You knew it was coming.
Last week I talked about what, for me, makes a 5-star book. But now it’s time to look at the opposite end of the spectrum.
What makes a 1-star book?
If 2-star books are the “meh” books that I didn’t care about, 1-star books are the ones that elicit strong emotions. The books I want to throw across the room. The reason why will change from book to book, but the anger and frustration remain constant.
Has a terrible ending
Just like nailing the ending can help grant a book 5-star status, doing it all wrong can get a book that rare single star. Maybe I was on the fence and the ending was just the nail in the coffin. Maybe it came out of nowhere and ruined an otherwise good story.
The Forbidden Text, by Dawn Clark, is a book that definitely would have earned 2 stars and maybe even 3… until it ended with a classic example of how to do a cliffhanger badly. (Like, made-me-wonder-if-there-was-something-wrong-with-my-copy, seriously-where’s-the-rest-of-this-book badly.)
Can’t overcome a bad impression
Sometimes there’s something about a book that I’m not enjoying. Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s a specific event. The book as a whole isn’t terrible, but something specific puts a bad taste in my mouth… and then nothing happens to change my mind.
Still Missing, by Chevy Stevens, was one of these for me. I felt really weird giving it 1 star, because it was actually a well-written book, and pretty much everyone else loved it. But parts of it were quite disturbing, and there wasn’t enough else in the story to redeem it. I got to the end and thought, that’s it? This is what everyone’s been raving about, really?
Just wasn’t worth it
And then there are the books that I knew all along were 1-stars. The ones that leave me wondering why I kept reading, when nearly everything about the book was begging me to stop. Thankfully, these don’t happen much anymore, now that I’ve gotten over my compulsive need to finish every book I start.
Good Things I Wish You, by A. Manette Ansay, is a perfect example of this… and it also happens to be the book that pushed me over the edge and got me to start DNF’ing.
Not only did it incorporate the life of Clara Schumann (whom I’d studied back in college), but it was supposed to be a “whirlwind emotional journey” about the nature of relationships between men and women. Sort of a literary When Harry Met Sally. Done well, this could have been the perfect book for me… which just made the frustration over what the book actually was that much worse.
What I got was a dry and boring story, one that sounded suspiciously like those I used to write back in high school featuring a thinly-veiled version of myself in the lead role. Sure enough, the author had recently been in the same situation as her main character. I suspect it was the “recently” that was the biggest problem; given some distance, she might have crafted a completely different book. Who knows? But as-is, I felt like I was reading a therapeutic exercise that accidentally got published.
One-star books are the ones that I did. not. like. The ones that I wish I could unread, or at the very least get back the time I spent on it.
It’s a subtle distinction, because even a 2-star book can make me wish I’d spent the time on something else. But 1-star books are somehow harder to take in stride; as with the 5-star ratings, it’s just a gut feeling that makes a book stand out, a cut above (or below, in this case) the rest. Active dislike rather than resigned indifference.
Anger, frustration, disappointment… how do you respond when you read a 1-star book?