Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, January 23, 2009

Polls and Books and "Trash"

Today I'm being roasted by the good people over at BookRoast (medium rare, I'm told), so please stop on by! Find out my strategy for escaping awkward lunches, the super-secret "First Word" contest, and how you can win a Thai statue (or at least $25 in cold hard gift card).


So why DID I ask the question yesterday about whether you think you're a better writer than the average reader of my blog? Some found it divisive, some found it provocative, some found it a no-brainer, and some found it an excellent opportunity to leave horrendously written SPAM (now deleted). So... why?

Well, there's one word floating around out there that really got me started on the path to asking this question. And that word is: "trash."

No, not your writing. Your writing is fine. But I've been seeing the word "trash" so much in the writing Internetosphere lately, even in the comments section of this blog. Not in reference to one's own writing, but rather in reference to other people's writing.

As in: "My book is so much better than the trash I find on the bookshelves."
As in: "The publishing industry only publishes trash."

One Oregon parent recently complained that National Book Award winner and seriously incredible book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN was "trash" and had it removed (thankfully temporarily) from classrooms.

I. Loathe. This. Word.

A few months back, JA Konrath addressed this very topic. The Internet has made everyone a critic empowered with the ability to leave scathing Amazon reviews, and some wield their power to ill effect, leaving 1 star reviews and tossing around some extreme language. As Konrath writes, "The reality is, most movies and books don't suck."

And they don't! The vast majority are quite good, actually. Setting aside the occasional celebrity book that sails through the publishing process, which, hey, if you don't like them don't read them, books have to get through an insanely challenging gauntlet to make it to publication. Not just one person has to believe in a book: literally hundreds have to think it's worth publication before it winds up on your shelves.

Konrath attributes the rise of "this book is trash" reviews to "haters."

That may be so, but I was thinking... maybe there's psychology at play. Hence my experiment.

The vote now stands at 65%/35% who think they're a better writer than the average reader of this blog. That's obviously a statistical impossibility. I think.

Naturally people feel that they can write better than others. It's just human nature. People want to feel that they're good at something they spend so much time on, even when that might not be the case, and, as scientific studies have shown, particularly in the absence of accurate feedback (thanks to reader JohnO for the link). Ergo scathing reviews since an author thinks "I can do that" when, actually, not many people can?

Or maybe there's subjectivity involved. You know the saying: one man's trash is another man's treasure? Maybe they're just forgetting that what you might call "trash" might be my favorite book in the world.

Or maybe it's a mix of both. Reading is subjective. But there's also a part of writing that is definitely objective. When I have my contests and include publishing professionals in the judging, we always end up with roughly the exact same list of finalists. Does that mean that we're right and there are people who just can't recognize good writing? Or does it mean that we're just reflecting a certain taste that happens to be what the publishing industry collectively decides is "good," but which the reading public might not agree with?

I don't know why people reach the point of calling books "trash," but thought asking yesterday's question might help shed some light.

What do you think?


Martin Willoughby said...

Art/culture is subjective, so you're rarely going to get different people agreeing.

But why 'trash'? Partly it's a sense of power, partly a sense of frustration.

I wonder, though, how many of these people take a perverse pleasure in being scathing about something.

Or have the press/media shown the way by overstating stories in order to get more viewers/readers?

Kat Harris said...

As Konrath writes, "The reality is, most movies and books don't suck." And they don't!

I don't know, Nathan. Have you watched any SciFi channel original movies lately?

Oh, wait. That might just be the acting.

Scott said...

Clever, sir, and I concur with your loathing of snarky, lazy generalizations such as "trash". Shortcuts in expression reflect shortcuts in thought. And we don't need any more of that, thanks.

Reminds me of the web debate regarding responses to David Denby's book Snark. Some think the creative world has it coming, others think it's the Internet generation's version of "apathetic slacking". Personally, I think it reflects a mindset where everyone is a critic, but few actually "do". There's no need to criticize a work in a mean way unless the book actually punches you in the face when you open it. Sure, dissect it, analyze it, explore your feelings about it, but there's a good chance what you think about it says as much about you as it does the work.

In the age of instant publication, it appears that bitter reactions to just about anything are becoming the norm. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who calls something "trash" and leaves it at that is projecting anger issues. And according to my personal lexicon, the term often counts as a good thing. A very good thing.

Courtney Milan said...

"The vote now stands at 65%/35% who think they're a better writer than the average reader of this blog. That's obviously a statistical impossibility."

No it's not. It would only be statistically impossible if you were measuring something objective, e.g., 65% think they performed above average on the calculus test. Writing is subjective, and you're going to write yourself towards the styles you subjectively prefer.

Here, everybody can say which 15% is "wrong" but nobody will agree. :)

ikmar said...

I only remember calling one book 'garbage' - it's one of a handful I never finished.

I've called some books 'trashy' but that's different.

But there have been a lot of books I've read that I haven't liked, with character inconsistencies, plot holes, or styles/voices that drive me mad. And yet, I know someone who loves those books. So, I don't say they're trash, but I do criticise.

Nathan Bransford said...


Is writing totally or even mainly subjective though? I mean, if that were the case why shouldn't I pack up and go home?

(no, really, can I go home?)

bryngreenwood said...

I wonder if the "trash" thing is a subconscious riff on trashy=slutty...perhaps people are consigning to "trash," books they see as appealing to the lowest common denominator. Those easy, cheap, fast kinda books. (The ones they're secretly reading.)

Anonymous said...


Off topic. What's the status of the suggestions you asked for regarding what new blog features people would like to see? (I believe that post was in December.)


Sheila said...

Maybe, instead of thinking 65-35 is a statistical improbability, you could assume that the people who voted are people who read your blog, but do not comment. Like, for instance, Cormack McCarthy, Sherman Alexie, Michael Chabon, etc.

At least, that's how I would read it if I were you.

And the answer to the Gilligan question is Lovey.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, I haven't had time for an open thread with questions, which was one of the most common suggestions, but otherwise.... what do you have in mind? The break wiped my memory, btw.

Margaret Yang said...

I loathe that word too. The same people who say that publishers only publish trash are often the exact same people who think publishing is broken and that they have to self-publish because New York does not know quality.


When I go into the bookstore, I always want waaaay more books than I can afford to buy/have time to read. Do I love all the books? No! But the fact that I love more of them than I'll ever have time to read means that it's not trash and it's not broken.

Dara said...

While I know I am a picky reader and find it difficult to find books I like, that's something that I know is personal and what I may not like, as you said, may be someone else's favorite novel.

I don't like the word "trash" as it's degrading. Sure, I may not like the book--I may even really dislike it--but I wouldn't review it as trash. Generally when I read a review with scathing language, I disregard it because if the reader/reviewer puts things in such a crass way, why would I even give his/her review any merit?

In general I think people have become more crass and rude and that has transcended to the book reviews as well.

Anonymous said...

I think most readers are dedicated to a particular genre and therein they truly appreciate that style of writing. Case and point with Stephanie Meyer and her ‘Twilight’ series. I think at best it is a ‘tweenlike’ work that appealed to that intended audience (I have two tween daughters who had me read a few chapters). I did not like the way it was written but I did not think for a second it was ‘trash’.

I am more of a Cormac McCarthy fan and resonate easily in his almost perfect prose…of course when I asked my ‘tween’ daughters to read a few chapters of Suttree…yup, they said it was stupid because he misspelled words and his grammar was horrible.

It all comes down to what you (Nathan) and so many other literary agents have said for years. Publishing is a subjective business.


Anonymous said...

At the time I felt that an open question day was an excellent idea, and I still feel the same.

As was suggested, you could keep it to a fixed amount of questions -perhaps the first ten, or the first five if you're concerned about having the time for it.


Melospiza said...

I didn't vote yesterday, because I didn't feel comfortable with the either/or distinction: either my writing is BETTER or my writing is WORSE. That felt a little like asking "Whose writing is better, Henry Fielding's or Nadine Gordimer's?" With the assumption, then, that the loser of the question gets tossed in the trash.

"Which do you like better, Merlot or margaritas?" Okay, great! You never get to drink a margarita EVER AGAIN! We're going to throw all of your Jose Cuervo in the TRASH!

When I read the comments on your blog, I like to think that I'm part of a crowd of writers, most of whom think carefully, write carefully, and have interesting things to say. Some people may write more concisely than me (you: yeah, like EVERYONE), some may write more brutally--but are these qualities better?

I think this was your point, when you set up the question. Yes? Too often, comment boards feel like we're all playing jeopardy, and the person who can criticize the fastest and most pithily wins. BZZZT! You're TRASH! I win! Ha ha ha!

What's the alternative, though? I'm not sure. Publishing today sometimes feels like Jeopardy, rather than what it once was, or ideally is--a dialogue.

I guess the alternative is commenting on comment boards. Heh.

Parker Haynes said...

Standing alone, trash is an ambiguous word, but in context it can be a very useful noun or verb, or adjective with they addition of a "y" at the end.

Certainly in the context of describing the writing (or other artistic endeavor) of another, it becomes trashy behavior, very much in the same vein as the old expression "poor white trash" or the more modern "trailer trash."

Trash your own work if you must, but not that of another.

Word Verification: resquati = squating again???

Kristan said...

I think you're right that it's a mix of things. But more importantly, I was also thinking how relevant this is as American Idol has recently begun its new season!

Eric said...

I'd speculate that it is not very likely that even one of the 65% said yes even though in their heart they believe the answer is no, while conversely, some portion of the 35% actually believe they are above average but are too humble or well-mannered to confess it so openly.

So then, I'd say it's probably more like 70-80% who think they are above average.

I'm not sure what, if anything this really tells us, other than perhaps it's human nature to be confident.

I guess it is also a sad fact of human nature that of that large group of confident people you're going to find a few who are just petty enough to use words like "trash" to put down other people's efforts.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Maybe the crummy writers who read your blog were too depressed to vote?

Maybe the votes reflect people's perceptions of your readers...

as in "well, so many of his readers are newbies, they MUST be writing junk until they read through all the archives!"

I used to think my writing was about average-- when I read widely, just to figure out the market.

Recently, I've only been reading books recommended by really great writers.... and now I feel like a barely literate toad....

On thhe other hand, I just finished uglies and it was just as awesome as everyone promised me.......

