When a Bad Book is Good

I do love a bad book.

Don’t get me wrong: I love good books too, far more than I like bad ones. I read a much greater proportion of good books than bad, and value them much more highly. But I do read (and own) bad books, and I do enjoy them.

Why should this be? A bad book is, well, bad. It has shoddy characterization, poor writing quality, appalling worldbuilding, and general, all-around awfulness. I cannot spend hours on end reading a bad book the way I can a good one. But there are times when a bad book is just what you need. How can this be?

For starters, bad books don’t make you think too hard. Part of what makes a good book good is that it’s thought-provoking. It comments on social issues, it poses questions, it delves into the human mind and spirit. It’s wonderful, but can be a bit exhausting. A bad book doesn’t do any of those things, or it does so very poorly. And sometimes, that’s the exact kind of break you need. If you’re oppressed by the news, or exhausted after a long, hard day, it’s kind of nice, sometimes, to curl up with a trashy bodice-ripper or idiotic space opera. They give your brain a break.

My second reason for liking bad books is a bit more selfish: sometimes I’m just jealous of good authors. It’s frustrating, when you’re a writer yourself, to read the gems of other writers’ minds, or be forced to marvel at their commercial or artistic success. Reading a wonderful book, I’m sometimes uncomfortably reminded of all those stories I wrote that didn’t turn out right, or those novels I never finished writing, or the hours I spent surfing the Internet instead of producing work. Reading a good book, in the wrong mood, can give an author the feeling that she will never get anywhere in comparison with this work of genius in her hands. Reading a bad book, on the other hand, can be cheering: after all, someone managed to publish this piece of trash! There’s hope for you too, and you can certainly do better!

Thirdly, in this age of extreme literary passions, when devotion to a franchise can attain the magnitude of a minor or not-so-minor religion, it’s just plain relaxing to read a novel no one’s ever heard of, that will never make the bestseller list. With people coming to online blows over Star Wars, bestselling authors achieving the status of prophets, and the Harry Potter cult fandom still going strong, even as its prophet author comes under scrutiny and condemnation, it can be very nice to read something without having to take sides about it, or form an opinion, or face half a million reviews or rants every time you log onto your browser. Nice, anonymous trash that will never be noticed, that no one is ever going to tweet about, is sometimes a welcome break in the ongoing cacophony.

So, the next time I am depressed from the news, or tired of listening to people rant about the Star Wars sequels, I know what I am going to do. I am going to brew tea, draw my curtains, curl up in bed, turn on the lamp, and open the pages of my secret stash of terrible books. I am going to let their mediocrity and awfulness soothe me. After all, no one gives a damn about these books, so I don’t have to either.

I do draw the line at sparkly vampires, though.

A bad book is good only up to a certain point.

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