What’s the Best Bad Book You’ve Ever Read?

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 13, 2014

With the movie version of V.C. Andrews’s immortally trashy, creepy, compulsively readable book Flowers in the Attic, about to be released on DVD, I started thinking about bad books and what makes some of them so good. (And by “good,” here, I mean irresistible despite obvious flaws.)
I have loved a number of questionably tasteful books over the years. Some were books I was convinced were well written when I read them as a child or teenager, and upon re-reading them as an adult, I realized my literary faculties were perhaps impaired by competing interests with a higher priority at the time: a cozy or magical world I wanted to live in, perhaps, or a hunger for mystery, adventure, and suspense, or, later, curiosity about romance and sex. Was it narrative drive that made some of the poorly written books so readable? Or the introduction to some hitherto taboo topic? All I know is, it didn’t matter to my reader self at the time that the books weren’t well-written or the characters beautifully developed. They sparked my imagination. And I did grow up to have credible critical faculties despite the popcorn reading, so they didn’t ruin my brain. Of course, they weren’t all I read, either.
So I wanted to throw it out to you: What makes a bad book good? And which ones did you love best?

16 thoughts on “What’s the Best Bad Book You’ve Ever Read?

  1. Karen A. Wyle

    I’ve long considered Judith Kranz’ Mistral’s Daughter the ultimate in what I call “airplane reading”: lightweight yet absorbing, and full of glimpses (of unknown accuracy) into various intriguing settings.


    Sidney Sheldon’s If Tomorrow Comes completely absorbed me as a teen. It was my first ‘real adult’ book. My mind was appropriately blown. I have no idea if I could even re-read that now, but for a long time, Sidney was on the same level for me as Robert Ludlum.

  3. Carol Chittenden

    When I discovered Nancy Drew at about age 8, more more MORE was all I could think about. My mother’s prohibition on further roadster reading was just one more mystery of adult judgement — and by the time I was ready to rebel, Nancy was far, far in the past.

  4. John Kennedy

    The Da Vinci Code. The first time I read it, I was enthralled just like everyone else. The second time was a struggle because I noticed just how poor Brown’s writing truly is.

  5. marjorie

    When I was around 11 I started ripping through adult potboilers: The Thorn Birds, Leon Uris’s Exodus, Shogun, Clan of the Cave Bear, John Jakes’s Revolutionary War novels, The Godfather and all the James Bond and Modesty Blaise books. (I remember that for some reason there was a huge stash of Modesty Blaise books in the Providence Athenaeum, my haunted library of incipient wee goth choice.) And yup, the Flowers in the Attic series. Oh, and Stephen King’s entire oeuvre. (Some of the King books hold up, at least?) I was intrigued by sexual stuff I didn’t fully understand, but I knew whatever was going on was something grownup and enticing. (Today I get that a lot of what I loved was sexist and icky.) I must have been in high school when I read Shirley Conran’s Lace (“Which one of you bitches is my mother?”) — I suspect I’d still enjoy that upon rereading! In college I adored Tom Robbins novels, which now make me CRINGE. No one over 21 should read Tom Robbins.

    1. Christine

      Wow–we had much the same reading list except I read Clive Barker instead of Stephen King (and no Tom Robbins). And I read all the Jackie Collins books too. I think if it showed up as a TV miniseries, I had probably read the book first.

  6. Lisa Yee

    I’m there with the Da Vinci Code, too. I was actually yelling, “I can’t believe this crap!” as I read it. However, I couldn’t put it down.

  7. Melissa Posten

    Judith Krantz! Clan of the Cave Bear! (Who doesn’t love some caveman porn?) I also love this book by Elizabeth Ogilvie called Beautiful Girl; it was one of those Wildfire teen romances. It’s about a girl named April whose life is SO TRAGIC because she is SO BEAUTIFUL and therefore SO PERSECUTED.

  8. Mitzi Adams

    Any of the Stone Barrington novels by Stuart Woods. Complete trash. Could never happen. Rich, but barely works. Gets $1 million for one case. Ex-cop turned attorney. Every woman wants to sleep with him. Pilots his own plane. Has a James Bond car. Yep. I’ve read them all, and anxiously await new ones!

  9. Alison

    Harold Robbins – especially xx Park Avenue (can’t remember the exact address!) Frank Yerby (I still enjoy these.)

  10. Eleanor (Ellie) Miller

    I think?? Allison that it was “79 Park Avenue”…yeah, quite a shocker in its day. I developed a guilty passion for many of the above authors too, but I think getting my hands on copies of “Forever Amber” and “Peyton Place” at a very impressionable age first kindled my appetite for bad books.

  11. Shelley B

    My favorite of all time is Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I read this totally age-inappropriate gem when I was 13 (heaven only knows why this book was around the house) and instantly fell in love with adult novels…and proceeded to read all of the Rosemary Rogers, Harold Robbins, etc. To make it even more odd, my fascination led me to books that were already old when I discovered them. I went back and checked out some publication dates and discovered that Valley of the Dolls was released before I was born and some of the other authors material I subsequently read was released before I ever hit the age of 10. Oh, and I also own the Valley of the Dolls DVD…sigh.

  12. Catherine Balkin

    Let’s see, there are so many to choose from. The first one that came to mind was Rosemary’s Baby, but then I remembered Corliss Archer, the Trixie Beldon books, the Bobbsey Twins, and of course Nancy Drew. I also read some that people already mentioned — Valley of the Dolls, Peyton Place, Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers. I also loved Erle Stanley Gardiner, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, James M. Cain, and Craig Rice. I grew up being told to get my nose out of my books and go out and play with other kids, yet the great thing about my mother was that she never censored what books I read or told me what books were too old or too young for me.

  13. lauraborealis

    I also had a mom who didn’t censor my reading. As I child/pre-teen, I devoured Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Anne of Green Gables, the Little House series and moved on to Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins, Shirley Conran (loved Lace!), Sidney Sheldon (Rage of Angels was a fave) and finally to my dad’s books: Robert Ludlum, Harold Robbins, etc. I loved Stephen King up until “It,” then that was the end for me. But I’m tempted to reread Carrie, Salem’s Lot and the Dead Zone, just to see if they stand the test of time. I recently picked up a couple of Harold Robbinses at a used bookstore and found them completely unreadable. The only Clive Barker I could ever get through was Weaveworld, but I loved it.


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