Maybe you should ask a different "How many of you think you're a better writer than (insert universally acknowledged great writer here)" You'd probably get a different response....

Maria said...

The "trash" designation is a peeve of mine too, because it's indirectly calling into question the taste of anyone who enjoys the work at hand.

And the more the work is praised by others, the more vicious the criticism gets.

Case in point: the other day I was reading reviews of Ulysses on Goodreads, and there were a number of reviews posturing that anyone who dared to enjoy the book has been brainwashed by the literary establishment, has had the wool pulled over his eyes, should have his head examined, etc.

...Which led me to grumbling about the reviewers and thinking that I'd like to stuff a mutton kidney up their collective...

... And then realizing that I needed to engage in a more productive hobby than grumbling about Goodreads reviews.

Anger begets anger begets anger. It's unhealthy. And it bothers me that this sort of persistent grousing and trashing and public insulting has become so common and accepted. A well-reasoned rant is one thing; a dashed-off insult is another.

Heather said...

I don't like the word "trash" in this context, either. I mean, how egotistical is it to say, "If I don't like it, it's not worth anything"? People have different tastes, and we may be more forgiving on quality of writing when it comes to a particular subject or style that we love. For example, I'm not a big fan of vampire novels, no matter how well written they are. On the other hand, a book involving time travel could be written by a half-drunk marmoset and I'd be all into it. Different strokes and all. Plus, yeah -- those who can, write. Those who can't, write nasty reviews.

Mark Terry said...

I have a friend who used to argue that if anything was popular, it must suck. I think that is an extension of the "if it smells, it sells" mindset. I didn't agree with him then and I don't agree with him now.

I do think that the most popular works, both movies, books, TV, probably have broad appeal. They tend not to be weirdly quirky (Twin Peaks, anyone?) and they're typically fast-paced, however you define that.

Some people, just by those definitions, would argue that therefore they suck.

One of the problems with the "if it's popular it must suck" line of reasoning is that if you continue to follow it, you get:

The less popular, the better it is.

Therefore, if NO ONE wants to publish it or read it, it must be great.

And I just don't believe that works.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I honestly don't think I'm a better writer than those who read this blog, my blog or other agents' blogs.

I find myself somewhere in the middle of the pack. With each word I write, I hope to jockey for a better position, but I don't try to fool myself into thinking I'll win.

mary beth said...

It seems to me that most of the nastiest trash-snark comes not from avid readers, but from writers, envious of someone else's success. And every time a certain book or genre is labelled as trash it insults the readers who love that book or that genre. It's pretty easy to be cleverly nasty. It's not so easy to write a coherent story - no matter what the genre - that has real meaning for numbers of readers.

Cadence said...

I think that people who call something "trash" are, as Scott noted, just being lazy. They are unable or unwilling to build a case for why a work isn't up to their standard. If someone is going to be critical of a work, especially to the extent of having it pulled from libraries, then she should be able to back it up with reasons beyond calling it “trash.”

When I look at reviews on Amazon, though, I usually look at the negative reviews. They are more revealing. The positive reviews are often: "This book was GREAT. I loved it." The negative reviews are (sometimes) more thought out and provide reasons why the book didn't meet their expectations. While I love when someone can tell me why they loved a book, I don’t have the same feeling about the empty positive reviews as I do for the empty negative ones. They’re at least building good karma.

"Trash" is what my grandma calls her Chex-mix recipe.

Kristi said...

I think that calling something "trash" is a cop-out. So a book didn't appeal to someone. Was it the voice? The setting? The dialogue didn't read true? There was not enough/too much "literary"-ness about it? Holes in the research? The "trash" was all about virgin-widowed-grandmother-CEO-turned-caterer, and you just buried yours and aren't ready to deal with fiction about it right now?

There must be a better way of stating *why* someone didn't like a work then to just call it trash.

Dorinda Ohnstad said...

The internet allows people to remain anonymous. I wonder how many of the naysayers would express the same sentiments face-to-face with the author, publisher or agent of the so-called "trash." I would certainly hope not many.

I don't post often, but I read all the blogs and the comments posted. It never ceases to amaze me how many anonymous postings take potshots at not only the publishing industry, but you directly (even if they are only referring to "literary agents"). It irks me because I'm thankful you take the time to provide us with guidance to an industry otherwise somewhat mysterious and inaccessible.

ORION said...

I been away for a while writing trash and uh...well I'm back.
I too noticed this tendency to "hate" and disparage. Especially when you don't have to have your name backing up your woAMAZONrds.
I also notice a wide variety of books out there to appeal to large variety of readers. We are lucky to have both the technology and the freedom to publish what some consider "trash."
I say go for it...
And interestingly if I had voted I wouldn't have said I write better than most of the blog readers...I probably would have said I write MORE or LONGER (everyday) and I edit and revise more. But I don't think I write better...I just have lots of stories to tell and have been in the right place at the right time...writing...

Mira said...

I guess I'm confused. I don't see how the topics relate.

Asking folks how they measure their own writing is one topic. Asking people whether they would label someone else's writing as 'trash' is another....

I certainly hope that the people who voted 'yes' don't feel in any way that meant they put someone else down.

Nathan, I'm alittle confused by your goal here.

I'm not sure if you intended it, but this has the flavor of being set-up.

Misssy M said...

If there's one thing the internet has allowed, it's the flourishing of random idiot namecallers. Mispell a word in your blog- flame. Give out some opinions on a talkboard-flame. Give out some great news about getting a book deal or an agent in your blog- double triple envy flame!

The double triple envy flame is the device used by all people who would rather rubbish other people's efforts than look at themselves.

You get into this game, you've got to be able to take the flame (and then dismiss the flame). The more "the haters" hate you, the better you're doing!

And Nathan thanks for all your advice on this blog...just got myself an agent. Shhhh!

Ink said...

I tend to think people have a hard time, out of laziness or ignorance, in telling the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. And so they dismiss something as trash, or relay to others that "it sucks", when all they're really saying is "I don't like it." But there's a big difference between not liking something and objective trash.

Not every book is for every person. Why should it be? Tastes are unique and ephemeral. Yet people who label a work as trash (if they really mean it and aren't simply taking a verbal shortcut) are basically expecting that every book has been written for them. They expect that every book they pick up has been designed to please there specific tastes, and if it doesn't than it sucks. It's a failure. But books aren't written that way. They function on their own grounds, following their own internal logic. You only hope that book and reader meet, and hopefully the right book finds the right readers. If you find a book and it's not one of the right ones for you, why complain? Put it down and keep looking.

I'm obsessed with writers like Cormac McCarthy, Ann Patchett and Javier Marias because I think they're brilliant. Other people will pick up their books and not like them, but I don't think that diminishes their brilliance. If the book's not for you, well, why take it out on the book?

If you go out on a normal first date with someone and decide "He/She's not the one" do you then make the assumption that this person is "trash", "sucks", and will never be suited for any relationship ever? Obviously not. Unless, you know, you're sort of misanthropic. Normally you just say, hey, nice person, but there was no chemistry, maybe we'll both have better luck next time.

So be nice to those books. You never know when they'll marry your best friend...

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Misssy M said...

Yeah, and I meant to mis-spell mis-spell!

Authoress said...

My dear Mr. Bransford,

You say that the majority of books and movies "don't suck." All things being subjective, and my having the utmost respect for your expertise (at least in the book arena), I must gently disagree.

Perhaps the word "trash" is thrown around too easily. I prefer the British version: "twaddle". And certainly -- CERTAINLY -- there is a plethora of twaddle on the bookshelves today. Especially in the children's section. (And yes, I write for children, so I pay more attention to these particular shelves.)

Example: The book industry is notorious for publishing poorly written schlock -- aka TWADDLE -- prior to the release of movies geared toward younger audiences. These remarkable examples of twaddle reach from idiotic picture book "See Pirate Jack!" to extremely-and-I-do-extremely poorly written "novels" based on the screenplay (yes, and not the other way around).

I'm sorry. It's awful. I know, because I picked up the "trilogy" published after the third Pirates movie was out. It was complete and utter twaddle.

Have you ever read HOOK, written AFTER the movie was produced? It was written by Terry Brooks, bestselling fantasy author. It most undoubtedly SUCKED. (And I am a reader of Terry Brooks.)

I'm sorry. Terry sold out.

I have read so-called rhyming children's books that have made me squirm with nausea, the meter was so far off. I have perused chapter books that make Dick and Jane look like fine literature. I have read young adult fantasy that has made me want to drop dead.

Well, not really. But writers are known to hyperbolize.

And yes, Paolini's writing sucks.

And all those teeny-bopper series out there? They suck.

And remember the Hardy Boys? Nice, clean stories and a good introduction to the mystery genre. But the writing sucks.

I mean, read it. It sucks.

I know it's your job to support your clients, to support the publishing industry in general. I think you're doing a great job! But to say that the majority of books and movies today DON'T suck is, in my small and anonymous opinion, taking it too far.

There is precious little to choose from that is truly engaging, truly well written.

And even if something is a really good, grab-you-by-the-throat story, the writing often doesn't live up to the plotting.

As in all other things, the general populous controls what becomes "great" in the eyes of the masses. But "great" is subjective, and is often tied to dollar signs and not to raw talent and well-honed ability.

As for movies? Sorry. Most of them really do suck.

But then, this is coming from a person who never watches TV. Because TV definitely sucks. As in, your brain right out of your head, through your eye sockets. That is one area in which I know you and I part ways. :)

I'll slink back to my largely quiet corner now. As always, love your blog, love your heart for aspiring authors, love what you do. Stay true to who you are.

Craven said...

Ego is a funny thing. All of us are writers, so it make sense that most feel they are better than average. I based my assessment on the recent query contests on your site. I read them all.

Do I feel I was better than the average compared to that? Yes. But I found a few to be brilliant and better than anything I would have posted.

Do I feel my work is better or equal to what's currently on the bookstore shelves? No, not yet.

Do I occasionally come across a book so bad I would call it trash and think I could do better? Yes, but very rarely.

For now, I'll keep working on my skillset to become publishable. I don't publically call a published author's work trash - I don't have the chops to be taken seriously, and I don't have the time.

But when asked if I'm above the mean of unpublished authors, I think so, though I still have a way to go till I'm publishable.

