Columns > Published on February 10th, 2021

Say Something Nice: Good Things About Bad Books

Because it’s government-mandated Love Month (that’s how Valentine’s works, right?), and because my understanding of love is that it’s weird and uncomfortable, and because I do so much complaining, I decided it’s time to say something nice.

Below is a list of books that I don’t like for various reasons.

And now I’ll do my very best to say something nice about each one of them.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I’ve made no bones about my dislike of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic tale of horror and feminism and maybe, like, a chick stuck in the wallpaper who’s maybe sick, or maybe the problem is that a MAN just thinks she’s sick.

The truth, though, is that I don’t hate this story. I hate the interpretations of it. Gilman has been very explicit, telling everyone what it’s about, and frankly the endless debate of what it "really" means is pretty disrespectful. More disrespectful than calling the protagonist a “chick,” for sure.

The Nice: It’s got a horror element to it that I can get behind. Whether it's a sick woman, a Freddy Krueger, a dollboy, whatever it is, you can’t really go wrong with a scary person in the walls.

DON'T get The Yellow Wallpaper at Bookshop or Amazon


"Vertical Run" by Joseph R. Garber

I was tricked into reading this because somehow I thought it was the book that was the basis for Die Hard. Never mind that this one came out a full 8 years AFTER Die Hard. And that it has almost nothing to do with people stealing money from a skyscraper. Look, I’ll own that this was not a well-informed, smart, decision on my part.

At one point in this book, our main character needs a disguise, so he bleaches his hair and combs it forward. This “disguise” draws A LOT of attention his way and causes everyone to assume he’s gay. This was apparently what he expected and intended? And apparently this disguise is so authentic (again, consisting entirely of bleaching his hair and combing it forward, making NO other changes to his appearance) that a trans prostitute will not take No for an answer and tries to force her services on him. When he turns her down, he winds up surrounded by a gang of trans prostitutes with straight razors.

I’m not going to get into the bizarre/bad politics or the math on why this makes no sense, because the book itself doesn’t warrant that deep a dive. If we go that route, we'll be here all day, and we'll have wasted a day of our precious, short lives discussing Vertical Run. You know what’s wrong with it, I know, too, let’s move on.

The Nice: I guess if you’re a fan of action movies that seem to almost dare you to try and make sense of them, this one might have a little bit of that vibe? I don’t know, I’m reaching here. The hero replaces "Yippe-kay-yay, motherfucker” with the absolute garbage “Up your poop with an ice cream scoop.” I can only work with what I’m given.

DON'T get Vertical Run at Bookshop or Amazon


"Hot Dudes Reading" by Some Ladies Who Are Probably Hiding Out So They Can't Be Forced To Appear In Court

I HATE Hot Dudes Reading. Hate it. It’s probably the most intentionally sexist thing that you’ll find front-facing on mainstream bookstore shelves (unless you happen on a front-facing Vertical Run and feel that its sexism outshines its transphobia and outright stupidity. There’s a case to be made). If you took these photos at a public beach, published them in a book without consent of the “models,” and captioned them the same way they’re captioned here, you’d have new legislation named after you by now. Also, HDR's aesthetic, almost moralistic stance against Kindles is so fucking laughable that I don’t know how they can hold a camera steady long enough to snap another predatory picture. It’s like Alex Jones trying to distract from his...everything by saying that he recycles.

But the challenge is to say something nice, here…

The Nice: I believe girls and women need to hear that they can be whatever they want. I guess I believe that enough to extend it to the belief that, should they choose to be, girls and women can be sexist trash pigs, too. HDR outlines a path towards becoming a real piece of shit in a way that was formerly reserved for men only. 

DON'T get Hot Dudes Reading at Bookshop or Amazon


"Blankets" by Craig Thompson

Blankets is an emo story about a guy who...I don’t even really remember. I think he’s in love? All I remember all these years later is that the guy is wracked with guilt because he jerks off, like ONE time, and there’s a fly crawling on the tissue he jerked off in. Sorry, that’s crude: There’s a fly crawling on the tissue IN WHICH he jerked off.

