Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Gladly Throw into the Ocean

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme currently being run by the blog That Artsy Reader Girl. Put simply each Tuesday has a theme assigned to it and participating blogs have to come up with a top ten list around it. The theme this week is Books I’d gladly throw into the ocean.

It was harder than I thought, to come up with ten books, as I was trying to pick ones I strongly disliked, rather than just more middling books. In the end the books in my list were included for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Extreme boredom, to the point that it almost hurts your brain to keep reading. The type of book where upon completing it, you think to yourself that that is X number of hours of your life that you are not getting back.
  • A central character who is incredibly annoying.
  • Unpleasant elements in the book which leave your brain feeling like it has eaten something highly disagreeable.
  • A difficult read, in a highly irritating way, not a satisfyingly challenging sort of way.
  • For non-fiction books specifically: Line of argument is poorly built upon factual errors, distortive personal bias and/or discusses the topic in question in such a way that it undermines the very premise it was trying to argue.

1. Crime Fiction: A Very Short Introduction (2015) by Richard Bradford (This book seems to be written by someone who doesn’t actually like crime fiction bar the odd American author. There are a lot of errors in the text too, which have been listed in a CADs magazine review by Geoff Bradley, but let’s put this way, the author puts Miss Marple into The Murder of Roger Ackroyd…)

2. Confessions (1782) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (This was a book I had to read whilst doing my degree. It is painfully long and Rousseau’s life and his endless philosophical musings on it are incredibly dull. And yes he is so annoying!)

3. Deadlier Than the Male: An Investigation into Feminine Crime Writing (1981) by Jessica Mann (This is another non-fiction book, which I have reviewed in two parts which you can find by clicking here and here. A consistent weakness of this book was the fact it undermined its’ own argument and never successfully answered the questions it set out to.)

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2008) by Kate Summerscale (I know this book was very popular when it came out, (though Oxfam was inundated with copies for quite a while afterwards), but I found the attempts to blend non-fiction prose with a dramatic retelling of events not very effective.)

5. The Riddle of the Sands (1903) by Erskine Childers (If you love nautical details then this is the book for you. If not, like me, then this story is a form of torture. Dull is an understatement!)

6. The Execution of Justice by Friedrich Durrenmatt (I found this book to be one of those interesting combinations of incredibly boring, followed by a highly unpleasant ending.)

7. French Farce (1936) by Edwin Greenwood (This book holds the title of being the only mystery novel which has nearly made me throw up! Never have meal scenes been quite so nauseating!)

8. Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky (My original review for this one on Goodreads is rather brief: It was a punishment to read and a crime it was ever written! Perhaps a slightly exaggerative review, but it captures my feelings about this one well. This book definitely falls foul of the annoying character criterion, as well as the painfully long and boring one.)

9. Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce (This is another university degree read and when putting this list together, there were quite a few texts from this period of my life which could have joined this selection of 10. But I felt this one definitely deserved to be included, as it was a blight upon one of my summer holidays. It is not just the fact that it is ridiculously long and highly uninteresting, but Joyce just goes out of his way to make reading it difficult. This is the only book which I needed to buy the Cliff Notes for, primarily to check that I had deciphered what happened in each chapter as I read it. I decided to read a chapter a day, which was fine until I got to one of the chapters which was around 150 pages long. Not only that but this chapter charts the history of the English language, beginning with Anglo Saxon and ending with 1920s American speakeasy slang. The final chapter of the book was around 40 pages long and only had about 8 full stops. Need I say more?)

10.The Face on the Cutting Room Floor (1937) by Cameron McCabe (Despite this title being well-known as a mystery which experiments with the genre and bends the rules, the end result is surprisingly boring and long-winded. This is also another book where I struggled to figure out what on earth was going on, not because the author was being delightfully cunning with red herrings, but because their approach to mystification rendered the narrative incoherent.)

I was tempted to consign the entire works of Freeman Wills Crofts and R Austin Freeman in to the ocean, but relented when I realised that JJ would have nothing left to read! Michael Innes was another contender for the list, but it was too difficult to just pick one of his books to include.

So over to you, which books would you quite like to lob into the ocean?

60 comments

  1. Glad to see that someone else couldn’t stomach ‘The face on the cutting room floor’. I remember being astounded that it got published at all. I feel like re-reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ though, because recently I saw it praised to high heaven (I do remember feeling similar to your reaction). However, I did like ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’. The book I literally threw into the ocean (well, the Mediterranean, harbour of Astypalea) was ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ulysses difficult? My dear lady! It’s easier than Finnegan’s Wake.

    Cutting-Room Floor is bad; Bornemann was startled Symons reprinted it. The Childers is also dull; it’s the ancestor of a lot of the lesser Crofts books about smuggling and boats.

    And yes, Rousseau. The man was a scoundrel.  He amused himself by pissing in old ladies’ kettles, and flashing passers-by.  He let an innocent servant girl be accused of a theft he committed; took advantage of his friend’s epileptic fit to abandon him; and put his newly born children into an orphanage.  But he felt guilty afterwards, so that’s alright.

    And feelings were what mattered: sentiment and subjectivity, rather than clever people doing clever things cleverly.  Civilization, cosmopolitanism, reason– arts and sciences – Rousseau hated them all.  Metallurgy and agriculture?  “It is iron and wheat that have civilized men and ruined the human races.”  Totalitarian, war-mongering Sparta was better than intellectual, democratic Athens.  He extolled the virtues of the rural life, and preferred simple country folk (preferably illiterate) to sophisticated city dwellers.  “Never,” Voltaire retorted, “was such a cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • I am happy to accept that Finnegan’s Wake is more complicated, but fortunately I do not have to read it. Ulysses was bad enough. FW sounds too awful to contemplate! Glad I am not alone in disliking The Riddle of the Sands and Rousseau. He was a pain in the exact way you describe. he would do a lot of stupid things, then feel bad about it, or sad that no one liked him or understood him.

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      • Finnegans Wake is unreadable; my comments on it are unprintable. Here are the first few paragraphs:

        riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
        Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
        The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.

        What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishygods! Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh! Where the Baddelaries partisans are still out to mathmaster Malachus Micgranes and the Verdons catapelting the camibalistics out of the Whoyteboyce of Hoodie Head. Assiegates and boomeringstroms. Sod’s brood, be me fear! Sanglorians, save! Arms apeal with larms, appalling. Killykillkilly: a toll, a toll. What chance cuddleys, what cashels aired and ventilated! What bidimetoloves sinduced by what tegotetabsolvers! What true feeling for their’s hayair with what strawng voice of false jiccup! O here here how hoth sprowled met the duskt the father of fornicationists but, (O my shining stars and body!) how hath fanespanned most high heaven the skysign of soft advertisement! But was iz? Iseut? Ere were sewers? The oaks of ald now they lie in peat yet elms leap where askes lay. Phall if you but will, rise you must: and none so soon either shall the pharce for the nunce come to a setdown secular phoenish.

        Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen’s maurer, lived in the broadest way immarginable in his rushlit toofarback for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus committed deuteronomy (one yeastyday he sternely struxk his tete in a tub for to watsch the future of his fates but ere he swiftly stook it out again, by the might of moses, the very water was eviparated and all the guenneses had met their exodus so that ought to show you what a pentschanjeuchy chap he was!) and during mighty odd years this man of hod, cement and edifices in Toper’s Thorp piled buildung supra buildung pon the banks for the livers by the Soangso. He addle liddle phifie Annie ugged the little craythur. Wither hayre in honds tuck up your part inher. Oftwhile balbulous, mithre ahead, with goodly trowel in grasp and ivoroiled overalls which he habitacularly fondseed, like Haroun Childeric Eggeberth he would caligulate by multiplicables the alltitude and malltitude until he seesaw by neatlight of the liquor wheretwin ’twas born, his roundhead staple of other days to rise in undress maisonry upstanded (joygrantit!), a waalworth of a skyerscape of most eyeful hoyth entowerly, erigenating from
        next to nothing and celescalating the himals and all, hierarchitectitiptitoploftical, with a burning bush abob off its baubletop and with larrons o’toolers clittering up and tombles a’buckets clottering down.

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  3. One could take this to the advanced level, differentiating how much one hates a book by which ocean one would throw it into. The larger the ocean, the more you hate the book. I’m no expert on tides and currents, but for simplicity’s sake I would assume that a book thrown into the vast Pacific would have less chance of coming back to you than one thrown into the Atlantic.

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  4. One book I would not only gladly lob into the ocean, but have every single copy jettisoned into the sun is David Marsh’s Dead Box. A “mystery” so incomprehensibly and illogically bad, you have to read it to understand how bad it truly as it can be logically described. A good second and third to be shoved into the ocean are Gilber Adair’s The Act of Roger Murgatroyd and Julian Symons. Not any of his books. Just Symons. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • haha I hadn’t thought about actual authors as such, but I suppose we could do that version of the list! Though it does run the risk of sounding like a bizarre form of a ducking stool for writers.

