For the love of a bad book

26 May, 2016 • Viktor Bengtsson • 2 minutes to read

I love bad books.

I smile at cardboard cutout characters, all surface emotions and clichéd dialogue. I relish every faux twist of a weak plot. I get positively giddy when a gaping chasm opens up in the middle of a story. I like the edits to stand out to a degree where you can clearly discern the first, second, and last draft all in the same paragraph.

Far from everyone agrees with my assessments. Some of the books I cherish as tripe are by others highly praised. That is all well and good. I don’t treasure these books out of malice. I feel for the authors whose paragraphs ooze overconfidence or panic, and sometimes both. I take no pleasure in dismissing countless hours of labor as complete and utter waste.

Why do I read them? Partly because I have become a great believer in quantity, if not over, then at least alongside, quality. I write better when I read more. If you eat a lot of eggs, then sooner or later you’re going to come across one or two that smell a bit funky.

But merely encountering a bad book is not sufficient reason for this love that dare not speak its name.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Bad books help me as a writer.

Good advice is great, and I have read a fair few books on writing. But it is one thing to be told “Don’t go down that path, it ends in a cliff,” and quite another to pass by the mangled remains of someone who failed to heed the warnings.

The burnt hand learns best, and so much the better if it is not your hand. Seeing someone make a mistake, big or small, makes it easier for me to spot the same mistakes in my own writing.

An inch of greatness, or a mile of proficiency

I’m a beginner. I can spend a week trying to pick apart Dostoyevsky, and advance an inch along the path to greatness. Or I can spend an hour with the first 50 pages of a horrible book, and learn how to avoid 100 mistakes.

I want to write like Dostoyevsky too, but proficiency precedes greatness.

If this was printed...

Some days the words won’t come. Some days the ideas are all lost in a haze of exhaustion. Some days the problems mount up and inspiration is violently clobbered to death by that monstrous menagerie of Doubt, Criticism, and Despair.

That’s a day to pick up a really bad book. Because if this s**t got printed, anything can.


Unless it’s your job, don’t review horrible books. Please. Some people will actually like the book and that’s ok. I once got the impetus to move to Africa based largely on ending of the movie “Wanted”.

There is no telling what will mean what to whom, or when.