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5 Ways To Ruin A Good Book

October 17, 2016
(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Finding a good book to read can be difficult, but 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?) five:

  1. 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 maybe Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train), 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.

  1. 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 disliked 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 Harry Potter or The Fault in our Stars, 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 One Direction or Fall Out Boy, 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.

  1. 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 Different Seasons by Stephen King and said (probably in a monotone voice), “I think you’ll like this.”

That was it.  No hyperbole.  Very little emotion.  And everybody likes Different Seasons.

  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 on (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.

  1. Making a Bad Movie out of It.

This one is out of the control of most casual readers.  It takes money and power to pull enough strings to make a bad movie out of a good book.  I’m not sure anybody intentionally makes a bad movie out of a good book, but it seems to happen a lot.  When the Jack Nicholson version of The Shining (“Heeeere’s Johnny!”) came out in the early 1980s, it was panned by most critics.  Even I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t as hyper-critical of stuff as I am now.  Today, a lot of people see that version of The Shining as a classic, but I think that’s just because everybody loves Jack Nicholson.

It’s not the book’s fault if a bad movie is made out of it.  Sometimes a bad movie might inspire readers to see why that movie was made in the first place.  I’ve never seen a good movie version of The Great Gatsby, but Hollywood will keep trying, and people will keep reading it.

*****

When I lend out books and get them back, they’re almost always in worse condition than any library book I’ve ever seen.  Pages are folded, notes are scribbled inside, and the binding is shriveled.  I’m often tempted to stop offering up the books I like.

That’s the final way to ruin a good book: make your literary peers buy their own copies.

*****

I’ve written two books, and nobody has ruined them yet.

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10 Comments
  1. Number 4 was so out of the blue lol. That really cracked me up. Great post!

  2. I have to say I agree on all counts with your assessment of Moby Dick.

  3. Nr. 2 on the list I know it all to well 🙂 Even thought it was a long time ago, I still think of it as an relevant example of what you wrote about how you shouldn’t spoil the ending for someone, and the almost exact same thing happened to me, when I began talking to this friend of mine about how I have listened to the Hunger Games triogoy on Danish as an Audiobook. Then she started blurbing about how she had read in English and told me some details that I hadn’t noticed in the Danish version. That, at first, made me a little upset by then again, she was so exicted that I didn’t want to say anything, untill she asked if I had actually listen properly through the whole thing and that was when I confessed to her that I had only listened to the first two of the books, so when she had mentioned that some of the best characters of Hunger Games would do something to one another in the third book or something like that, and I know that it was wrong that I didn’t say anything but still, you shouldn’t go around saying things about a book or a movie if someone hasn’t read or seen the movie yet, unless the ask, of course, because that could actually ruin the whole experience.
    I love how you make post that aren’t like most other blogs and escpecially this one, where you make a blog post about the top 5 ways for ruining a good book. It’s new and it’s fresh and I LOVE IT! 🙂

  4. Great post! And you’re right about number 5. It shouldn’t be so, but a terrible film version taints the original book – I can think of lots of examples, more examples than exceptions. I know of much worse things than nose juice in books, but that’s another story

  5. I keep telling myself I’m going to read another Charles Dickens novel and see if it was just studying Great Expectations at school that put me off him. On the other hand, there are lots of books out there that I definitely do want to read, so I don’t fancy battling my way through a Dickens tome just yet.

  6. i feel like its fair to read books of varying quality in the bathroom, but my wife disagrees. She also thinks putting my feet on a book will ruin it. crazy.

  7. I will never forget reading Anna Karenina on the train, opening it to chapter one, and having a stranger strike up a conversation about the ending. Arg! Sometimes I think people forget there are people who are reading a classic for the first time.

    Number 4 is a serious way to ruin a book. 😀

  8. I agree totally with assigning it as required reading.

    I recently reread a battered old copy of The Handmaids Tale, which had been forced on me many years ago in English Lit class. I hated it then, I found it tedious and dull. I would bribe myself to read the assigned chapters with food and video game breaks. But rereading it recently I enjoyed it. I was not sure if it was because I am a bit older or if it was because my tastes have changed. Then I realised, I hated it before because I had been forced to read it.

    Assigning books can kill your enjoyment of them, at least it almost did for me.

  9. That last line man !

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  1. 5 Ways To Ruin A Good Book — Dysfunctional Literacy | writeval

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