be in much of a mood to touch it tomorrow night when I get back.  I guess what I’m saying is I’m still on the fence whether or not to finish this.

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ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1834022/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-63-out-of-391-pages