I would like to start by saying that I do not hate read very often. I don't have the patience for it. And actually a good hate read is even harder to find than a good joyful read. Joy itself is satisfying, hate isn't. For a hate read to work there has to be some other thing that brings you joy.
I get maybe one hate read a year, because for the most part I just stop reading books I don't enjoy. In fact, right before I started my most recent hate read, the subject of this post, I quit another book halfway through because it was just cliched and dull and I did not want to read it anymore. Usually I just get mad at a book and finish it out of a kind of sunk cost theory, that I have already put so much time into it that I might as well just finish it. It usually starts okay and gets worse and you keep hoping it'll turn around.
But a true hate read, a joyful hate read, is not good pretty much the whole way through but for some reason you cannot look away. It becomes its own kind of puzzle. Why is this book the way it is? What is going on? How did this happen? And that is where the joy comes in.
For me, it is being ready to write my review. My hate read reviews are not gleeful or mean. And I have this review prep process with a lot of books, it is part of the pleasure I take in reading. But sometimes I develop a General Theory of the Book and that is joy, whether I loved or hated the book.
This, finally, brings me to my most recent hate read. An unlikely candidate (though the best ones always are). I just needed a book for the plane. Travel can mean a lot of distractions so I tend to lean towards genre novels and I am often just fine listening to something mediocre just to have company in my ears during the miseries of travel. I was feeling kind of aimless, no real idea what I wanted, and so I picked a very easy option, the next book in a series. Even though I haven't really liked the series. But, you know, it was available now on Libby and it was a suitable length.
The book was A Rule Against Murder, the 4th in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. Yes, the much much beloved series with 17 books and counting that has sold a bajillion copies and that everyone's mom loves. I liked the first one fine but my experience since has not been good. I have not liked them. And yet here I was coming back again, hoping that the series would pull out of a slump.
It did not. But instead it became a delightful hate read instead of the frustrating puzzling reads of the previous two. You see, this time I figured it out. I got why I hate these books and once I did, then it was a lot of fun, actually. Every little thing was another piece of evidence to back up my theory.
I had plenty of pieces before that were perfectly legitimate. The murders were overly complicated, the solutions didn't actually make any sense nor did they explain the bizarre complexity which appeared to be there just to mess with the reader. I was clearly meant to find many things funny or cute that I did not. And I just didn't care much for Gamache, who was clearly supposed to carry me through this. These were all accurate notes for me, but they didn't explain my deep distaste. They also didn't explain why other people love these books and keep reading them.
But this time I got it. It came down to one very simple word. These books are sanctimonious. They operate according to a specific moral code and I am guessing if that code works for you, if you read mysteries to have those moral codes underlined, then you will be just fine here. But I don't like the morality of these books at all, which is one problem, but it's not just that the morality is so specific, it's also that the book is so preachy about it. Everything here is meant to emphasize the way a character is either Good or Bad.
And this is where it got fun, where it turned into the kind of reading experience where I talk back to the book (usually saying things like, "You have got to be fucking kidding me,") and actually engage with it on a higher level than I usually do.
It was fun. And I am feeling kind of slumpy lately, like I'm not getting as much joy out of reading as I would like to, so I will take that fun any way I can. And if you like the Louise Penny books I am very happy for you, I am just not going to read any more of them.
It is September, the biggest book month of the year and while I am still slumpy, there are some great books this month I can recommend you. First, the already-outs:
Killers of a Certain Age is a thriller that knows how to have fun. This is a movie-style thriller in that it is all very over the top, takes some suspension of disbelief, but if you're willing to sit back and enjoy yourself you will have a great time. 40 years into their careers as spies and assassins for a shadowy organization, our four protagonists are ready to retire. But it doesn't quite go as planned.
I loved Carty-Williams' debut, Queenie, this is much less stressful and more fun. We follow five half-siblings, from four different mothers, brought together by their affable but deeply unreliable father. Ultimately this is a story about five people who decide that they will be family without really knowing what that means, and how they figure it out along the way.
And then there are the Out Todays, a very impressive batch for 9/27, with two of my Best of 2022:
Kate Atkinson is one of the best, it's that simple. This was my TENTH Atkinson novel, a milestone. Like Transcription, this is a standalone that combines her formidable historical skill and her flair for crime. Set in the nightclubs of 1920s London, it has about 15 main characters and almost as many plots, bouncing around between them with confidence. I never felt overwhelmed or confused, I was enjoying myself far too much.
Fantastic memoir, I was absolutely immersed in this. It does everything I want memoir to do, it is thoughtful and reflective, it paints a deeply detailed portrait, all with prose that is strong and delicate. A really good memoir knows when to zoom in and when to pull back, how to lay the groundwork, and when this particular story is over. Highly recommend.
This is an impressive tightrope walk. For a while I wasn't sure if it would really count as horror, but by the end it got grisly enough that I didn't hesitate. It's extremely dark humor with some heavy topics, particularly how to cope with having been brought up by a damaged mother. It's hard to combine humor with such heavy subject matter and it's hard to combine humor with horror and it's hard to combine that heavy subject matter with horror, and yet Hogarth makes it all work.