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Super Sunday Smackdown: Worst Tournament Ever, Part 1

March 20, 2011

One of the most popular posts on the blog is last year’s March Madness-style tourney determining which living author I would take to a bomb shelter in the event of nuclear holocaust.  I’m not really a basketball fan, but I thought I’d do another tourney this year.  My first inclination was to determine which book I’d take with me if stranded on a desert island.  (Though practically I should take War and Peace or something with a lot of pages to use as kindling to set a rescue fire…)  Then I thought, “What fun would that be?”  I mean, how can you choose between Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird?

Instead, I’m going the opposite way.  We’re going through my 1-star and 2-star book reviews to determine Worst.  Book.  Ever.  (Read by me.)

This follows the same rules as last year.  To save time I pared the list down to 32 books instead of 64.  There are 2 brackets:  1-star reads and 2-star reads.  Seeding was decided largely by random number generator on MS Excel to prevent too much favoritism.

Today’s entry will focus on the Round of 32 and then the Sweet Sixteen.  The Elite Eight, Final Four, and Championship will be determined next Sunday.

And Away We Go…


Round of 32

2-Star Reads Division

(1) A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley vs. (16) The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

In the literary establishment these are two quality reads.  In the world of Rogue Mutt these are two books that nearly lulled me to sleep.  Thousand Acres is supposed to be a riff on Shakespeare, but The Bard has probably coughed up something more interesting than Smiley’s novel.  Ambersons felt so terribly dated to me.  It reminds me of the title my Amazon Friend Ethan Cooper used for a review of “Tender is the Night”:  Dated Snobbish Melodrama.  That would fit Ambersons to a tee.

Still, at least Tarkington can use the excuse of his novel being dated.  What’s your excuse, Jane Smiley?  And no, I don’t care that it won a Pulitzer.

“Winner”:  A Thousand Acres

(8) Portrait of A Lady by Henry James vs. (9) The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiaski

These were two I read during my period of trying to read the Great Books of Western Civilization or something like that.  Though actually the James one I listened to on CD–which helped convince me I don’t like audiobooks.  Like Magnificent Ambersons, Portrait of A Lady felt so terribly dated, like a homeless man’s Jane Austen.  Painted Bird started out interesting, but as it wore on it started to get too dark and violent even for me.

Painted Bird disgusted me in ways Henry James never could, though.

“Winner”:  Painted Bird

(5) Desert Lightning by Brian Kelleher vs. (12) The Ultimate Good Luck by Richard Ford

An appropriate matchup only in that both take place around Mexico, though it’s New Mexico in Lightning’s case.  Desert Lightning was a potboiler type I bought on the cheap because the author wrote some other potboiler books I liked.  It’s the kind of book Stephen Colbert would approve of because all the Americans are awesome heroes and all the Nazis are sleazy villains.  As for Ultimate Good Luck, I didn’t even remember rating it this low.  (On Amazon I gave it 1 star but I gave it 2 on Goodreads, so here we are.)  Though here’s a great line in my review:  Never has a book involving cocaine smuggling, at least three murders, and Mexican prisons been so boring or unsatisfying.  Put that quote on the book jacket!

Anyway, Desert Lightning was much more awful.

“Winner”:  Desert Lightning

(4) Artifact of the System (Black Hole Travel Agency Vol #2) vs. (13) Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Artifact of the System should have been going up against Desert Lightning because I bought them for the same reason, though they have different authors, or they could be the same author given that they use pseudonyms.  Anyway, Artifact of the System started out as a fairly interesting sci-fi read, but it got progressively weirder and nonsensical as it went along.  I thought it might have helped to have read Volume 1 first, so I did–nope, didn’t help.

But I’m sure Ethan Cooper would back me up on how much Bridge of Sighs stinks.  Just a boring, whiny mess that goes on forever.  He actually quit on it after 250 pages.  If you can make a stellar reader like Coop give up on you, then you’re going deep in this tourney.

