A couple of years ago, Zachary Littrell wrote a post about Celebrating Really Bad Books, putting forward the case for a bookworms’ version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. As it turns out, he wasn’t the only one who thought it was a great idea. Mike Nelson, one of the MST3K hosts, and Conor Lastowka, who works with Nelson on RiffTrax, moved away from their usual filmic fare and dived into bad books with their hilarious podcast 372 Pages We’ll Never Get Back.
In 372 Pages, Nelson and Lastowka spin bad books into gold. Listening to an episode is like sitting in on a reading group run by people who are much funnier than you are (well, than I am, anyway). Starting out with a brutal takedown of Ready Player One, 372 Pages has covered a huge range of terrible books, including the mind-boggling The Eye of Argon, Shatner vanity project TekWar, and, most recently, The Forensic Certified Public Accountant and the Cremated 64-SQUARES Financial Statements (yes, really, that’s the real title). Nelson and Lastowka have so much fun discussing the ridiculous extremes that these books go to, dissecting bad writing and building multi-layered in-jokes about the characters. 372 Pages is one of my favourite podcasts to listen to with my fiancé or my friends, where we end up laughing out loud at the nonsensical plot twists, the miss-the-mark characters, or the sheer what-the-hell-why-was-this-published of a terrible story.
Of course, Nelson and Lastowka weren’t the first to tear apart bad books. Author Jenny Trout has a long-running feature on her blog called Jealous Hater Book Club, where she picks apart not only badly-written, but intensely problematic books. Trout has read Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, dug through the extremely dodgy Handbook for Mortals (for the backstory, read An Anniversary of a Scandal by Priya Sridhar), and is now unpicking the abusive relationships that make up Beautiful Disaster. Where 372 Pages makes me laugh out loud, Jealous Hater Book Club fills me with furious joy —fury at the sexism, glorified abuse masquerading as romance, and unethical publishing practices that Trout takes apart, but joy that she’s holding problematic narratives to account. (And, also, she makes me laugh out loud).
Littrell was right—bad books can be lots of fun. We can celebrate them by reading them—or, in the case of problematic and damaging books, we can celebrate the pushback against their negative tropes.
Which bad books would you like to dive into?