Four Ways to Ruin a Good Book
Even though finding a good book to read can be difficult, ruining a good book for somebody else is easy. It’s so easy that excited readers usually don’t realize they’re destroying somebody else’s pleasant experience. There are probably dozens of ways to ruin a good book for somebody else, but here are (the top?) four:
1. Sneezing on it
Sneezing on a book will always ruin it for me. I don’t want to touch any book after it’s been sneezed on, no matter how much I had originally wanted to read it. It’s not just the nose debris I’m worried about either. Any type of fluid (body or not), and I won’t read the book. The moist spots might be water, but I can’t take that chance.
The only books I check out from the library are the new ones because they’re relatively undamaged. All of the older books have warped areas, or discolored sections, or green/brown spots that can’t be sanitary whatever they are. The older books can be checked out for extended periods of time, but I wouldn’t want them infecting my house, not even for a day or two.
The possibility that somebody has sneezed (or done worse) to a book will keep me from reading it. This narrows my selection at the library a little, but that also keeps me from wandering the shelves, and my kids appreciate how quickly I can choose a book from the library.
2. Spoiling the Ending
When I was reading The Iliad in junior high (by choice… 30+ years ago), some wiseacre tried spoiling it by telling me the Greeks won the war. I smugly replied that I already knew that. Then the spoiling wisacre revealed to me that The Iliad doesn’t go all the way to the end of the war. I couldn’t believe it! I cheated and read the final chapter where Achilles returns Hector’s body to Peleus, and I was shattered. I was really looking forward to reading about the Trojan Horse.
Maybe The Iliad isn’t the best example of a novel (or epic poem) that can be ruined by a spoiler. I could have used a more recent novel (like Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island), but readers could have potentially gotten mad at me (and I try to avoid conflict whenever possible). At least The Iliad is Greek mythology. It’s (almost) impossible to spoil Greek mythology anymore.
As bad as a spoiler can be, the fake spoiler can sometimes encourage a reluctant reader to finish a book. When I was in fourth grade (way more than 30+ years ago), my vulgar older brother told me that Tom Sawyer got Becky Thatcher pregnant in the caves in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I eagerly read the entire book, searching in vain for an adult encounter that the Classics Illustrated comic book version didn’t have. I couldn’t find the adult scene, but I was too embarrassed to mention that to my vulgar older brother. I was afraid the scene was there and I hadn’t been wise enough to recognize it.
Maybe I fell for my vulgar older brother’s “fake dirty scene” trick, but I never painted any picket fences for him.
3. Assigning it as Required Reading
Most people aren’t going to read a classic unless it’s assigned reading for school. But a book doesn’t have to be a classic to be hated when assigned. I probably would have liked Fahrenheit 451 if it hadn’t been assigned. I probably would have liked Lord of the Flies as well.
There are only two exceptions. I liked To Kill a Mockingbird even though it was assigned, and I’m pretty sure I’d have hated Moby Dick even if it hadn’t been.
Assigning a novel is a great way to make kids hate (even what they think is) a good book. If you’re tired of The Hunger Games or Twilight or Beautiful Creatures, just get some teachers to make these books required reading. If a few teachers could overanalyze these books, the popularity of these YA novels would drop instantly.
Any teen craze can be destroyed by making it compulsory. If you’re sick of Justin Bieber or One Direction, have some music teachers require their classes to perform their songs. It’s an incredible power that teachers have to ruin teenage fads; they should use it more frequently.
4. Building up High Expectations
I probably would have liked The Catcher in the Rye if my friends in high school (about 30 years ago) hadn’t told me how awesome it was. The Catcher in the Rye was okay, but my friends had set my expectations too high. Holden Caulfield struck me as a whiner instead of a rebel. Now when I recommend a book, I just say something like “You might think this is good,” and not, “THIS BOOK CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER!!!”
After my high school friends recommended The Catcher in the Rye, (“You HAVE to read it! It’s awesome. You won’t believe how great it is!”), I handed them a copy of Massage Parlor II by Jennifer Sills and said (probably in a monotone voice), “I think you’ll like this.”
That was it. No hyperbole. Very little emotion.
When I got my copy of Massage Parlor II back, it was in worse condition than any library book I’ve ever seen. If the kid sneezed on it, he sneezed on it a lot. Of course, I threw it away and scoured my hands. I then bought a new copy of Massage Parlor II and when I recommended it again to my other friends, I told them to buy their own copies.
That’s the final way to ruin a good book: make your literary peers buy their own copies.