Now that we’ve gotten the best books I read in 2016 out of the way, let’s do the unpleasant business, shall we?
If you follow me at all, you probably know I made it a project to read all the James Bond books written by Ian Fleming in 2016 and that by the end it left me a broken man. I could have easily filled this list with Bond books, but that would be no fun. So I really just focused on the exceptionally bad ones and diversified the rest of the list a bit.
5. Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler
Because being obsessed with being cute gets annoying remarkably quickly. This book is desperate to be quirky. And when you can sum up a book by saying: “You know what? You were an insanely narcissistic creep who treated me like dirt. That’s why we broke up.”–and that’s abundantly clear by page five? There’s no point reading the rest of the insufferable book to get there. Full review here.
4. You Only Live Twice, by Ian Fleming
By the end, even Ian Fleming had given up. On the one hand, You Only Live Twice represents Fleming’s worst habit as the architect of James Bond: over-plotting. Everything about this book is ludicrously convoluted to the point where nothing makes sense, so there’s no point trying to explain. On the other hand, it’s such a lazy end to the Blofeld trilogy that you wonder why Fleming even bothered in the first place. If Fleming hadn’t died shortly after, you wonder if he would have lost interest in the Bond books. Full review here.
3. The Secret Tunnel, by James Lear
I got tricked into this book in a way. It appeared in an eBook deals newsletter that described it as an LGBT twist on Murder On the Orient Express. And it was on sale for a buck. The cover looked like cheap porn, but have you ever browsed the LGBT section of a bookstore? That’s basically what publishers do to LGBT authors and their fiction. They try to trick you into thinking it’s porn so you read it. So I downloaded it. Then I found out it really was an erotica mystery. But I decided to give it a chance because it sounded like it might be silly enough to be a guilty pleasure. It wasn’t. This is the kind of book where everyone talks like a cartoon so they sound vaguely 1920’s and British and it’s supposed to be character development. The main character walks around with an erection that keeps him from focusing on the mystery. But the mystery doesn’t matter because sex. And every man in 1920’s England is gay. Or at least bi-curious. And worst of all, the book expects you to find scenes of sexual harassment or flat-out sexual assault sexy. Um, no. I don’t think it’s sexy when a guy rapes another guy–even if he has a big penis. Call me crazy.
I almost didn’t include The Secret Tunnel on this list because I clearly wasn’t the audience it had in mind–and I’m sure fans would argue I shouldn’t be trying to take it seriously anyway. But the whole ‘sexualizing sexual assault’ thing? Well, it really turned me off.
2. A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Because cardboard characters with a despicable codependency problem in a book longer than 700 pages becomes its own form of masochism after a while. Full review here.
1. The Spy Who Loved Me, by Ian Fleming
Because if you’re going to make a project of reading all the Ian Fleming James Bond books, you need to be prepared for a level of misogyny and racism. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you have to be ready for it. This one could have been a fun departure from the rest of the series because it comes from the point of view of the Bond Girl instead of 007 himself, but oh, the horror. Instead, the jacket markets the Bond Girl as a “seductive sexpert,” but when you begin reading you discover she’s only had two lovers–both men who took extreme advantage of her and manipulated her into bed, then left her feeling deeply ashamed and feeling like a slut. So right away the book is slut-shaming a woman who doesn’t deserve it. Then she gets attacked by two violent men who threaten her with rape when 007 happens upon their isolated little hotel. Caught up in the moment she gets… horny? Because James Bond is running around without a shirt on? So the moment the action heats up, Fleming throws her characterization right out the window so she can be a sex object. But then he has the audacity to have the Bond Girl think to herself “All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken.”
Now, it’s bad enough that Ian Fleming clearly had no regard for women. But for him to attempt to normalize these thoughts by putting them inside the head of a female character is beyond the pale. Had I not been reading in bed next to my sleeping husband, this would have immediately been the third book in history that I threw across the room in anger.
Oh, and the plot is full of holes and overly complicated because that’s what Ian Fleming does. If I were to compile a list of the worst books I’ve ever read (not just in 2016), this book would easily be on it. Full review here.
What are the worst books you read last year?