I have a high tolerance for emo coming of age books, especially when they're illustrated as beautifully as this. But for me, Blankets just feels a little too precious.

The Nice: This was one of the vanguard books, along with Maus and Persepolis, that brought comics into bookstores and libraries. Okay, they had to label them “graphic novels,” but once that door got kicked open, the Spider-Men, Hulks, and Captains America all stormed into libraries and bookstores. Blankets was the doorstop that wedged that door open.

DON'T get Blankets at Bookshop or Amazon


"Feminist Baby" by Loryn Brantz

I wish this had been around when I was little. My mom read me Complainer Asshole Baby. Really stuck with me, clearly.

I’ve read this book. Not TO a baby, but I don’t think it’s really intended for a baby. It’s intended for parents to show everyone else, “Look what good people we are, we’re raising a feminist baby.”

Babies are stupid. It’s not their fault, they’re little, their bodies and brains are developing. But if a baby acts in a feminist manner, it’s by accident. It’s not a choice. A baby will die in 5 inches of water. My older brother ate a dead fly off the carpet when he was a baby. Budding feminists? Please. 

I mean, if it's possible to be a feminist baby, doesn't that mean there's also a misogynist baby out there? Who is this monster baby? How did this happen? Which books is THAT baby reading?

The Nice: Everything gets commoditized and sold eventually, even feminism. At least this one brought some money into the book world instead of putting it into the Etsy shop of some hustler with the guts to charge $35 for a plain text “Future is Female” t-shirt.

DON'T get Feminist Baby at Bookshop or Amazon


"License to Love" by Gina Robinson

There’s just so much about this book that doesn’t make sense. Why would a rocket launcher have a bayonet? Why would you go by the stage name “Lani Torres” if your real name is the far more stage-y “Lani Silkwater”? Why would you name your main character Rock Powers?

The Nice: This book prompted my first and only time drinking wine in the bathtub while reading a book. Wine is disgusting, the hangover is hot trash, but the wine drunk is damn fine.

DON'T get Licene to Love at Bookshop or Amazon


"My Parents Open Carry" by Some People I Don't Want to Alert Because They DEFINITELY Have Guns

This is like the opposite end of the political spectrum from Feminist Baby, and it makes the same errors. And then a whole bunch of other errors, too.

The authors wrote this book because they said they noticed a dearth of children’s books featuring families that open carry. (For those unaware, “open carry” is when you carry a gun on your person, visible to all, so like in a hip or shoulder holster with no jacket over it. People do this when they go to the grocery store and shit. I’m not here to explain WHY, just WHAT.) Now that they mention it, I don’t remember a lot of open carry in children’s books. I do not recall Pop, while he was being Hopped On, having a gunbelt. I reckon some children's books, like The Twits, would have ended a lot faster if there’d been a pistol within reach.

Here’s one of the opening paragraphs of this “children’s book”:

The Strong family consists of Richard Strong, his wife Bea and their 13 year old daughter, Brenna. The Strong family live in a modest home in a medium-sized town in the Midwest.

Blazing prose, that. Really set up to capture a child’s imagination.

Look, let’s set the really asinine politics aside for a minute: Even if you’re pro-gun in every form, many times, many ways, you still don’t want this book. The drawings suck, the plot is nonexistent. It’s not a book. It’s a pamphlet with colored pencil drawings.

The Nice: I think it’s fair to say this book sets back the cause ever so slightly, so I’m here for it. I’m not a total hardliner on guns, really, but I think open carry is silly. In a state where you can concealed carry, like mine, the only reason to open carry is to prompt an argument, which is never coming, by the way, because you have a GUN.