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      • Kate, you left off the main reason for jettisoning a book, an ending that is frustrating, annoying, a cheat or a big let down. L.C. Tyler’s Herring in the Smoke is a prime example. Why did I bother reading it if the author is going to treat the reader with contempt? John Dickson Carr’s The Burning Court is another book with a frustrating ending, though some readers like it. The ending of a recent reread The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter was a big let down. Unbelievable and frustrating. Also any whodunnit book where a policeman is the murderer – Peter Lovesey’s used that trick more than once, as has Simon Brett. Any book that is boring or unreadable I give up on, authors like HC Bailey, Lynn Brock, the Coles, and RAJ Walling are ones I couldn’t get on with, to call them deadly dull is to give them too much praise. Some of the detective characters I find annoying are Mr Fortune, Miss Marple, Mrs Bradley, Hercule Poirot, I could probably think of a few more given time. Two Agatha Christie books I could cheerfully send to the bottom of the ocean (unless they are firsts in jacket!) are Crooked House – the children in it did not speak like children and the ending was silly, and At Bertram’s Hotel, if it had been a new book by an unknown author it wouldn’t have been published, tedious beyond belief. I am not a Christie fan so I might be considered biased. Finally if a character I have started to really like is killed off I could cheerfully kill the author, Gladys Mitchell did this in The Devil at Saxon Wall so I stopped reading the book, the subject matter wasn’t pleasant either.

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      • You’re right, I had forgotten that book hurling factor, though I think I retrospectively created the list out of the titles I had found rather than create the list and then find books to match. I’m glad I was sitting down when I read your comment – ‘not a Christie fan’ lol What has put you off her work, aside from the two titles mentioned above? I wasn’t keen on the ending The Burning Court either.

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  5. Well I very much liked the Childers and the Dostoyevsky. I liked the Durrenmatt I read but might not have read that one. I also liked Whicher but I can see why you didn’t, and I did not like her other books at all.

    Your list is seriously lacking in Akunin. Perhaps they are too obvious!

    Piers Ploughman.

    Dune. Oh my god DUNE. Can I count Dune twice?

    Catcher in the Rye

    Death of a Hollow Man by Caroline Graham. So very bad it almost put me off mysteries entirely. I seriously doubt I will read another theatre mystery.

    Most books that would make this list I simply stop reading. There are probably a few text books that are eligible.

    Did I mention Dune?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I knew you would bring Akunin up. I should have put money on it!
      I have enjoyed other books by Durrenmatt, just not that one.
      I think it is a bit drastic to never read any more theatrical mysteries due to one bad book. Perhaps steer clear of them, but there are lots of other really strong mystery writers out there who more than likely have written a good theatre based mystery. But knowing your reading interests, perhaps don’t try Marsh’s.

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    • I enjoyed the Akunins I’ve read – but gave up on The Diamond Chariot last night. A very dull police procedural, in eight-point font; I finished the first section, but trudging through 400 more pages would be pure masochism.

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      • I really enjoyed The Diamond Chariot. One of my favourites from the series. The mystery set back in Japan has implications for the present day in Russia and has a fairly dramatic and emotional ending.

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  6. I’d lob any book by Sophie Hannah that purports to be a Poirot mystery into the nearest body of water. Doesn’t have to be an ocean; any sewer, rain-filled quarry or storm drain would do.

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      • I suggested years ago they should’ve used the name “Ariadne Oliver” as a (collective) penname to produce a new series of Sven Hjerson mysteries, which has the unexploited luxury of being a blank, unwritten piece of Agatha Christie property. If they tried to write and plot such a series like actual GAD, Hjerson can become to Poirot what Hajime Kindaichi is to Kosuke Kindaichi in Japan (or the Adrian Monk to his Columbo). But does anyone ever listen to me? Nooo!

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  7. Well, of course, I have to come here and defend Innes. I admit I struggled when I started reading “Hamlet, Revenge” but once in it I was in and have liked the couple others I have read.

    My throw in ocean? Needs to be a big ocean, too. Beckett’s Trilogy. As much as I love his plays, perhaps the trilogy is a good indicator of why absurdism needs to stay at play length.

    And—sorry, Moby Dick fans—but that’s another book that can go swim with the fishes. Or whales, as it were.

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  8. Have to agree, Cutting-Room Floor is a monumentally flat and tedious piece of writing that took a real effort of will to carry on reading to the end. A great chunk was almost like that kind of music where the same phrase is repeated ad nauseam. All the more disappointing after the build-up from Julian Symons.

