Friday, February 13, 2009

That Fine Word

Execrable -- ah, what a fine word! While Webster gives it the short shrift (“very bad: wretched”), the Oxford English Dictionary carries its true weight better: “(1) Of persons and things: Deserving to be execrated or cursed; abominable, detestable. (3) hyperbolically. Calling forth expressions of extreme disgust; of wretched quality, bad beyond description.” But even if you don’t have a dictionary handy, you know what it means when you hear it. It’s a great bit of onomatopoeia.

Why all this love for execrable? Because I’ve been thinking about bad books lately, ones so terrible you have to conclude that the author’s great-grandfather must have transgressed the burial place of Egyptian royalty, earning their undying wrath and dooming his descendants’ literary endeavors for the rest of time. But where do you go to complain if said book happens to be an award-winning bestseller? Cynthia Crossen of The Wall Street Journal suggests an old standby -- reader-review therapy. Excerpts:

Generally, I don't write about books I didn't enjoy. Why waste your time telling you not to read something? But I've read my share of books that disappointed me, and an astounding (to me) number of them have been darlings of the literary-industrial complex. Sometimes I think it's an elaborate practical joke by critics and judges on us ordinary readers. …

Amazon therapy brought me back from the edge when I was being driven crazy by Alice Sebold's novel, The Lovely Bones. This was one of the few books I have ever started, hated, thrown away, watched it climb the bestseller lists, picked it up again, hated it again. But everywhere I went, I saw that pale blue cover, and I was tormented by self-doubt. Amazon readers rode to my rescue.
Read the whole thing.

(Picture: CC 2007 by

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