Adaora A. said...

Oh I completely agree with this. I think there are two words that stick out in my mind as being heavily saturated in society. One of them you just mentioned, and the other is "hate." "I hate this person," or "I hate this book." People tend to get overly hot under the collar and it just becomes that broken record that you hear all the time. There are so many movies and books crucified on the block that I've taken great pleasure in.

It's a mix of envy, hopefuless (and hopelessness), selfishness, and impatience. That's just my opinion though!

Genre Reviewer said...

When I first started writing book reviews, I thought it would be easy. It's not.

I think it's because people tend to focus on the negative things. When the negatives start piling up in my mind as I read, I start thinking of the whole book as bad. This is especially true if the book ends in a way that leaves me feeling unsatisfied or unhappy. There may be strong points in the writing, but I have to get past my negative feelings about the writing to find them.

I've also read a number of unpublished manuscripts. Even as "bad" as some published novels are, there are distinct differences between an unpublished and published manuscripts.

Lehcarjt said...

I would never use the word 'trash' or any of its equivalents. There are kinder, better ways to point out the flaws in books. I am, however, a firm believer in pointing out the flaws (and giving low ratings if I feel the book warrants it).

When I go to a book's page on Amazon, the first thing I do is look at all the reviews with one or two stars. Yes - some are useless and others just mean. But a good many are honest, and from them I can usually tell if the book is something I might enjoy. The low ratings give me a better sense of a book than the high ratings.

The caveat on this is that if a book has only low ratings, I will pass it by as well.

Scott (Thinking Man) said...


I think I tend to be on the other end of the spectrum. I fall in love, in a literary sense, with just about every new author I read or listen to. Trying to become a writer of fiction, I think I have a much greater appreciation for what I read because I have at least an idea of what it took to get the book into my hands. I try to look at each book as an opportunity to learn.

dismssil said...

I'm sorry, terrible books and movies get made and everyone knows it. That's why there are Razzie awards. That's why there are remainder tables. I cannot logically or empirically believe that most books and movies are "quite good, actually" because I have seen the bad ones, I can make compelling arguments that they're bad, and I have the force of consensus behind me.

Word ver: dismssil. Coincidence?

Nathan Bransford said...


I have read the Terry Brooks HOOK, and I actually thought it was better than the movie.

No offense, but your comment made me ill. Setting aside your objections to particular books, you don't watch TV. How could you know it sucks? This is a golden age of television that you're missing out on (and I don't mean The Bachelor). The Wire and Mad Men, among others, are some of the great works of art of our era.

But hey, guess it's easier to just say things "suck."

L.C. Gant said...

I agree with Adaora; I don't like words like "trash" and "hate" and I try my best to never use them. I think they're dismissive and in most cases, they come from people who have a narrow perspective.

To call something "trash" is to say it has no value, and in my mind, that's the worst thing you can possibly say about a writer. It's an insult to all the hundreds of people who worked hard to put that book on the shelves.

It's one thing to feel you're better than a particular writer; as I said yesterday, that can stem from a healthy sense of confidence. It's quite another thing, however, to claim that someone's work is worthless simply because it may or may not be as good as yours. That's arrogant, and in my mind, it's just plain wrong.

Kristan said...

Completely unrelated, but I just started reading this Time article, an excerpt of which was in today's Publisher's Lunch, and I'm really fascinated:,9171,1873122-1,00.html

SamSpade said...

I would imagine that the vote broke down the way it did because writers are an insecure lot. We need to feel like what we are writing is better than what is out there. Otherwise, how are we going to get published?

It irks me when someone calls something trash. It might not be for you, but it might have value for someone else.

Harris said...

I got no problem with someone beating up another's work - then again, i read gawker five times a day so, you know...

The word "trash" itself is just an overused word -

I think you can identify with this - i HATE the word "amazing" - it's one of the reasons (there are many) that this season of The Bachelor sucks.


Nathan Bransford said...


It really is ama... I mean incredible how many times they use that word this season.

ryan field said...

The statue looks ready to double snap. I want a pair at the end of my driveway.

Anonymous said...

"roughly, the exact same"

Rick Daley said...

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would still smell as sweet...
- You know who, or at least you should.

Here's another word that I see all the time in the media that I think is grossly mis-used: "slammed"

Scan the headlines and you will see it constantly, most often describing a politician or statesman in reference to an opposing candidate or country, respectively. But come you think Condi really slammed Hezbollah? Picked them up (all of them) and forcefully hurled them to the ground, WWE style? I'm not saying that wouldn't be cool to watch, it's just inaccurate.

I also laugh when I read "condemned in the strongest possible terms" because to me that means they dropped an F-bomb.

I looked up TRASH online at, and this is the definition it gave:

1. anything worthless, useless, or discarded; rubbish.
2. foolish or pointless ideas, talk, or writing; nonsense.
3. a worthless or disreputable person.
4. such persons collectively.
5. literary or artistic material of poor or inferior quality.
6. broken or torn bits, as twigs, splinters, rags, or the like.
7. something that is broken or lopped off from anything in preparing it for use.
8. the refuse of sugar cane after the juice has been expressed.
9. Computers. an icon of a trash can that is used to delete files dragged onto it.
–verb (used with object)
10.Slang. to destroy, damage, or vandalize, as in anger or protest: The slovenly renters had trashed the house. condemn, dismiss, or criticize as worthless: The article trashed several recent best-sellers. remove the outer leaves of (a growing sugar cane plant). free from superfluous twigs or branches.

So taking advantage of numbers 11 and 5 above, people who trash writers by calling their work trash are probably not gifted writers themselves; a more gifted writer would conjure up a more descriptive assessment.

I recently read a book that I did not like. I was disappointed in its climax. I did not feel attached to its characters. I would not recommend it to others. I may have just trashed it with those comments, according to, but I will not call it trash, because it's still on my bookshelf. If it ends up in my garbage can, I will call it trash.

Scott said...

I think the Internet has given people free reign to leave nasty comments. I'm amazed - sometimes appalled - at the comments I read. I normally ascibe to the "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" policy. I may or may not like a book, movie, or whatever. I may tell people that "hey, I didn't like 'Forest Gump'". I'm just not going to write a diatribe that is insulting, hateful, and hurtful just because I do not like something. Okay, wait, I've been known to rant about politicians on more than one occassion . . .

In the end, there are people that treat people with respect, and there are - more often than not - people who hide behind the 'anonymous' (note: not all 'anonymous' commenters are hateful) name and write horrible and hateful things. If I'm going to make a comment, good or bad, hopefully not hateful, I'm going to use my name. I'm just saying . . .

Anonymous said...

I don't read enough books to make a general comment about how they succeed or fail to live up to the promises they make, or readers' expectations, but as a screenwriter, I see way too many of the films being made, and find that most of them are disappointing.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to ruffle any feathers, but I probably will. Could it be that maybe the publishing industry in whole has gotten stuck in a rut, and everyone has forgotten the originality that could come from our authors without the influence of agents and publishers. Maybe it is time for a contest that is judged by a group of the target audience (i.e. MG judged by actual Middle Graders, YA judged by actual teens, SF judged by its normal....well you get the picture) Let the publishers and agents just be there for obvious mistakes, and keep their personal preferences out of it. I have a feeling you will see some different results then. Being critiqued by your peers, really doesn't give you a sense of whether or not you have hit the mark, if your peers are NOT target audience.

Doug said...

The anonymity of the Internet gives people power to write whatever "trash" comments they like with no consequence. It's the same effect while driving on the highway. If the person that cut you off, nearly running you off the road, were walking an arm's length away. Do you think they would they behave the same. I think not. They do it because they can.

Does this mean that all the trash comments are in error? No. There are projects that have very little artistic merit that are done to simply make a buck.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon re: "roughly the exact same"

Articulate, ain't I?

Anonymous said...

Oh and I should have added, you can't please everybody with just one style. Someone will always disagree with your opinion. Variety is the spice of life, and whoever screams the loudest is the one that gets heard! (How cliche! but true!)

Megoblocks said...

"People want to feel that they're good at something they spend so much time on, even when that might not be the case"

American Idol has been making money off this for years now.

dan radke said...

In reference to the TV sucks comment-

TV is incredible right now. Besides the aforementioned Mad Men and The Wire, there's:
Battlestar Galactic
The Office
Lost (though slipping slightly)
30 Rock

Not to mention series that have ended recently:
Six Feet Under
Arrested Development
Sex and the City

Television has evolved, quite recently, into the full length novels of visual art, making two hour movies the short story. Now stories are told over 12 hours, giving plot so much detail and character arcs so much depth it's F'ING STUNNING. And that's just in one season!

Ugh. Sorry. I like TV.

Authoress said...

No offense, but your comment made me ill. Setting aside your objections to particular books, you don't watch TV. How could you know it sucks? This is a golden age of television that you're missing out on (and I don't mean The Bachelor). The Wire and Mad Men, among others, are some of the great works of art of our era

I can say "it sucks" because I spent years watching it. Years and years. I know there are gems to cull, as there are in just about every medium. I know there are "educational" channels with higher quality offerings than normal, mainstream channels.

Been there, surfed that.

And when I said "it sucks" I meant it the way I then explained...namely, "it sucks your brain out." Which anything passive, used too often, too heavily, tends to do.

(Reading is not passive. So ultimately, it's better for our brains.)

But the vast majority of TV offings? Trash, and you and I both know it. Or whatever word you'd rather use, since "trash" obviously strikes a discord. :)

It's only in the last few years that I have become "TV Free." And I can't tell you how truly freeing it is.

Mind you, we own a nice, big plasma screen. That's for viewing our favorite movies...and collections of old British sit-coms. Carefully chosen, commercial free. And definitely not twaddle.

So you see, I HAVE watched TV -- lots of it. And I do watch movies and mini-series and Planet Earth, which is so incredible that we own it.

I'm not television ignorant. Just television free, by choice.

It's had an amazing effect on my marriage, too. We look at each other and talk. ;)

lotusgirl said...

I think it is true that most books out there are not as bad as some readers make them out to be. It floors me sometimes when I read reviews and see how polarized many of them are. I have read only a handful of books that I would score a 1, and I read on average 80-100 books a year (I'll grant you I do research out the better books to read), and yet when I read reviews on Amazon, there are tons of 1s being thrown about.

e.g. There was a certain 4th book in a series that came out last summer. Now I'll grant you It was, IMO, not a 5, but neither was it a 1 or the worst piece of "trash" ever written. I was appalled at some of the vitriolic attitudes and commentaries. I would place it at a good solid 3 (of course that would be IMO) which is where a lot of books sit for me.

I'm wondering if it is because we feel we have to scream from the extremes to be heard over the myriad voices out there. Or maybe the voices of hate and anger get bandied about more than the voices of reason. (The voice of reason is mine! Of Course! LOL!)

Samuel said...

Trash, amazing. Other phrases I hear people use a lot in describing books: 'It was really thought-provoking.' Well, good, but which thoughts did it actually provoke? And, 'I thought the writer was being really self-indulgent.' Self-indulg...! My girlfriend described Roberto Bolano thus; I was... shocked.

Anonymous said...

I think we are forgetting one scratch two very important things when we hear strong words to describe something.

1. few people actually mean the words they print on the internet. Yes they hurt sometimes, but you aren't going to get them to substitute 3 paragraphs of description on why they dislike something, when it is so much easier to say "IT'S TRASH!" We as writer's are very sensitive to strong words, but we should be the first to realize the emotion they bring, and it is the best way to get the attention brought to your statement. Which leads me to my second point (I think)
2. Non-writers don't realize how bad that hurts us. We are not people to them. They are judging our book not us personally. Sure I wouldn't call someone trash to their face, and they may not realize we are paying attention, but I wouldn't hesitate to say it to the world in general. I didn't like that book it was trash. Get the difference. They can't see our faces, I can't see your's. I am talking to a computer.

Point 3 we need to chill, call off the witch burnings, without facial expressions or voice to go along with that trash, it doesn't mean the same thing.

macaronipants said...

I'm not sure hating comes from ignorance (as was asserted in the competence article you linked). I remember reading a short story by Updike in a reading group once. They all loved every bit of it. I thought it was dull and pointless and remember being shocked that no one else felt this way. At the time, I remember feeling a great hatred toward the story itself and I'm sure my reaction came from a strong need to be validated. So maybe add immaturity to insecurity.

I still feel an overwhelming disgust from time to time when I see certain movies or read certain books, although I try not to blurt (except to my husband, bless him). I don't think this makes me ignorant, just insecure. Smart people put this out. That must mean I'm not smart.

I think calling it ignorance is easy and a bit hateful in itself.


CC said...

I only truly love one book for every ten I read. I don't think the other nine are "trash," though, I just think they weren't for me.

I think when I see super low ratings on Amazon or (Amazon) customer reviewers saying books "suck" and are "trash" it's usually because the book has been heavily hyped. Someone felt pressure to buy a book they wouldn't have normally -- because it was an Oprah pick, or a NYT bestseller, or is the "big" book of the summer -- and because it didn't instantly become the best book they've ever read, they feel duped.

When you browse through a bookstore and pick out your own books, you blame yourself if you don't like it, you don't get on Amazon and send the fire down on it.

Nathan Bransford said...

"Television has evolved, quite recently, into the full length novels of visual art, making two hour movies the short story." - dan radke

Nicely put!

Honestly, if you haven't watched TV in the past five years you haven't watched TV.

Cam said...

Good point, Dara, about not giving weight to reviews written with lazy language.

While good writing is subjective (consider a bestseller I began reading last year and stopped after page 121), "trash" (or "twaddle"?) relates to that which ends up in the waste basket. Of course, that was exactly the fate of the book I started to read last year. I wouldn't however, call it "trash." Although it was droll, overly-narrative and had a depressing plot line, who am I to call it "trash?"

Its esteemed author worked too hard on the book - and made a lot of $ on it - for a lowly wannabe to call it trash. Landfill by example, maybe, but not trash.

That said, life's too short; reading should be enjoyable. Again, however, opinions are subjective and varying with regard to "good" vs. "trash."

Harris said...

Re: The Bachelor

I would start a drinking game involving that word, but I'd be during by the third commercial break.

I wish one of two things...

1 - My wife didn't love the show, or
2 - We had two TV's


Anonymous said...

How can someone who doesn't watch TV feel up on current issues? Issues of culture? Issues of the changing values and attitudes of the world at large? The undercurrents of these issues shape fiction a great deal, I think.

Unless you write historical fiction, I'm thinking your writing could suffer a great deal by not watching ANY TV.

Michael said...

I agree that art is subjective. One man's trash is another's treasure. I think that has to do with our expectations going into the work of art at hand, whether it be a book or a movie. I have a lot of friends that I can't take book or movie recommendations from because I know that we are looking for completely different things from them. And of course I think that my taste is better, because if I didn't I would adopt their taste.

That said, I also think that in writing there is a level of quality that makes something publishable. That quality has to do with clarity, flow, word choice, and a lot of other factors, so someone can produce publishable writing, without constructing a plot or character that an individual reader will like. The editor is looking at the quality of the writing, and he probably likes the plot and characters and everything else, too.

Finally, I must say that I have read books and seen movies that I have absolutely hated. Some of that is because of plot and character. I just don't like them. But others I don't feel meet the quality level of publishable work. That's my opinion. Someone with the money disagrees with me. But I have well thought out reasons for my opinions. I don't just call whatever I don't like "trash."

Robena Grant said...

I have used the word "rubbish" to myself, after attempting to read poorly written books, which um...I suppose is the same as using the "T" word.

It irks me though, and it makes me question how the poorly written story made it through editing.

Marilyn Peake said...

Your Book Roast is hilarious! I’m going to work on a caption later today.

I love what you did with your survey yesterday. You make some really good points. There are so many amazing books published every year, just as there are so many amazing movies made every year, it’s easy enough to skip over the ones that don’t match our personal tastes and reach for the ones we like. Rather than dwelling on the published books we don’t like, isn’t it better to try to read the huge numbers of books that do match our tastes? And when we come across a book we think we could have written better, then isn’t it just time to sit down, write our own book and go through the very hard work of trying to get it published?

Another generalization I see over and over again on the Internet is the statement that schools no longer teach kids to read. Actually, more schools than ever have instituted college curriculums in high schools to the point where high school students often earn one to one-and-a-half years of college credit while still in high school. This is a huge trend, and colleges have started reporting that the applicants they’re seeing today far surpass previous generations in terms of their accomplishments.

Narrow generalizations seem to most often be based on very limited sampling of entire populations.

Sarah Jensen said...

"Is writing totally or even mainly subjective though? I mean, if that were the case why shouldn't I pack up and go home?"

I think the story is subjective. The writing shouldn't be. If it's well written, it's well written. You don't have to like the subject matter, but IMO writing itself isn't subjective.

I've read books I really enjoyed, story wise, that weren't very well written. I've read well written books that I didn't really enjoy the story.

But I agree, I don't think I've read any "trash". And yeah, I've read some "trashy" books, but like ikmar said, big difference.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's an interesting distinction.

Jaenelle said...

I'm quite fond of the word trash and I think it is the perfect term for describing a lot of books (and movies and music and etc.)

And precisely why does this make me frustrated or angry or any of the numerous other over-simplifications that people have thrown around in these comments? If a book is badly written and edited in every way it could be, why *should* I shrug and surmise it's simply not "being to my taste."

Is horrible grammar, flat characterization, bad research, a nonsensical/illogical plot really a matter of personal taste or the things that define this word trash to the people who use it?

Yes I am a writer. A young one. I have never faced rejection or the agent game. I have my own issues with my writing, but if I have those and other issues with bad novels, how does that automatically reflect on the state of my own career? What a completely, utterly, illogical fallacy.

I read a few books every week. Most of them I enjoy. Some I adore and have or will reread numerous times. But quite a few have also been utter dreck; so much so, that yes, I do wonder if the agent who represents the author in question and the people who actually turned into a salable book were smoking crack when they made their decisions.

Want an a example? Look at the author Sunny, -- yes, just one name -- last week I trudged through her crime-against-literature "Mona Lisa Awakening" and shell-shocked upon its conclusion, raced to Amazon to leave a scathing review only to discover that she has FOUR more novels out!

But oh no, let's not say anything bad or mean or ill-tempered. Let's surmise that this TRASH is simply a matter of "subjective" or "personal" taste and shut the hell up so as not offend some precious little darlings feelings.

Never mind the book buyer who listened to the rave professional reviews under the mistaken impression that they weren't bought-out. Never mind the money spent on something undeserving.


Literature is not just subjective. That's why it's analyzed and criticized. If it were all just a matter of taste, it would lose any value it had to society. Calling something "trash" may not be the height of a mature, critical review, but... I guess it's just another one of those things that is subjective -- you know, a matter of personal taste!

Anonymous said...


See how I got your attention! Everything else I just wrote you completely ignored. (I would never say you suck to your face, and I didn't mean it I love you guys LOL.) Now we know why they use the word trash, because no one pays attention to mildy used words.

Take a chill pill, who wants to read boring polite words. It is the way of the world. Something we can do on the computer without getting decked. That is why we read, to see the exciting stuff in an imaginary place. (or that is why I do anyway.)

Hilary said...

I'd like to be divisive and defend use of the word “trash.” I myself use it in the sense of “throwaway,” to describe the time I spend reading Janet Evanovich and Robert Jordan. I use that word not because the writing is bad, but because the works don't say anything of major substance. They're fun, and I can relate to the characters, and I enjoy the stories and the good/guy bad guy ideas, but that's all.
Nathan's right that it doesn't do any good to go around indiscriminately calling things “trash” or “sucky” without giving reasons (and not to mention it's insulting), but I do think the fact that so many people use this word is indicative of a larger problem: Hemingway's death left a big fat hole in literature. To be fair, there have always been more people published than remain cherished through the years, but it is so difficult to find what is going to resonate, what is going to speak about human nature, what is going to take you by the shoulders and shake you out of your slump, that it's disheartening. I myself read classics more than new literature because I can depend on the fact that they're good; and I listen to classic rock for the same reason. I think overuse of the word “trash” says a lot more about holes in our souls (and general inability to construct an argument) than it does about our inherent envy. It reminds me of an article I read on anorexia: a former anorexic claims that the disease is a symbolic spiritual hunger rather than simply a reaction to mainstream ideals about the female body. And the name-calling epidemic—well, maybe it's a cry for help. Yes, everything that goes through the publishing process is well-written and quality story-telling, but neither is it revolutionary or comforting in your life trials.
That said, if you're disheartened by a lack of fine literature, go out and write it. To quote Thomas Berger, “Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.”