    The only tome I’ve consigned to a watery grave was the autobiography of Fleet Street editor John Junor, which I was moved to cast off the end of Llandudno Pier years ago.

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      • It was a real let down. I looked for it for about 20 years in used bookstores. I was chuffed (I can speak Brit) to find it. Until I started it. I kept wondering what I was missing. Then I tried it again a few years ago. Thinking back I am not sure Symons actually *praised* it. He called it “the mystery novel to end mystery novels” which in retrospect looks like he was punking me!

        >

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    • I did wonder if anyone would challenge me on Innes. Two is not as many as I anticipated, but it is early days yet. I have read around 12 by him and I have not got on with 95% of them.

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  9. All modernist fiction (Joyce, Woolf, Thomas Mann). Sealed. Box. 5 miles down. I saw your great post on modernist and GAD fiction and my own take is that modernism was a reaction to a new literate class so literary types made their fiction too hard to understand for the proles (similarly jazz is the music that lit professors like because its often gibberish and makes them seem brilliant). Ulysses is a classic Emperor’s New Clothes, if you say it’s rubbish, lovers of Joyce will say you’re not smart enough to understand it (not bitter or anything). Um, most of the novels I was forced to read for undergrad Lit. But Dostoevsky, surely not, the greatest novelist! Taste is weird, I always agree with your reviews here. Most Booker prize winners are terrible (I don’t get the adoration of Ishiguru or Ian McEwan, yawn). In GAD circles, sacrilege but I found The Rim of the Pit a bit tiresome. What are the ten novels you would take with you to the desert island after the boat accidently sinks when you were dumping those you hate over the side?

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  10. Michael Innes? No, no, no. I do know what you mean, but he’s so refreshingly literate & he wrote some good books too – you just have to be in the right mood. Yes, the McCabe would go…also ‘Postern of Fate’ and, judging by the books of Michael Gilbert’s I’ve read and/or tried to read, his would go too.

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  11. I am happy to report I have read only two of your 10 entries: #1 and #10.
    I am sad to report that I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. At first I didn’t like “Crime and Punishment” much, when I had to read it for school, but I picked it up years later and found it really fascinating the second time around.

    I agree with you on “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher” and “The Riddle of the Sands” though. I found both excruciatingly dry and slow.

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  13. I have to put in another contra-vote for Innes and Austin Freeman. “Lament for a Maker” is easily one of my favourite books, and almost anything by Freeman is a pleasure to re-read. And as for Michael Gilbert, certainly not – “Smallbone Deceased” is fantastic, and “Blood and Judgment” has a seminal example of the “maverick cop” trope.

    There are very few books I think worthy of being thrown in the sea, as opposed to just giving away. Maybe the saying should be borne in mind: “There is nothing so good that someone doesn’t hate it, and nothing so bad that someone doesn’t love it”.

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    • Well there’s a few books I probably wouldn’t want to gift upon on anyone, but I take your point. I don’t think my post is intending to incite mass hurling of books into the ocean, (well I hope not anyways!).

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      • I have a soft spot for RAF, partly I think because I grew up in a town with a lot of late Victorian and Edwardian architecture, the longest intact Edwardian downtown frontage in Canada in fact, which fits him exactly. I often still see lot, and they make such fine places to imagine a murder.

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  14. Kate, I’m not sure why I’ve not got on with AC. I don’t remember trying her books much if at all when I started reading detective fiction in the early 1970s. When I’ve read the odd one I’ve been underwhelmed, including the short stories. I know I’m not the only person not to get on with AC but I’m definitely in the minority. It was the Saint I read first as a teenager then JDC/Carter Dickson. Then Margery Allingham, Philip MacDonald, Michael Innes & Edmund Crispin and other Green Penguins. I don’t recall wanting to throw into the English Channel anything I read then, I devoured every detective novel I could lay my hands on. I have reread books by the above authors, and found some of them not as good as I did the first time. For instance I couldn’t finish The Daffodil Affair by Innes, and Holy Disorders by Crispin when I tried to reread them recently but that might just be me, as I enjoyed rereads of other books by them.

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    • I struggled with TDA the first and only time I read it! I really can’t see myself ever re-reading that one. Re-reading is a funny thing, as sometimes it reminds you how much you loved it, and other times it shows you how much your reading preferences have changed. Josephine Tey is a writer I found I significantly enjoyed less upon re-reading.

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