In the course of reading a great number of books over a long period of time, be it for work or for leisure, it is inevitable to come up with downright awful or simply disappointing reads. Here are some of the books I read since the start of the year that fall under this category:
Elias Khoury’s The Journey of Little Gandhi: I find the novel’s use of repetition as a way to approximate the slipperiness of memory and its gaps in the context of the traumatic and confusing realities of war is ingenious. Yet, far from saying anything new or remotely relevant about the Lebanese Civil War, Khoury ends up meandering back and forth prolifically around the mundane lives of flat characters. Contrary to the claim of the protagonist Little Gandhi traveling through the profound changes imposed upon Beirut by the war, there is no real journey in the novel – be it spatially or temporally: there is only the endless rambling of banalities repeated over and over again in varying combinations.
Renato Constantino’s Insight and Foresight consists of selected excerpts from separate articles and speeches that were stitched together into “essays” according to their common topic. The content is still sharp, incisive, and classic Constantino but this strange liberal treatment leaves much to be desired.
Koen De Feyter’s Human Rights: Social Justice in the Age of the Market is a really bad book on human rights, the entire point of which is to make human rights discourse conform to the pathetic task of regulating the excesses of neoliberal globalization — of giving it a human face.
Fabio Parasecoli’s Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture meanwhile makes an “unripe” attempt at subjecting food to cultural studies and ends up with some of the most banal “insights.” His effort to apply some Derrida or Bourdieu to food simply does not gel and ends up saying really nothing new.
Tariq Ali’s The Idea of Communism is yet another attempt at rekindling the “Communist Idea.” However, this attempt is unfortunately mired by Trotskyite blinders and makes it no better from the fashionable but pointless torrent of idealist “Communisms” now streaming from the Western Academia into the intellectual markets.
Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative provides readers some insights on writing nonfiction. There are a few great passages quoted from wonderful essays. But nothing more. The entire book seems to thin to really nail her argument about empathy and the narrating subject as the driver of good stories.
John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World passes as an important historical and journalistic account of one of the world’s most significant events, the October 1917 Russian Revolution. But Reed all too often falls to sensationalism (by making up some stuff to make events more dramatic) and hagiography (by making it appear that Lenin and Trotsky are Gods in human flesh). Great appendix though. Still, I liked the Soviet-illustrated comics Introducing the Russian Revolution or Rius’ Lenin for Beginners or Stalin’s History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course better.
Other awful books that I’ve commented on (or is about to) are Chris McMillan’s Žižek and Communist Strategy: On the Disavowed Foundations of Global Capitalism, Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, and Herbert Marcuse’s The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics.