Happy Friday, guys!
Now that you already got my favorite books of 2020, I obviously have to follow up with my least favorites! Because, let’s be honest: Sometimes, it’s just so satisfying to rant about all the books that ended up letting you down 😁
As always, I will be splitting this into two parts, starting with the books I genuinely hated and continuing with my most disappointing reads. The latter are stories that I didn’t altogether dislike (or even enjoyed), but that ultimately still let me down because I expected so much more from them. Which, if you ask me, can be even more frustrating than simply hating a book. If something has potential and squanders it, that’s often way more upsetting than a book just being bad all the way through!
To be fair, though, I was actually really lucky this year. I ended up enjoying most of what I read, and, for the first time since I started doing these posts, I did not have a single one-star read! Of course, that could just be because my standards went downhill after discovering the awfulness that is Heart of Darkness last year, but I don’t think so… Even the worst books I read in 2020 had at least one redeeming quality. So compared to my rants in the previous years, this one might be actually kind of moderate 😉
Anyway, let’s get started! Unlike my favorites, I didn’t manage to come up with a definite ranking for these, so as a rule of thumb: The closer the books are to the top of these lists, the bigger my dislike/disappointment.
Part One: Least Favorite Books of 2020
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
(read in April)
Rudyard Kipling’s Kim is, apparently, “one of the greatest spy stories ever written”. Just google the novel, and you’ll find that phrase in various prestigious newspapers, in book reviews, in papers on literary criticism… And I’ve really got to wonder – did all these people praising the book to the skies actually ever read Kim??? Because if I had to classify it, it would be as “one of the most boring books ever written”! Seriously, NOTHING happens in this!!! It’s over 300 pages of a boy and an old geezer walking along a road and philosophizing about life. Even the spy plotline was so “engaging” that I seriously struggled not to fall asleep. The book’s only redeeming quality – and the sole reason I still gave it two stars, not one – was its portrayal of India. The setting was so well fleshed-out, and I learned so much by reading this! I just wish there had been an interesting story to go along with it 🙄
Englisch Unterrichten by Engelbert Thaler
(read in August)
I absolutely detest this book. The title translates to ‘Teaching English’, and it is THE go-to textbook if you’re studying English language education in Germany. Which also means I had to memorize it for my exams 🙄 Like I said, it’s extremely relevant.
The problem is – I don’t think it should be. For 90% of the stuff in here, I’d say if you don’t already know this intuitively, you have no business being in a classroom. Because if you can’t figure this stuff out by yourself, how on Earth are you going to deal with the spontaneity of a room full of kids?
Like, did you know what might cause problems for students during comprehension exercises that involve watching video clips or movies? Well, let me enlighten you with this wonderful excerpt:
Auditory features: background noise, poor sound quality, multiple speakers, people speaking at the same time, use of unfamiliar accents, people speaking too quickly, complex syntax, elaborate style, abstract topic, argumentative and expository text formats (e.g. documentaries), long film
Visual features: lack of coherence, non-linear presentation, information given only implicitly, many scenes containing sex or violence
Relation between sound and image: great language density (a lot of language per scene), little visual support for spoken text, lack of correspondence between sound and image
Relevance: topic of little relevance for students, topic unrelated to their interests, reality
Methodology: lack of accompanying teaching suggestions, lack of didactic or thematic relevanceThaler, p. 171-172
Who would have thought, right? 🙈 Most of this book was dedicated to stating absolutely common-sense information as if it were the biggest revelation ever, and, if that weren’t enough, you’d better remember all of it verbatim and who first said it.
And before you say something like, “But Naemi, that’s hardly the book’s fault, is it? Afterall, it’s just covering what the curriculum says will be on the test.”: Well, the guy who wrote this book had a big hand in writing that curriculum, too. Why not teach us something worthwhile instead? Why make us memorize all of this absolutely useless information word for word?
The only good thing about this book: I guess it was well-structured, and the lesson examples were moderately helpful.
The Two Noble Kinsmen, King Henry VIII and The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
While I am absolutely obsessed with Shakespeare’s collected works overall, I do have to admit that my favorite bard also wrote some pretty shitty stuff. So here’s a shoutout to my three least favorite Shakespeare plays 😅
The Two Noble Kinsmen – absolutely boring. I don’t know why Shakespeare thought we needed yet another version of this story… I already thought it didn’t have much depth to it when I read “The Knight’s Tale” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the play dragged it out into an even longer, but definitely not better version.
King Henry VIII was also a big disappointment. I mean, this guy had six wives! He started a major religious conflict that has hugely shaped our current political landscape! And yet, none of that really made it into this play. We only get to see two of the wives – Katherine of Aragon was pretty much the only thing I liked about this – and the Reformation basically isn’t mentioned at all. Instead, this consists of hardcore flattery and sucking up to the monarchy. I mean, I get that you wouldn’t want to get on their bad side, Shakespeare, but was this really necessary?
And The Taming of the Shrew... Don’t even get me started. Somehow, the interesting frame narrative is completely abandoned halfway through the play, just so we can spend even more time with all these wonderfully misogynistic themes. Even if you think this is a parody – can someone enlighten me as to why this is supposed to be funny?
And that was it for the books I really didn’t like last year 😅 So let’s move on to the disappointing ones!
Part Two: Most Disappointing Books of 2020
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
In all honesty, The Silmarillion could probably have also gone on my “least favorites” list. It was absolutely tedious to get through, info-dumped like nobody’s business, was incredibly black-and-white in its portrayal of good and evil, had some of the blandest characters ever, and was terribly misogynistic in its treatment of the female ones…
But I just couldn’t bring myself to put a Tolkien book on there! Not when I love The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so much! Not when I adored learning all of this background information on Middle-earth! The world-building in this – absolutely fantastic! But yeah – story-telling-wise, not so much…
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
(read in March)
If you know me well, you’re probably aware that I am an absolute sucker for hard sci-fi set in space. I mean – just take a look at some of my favorite TV shows: Star Trek, The 100 (excluding season 7), Lost in Space… 😊 See any patterns there?
And this book? The world building and all the spacey stuff was beyond cool! There was science, there were politics, lots of action! I should have loved it!
And yet, I didn’t. Because, quite frankly, it had next to no character depth. The writing style was very detached, so that even the two narrators felt more like types rather than real, actual people. And the female characters were even worse. There were hardly any of them at all, and the ones that were present were these incredibly smart, flawless and super-beautiful women that mainly served the purpose of having male characters lust after them. Overall, I just wasn’t a huge fan 🙈
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
(read in January)
Ooh, this one hurts particularly badly… Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is one of my absolute favorite books, so when I heard that she had a new novel coming out, I was obviously beyond excited! And when I started reading The Starless Sea, I was entranced. The mystery! The college setting! The books! The writing! It was all sooo, sooo good, and I was sure this would be a five-star read for me.
And then I hit the last quarter of the book and things just got weird. Like, really weird. Maybe I just didn’t appreciate all the meta-ness properly, but if you ask me, this is the second-most-disappointing ending I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. [First place, in case you’re curious, goes to The Fate of the Tearling, which I am still, years later, extremely bitter about. 😡 ] Although I can see how people might like it, I just wasn’t a fan at all, and it tainted the entire book for me. So yeah, unfortunately, The Starless Sea was a bit of a letdown.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
(read in August)
I had pretty much the opposite issue with this one as with The Starless Sea. The ending? Absolutely phenomenal! But oh boy, the beginning… At first, I was hopelessly confused for a hundred pages, then hopelessly bored for 200 pages, and the characters were, even by Dickens’ standards, absolutely flat and stereotypical.
Overall, I’d still say I enjoyed this, but I just don’t see why some people call it one of the greatest classics of all time. Dickens has written so many better ones! Yes, the writing is brilliant and the last few chapters are pretty epic, but still, I found this one to be a little underwhelming…
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
(read in July)
This book wasn’t bad at all – in fact, I did enjoy reading it. But the thing is, I didn’t love it, either. And after falling head over heels for Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns in 2019, I was kind of disappointed. While Sorcery of Thorns had originality, plenty of subplots, and really interesting characters, this one was just … bland. There were no subplots. “Girl gets kidnapped by fae prince” is a story I’ve seen several times by now, and this book didn’t really add anything new and interesting that grabbed my attention. It was a nice, quick read, but that’s about all I can say about it.
And that was it for this year! I’m very sorry if I offended any of your favorites 😅 Feel free to come to their defense in the comments, since it’d be great to have some reasons to appreciate them more! Or, if you agree with me, do join in on the ranting! I’d love to know your thoughts either way!
Also, if you haven’t had enough yet and would like to check out how mean I was during previous years, you can find those posts here:
Until next time!