“Winner”:  Bridge of Sighs

(6) Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson vs. (11) Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Further proof this seeding was random:  Beach Music should have been pitted against Bridge of Sighs because both were sooooo long and soooo boring.  Though in Beach Music’s case it had some exciting moments, but these didn’t seem to matter much to the overall story.

But that doesn’t compare to Housekeeping, which apparently is about two girls and their aunt who sit around braiding each other’s hair until one wises up and runs away.  There’s a real cure for insomnia.

“Winner”:  Housekeeping

(3) The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown vs. (14) Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

Wow, two mega-selling authors with mega-selling movie adaptations too!  Da Vinci took the world by storm, but for me it was just a standard dull “thriller” and not even that original to boot.  Really, there was a History Channel documentary from 1997 that says most of the same stuff Brown does that was deemed so groundbreaking at the time.  As for Djibouti, I don’t think it’s taking the world by storm, nor should it.  It claims to be about Somali pirates but isn’t.  That’s where it starts, but then it becomes a comedic caper about terrorism that gave me flashbacks to watching “Big Trouble” starring Tim Allen that was adapted from a novel by Dave Barry.

You’re stealing ideas from Dave Barry now, Elmore Leonard?  Really?  Shame on you!

“Winner”:  Djibouti

(7) The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster vs. (10) Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Auster represents New York and Chabon California, so this would be like that East-West rap feud if it were about bad books and no one was actually firing guns at anyone.  Last year Chabon made it to one of the final rounds of my tourney because he WAS one of my favorite literary authors.  The reason it’s WAS and not IS:  Yiddish Policeman’s Union!  A Dan Brown-esque conspiracy “thriller,” it was just horrible for me to watch an author waste his considerable talents on such junk.  As for Book of Illusions, I think I’d enjoy it more if I read it now than back in 2003 or so.  Though it’s hard for a book about silent movies to be overly exciting.  Movie descriptions are not that interesting!

Still, the Chabon book really pissed me off.

“Winner”:  Yiddish Policeman’s Union

(2) Rules of Conflict by Kristine Smith vs. (15) Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy #5) by Douglas Adams

Further proof this seeding is random:  I have no idea how “Rules of Conflict” got such a high seed.  My review says that it was boring and not much happened.  As for “Mostly Harmless” it pissed me off because the ending was so awful that I thought maybe I was missing pages, plus it wiped out all the goodwill Adams had generated from the previous book, which is actually my favorite of the series.

So when you get down to it, I remember why I hate Mostly Harmless.  Rules of Conflict?  Not so much.

“Winner”:  Mostly Harmless


Round of 32

1-Star Reads Division

(1) The Mermaid That Came Between Them by Carol Ann Sima vs. (16) The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

I’ve read a number of Anne Tyler’s books and I liked most of them.  Not this one.  Mostly because Amateur Marriage seemed like the reheated leftovers from her Pulitzer-winning Breathing Lessons, one of my favorite reads.  And as you know, most reheated leftovers leave a bad taste in your mouth.

But that has nothing on Mermaid That Came Between Them, which was just horrible on every level.  I’m going to save some bile for later rounds.  Just trust me, it’s awful.

“Winner”:  Mermaid, easily.

(8) Engines of Dawn by Paul Cook vs. (9) Destiny’s Road by Larry Niven

These are both sci-fi books that I found pretty bad to read.  Engines of Dawn was so bad that I felt the need to rant about it on Amazon, thus beginning my amateur book reviewing career!  As for Destiny’s Road, it was really, really boring.  I was expecting an epic quest, but instead the main character goes a few miles down the road after fleeing his home for whatever reason.  Then he parks there for the next 20 years.  Wow, watch out JRR Tolkein!

At least Engines of Dawn gives me one fond memory.  Not so, Destiny’s Road.