Anonymous said...

I do call some books trash. And I mean it. Wholeheartedly. I read almost everything I can get my hands on (I don't to true crime or gore), and I have to say ... some books that come out in the Romance genre? ZOMG TRASH. And I don't even mean it from an "I don'tlike these characters" viewpoint. I mean THE BOOK IS TRASH. Trash writing, trash editing, trash printing, trash binding! The characters' names *CHANGE* during the course of the book. Their parental situation changes. The writing is TRASH. Not just "not what I like", but actually physically hurtfully headache-y BAD. The author (and editor) mixes up "your", "you're", "there", "their" and others. Etc. The printing is smudged, slanted on the page, poorly typeset, etc. The paper used is worse than phone book paper. There are HOLES in the paper. The binding falls apart before you even finish the 200 page book.

And they want $8.95 for it.

That, my fellow commenters, is TRASH.

Natalie said...

First off, I'm shocked that anyone could call Alexie's work "trash." That makes my stomach hurt.

I don't think it's fair to call anything trash. People put their time into writing. Okay, it may not be my taste or it may need work, but we as writers need to have respect for each others' work.

Dan said...


I applaud your handling of Authoress's comments.

And I agree that 'one man's trash is another man's treasure.' I don't watch reality TV, but I understand it's appeal. Likewise, I watch some programs (such as 24, Prison Break, etc.) where the main appeal is more or less the continuing suspense. The plots have become ludicrous, but the shows are still entertaining. I know plenty of people who'd disagree with me.

The same goes for any type of art, whether it's a book, a piece of artwork, movies, etc.

Likewise, people are still fans of the Sacramento Kings (wink) or the Cleveland Browns (oh how they've tortured my soul), but that doesn't mean just because a team has a terrible season (or many, many, many consecutive terrible seasons) that they can't be enjoyed by a group of fans.

At least high definition makes the suffering more bearable.

other lisa said...

I agree with everyone who points to the anonymity of internet culture as being largely responsible for the increase in sh** slinging in what passes for critical discourse. It's easy to sit at your keyboard and type really mean things because you aren't face to face with the object of your scorn.

I also agree that the avalanche of hype is related to this increase in reader/viewer anger.

Annnd...I like television! There's a lot of good stuff on TV, and it's a writers medium, way more than film tends to be.

As someone who worked in the entertainment industry for many years though, I have to part ways on film - I think a majority of Hollywood movies are not very good nowadays. They are usually good on a technical level, but the writing is often formulaic, simplistic and boring. It's a case where there is so much money involved in making and marketing a film that there are too many people involved in the process - the decision-making isn't a quality check so much as a constant second-guessing that results in mediocre films.

However, I am really excited about "Slumdog Millionaire" - really looking forward to seeing it!

bleeb said...

I agree with one of the commenters on getting the readers to judge.

How about doing a contest where you pick a panel of judges who are average people who like to read, not agents, editors or writers. Ask them beforehand what genre(s) they prefer (just so you can later see if it makes a difference in what they select) then hold a contest.

Just an idea... :)

AmyB said...

I am astounded that anyone could call PART-TIME INDIAN "trash." It's one of the best books I've ever read. My son loved it too.

Madison said...

"Trash" should only be used when refering to the trash can. :)

Anyway, like you said, Mr. Bransford, a lot of writing isn't trash. It's just that people have different tastes. Honestly, I've read some stuff where I've seriously wondered why they published it, but that's because it didn't appeal to ME. The fact that it's a NYT Bestseller proves that I am not in the majority of liking that book.

Not because it's trash.

Marilyn Peake said...

From dan radke:
"Television has evolved, quite recently, into the full length novels of visual art, making two hour movies the short story. Now stories are told over 12 hours, giving plot so much detail and character arcs so much depth it's F'ING STUNNING. And that's just in one season!"

Have you seen Joss Whedon's prematurely cancelled Firefly series? The writing and visuals in that series are incredible. Firefly blows me away every time I see it. The writing in the early seasons of Lost is also amazing, even switching genres at times from one season to the next. Both Firefly and Lost never fail to motivate me to try to write better.

Alexa said...

Maybe it's just easier to call books trash than actually working out what other people might like about them or what you could learn from them. It's a lazy way of reviewing to dismiss something because it does nothing for you. Different books have different aims and different audiences in mind.
My husband and I often argue over books. He couldn't finish one of my favourite books of last year but didn't call it trash (divorce might have happened if he had1) just not his cup of tea.

Oh and Dan Radke I completely agree all those shows are amazing.

Ulysses said...

My thoughts are here

Reader's Digest Condensed version: like agents, the most I feel qualified to do is pronounce a book "not for me."

Anonymous said...


I have read the Terry Brooks HOOK, and I actually thought it was better than the movie.

No offense, but your comment made me ill. Setting aside your objections to particular books, you don't watch TV. How could you know it sucks? This is a golden age of television that you're missing out on (and I don't mean The Bachelor). The Wire and Mad Men, among others, are some of the great works of art of our era.

But hey, guess it's easier to just say things "suck."

I'd have to agree with you Nathan, not about the TV part, I don't watch very often at all, so I can't comment, but to blow off everything on the shelves because it doesn't meet your standard Authoress. I'd like to know where I can find your published books?
I want to read your obvious brilliance.
I have 4 kids and we read a lot of books. Some aren't brilliant, but they help me teach my children to read and love books, so I'd say that they accomplish something I couldn't do on my own. My kids wouldn't want to read what I write, and I honestly wouldn't let them for years.
To say something sucks because you don't enjoy it is lazy.

Anonymous said...


Go easy on authoress. She was just stating her opinion. I hate witch hunts. Show her the same courtesy that no one showed me the other day, when I went against the grain. Trust me it is no fun to see your words pulled out of context. As a matter of fact I read the it was a BLOG No-No today.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to come in anon on this one. I used to think romance and erotica were "trash."

Does trash sell? Very well, apparently.

Well enough that I'm going to take a hiatus from my more "respectable" genres, like YA, and write some of that lucrative trash (under a pseudonym--hence the anonymity here).

dan radke said...


Oh yes, Firefly is good times. It almost, almost made me want to watch the Buffy series.

Karen said...

I concur with you 100%. Couldn't have said it better myself, actually. Oh no! Does that make you a better writer than me?

Personally, I'm am almost always in awe of the amount of good-to-great writing I find both on the shelves at the bookstore/library as well as in my many and varied writing courses and groups. I also think I'm a pretty good writer and don't seek to compare myself to others.

Yes, subjectivity comes into it, but there are definitely defineable elements that are found in a good piece of work.

But TRASH? Nope. Don't like that word either. I respect writers too much to use that one.

Nathan Bransford said...


Very well said, and I apologize for my own lowering of the bar of discourse earlier. Don't want to be guilty of that which I'm bemoaning.

other lisa said...

@dan - BUFFY is wonderful! Really! Okay, there are better episodes and worse episodes and better seasons, etc., but hell, it ran for seven years. It's incredibly tough to maintain consistent quality over that period of time. The TV biz is grueling, it really is.

I recommend you start at the beginning. The first season was pretty low-budget in terms of FX but the writing is really fun.

(Stepping off fan soapbox now)

Marilyn Peake said...

dan radke,

Have you seen the blog musical, Dr. Horrible, created by Joss Whedon during the writers' strike and posted free on the Internet during the strike? It's weird, but absolutely brilliant. I saw it online, then ordered copies of the DVD after it was finally offered for sale.

JLR said...

I agree with Melospiza. I didn't vote for several reasons.

The question brought me back the days of high school and peer pressure, when I felt uncomfortable for scoring high on tests and homework. I think I am a good writer, but I feel uncomfortable forming an opinion about whom I am better than. I much rather just compare my writing to my last efforts and say, yup, I'm getting better. I am probably shooting myself in the foot in this business by my unwillingness to say I am better than someone else, aren't I?

Next, there are so many different styles and genres out there, how does one make an accurate comparison? I can tell when writing looks like it came from a bookstore shelf, but beyond that, I rely on personal taste to say that one book is better than another. That's a very subjective test.

Thirdly, like Melospiza, I didn't like the either/or nature of the question, I am either good or I am bad.

I understand your frustration at writers saying "this published stuff is trash". But as a reader, I've thought some books were flops, some were ok, and some were gold. As a writer, I've seen some things that didn't work in novels, that were ok, and some that inspired me.

Sorry for the length of this post, but I just wanted to share why I didn't vote myself.


Jaenelle said...

And further to my earlier rant: claiming that a writer calling another book or writer "trash" is somehow embittered or frustrated is just as logical as claiming that writers who refuse to use that word (or similar ones) out of some (misguided) notion of respect are afraid of their own mediocrity being called out -- if it hasn't happened already.

Both are fallacies.

And by the way -- crying out about the cowardliness of posting "Anonymous" online when your own internet handle is some thing like "Writer2Kute" is equally ridiculous.

dan radke said...

@other lisa

Heh, all right, I'll give it a shot. I can't really deny watching it on masculinity claims, I've seen the entire run of Sex and the City. Twice.

Marilyn Peake said...

One more post, then I need to step away from the computer. I'm supposed to be working on my new novel today, but I love discussing TV shows, books and movies. Get me started on all three topics at once, and I could blog all day long.

I often discover TV shows after they become available on DVD, then have a blast watching all the episodes. Two more Sci Fi series I love:
The 4400

dan radke said...


I never got to see it, but I heard a lot about it. I love the NPH. I'll check it out.

Josephine Damian said...

I think most modern/current books and movies are trash!

Sarah Jensen said...

I read a self-pubed book yesterday that really needs a good editing. And I mean--REALLY.
But it has potential. I try to look at books, life and people that way. None of us are perfect, but I like to think we all have potential. It's not always met, and that can be frustrating, but that why we continue to search. Looking for that which we would think is great.
Do we not all do that with books? And when we find someone we love, we read everything they write.
My author is James Patterson. And some of his books aren't my favorites, but still, I've read now all but maybe 5 of his. And I own most.
And I do think most of television isn't worth watching. That's why I don't watch. Whether it's trash or not, I won't say. :)

Sarah Jensen said...

