Reviews of Bad Books
February 8, 2012 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Nicole Cliff has been reviewing Classic Trash fiction for The Awl, with a recent exposition on Clan of the Cave Bear. Jeffrey Sconce reviewed 100 obscure and largely unloved books last year on Consumed and Judged, and shows no sign of slowing down. Pop Sensation profiles the cover of one, generally trashy, paperback, three times a week, (and includes a seemingly random quote from the book).
posted by latkes (19 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't know Clan of the Cave Bear was considered trash fiction. This makes me feel so much better about having given up on it about 75% of the way through.
posted by Phire at 6:53 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

About halfway through the novel, I began to have a niggling suspicion that it was secretly written by Dr. Sears as an advertisement for attachment parenting. Babywearing, co-sleeping, natural childbirth, breastfeeding, elimination communication, cross-nursing, baby-led weaning...those are some attached little cave-babies, you know? And when Iza dies and Ayla is all despondent and frumpy and forgets to nurse Durc, there might as well be a BITCH, YOU ARE GOING TO GET MASTITIS sign on her hearth.
posted by Phire at 6:55 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bad books are actually more interesting and more fun to review. I've found when writing reviews for my own blog that it's really hard to review a good book without sounding like a groupie.
posted by orange swan at 7:03 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think anyone will ever beat the Private Eye review of Auel's The Plains of Passage, the first page is visible here.
posted by chavenet at 7:19 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

There was so damn much oral sex in 'Clan of the Cave Bear' ! Seriously, it was disgusting to read about.
You expect a certain amount of naughtiness in trashy books. You expect a certain amount of rape.
I found it hilarious how many women read these books like they were true or something.
They are fiction and really rather cringe-worthy.
There was a couple named Gear who wrote even worse books which were about a very unpleasant lot of Paleo-Indians. Again, terrible writing, stupid character names and you guessed it, lots of oral sex. Tiresome in the extreme.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:19 AM on February 8, 2012

i wonder if there is any kind of class aspect to a person with literary education reviewing trash fiction

probably not though, huh
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:20 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh man, the comments to that COTC write up are cracking me up in a wonderful giggly memory lane girltalk way.
posted by ifjuly at 7:27 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

This recent Caligula: Divine Carnage review on Consumed and Judged was one of my favorite.
posted by latkes at 7:30 AM on February 8, 2012

My grandmother bought me "The Mammoth Hunters" when I was 12 or so, I guess she thought it would be educational. It was, just not in the way she intended... Of course, I had to go borrow the rest of the series from the library...
posted by mrbill at 7:43 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Those Nicole Cliffe reviews are fantastic; I'm so glad to have found them! Check out her take on Pamela Des Barres, here, I rolled. Yes of course I've read it. And Clan of the Cave Bear. Alas, or hurray, I've read almost all of them. Trashy books are one of my main drugs and funny reviews of trashy books are the bloody marys to treat the trash hangover.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:26 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Somehow I managed to get through my teens without reading either Flowers In The Attic or even Judy Blume's Forever, and I was all the way into my junior year in high school before I got Clan Of The Cave Bear. Sometimes I think this was something I missed out on.

And yeah, Jean Auel was totally writing archeology fanfic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Her Joy of Sex write up is also hilarious, comments and all.
posted by ifjuly at 8:52 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jeffrey Sconce reviewed 100 obscure and largely unloved books last year on Consumed and Judged

The combination of "obscure" and "largely unloved" saddens me and also makes me want to go out and hunt down some of those books to save them from their fate. (I was that sucker born on 8:30 p.m. back on a certain day in the sixties.)

And then I would have yet more books on my never-to-be-finished pile...
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:14 AM on February 8, 2012

The best part of the Pamela Des Barres thing was that Michael Des Barres totally flipped out over it.

Oh, Murdoc. Don't make us sad.
posted by rewil at 9:19 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

No one reads the first Clan book for the dirty parts - the only sex scenes in that one are a) not described in detail, and b) non-consensual (aka rape) and thus a huge turn-off. It's the sequels that have the sexy - and consensual - scenes (the end of the second book and the 3-5th books). Even then it's at a ratio of about 100 pages of plot and description to 3 pages of sex (which makes for very inefficient pornography). And, frankly, they make for good woman-centred hetero sex-education.

That said - I really liked the first Clan book as a child, even if Ayla is a bit of a Mary Sue (though no where near as much as the fourth and fifth books). It's a compelling growing-up story, all about over-coming challenges and becoming the best person you can be. The author gives her character serious challenges: she isn't the same as other people, she's dumb compared to the Neanderthals because her memory is poorer and she has to work 3 times as hard to learn, she has to teach herself how to hunt because no one else will teach her (because she's female) and she isn't as physically as strong as the Neanderthals are. Her Mary-Sue qualities in the later books are actually as a result of her struggles in the first two books - she struggles so much that she does become stronger and more knowledgeable than most of the non-Neanderthal women.

In fact, I would argue that Ayla isn't a Mary Sue at all -- the whole point of a Mary Sue is that she is neither believable nor relatable because she is so perfect. But Ayla is highly believable in the context of the story, and very relatable (well, I related to her when I was a kid), and not perfect.

As for trashy books in general:

I have learned that "trashy" books generally mean non-literary books aimed at women. I've read romance novels that are repetitive and pulpy, and I've read romance novels that are original and compelling character stories. The difference between them and mainstream fiction is that the relationship is a major (though not always the only) part of the story.

I used to be in a literary creative writing program; I've read some of the "great" literature, as well as the "less great" (like 50+ Star Trek novels, and the Clan series, and most everything Anne McCaffrey ever wrote). And as I get older, I appreciate popular fiction more and more. I want stories of people and relationships in my books, and I want them to be relatable and I don't want to be alienated from the story by over-written styles or by the emotional distance from characters that some literary writers can have. I want the plot to be straightforward and I don't want to be spending a lot of time trying to work out what happened, especially when I'm tired. People who read for a living want to be challenged - I read for entertainment. I admire the best pulp writers - they manage to make original and interesting stories while still fitting in within generic conventions, book lengths, etc.
posted by jb at 10:29 AM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Even then it's at a ratio of about 100 pages of plot and description to 3 pages of sex

And they're all the same scene, repeated.

(1) Auel notes that Ayla's vagina is cavernous.

(2) She notes that Jondalar's willy is, luckily, humongous. They are perfect for each other! She is the only woman he can penetrate without fear of perforation, and he has the only cro-magnon johnson that she would ever notice inside her. Who says romance is dead?

(3) There's some petting and maybe some oral pleasure. Jondalar "finds her nodule," which is surprising because it's probably where he left it last time.

(4) Ayla likes that.

(5) Profit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:27 AM on February 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

Here is a fun fact about paperback copies of Clan of the Cave Bear: all you have to do is sort of hold them gently in your hands and let them fall open, and every single one will fall open to "the sex scene." Every single copy has its binding broken at just that very spot.

I often do this when I run across them at used book stores, and it always makes me smile.
posted by ErikaB at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ooh, The Thorn Birds was just posted.
posted by rewil at 2:07 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

And apparently she's going to do Valley of Horses next, whee.
posted by ifjuly at 1:31 PM on February 9, 2012

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