The Bad, the Worst, and the Most Disappointing

babyAround this time of year, I start mentally preparing for AAR’s annual poll. I take stock of what I’ve read, what I should squeeze in before the deadline (I am always, always, reading up until the very last minute), and who my personal front runners are. I also start thinking about which books were truly awful. What shudder-inducing, god-awful travesty deserves my vote for worst?

Usually, I have an obvious answer. In fact, I usually know while I’m reading it. It’s that moment of discovery when you realize that nothing you read for the rest of the year could possibly be worse than what you are holding in your hands. These are the books that are so terrible that they cross the realm into funny. Not “so bad they’re good” per se; more like so bad they’re laughable. You may pay while reading it, but the review is bound to be hilarious.

Lately, though, I just haven’t read that many F books. My most recent review was written in March of 2009. I’ve read a few Ds, but most books I read fall in the B and C range. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe books are getting better in general. Or perhaps I’ve been reviewing for so long that just as it’s hard to truly knock my socks off, it’s hard to really horrify me too. When you’ve read The Great Baby Caper by Eugenia Riley (and I’m pretty sure I’m one of maybe six people in America who did), you know just how low the bar can go. Mediocre books start looking brilliant by comparison.

However, my lack of deplorable reads this year – admittedly not a bad “problem” to have – may soon not be a problem at all. In discussing changes for the annual poll this year, our pollsters suggested changing the “worst read” category to “most disappointing read”. I think this is an idea whose time has come. I’ve thought for years that the worst books never have a shot in this category anyway, because no one outside of the reviewing community has read them. After all, we warned you not to. The books that have “won” for worst read in the past were probably closer to “most disappointing” anyway. In some ways, “disappointing” might be harder to handle than “worst”; these are books readers begin with high hopes. It could be that the author’s debut was a smash and you were hoping for the same magic. Or maybe everyone else has been talking about this book and saying how spectacular it is, or perhaps it started out great only to flop gloriously in the second half. How ever you get there, disappointed is an awful feeling. But with most of my “worst” books, I didn’t really start out with high expectations in the first place.

How have you voted in the past? Have your “worst” reads really been more “disappointing” than truly god-awful? Have you read a book you disliked so much that all subsequent reads are compared to its dreadfulness?

- Blythe AAR

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14 Responses to The Bad, the Worst, and the Most Disappointing

  1. Tee says:

    Blythe wrote: How have you voted in the past? Have your “worst” reads really been more “disappointing” than truly awful?

    I’ve been one of those who advocated to drop the worst-reads section (never voted that one anyway). Since “worst” applies to the bottom-of-the-barrel reads, it’s subjective for each reader according to their personal tastes. I also believe the word itself (worst) can have lingering implications against the author that could be unwarranted. Everyone’s worst book is someone’s best, and all that. But “disappointing” is just as you said. It totally allows for readers’ expectations to certain books and their actual reactions to them. Worst implies bad or evil, whereas disappointing points to not meeting expectations. Some will argue that there’s little difference. But I don’t believe that. Words can be cruel. Just choosing the correct one can make all the difference. And we are not here to truly malign anyone or anything intentionally.

  2. AAR Sandy says:

    Tee, I’ve never agreed with that oft repeated “someone’s F is someone else’s DIK” thing. An F should be a truly horrible book – there are some universal standards, after all. I think it’s far more likely that someone’s A might be someone else’s C.

    I think the move to Most Disappointing is a good one. But a poll is supposed to be personal. It’s supposed to be what YOU think. When a publisher puts out a book and markets it to readers who are expected to be pay money to read it, honesty is best.

  3. PatW says:

    I like the change – I think I only voted for Worst once quite a few years ago.

    If it’s bad, the book was a DNF (and voting for a DNF is not fair IMO) or I was warned and never bought it in the first place. However plenty of books have disappointed me for some reason or another.

  4. Tee says:

    Sandy wrote: But a poll is supposed to be personal. It’s supposed to be what YOU think. When a publisher puts out a book and markets it to readers who are expected to be pay money to read it, honesty is best.

    True; it is a personal choice poll. However, since we don’t appear to receive ballots from everyone who posts or lurks here, the result may not be as accurate in the worst category as it could be. So we may have a few people and choices appearingly speaking for the many (and there were a number of people who said they didn’t even vote that category). And that’s okay, because they are the ones who are choosing to vote. However, that worst category just doesn’t need to be there then. But that’s my opinion.

    Back to the “someone’s F is another’s DIK” thing. I do believe that, Sandy. There are some books that people have raved about here non-stop and they were DNFs for me from the get-go, even before the hype. On the other hand, there have been a few that I absolutely loved that were literally trashed by some here. All in all, you’re probably correct when you say it’s more someone’s A compared to someone’s C. But there are some books that place on both of the extreme ends of the ratings scale with readers.

    I love that readers are so passionate about reading. And I also think it’s great when we stop to reassess things every so often. Find out how it goes this year, then listen to the feedback from the voters and go from there. This site is so flexible and open to suggestions, trying to satisfy the visitors, while at the same time not compromising the goals and mission of the website owners. After all, it’s all of you at AAR who have this vision of what you want this site to be and that appears to work for us, too, who come here regularly.

  5. LinnieGayl says:

    As one of the three pollsters along with CindyS and LeeB, I’m one of those who advocated switching to “most disappointing” from “worst,” both based on my personal reading experiences, and the results (or lack thereof) from the last few polls.

    Until I started reviewing a few years ago, my “worst” book was in reality my “most disappointing.” I mostly assigned books grades of A or B, because I simply DNF books that would have been a C or lower. Once I started reviewing, I was genuinely able to vote for “worst,” because I usually read — as a reviewer — at least one or two D’s or F’s (horrible, horrible books) each year.

    We’re excited to see how “most disappointing” will work.

    And on a personal note, I just reread Blythe’s review of The Great Baby Caper. It’s a true masterpiece of a review!

  6. dick says:

    Who would even completely read a book that fell into the class “worst”? Seems to me there’s a great difference between “worst” and “most disappointing.” One would first have to have liked an author’s previous works in order to be “disappointed” in the present one. Whereas one would have to be a masochist to completely read a book that fell into the class “worst.”

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  8. AAR Sandy says:

    dick, you know who finishes a book that falls into the “worst” class? Reviewers at AAR! We do it so you don’t have to!

  9. Carrie says:

    When you look at the books I really didn’t care for in 2010, you’ll see that this really is very subjective. I’d like to think the standards for good writing and plotting are universal, but they aren’t. Books I’ve felt were some of the most disappointing and, imo, poorly written books I picked up this year will make someones “best of” list.

    AAR Sandy- I won’t list the books I felt were really poorly written, but I guarantee you, some books I felt were trash are being praised to the skies on many forums. I can list more than one book that have been other peoples 5 star reads that I would gladly give zero stars to. I don’t know what makes that happen. I respect other readers opinions, but sometimes I am totally flummoxed by a book that gets 5 star reviews.

  10. Nikki H says:

    I agree with dick in that a “most disappointing” book means that I have at some time liked the author enough to read more books by her/him. But I don’t have a solution either.

  11. Blythe says:

    I tend to agree with Sandy that the majority of my F books are so bad that no one else actually read them. There are a handful that could be someone else’s DIK, but it’s pretty unlikely.

    I notice that no one has come forward to defend the brilliance that is The Great baby Caper. ;)

  12. Tinabelle says:

    2010 has not been a stellar reading year for me as far as romances go so I will likely not vote in this year’s poll. I became very frustrated and bored with so many of the romances I read that I went in a totally different direction with my reading. I love historicals but found so many of them to be generic and almost interchangable that I couldn’t distinguish one from the other. I have dozens of titles languishing in my electronic TBR pile on my Kindle. I am hoping after a break to start reading them again. In fact, I just finished The Heir by Annie Burrows and enjoyed it very much.

    I am happy to see the category of “Worst” changed to “Most Disappointing.” I agree with others about the connotation of the word “worst.” I think all of the categories are subjective though because people are all over the place with their preferences and tastes. Mine always tend to be out of the mainstream, it seems. And even though I probably won’t vote this year, I’ll look forward to seeing the results of the poll. It is always interesting to see where everyone else is coming from.

  13. Laurie Ann says:

    I do not finish books that fall into the “worst” category. I generally know enough about 1/4 of the way through not to waste my time. I believe “Most Disappointing” to be more accurate. I have one particular book in mind from this year that fell into this category. It’s from an author that is always an auto-buy for me. It certainly wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read – not even close. But it was extremely disappointing!

  14. snail says:

    I’m not crazy about a category of most disappointing because to me something that is a B could be most disappointing if it is an author that I absolutely love and my hopes for the book were extremely high. In other words most disappointing is about the difference between my expectations of the book and my enjoyment of the book and not a judgement of the book. I can see why worst book wouldn’t work well as a category, but my preference would be to have a few categories such as worst ending and most confusing plot that would apply to books that more people would read.

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