Okay, maybe "bad" is too strong a word: maybe these are actually good books that I read at a bad time. All I know is that recently I've read a bunch of books that were seriously disappointing.
Sherman Alexie's Flight, for instance: it's short, swift, and sassy but sadly lacking in substance. The time-travelling young person who learns lessons about history and personal responsibility appeared to better effect in Octavia Butler's Kindred 30 years ago. Both books share similarly uninspired prose, but at least Butler provided some depth and subtlety to her main character. Alexie's protagonist is little more than a walking bundle of superficial stereotypes. Predictable plot, predictable characters, predictable pat ending (who knew that the best way to get a rebellious teen to love you is to cure his acne?)--why did I read this?
And then there's The Best American Essays 2007, edited by David Foster Wallace. There's some remarkable prose in there and a few memorable images, but the overall tenor of the essays is staid, static, and stiff. Many of Wallace's choices focus on decay and death, which says something either about Wallace himself or about the current state of American culture, but there was not one passage in this entire collection that made me wish I had written it.
And I've been working my way through some V.S. Naipaul novels in hopes of figuring out what inspired the Nobel Prize committee to honor him a few years ago, so far in vain. I'm on my third Naipaul novel, but it's barely distinguishable from my first: the characters are so blandly interchangeable and observed from such a great distance that they fail to stick in my mind beyond the final page. Naipaul's prose reminds me of a collection of elegant cut-glass vases in grandma's parlor: sparkly and perfect but capable of accomplishing nothing except standing there looking pretty.
Into every life some bad books must fall, but lately I'm experiencing a downpour. I need some wonderful reading to purge my mind of these disappointments. Quick, where are those freshman essays?