DON'T get My Parents Open Carry at Bookshop or Amazon


"Kim Kardashian West: Selfish" by The Titular Kim Kardashian West

Kim Kardashian’s selfie collection (I refuse to call it a “book”) does absolutely nothing other than what it promises: showing pictures of Kim Kardashian’s butt. Here’s her butt in Thailand, here’s her butt near an elephant. Here’s a famous waterfall, out of focus, in the background, behind my butt. The letdown here: why not give us some selfie hints? I’m interested in upping my selfie game, and it’s one of the few things you seem to know A LOT about, so why not make with some pointers?

Nope, it’s just pictures with an occasional small caption, usually about who did Kim’s makeup.

The Nice: The nudes are printed on black paper, so you can identify their position by simply looking at the top edges of the page stack, sort of the way you could flip to the pictures in a movie adaptation paperback. Saves you some time, and I respect filth that knows it's filth.

DON'T get Selfish at Amazon


"Eat Your Own Cum Tutorial" by Ivana Tastit (really!)

This goddamn book has cursed me. I put a review of it on my web site, and to this day it’s still the highest-trafficked page I’ve got. You pour a ton of work into a blog, a podcast, what have you, and what happens? A pamphlet about eating jizz is the only thing anyone seems to care about.

The Nice: I does provide a framework that would probably help someone eat their own ejaculate. It’s pretty simple, mostly just psyching you up to go for it. But it’s not rocket science, right? It’s just...eating cum. I don’t know if there’s a lot to say about it on a philosophical level.

DON'T get... just don't. 


"Toy Cemetery" by William W. Johnstone

Oh, Toy Cemetery. How I love to hate you.

On one hand, it’s perhaps the most bonkers thing I’ve ever read. There’s a child molestor, incest, murders, people being transformed into dolls (maybe), evil dolls, good dolls that fight the evil dolls, a giant monster of some kind, sinister fog, supernatural control over the passage of time.

The first third or so was pretty amazing. almost felt like Johnstone submitted the first third, then got an advance, used it for cocaine, forgot about the whole thing, and the night before it was due, put it all together, shipped it off, and whoever was proofing it was like, "Fuck it, this is my last day, let's just put the apostrophes mostly in the right places and I'm outta this hellhole!"

The result is like what you'd get if you combined David Lynch with Tommy Wiseau: a film with some unbelievably weird shit in it, but filmed so badly, perhaps intentionally so, that you can't really say what's going on at any moment.

The Nice: It's a mixed bag, but if you can accept this the way you can accept being on shrooms, just sit back and let it happen, you can find something to love here.

DON'T get Toy Cemetery at Amazon (unless you can afford it)

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

Similar Columns

Explore other columns from across the blog.

Book Brawl: Geek Love vs. Water for Elephants

In Book Brawl, two books that are somehow related will get in the ring and fight it out for the coveted honor of being declared literary champion. Two books enter. One book leaves. This month,...

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Books That Should Be Box Office Blockbusters

It seems as if Hollywood is entirely bereft of fresh material. Next year, three different live-action Snow White films will be released in the States. Disney is still terrorizing audiences with t...

Books Without Borders: Life after Liquidation

Though many true book enthusiasts, particularly in the Northwest where locally owned retailers are more common than paperback novels with Fabio on the cover, would never have set foot in a mega-c...

From Silk Purses to Sows’ Ears

Photo via Moviegoers whose taste in cinema consists entirely of keeping up with the Joneses, or if they’re confident in their ignorance, being the Joneses - the middlebrow, the ...

Cliche, the Literary Default

Original Photo by Gerhard Lipold As writers, we’re constantly told to avoid the cliché. MFA programs in particular indoctrinate an almost Pavlovian shock response against it; workshops in...

A Recap Of... The Wicked Universe

Out of Oz marks Gregory Maguire’s fourth and final book in the series beginning with his brilliant, beloved Wicked. Maguire’s Wicked universe is richly complex, politically contentious, and fille...

Learning | Free Lesson — LitReactor | 2024-05

Try Reedsy's novel writing masterclass — 100% free

Sign up for a free video lesson and learn how to make readers care about your main character.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account: