babyAround this time of year, I start mentally preparing for AAR’s annual poll. I take stock of what I’ve read, what I should squeeze in before the deadline (I am always, always, reading up until the very last minute), and who my personal front runners are. I also start thinking about which books were truly awful. What shudder-inducing, god-awful travesty deserves my vote for worst?

Usually, I have an obvious answer. In fact, I usually know while I’m reading it. It’s that moment of discovery when you realize that nothing you read for the rest of the year could possibly be worse than what you are holding in your hands. These are the books that are so terrible that they cross the realm into funny. Not “so bad they’re good” per se; more like so bad they’re laughable. You may pay while reading it, but the review is bound to be hilarious.

Lately, though, I just haven’t read that many F books. My most recent review was written in March of 2009. I’ve read a few Ds, but most books I read fall in the B and C range. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe books are getting better in general. Or perhaps I’ve been reviewing for so long that just as it’s hard to truly knock my socks off, it’s hard to really horrify me too. When you’ve read The Great Baby Caper by Eugenia Riley (and I’m pretty sure I’m one of maybe six people in America who did), you know just how low the bar can go. Mediocre books start looking brilliant by comparison.

However, my lack of deplorable reads this year – admittedly not a bad “problem” to have – may soon not be a problem at all. In discussing changes for the annual poll this year, our pollsters suggested changing the “worst read” category to “most disappointing read”. I think this is an idea whose time has come. I’ve thought for years that the worst books never have a shot in this category anyway, because no one outside of the reviewing community has read them. After all, we warned you not to. The books that have “won” for worst read in the past were probably closer to “most disappointing” anyway. In some ways, “disappointing” might be harder to handle than “worst”; these are books readers begin with high hopes. It could be that the author’s debut was a smash and you were hoping for the same magic. Or maybe everyone else has been talking about this book and saying how spectacular it is, or perhaps it started out great only to flop gloriously in the second half. How ever you get there, disappointed is an awful feeling. But with most of my “worst” books, I didn’t really start out with high expectations in the first place.

How have you voted in the past? Have your “worst” reads really been more “disappointing” than truly god-awful? Have you read a book you disliked so much that all subsequent reads are compared to its dreadfulness?

– Blythe AAR

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