“Winner”:  Destiny’s Road

(5) Brazil by John Updike vs. (12) Ascending by James Alan Gardner

An Updike novel on here?  Say it isn’t so!  But it is.  I’ve read a number of Updike’s novels, but Brazil was just a real stinker.  There’s probably a reason old, rich white guys living in New England shouldn’t try to write South American magical realism.  As for Ascending, it was bad primarily because of the narrator.  Imagine if that Corky kid from “Life Goes On” narrated a book.  It was like Forrest Gump on crack.

Still, Brazil was much worse.  Stay in your lane, Updike!

“Winner”:  Brazil

(4) The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz vs. (13)  Back Where He Started by Jay Quinn

It’s the battle of books I read pretty much at random!  The Koontz one I read because I essentially camping out in my old apartment and everything had been packed up, including the computer and cable box.  So I stopped at the grocery store and picked up something to read.  As my review says, I thought this might be a “Something Goes Bump In the Night” kind of story, but it was much, much worse.  As for Back Where He Started, it was like a gay version of a Nicholas Sparks story.  I hate Nicholas Sparks stories no matter what sexuality the characters have.

Still, Darkest Evening was much lamer.  You’re no Stephen King, Koontzy!

“Winner”:  Darkest Evening of the Year

(6) Until I Find You by John Irving vs. (11) Larry’s Party by Carol Shields

It’s no great shock that John Irving is my favorite literary author.  He could have won the tournament last year if he were 20 years younger–and a woman.  I’m just saying.  That doesn’t mean he can’t uncork a stinker too.  And he has with regularity since 2001, starting with “The Fourth Hand” and most recently with “Last Night in Twisted River.”  But “Until I Find You” is the stinkiest of the stinkers.  There was so much talk about Jack’s “little guy” that I really, really, really wanted to quit on the book.  Then wished I had after finishing.  As for Larry’s Party, most of the book is just dull, but then in the last 30 pages, Shields decides she’s going to have page after page of random dialog with no dialog tags.  It’s like if you were standing around a bus station and transcribing all the overlapping conversations as you hear them.  WTF?

Still, better to just have a bad ending than a bad beginning, middle, and ending.

“Winner”:  Until I Find You

(3) A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks vs. (14) Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Remember how I said I hate Nicholas Sparks?  Well then, it’s no surprise that he comes in as a 3 seed.  The only surprise is that it’s ONLY a 3 seed.  I took a couple of his crappy books to read while on vacation in Maine.  I actually read the entire “The Notebook” during a 2-hour flight delay.  No fooling.  But A Walk to Remember took the hokeyness to a whole other level.  As my review says, it’s so sappy that if you run out of syrup you can just wring this one out.  As for Imperial Bedrooms, it has no reason to exist except Ellis needs money.  The kids from “Less Than Zero” are still douchebags, only now they’re older douchebags with cell phones and drinking instead of doing coke off urinals.  What an age we live in!

There’s no way Sparks doesn’t win.

“Winner”:  A Walk to Remember

(7) Forever Free by Joe Haldeman vs. (10) Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card

A battle of two guys who wrote books I really liked–and then wrote these!  Haldeman wrote “The Forever War,” which has become my favorite sci-fi novel.  Card wrote “Ender’s Game” and the later “Ender’s Shadow” which are both good.  Then they got desperate for money or something and these came along.  Forever Free is the needless sequel to “Forever War” that has no point.  At all.  Ever.  Everything was tied up nicely in the last book, so there weren’t any questions to resolve.  (Actually that should have been in my entry on endings.  Or it could be an entry on sequels.  Short version:  you only need sequels when there’s a loose end to tie up.  This is why “Godfather III” and “Indiana Jones 4” failed among many other terrible sequels.)  As for Shadow of the Hegemon, it continues the story of what was going down on Earth when Ender was away.  In this case there’s a global war that reads like a game of Risk instead of an actual war.  Actually I’ve played games of Risk that were more exciting.  And then in his afterword he chastises America for launching cruise missiles at Afghanistan in 1998 or so.  You know, the place where bin Laden was training terrorists to attack us.  The paperback with those comments came out in 2001, so great timing Card!  Dumbass.

Still, Forever Free was much more unnecessary.

“Winner”:  Forever Free

(2) The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton vs. (15) Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Hamilton’s sci-fi series spans over 3000 pages, divided into 3 parts in the UK and 6 in the US, or something like that.  I could only get through the first 1000 or so pages of it, though, before I gave up.  The reason these books are so long is because there are so many characters, most of whom don’t seem to be doing anything of importance.  Our “hero” might get around to doing something, if he can stop doing random chicks he meets.  As for Blood Meridian, a lot of people love it, but I hated it.  I hate Cormac McCarthy in general.  It’s the same way I feel about Quentin Tarantino movies:  I just don’t GET why people like it.  In both cases I’ve really made an effort, but I just don’t get it and I doubt I ever will.  I mean in Blood Meridian one of the main characters disappears for well over 1/3 of the novel as it becomes more and more about the “bad guy” than the “good guy.”  That’s what a well-written novel is?  Huh.

But at least McCarthy keeps his stuff to less than 500 pages.

“Winner”:  Reality Dysfunction 


Sweet Sixteen

2-Star Division

(1) A Thousand Acres vs. (9) The Painted Bird

Yeah, I’m dropping the author names in the second round.  I’m lazy that way.  Anyway, A Thousand Acres was really, really boring.  Painted Bird was really, really dark and disgusting.  Which is the worse sin?

I’m going with dark and disgusting.

“Winner”:  Painted Bird

(5) Desert Lightning vs. (13) Bridge of Sighs

Desert Lightning was really cheesy.  Bridge of Sighs was really, really boring.  Which sin is worse?  Well, I have to say Desert Lightning at least does what it was supposed to do.  A book like that you aren’t expecting much from it except to have some gun fights and explosions.  It’s like when people rip on stupid action movies for being stupid action movies.  For instance “GI JOE” was a dumb movie, but it gave you exactly what you expected.  By contrast, Bridge of Sighs did not have a mandate to be as long and dull as it was.  Russo’s done a lot better work than that.

“Winner”:  Bridge of Sighs  (mark it as the “Cinderella team” of the tourney!)

(6) Housekeeping vs. (14) Djibouti

This is pretty much a repeat of the last matchup.  Really, really boring vs. really, really cheesy.  Though I was expecting a little more out of Elmore Leonard, the author of “Get Shorty” and the like.  Still, you could have tried a little harder to be interesting, Marilynne Robinson!

“Winner”:  Housekeeping

(10) Yiddish Policeman’s Union vs. (15) Mostly Harmless

There’s no denying both of these books pissed me off.  There’s also no denying both of these authors should have known better.  Though in Mostly Harmless’s case, I think Adams was just tired of being the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” guy so he decided to say “Fuck all of you, I’m moving on!” with that generally crappy ending.  That took guts!  (Or insanity to cash out a sure thing.  I’m going with guts.)  By comparison, maybe Chabon was huffing paint thinner or something.  I don’t know.

So, there’s no excuse for you, Mr. Chabon!

“Winner”:  Yiddish Policeman’s Union

Sweet Sixteen

1-Star Division

(1) Mermaid That Came Between Them vs. (9) Destiny’s Road

Maybe a grammar snob can tell me why it shouldn’t be “Mermaid Who Came Between Them” instead of THAT.  A Mermaid is a person, right?  Aren’t people “who” instead of “that?”  Or is it because it’s not a proper pronoun?  Hurm.

I’m just kibitzing here (See, I know some Yiddish slang too, Michael Chabon!  Oy vey!) because there’s no question who wins.  Destiny’s Road ends here.  You were bad, but not bad enough.

“Winner”:  Mermaid That Came Between Them

(5) Brazil vs. (4) The Darkest Evening of the Year

Brazil was the worst Updike book I’ve ever read.  Darkest Evening was the only Koontz book I’ve ever read.  It certainly wouldn’t make me want to read any other Koontz books.

Still, I think on his worst day John Updike couldn’t have been as bad as Dean Koontz.

“Winner”:  Darkest Evening

(6) Until I Find You vs. (3) A Walk to Remember

Have I mentioned I really hate Nicholas Sparks?  He’s such a no-talent hack that it makes my skin crawl to think that he’s making millions of dollars from books and movies peddling sappy messages with strong Christian overtones.  So it would take a really special bad book to knock him off.  And Until I Find You is that book! Sorry Mr. Irving, but Sparks’s hokeyness is better than listening to 400 pages of you talking about your, er, Jack’s “little guy” and wrestling and crap like that.

“Winner”:  Until I Find You

(2) The Reality Dysfunction vs. (7) Forever Free

It’s a battle of Bad Sci-Fi Novels!  Because I haven’t pissed off anyone in about ten minutes for spoilers, here’s what I say about the ending of Forever Free:  “a completely far-fetched plot that concludes with the most insane ending I’ve ever read (wherein “God” reveals the secrets of the universe to William and Marygay at Disney World, circa 3200 AD).”  That is serious.  “God” also does this in the form of John Wayne.  I’m thinking Mr. Haldeman was huffing something stronger than paint thinner for this one.  I shouldn’t make light of people with drug problems should I?  I don’t mean Haldeman, who may or may not have a drug problem, but people with drug problems in general.  That’s a serious problem.  How dare I!  Yeah.

Anyway, as I said in the last round, at least Haldeman’s crappy (probably drug-induced) book was short.  Too bad whatever Peter F. Hamilton was taking didn’t knock him into a coma so the world wouldn’t have been inundated with thousands of pages of shit.

“Winner”:  Reality Dysfunction (not “Winner”:  Drug addicts and coma patients.)

If I haven’t gone far enough being an offensive jerk, wait until next Sunday for the final rounds!  Can you pick which “winner” I will burn while listening to “One Shining Moment?”  Hey, book burning isn’t funny either…


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  1. Ethan Cooper permalink

    Hilarious and insightful! Thanks!

  2. You’re really well-read.

    At first, I took offense that you included Adams on here, but then I clicked your link because I couldn’t remember “Mostly Harmless,” and then I DID remember it, and you’re right. It wasn’t very good.

    I disagree with “Until I Find You.” I thought the flip — SPOILER ALERT! – -where we realize just how unreliable (?) the narrator might have been was incredible and really brought home the point that we may not exactly recall everything from our childhood exactly. But to each his own, I suppose.

    • With Until I Find You, If it had just been the first Europe trip and then the flip and thing with his sister/father it would have been good. Why’d we need all that crap in the middle? What difference does it make that he becomes an actor and wins an Oscar for writing?

      The whole bildungsroman format just didn’t work for this novel because it distracted from the best parts of the story.

      Incidentally, I think last year I wound up in the Toronto neighborhood used for Jack’s school and home. That got me wondering if the author was hanging around there someplace. Sadly I had not brought my binoculars for proper stalking though.

  3. Don’t tell mutt that he’s well read because he knows he’s well read and likes to point out that he’s well read by showing and not telling which makes his head big.

    Plus a mermaid is a kind of monster and not a person. I’m not certain if you would say “who” or “that” in this case. I guess it would depend on how you viewed mermaids.

    Also Card is a bigot. Ender’s Game is nothing but a tirade against gay people. Bugger is British slang for sodomite (a.k.a. gay person) so Ender’s Game is just a completely homophobic tirade against gay people (with Ender having the grace and mercy to save one at the end). I read the whole thing and swore never to read another of his books ever again. He’s a great writer, but his message pounded me over the head something fierce.

    I know there are people that say, “Oh Mike he in noooo way intended that message.” I call bullshit. I’m an intelligent man and you cannot tell me that someone as educated as Card has no concept of allegory. Whatever.

    Anyway…great blog post.

    • Come on, I’m not nearly as well read as Coop. He’s read stuff I haven’t even heard of.

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