I have been fascinated the last several Sunday nights by Heston Blumenthal’s Feasts. Apart from the visceral nature of the cooking, from frog blancmange to bull’s testicles to a cockatrice sewn together from the parts of four different animals, the marvellous thing about this program is that no matter how obscure, how bizarre the question, Mr Blumenthal always manages to find an eccentric Englishman who is an expert on the said arcane area of endeavour.
Which puts me in mind of the book world. I have been in book selling long enough to know that there is a book on absolutely everything, and certainly a quick stroll around the warehouse and you’ll see everything from a book on brick making in Bathurst, to something on how to have sex on a Swiss ball without being permanently injured.
Earlier today I was going through the upcoming releases for February 2010. Just how many people are likely to order a copy of Insects of Surinam? or Working with Drywalls? or Dancing Chain (the history and development of the Derailleur bicycle)? And what exactly was the publishing process? Did these books get commissioned or did they inch their way to the top of the slush pile by some contradictory and miraculous force of nature?
But while there seems to be no limit on what is published, and on what will happily find a home on at least one person’s bookshelf, there is certainly no agreement on what constitutes an interesting book. And as reading is for most people a diversion, surely at some point even the most enthusiastic of us have to admit defeat despite our best endeavours to entertain ourselves with what we thought was going to be a good read? And is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves, as Herr Nietzsche would say?
So at this time of year, when everyone is looking at the best books of the year, or the best books of the decade, or the best books of the millenium, what about a quick look at the worst, or the most boring, or the one’s you really regret having wasted your time over?
Yep, to my mind, the most excruciating book of 2009 was without doubt Diane Armstrong’s prize winning Nocturne, a kind of slow death by a thousand cliches. Going back a few years, I’d have to say Matthew Reilly’s appropriately named Hell Island was up there for me, and I still haven’t recovered from a repeat tussle with Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual (whose first pages I read many times over several weeks in the early 80s without understanding a single word).
OK, I’ve outed myself. But I’d love to share the pain. What do you most regret having read?
In the meantime, is is not just me that is obsessed with this subject. Here are the most regretted 100 books, according to one completely unscientific poll. Any comments?