But I do love House and The Mentalist. I only watch them on occasion though.

Lady Glamis said...

I don't like to think that anything is "trash" - it just appeals to different audiences. Yes, there is lots of stuff published that I don't like and deem "trash" by my standards. But somebody else might not think so.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not everyone is entitled to hurt, belittle, or bring others down simply because they disagree or don't like something.

I don't watch television because we can't afford anything other than the local stations. And most of them are fuzzy. I choose to pay for Internet rather than television.

I think you are right, Nathan, about this being a golden age for television. That's why I wait for the good series to come out on DVD so I can at least rent them and watch them. So glad to have your suggestions of what is good out there.

Anita said...

Part of the reason the big cheeses at my local newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, were so open to my book recommendation column is because it doesn't trash anyone. I only write about books I like. Do I run across books I don't like? Yes, of course. But like Bambi's mama suggests, I don't say anything at all about those books.

I wish more publications would offer a RECOMMENDATION, as opposed to a review...I think the approach is more useful to readers, which should be the point, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

I am currently judging Golden Heart contest entries in a subgenre I love to read but would never write. So I want these unpublished authors to do well. Half of the entries are good (even excellent). Half are just bad, bad, bad.

Would I call the bad ones trash? No. But they're still not good. They are guilty of poor writing or boring plot or both.

If the good entries were published, I would not buy one of the three. But I can still tell it will make a good book (in the hands of the right editor.)

I have a visceral rating system for published books. --How quickly do I put the book down?-- Over the last five years, the percentage I put down before finishing has risen dramatically. Probably 80% or higher. Does my little statistic mean the overall quality of the market is declining? Or does it perhaps mean that I have been hideously unlucky in the books I select? I'm not sure, but I shouldn't have to apologize for thinking some are bad--or be accused of jealousy.


Emily Cross said...

As always very interesting post Nathan

"Nothing, not love, not greed, not passion or hatred, is stronger than a writer's need to change another writer's copy.
- Arthur Evans"

- and i'm now going to post a nice stat related but very off topic question:

what are the actually stats of being published? (i know its "fate" and like "winning the lotto" or "oscar" etc. but bear with me)

i've reasoned it out and am wondering if it sounds about right from your perspective?

"Here is my reasoning:

1. You Have To Write the Story - Only 3 % of writers that start out writing a novel actually finish it
2. You have to query it - Literary agents reject (give or take 99.5%) of all manuscripts that they recieve.
3. It has to get passed by an editor - who are few in numbers and short in patience (due to being overworked)
4. Getting it published - from negotiations to deals to this and that, its surprising we even have the number of books published!
5. Then only a very small amount actually make a decent (livable) profit while the rest are dropped by the publisher for being flops.

So, basically you start as 3% of those who actually finished a novel. Of those 3% - 99.5% are rejected by Literary Agent. I have no percentages of how much on average a L.Agent sells to a publisher?

So that would be less than .5%?

Once L. Agents get a client, is there a high percentage of actually selling a book?

Sorry if you've been asked this already - with less use of % symbols. :)

Just_Me said...

No book is trash, but there are some I don't care for. Ditto for some shows and other entertainment. They just aren't my cuppa'.

Rick Daley said...

Please judge this writing:

Option A: I am extending to you an informal greeting.

Option B: Hi.

Which is better? And more importantly, why?

I think good writing should be defined as “the ability to convey thoughts through written words.”

If the words convey the thoughts accurately, then the writing is good. If the words obfuscate the thoughts, the writing is not good. And using big words like “obfuscate” does not necessarily mean the writing is good, especially if the meaning is lost on the reading audience. Throw that line into a children’s book = bad writing; use it here = you tell me…

Consider the difference between the words imply and infer. Imply is the meaning I put into something; infer is the meaning you derive. If the writing is good, you infer what I implied. If the writing is redundant, I just said the same damn thing I said in the preceding paragraph.

(Pause waiting for laughter to subside, wonder at the sound of crickets chirping)

The real subjectivity comes into play when we consider the thoughts that inspired the writing. You may not agree with the thoughts, but that does not mean the writing is bad. Didn’t like my joke? Doesn’t mean the writing is bad, it just means we have different concepts of humor. Had no realization that I was trying to be funny in any way? That may be bad writing.

Lupina said...

Because it's easy to fall into lazy, knee-jerk hyperbole... that's why you see so many books called sucky trash these days. If it were merely the anonymity of the Internet at work, more of these unknown critics would use that cloak of invisibility to drop more devastating and inventive insult bombs.

Dan Radke, "Buffy" in its entirety is an artistic tour de force. The Buffy Musical alone is to swoon for.

And yeah, I do think there is a high degree of subjectivity in judging writing versus judging English usage. Writing encompasses not just usage but style, content, implicit world-view, and other terms you'll find in how-to-write-unsucky-novel books. Every human evolves biases. So how could any agent claim to be purely objective in judging queries? How else to explain sending the same query to three agents, getting a rejection that made me inspect myself for leprous sores from the first, a request for a partial from the next, and a request for full ms from a third?

Esther Jade said...

I don't think it helps to be unnecessarily nasty in reviews (on Amazon, say) but I think people do need to be able to call things "trash" or something similar. Otherwise, how am I supposed to sift through all the books out there and figure out which ones are worth reading?

Not to say that anybody saying it is "trash" means it is (as you say plenty of people whose hands the book passed thought it wasn't) but if one can find a reviewer with similar tastes, then one needs to actually know whether they liked it or not. Mincing around the truth and trying to find something good about everything can seriously undermine the usefulness of reviews.

Carley said...

What a person chooses to read is a personal choice, as unique as that person is. I don't like everything I read, and prefer to leave it with, 'it just wasn't my cup of tea.' Because it's not. What I claim to be the best book I've ever read, may not be someone else's 'cup of tea', but that doesn't make it trash. Reading and even TV are all personal taste, and not everyone likes the same things, that's why there is so much to choose from.

So, I'm with Nathan, no more trash; lots more, 'not my cup of tea' or 'it just didn't float my boat', or what ever adage you choose! Because when it comes down to it, it's just plain courtesy! :)

(I'm stepping off my soap box now.)

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

First, I'd like to know if you actually read all these comments. lol. I don't know that I'd have the time.

So, for my opinion. I agree with you. It's all subjective. I love Stephen King. I know people who would rather die than read anything he's written. I think he's brilliant. Others think he's satanic.

The question here is, do I believe what people say? No. I read what I want to and judge for myself.

I also know people who have said Stephanie Meyers isn't a good writer. Who the crap cares? She's a millionaire now! She wrote a story that people couldn't put down.

In my opinion, a good writer is someone who writes a story you don't want to lay down. Period.

Nathan Bransford said...


(yes, I read them)

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

Oh, to add one more thing. Being a good story teller is one thing. Having good technique is another. You need both.

Adaora A. said...

I think people can find themselves to be unwilling to open up to new things. There is so much out there to choose from that it does seem easier to just throw it all in the garbage bin. That's where all the terminology comes from (your "trash" and your "I hate".) It's easier to tack a label on things then to take the time to educate yourself and learn about it. I really think people can walk the line between having expertise and being open minded. There is so much to choose from when it comes to books, and that's what makes it so interesting. Knocking a huge chunk of it as 'trash' is kind of sad. It's the same kind of attitude that some people bring to the table in all areas of their lives. It's dangerous buisness. It's ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a 65/35 split is not statistically impossible; in fact, it's not even all that improbable. It would be possible for 99% of your readers to believe, and be right, that they are above the "average" if the 1% were truly abysmal. First, we apply a hypothetical mathematical value to the quality of each of your readers' outputs. Say, 1, 1, 1, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10. This gives us a total of 73, which we divide amongst the 10 data points, revealing an average quality score of 7.3. Congratulations. 70% of your data points are higher than average.

It is more likely, of course, that there is a clustering of data points somewhere in the central range, in which case, it would not be necessary for them to be such extreme outliers.

It seems that the majority of your readers have interpreted "average" as meaning the median, as in Bell Curve, with standard deviations on either side. I find that a little bit disturbing, since you would typically specify "median," if you intended anything other than the good ol' arithmetic "mean."

From now on, I'm only reading books by authors who are proficient in statistical analysis, and saving myself the trouble of more subjective definitions of quality. ;)

I love artsy people. They're so whimsical.

Emily Ruth said...

Well, seeing as trash is *usually* something nobody wants (unless they are very poor and, well, I'm getting off subject. ahem.)
Seeing as trash is usually something nobody wants.
And seeing that all books that are published (excluding self-published) have been liked by an agent and published by a publisher...
Then really, no published books could ever be considered trash, right?
*Somebody* liked it. And that somebody was somebody who turned down other queries and thought that that particular query, or that particular story, was something people would like to read.

So yes, the writing may be bad. Awful.
Yes, the storyline may be bad. Awful.
But it must have redeeming quality somewhere that *someone* saw.
Which means, since at least a couple people considered it above other stories,
"No published book is trash."

Anonymous said...

I think all of us in the book industry agree, we don't want to hear our work or anyone else's work called trash. It is personal to us, but HEY to the readers it's not personal. Trash is a everyday common word, the same as saying they didn't like it for whatever reason. You cannot please everyone, so if you don't want to hear someone call something trash, DON'T READ!!!! don't read the paper , blogs, whatever, because you are going to get upset! They are not saying it to you personally. I don't know where you all are from, but if I walk around with kid gloves on, they get dirty.

Faith and Fiction said...

I hate to bring it up because I'm sure it has been talked into the ground, but Twilight, for example. I teach English to juniors and seniors and we've had plenty of arguments over that one book. One group feels they're "trash" (even though they've read them all, cover to cover), while the other group gets red-faced and pissy at the mention of Twilight being associated with any negativity.

To be honest I'm just glad they have an opinion about something besides cell phones.


AS Meredith said...

Holy crap! I meandered over to Book Roast to see your post (very funny, btw) and those people are crazy over there.

Jen said...

I've read a few books that I heartily disliked. Books beloved by millions of rabid, screaming fans. This dislike left me briefly questioning my own taste, until I realized that hey, I could tell they were well-written books...they just weren't my sort of thing.

As to why people can't be bothered to say something like what I just did above instead of using the dreaded "T" word? I have my theories. Proximity rage, sure. A lack of basic manners? Possibly. A complete blindness (or lack of concern for) how their words might actually affect others? Absolutely.

However. That doesn't mean that the occasional textual turd doesn't make it through. Sometimes, things just really aren't up to par. But to call it trash seems a bit harsh to me.

Oh, and just for the record? Buffy. Is. Incredible! And that's just one of several clever, well-written shows that have come out over the last ten or fifteen years.

A Golden Age for TV, for sure. *runs to fire up DVR'd copy of Fringe episode*

Annalee said...

The only time I've ever called a book "trash," I was referring to a popular YA series that promotes violence against women as cute and romantic. I'm not a "think of the children" type, but YA's target audience is at an age where they're forming their sense of what relationships should be, and I find it appalling that a popular book series is sending them the message that abusive behavior is how boys show their love.

I wouldn't call a book "trash" just because I didn't think it was very good. But if I were going to insinuate that some people didn't deserve to be treated with basic respect and dignity, I'd have the stones to do it in a non-fictional context instead of trying to pass it off as harmless entertainment.

padaeum said...

I've used the word "trash" to describe books. Generally, I don't use the word to be hostile. I call certain books "trash" the same way I call fast food "junk." The books might not be the best thing ever, but they have their place in the world. Sometimes, you just want french fries.

It's wrong to act like such books shouldn't exist. It's wrong to act like people are bad or stupid for reading them and enjoying them. Not everything has to be great or challenging or profound. Given how grim the world can be, I think it's good to have books that are fun and easily consumed. I'm all in favor of things that increase the happiness of the human race, even if they're silly. (I like silly.)

That being said, I do think it's important to realize that not all books are equally good. And I don't think anyone here is really arguing that Danielle Steele and Jane Austen are equally meritorious. But I am a little perturbed by the idea that there's really no such thing as a bad book, that there are only things that are just "not to your taste." I can recognize good writing or good storytelling when I see it, even if, for whatever reason, it's not to my taste. Faulkner and Hemingway aren't to my taste; I still recognize their greatness. Tolkien isn't to my taste; I still recognize his skill, and understand why he's so beloved by so many. Stephenie Meyer isn't to my taste; I still understand her appeal, and I think it's fantastic that she's had the success she's had. I love it when authors are successful, because I love stories, and I want authors to be rewarded for telling them well.

Generally, the books I read fall into four categories. There are the books I love, the books I'll read over and over and over again. There are the books I like enough to finish, and will perhaps read again sometime in the future. There are the books that bore me, that I don't finish for whatever reason (these books can be good, great, or mediocre; they just don't appeal to me).

And then there are the books that actively offend me, that I hate and loathe and despise, and that I feel no qualms about hating, loathing, and despising. Mein Kampf is such a book. I won't say it's "not to my taste," the same way Twilight is "not to my taste." Mein Kampf is a horrible, rotten, odious, evil book. I don't think you can say enough bad things about it.

I realize that's an extreme example, but extreme examples are useful in illustrating a point. Yes, there are horrible books out there. Yes, there are horrible books that are published. Yes, there are horrible books that are published currently. And they don't necessarily have to be advancing an agenda, like Mein Kampf. I've read plenty of modern fiction that I've found objectionable in the extreme, not because it's dealing with a controversial subject (I'm a lawyer; I live for controversy), but because the theme is something I find utterly reprehensible. That goes beyond "not to my taste." My reaction might be subjective, but it's subjective in a far different way than "not to my taste" is. There are books that offend my conscience. And while I think authors have the right to write them, and publishers have the right to publish them, and readers have the right to read them (and, God help me, like them), I certainly have the right to dismiss them, to criticize them, and to hate them.

That hatred is not "lazy, knee-jerk hyperbole." It's sincerely felt and sincerely expressed. It has nothing to do with jealousy or general ill will. Most books I don't like, I don't like because I find them boring. I don't tend to say much about those books, other than that they bored me, and I have no problem with them existing. The books I hate, I will say a lot about, because I think something needs to be said against them.

Of course, the words I use in that situation tend to be a lot stronger than "trash."

Morgan Dempsey said...

Though I'm pretty far down and likely no one will see this... or maybe somebody's already said it...

The vote now stands at 65%/35% who think they're a better writer than the average reader of this blog. That's obviously a statistical impossibility. I think.

We call this the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Not calling anyone incompetent. But maybe we should all pause and think on this.

Kimber An said...

I agree with your conclusions, Mr. Bransford, and I'll add one more.

I think the 'trash' label might arise from the Gag Factor.

I like Twinkies, but more than two and I'll throw up.

Once one novel, say Twilight, or kind of novel, like 'Dark & Sexy' romance, does well, suddenly the bookstores are flooded with an Endless Parade of the Exact Same Thing. As a reader, it makes me want to gag.

As an aspiring author, it makes it difficult for me to believe agents and editors when they say they want something different.

Faith and Fiction said...


Maybe, but what's wrong with having confidence? I think, and I can only speak for myself and the group of writers I know, as writers we are constantly perfecting our art. Not that it will ever be perfect, but we have to have some ounce of confidence, don't we?


Suzan Harden said...

The only time I've referred to a book as "trash" was while stripping covers at a bookstore job and tossing the poor tomes into the compactor. I cried every time, even though many were books I would never have read.

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

For those of you talking about Buffy, check it out. Joss Whedon is a genius, and I have to agree with Entertainment Weekly: they've said Buffy is one of the ten best shows on television for years. Firefly is awesome too!

About trash...

I think that clearly we're all entitled to a difference in opinion, so obviously I may not like the same things other people like. This happens to all of us, whether we're talking about movies, television, food, doesn't matter. It's all subjective.

Why do people call it trash though? It's a personal choice, I suppose. Some people are courteous and have tact, and some don't. Or rather, we all have different ideas about what is tactful, courteous criticism and what is not.

For me personally, I don't go running around calling anything trash simply because I don't like it, but I've seen it done often, often in my own classroom. I have high school students mention how a movie "sucks" or how it's "trash" or how much they hate it, but when I ask them why, the typical response is "just because it sucked." Hmmm. I then tell them to come back when they have a better answer; they usually don't.

A better example of this "trash" idea would be with a certain 4th book that was mentioned in a different comment. The discussions on the Amazon boards (which are still running strong and are still full of people talking about trash) didn't just call the book trash. They trashed the author, her family, other fans, and basically, the entire series/franchise. This book was released in August, and they are STILL on that forum discussing ways to make the movie flop, the next movie flop, the next author's book flop, and all for what? Because they didn't like something?

Again, I'm not saying we all have to like the same things, and I've been known to love things others don't, and I've been known to dislike things the majority thinks is genius (ie. The Matrix). Still, I'm not a person to go around "trashing" another person or their art. I don't talk that way about anyone really. There are better things to do with my time, but aside from that, it's just not in my nature. And yes, it seems like this type of talk occurs more often now than ever before and maybe that is true, but it could also be that such talk is more readily available than ever before because of the internet.

Again, is voicing an opinion wrong? Certainly not, but I think we all have our ideas about what is appropriate, respectful or tactful, and that, to me, is the real issue. Those posts on the Amazon boards literally made me sick, but the people posting them, the dark siders as they like to call themselves, are still laughing at how funny they think they are. Clearly, we have a difference in opinion on how to act. I won't tell them or anyone what is right or wrong. I just choose not to do it, and I'm trying to teach my children that as well. It's the best I can do.

Bethanne said...

I was invited to join a review blog this past year. One thing, as a writer, I've decided I have to do is Find The Good. I believe there is always something good to say about a book/novel even if it's one I don't particularly like or found poorly written. That's all.

I voted that I probably didn't write better than anyone else...but it's likely I write AS well.

I don't like the word TRASH because it's been used to describe romance for WAY TOO LONG. *shrug*


Cindy Jacks said...

I may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I think the over-use of the word 'trash' might have more to do with the fact that we are--by choice--bombarded by the written word.

With super-sized book emporiums, magazines on every topic imaginable, e-publishers popping up everywhere, e-zines, blogs, chat boards, email groups, and 140 character bites of what our friends and family are doing at any given moment, folks have more reading material than we can manage every day.

Since we're saturated by words every day, perhaps it's more difficult to impress us than it was in the days that books (or even paper itself) were rare commodities.

Or I could be totally off the mark. I mean, I write 'trash' for a living and love doing so. LOL.

Roscoe James said...

Trash = Lazy. Trash because??? Plot holes, poor character development? Poor world building?

Anonymous said...

Hey, I didn't respond to your 'poll' yesterday, but now that you've mentioned it again, I'm afraid I'm one of the 35 percent who is sure I don't write as well as most of the readers of your blog.

I'm still learning my craft. Such as it is. And I probably write 'trash'. Hee. I am an artist by trade and I learned long ago that you have to be fantastically awful now and then or you'll never learn.

I've read quite a few scathing, angry, reviews of books. On blogs and online. My objection to most of these is that they aren't useful. Good critique is rare and invaluable, whether the critic loves or hates the work. When I thnk of good critique, I think of the poet, Robert Lowell, who could critique a 'bad' poet in such an incisive and specific manner that the poet would benefit from the critique.

It is much harder to review a 'bad' work than a good one, in my opinion. The persons who write these negative reviews online seem hideously underqualified to write anything.

'Trash' is a word used by persons whose aesthetic vocabulary is sadly underdeveloped.

Anonymous said...

I think it's possible the increasing rate of new publishing deals for second editions of novels whose self-published first editions were rejected by pretty much the whole publishing industry is an indication that, perhaps, there's a bit of an issue with institutional tastemaking having gone somewhat awry.

bunnygirl said...

So, Nathan, are you suggesting that people who are critical of other people's writing must think their own is better? Your words suggest that's what you are trying to say, and of course that's a fallacy. I don't have to be a concert pianist to know the difference between a brilliant rendition of Mozart vs someone who is fumbling for the keys. I don't have to be a genius writer to recognize poor craft in others.

It's true, though, that writers are particularly vicious when it comes to their own kind. I think a lot of this comes back to the way we make ourselves crazy with "rules." We beat ourselves up over adverbs, we endure snarky remarks about POV and verbs of being, and then we pick up a bestseller, flip through the pages, and...OMG! Adverbs! POV shifts! Passive voice! Instead of seeing a rollicking good story, we pick the book apart like we pick apart our own prose, then fall into a funk because Famous Author didn't follow the "rules."

The truth is that most writing that gets published is competent, not brilliant. But because there's an artistry to the written word, we hope for linguistic majesty when we open a book. It's not going to be there every time. Sometimes what we find is just someone's idea of a good yarn, and that's okay. It sells, and publishers have to eat, too.

PurpleClover said...

It hasn't even been a week since the Presidential Inauguration and people are being berated about exercising their freedom of speech...interesting.

I don't agree with calling everything on the shelves "trash" since I happen to like quite a few things. I have put a book down in the middle because I thought it "sucked" and those were my words. But that doesn't mean the person can't write well or that the next person doesn't think its "juicy". It just means I'm not into what they are writing.

On the other hand, I wouldn't make a public statement about it either...that is just inviting the influx of comments.

Oh and who is knocking the SciFi channel??? I LOVE Firefly, 4400, Stargate Atlantis, etc. It seems as soon as they are on a roll, they cancel the series. What is up with that?!

Eva Ulian said...

To be fair, I really don’t think “unknown” writers, let’s call them that, because all of us are published in some way or another, say their books are better than the trash that is being published; out of envy, bitterness, or sheer revenge. They, we, say so because that’s exactly what we know, see, feel and read.

What is trash? To me trash is not necessarily bad writing, but bad morals and “f” words sprinkled like pepper and salt. Television is full of trash, possibly more than the publishing industry. However when writers refer to trash it usually means books that are boring.

I think last year I read two books in all, and I wasn’t much enthralled by them. At the moment I’m trying to read a thriller, I’ve been doing so for the past month and I’m not even through the first chapter yet. It’s beautifully written, the language is clean, a delight and yet I prefer to pick up the TV guide to see what’s on Telly instead, which I never watch. I just can’t get involved, and yet I love thrillers- adore Agatha Christie. Maybe I should read something which involves the emotions and I go and look at the preview pages on internet and what do you get? Men, women children all served up with the right dose of conflict at all the appropriate places- there is nothing that makes you want to curl up with any book and read it like those of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Just a browse through the titles themselves and there’s no spark that lights up inside me that attracts.

Some of the novels I read for my English degree, did not just attract me, they grabbed me, they dragged me to read them. Nowadays, I can’t remember the last time I felt that sensation. Maybe I’ve just fallen out of love with reading and prefer to watch the movies of the great novels like Forster’s Passage to India by the late marvellous David Lean. Maybe I’m old fashioned... maybe I’m disenchanted... maybe ... maybe But that’s the reality of why most of us don’t read anymore, there are no good, great, wonderful books to read and the publishing industry should realize that life is too short to read anything less than that, and completely revolutionize its outlook.

Vieva said...

I think there's a snooty sense of books as "culture" vs. "entertainment" - with entertainment losing.

I was referring to my own fiction at one point and called it "junk fiction" - also known as beach reads, that sort of thing. And the person I was talking to was APPALLED that I would even CONSIDER writing such things when I could do something EPIC.

Completely ignoring the fact that, of course, people LOVE beach reads. We devour them. We talk about them, we trade them, we collect them in giant heaps in the back of our closets where we pretend we don't read "that stuff".

Sometimes I really think trash is code for "far too entertaining to be cultural". Because culture should be boring. Culture should HURT. We should suffer to be cultured so we know we're better than the "them" that like to .. enjoy their fiction.

But I really love a good beach read. And I don't care if it's cultural or not - I care that it's entertaining. As do most people.

Culture can take care of itself.

Mystery Robin said...

It all comes down to defining terms. I can loathe a book that you love and vice versa, but what makes it trash? Couldn't someone love a trashy novel? Could a novel considered "trash" sell well? Sure.

I agree that there are sour grapes and haters out there. I also think that any industry trying to sell anything will at some point sell stuff because it sells. I think local news is often trash, and I know it's hard to produce. Doesn't mean it's elevating or enlightining.

Jana Lubes said...

Janelle said:

**"Is horrible grammar, flat characterization, bad research, a nonsensical/illogical plot really a matter of personal taste or the things that define this word trash to the people who use it?

Literature is not just subjective. That's why it's analyzed and criticized. If it were all just a matter of taste, it would lose any value it had to society. Calling something "trash" may not be the height of a mature, critical review, but... I guess it's just another one of those things that is subjective -- you know, a matter of personal taste!"**

My thoughts exactly.

But people can't seem to stick to one definition of "trash" on these comments either. When I call something trash, it's for the reasons the poster above noted, not because the book is "commercial" or "entertainment only." I would never call something trash because it didn't ponder The Existence of Life, or conversely, if it espoused subject matter I objected too.

And while the internet has bred its share of jealous haters, its also splooged out a whole lotta undeserved love as well for people who cannot -- in the technical sense -- write well.

Stephanie Meyer may be able to tell an engaging story, but she cannot write well or weave a cohesive plot. Twilight reads like a teen girls daydream, and that has its place, and I enjoyed it immensely on that level, but please don't hold that book up as some shining example of literature because it is not.

Cormac McCarthy constantly breaks grammatical rules in his wrting. But the difference with him and someone like Meyer is tht McCarthy KNOWS WHAT THE RULES ARE TO BEGIN WITH! This is called style. And in the hands of a master it is not mere affectation but that mysterious thing which can elevate a book to art and turn something into a classic.

I hated Heart of Darkness. But I cannot fault it technically or call Conrad a bad writer.

So while bashing a book or writer may not be the "nicest" thing, it's also cowardly to back away from giving it a negative review in order to not hurt anyone's feelings.

A book is a product. It damn well should be judged and scrutinized. And constructive criticism isn't always feasible when someone's reacting with emotion. It doesn't mean that their critique is automatically the product of a jealous, unpublished soul. That sounds more like the delusional rantings of authors who have been criticized and hurt in that manner.

BarbS. said...

Well! I'm abundantly glad I used "garbage"instead of "trash" in my reminiscences of agents visiting Macmillan! :)

"Trash" is the literary equivalent of the most-famous-of-all-naughty-words: a convenient cue that suggests all the bad things about commercial writing and lets the utterer vent without fear of being censored or censured.

Of course, my explanation could be trash, LOL

Gregory said...

Excellent piece, Nathan. Some seem to think that a purely entertaining book is "trash." That a book should be ennobling or enlightening or informative. I can't bring myself to criticize a book simply because it doesn't happen to appeal to me or enlighten me in some way. Indeed, pure (mindless?) entertainment occurs to me as a very important component of human existence. Nothing ignoble about it. However, you make an excellent point, Nathan, when you claim that there are objective elements to excellence. As you say, the best writing almost always bubbles to the top.

We all see (and produce!) a lot of sub-par writing measured by those objective standards. The question is, what are the objective standards? Seems to me that most good books on writing cover the bases. My favorites include Sol Stein (Stein on Writing), Browne and King (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers), and Donald Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel). The latter deals more with story structure (raising the stakes, plotting, time and place, point of view, character development, theme, etc.).

I've noticed that works that employ the objective standards these authors advocate tend to be the consistent winners. And I find that works I experience as examples of sub-par writing tend to ignore those objective measures. Are there commercially successful authors who ignore those principles? I've read commercially successful authors who ignore a FEW of them SOME of the time, but never MOST of them ALL of the time. Successful authors are, invariably, great storytellers and pretty decent writers. Happy writing!

Anonymous said...

Here is a crucial distinction:
I don't mind the word trash, but I HATE taking OUT the trash. Anyone? Anyone?
Also, for what its worth, even though the whole self/other dichotomy isn’t so interesting to me, I do care about having a community of writers, virtual as it may be. So Nathan, thank you for your expertise and attention to detail. It is appreciated, helpful and frankly, impressive.
That said, one more opinion. Yesterday's Anonymous post that mentioned one agent's hair, was f***ing hilarious. I couldn't believe no one else thought so. I even read it aloud to my kid because I found it so funny and compelling. That’s good writing, even if I didn’t agree with every nuance.

Christine said...

Hello Nathan~ Oooh what a wonderful blog to stumble upon for the first time, I am going to be up all night consuming every intriguing topic of discussion here.

As for "Trash" I would say, as a is not necessarily the words, or their perfection that hold us, but the spell we weave around them.
I am hoping one day to prove myself and my writing above anything attached to that nasty word..."trash".

In my blog...I had to examine my own fascination with novels "less worthy" yet compelling. I came to the conclusion that my own imagination was filling in the gaps and sometimes that was enough to sustain the experience.

If you do indeed read these comments...could you answer one question for me? How does one get an appointment with an agent such as yourself?

Anonymous said...

When we are speaking of "trash" in literature and movies I think many people are holding a moral candle up to the work, and this is very different than looking at the work with a critical eye for craft.

No written work is perfect. Everything can be picked apart and shredded until it seems the most worthless piece of "trash." And the more successful the work, perhaps the more picked on. I'm getting really sick of the rants on Meyer and Paolini. Shut up and write a better book if you think you can, but the fact is a lot of people like their work. It may not be shining in literary brilliance, but what they do they do very well. Their books submerge people. It takes them to a place they would rather be. That's not trash. That's skill. To get people to willingly suspend their disbelief, to make them consider things they might never have considered is something that takes craft, talent, and a lot of work.

Now I will say that there are a lot of books out there that are not well written. Poor plotting, shallow characterization, flat voice...boring. And the could be completely subjective. Another person might find it fascinating.

Trash? Maybe some, but to throw that word out so flippantly is neither intelligent nor considerate. This is a tough market, a survival of the fittest kind of place. Getting published in and of itself is a pretty good sifting process. Beyond that, I believe enough in basic human intelligence that a person can pick up a book, and if it's good (as in well crafted and interesting) they will keep reading. If not, it will die away. People throw away trash. They generally don't buy it.

Lucy said...

So many of the possible reasons for "why trash?" have been discussed already: inadequacy, poor manners, strong opinions, it is trash, it's all subjective, why can't I say trash if I want to?...

My thought is this: Regardless of how subjective art or literature may be, there's a strong human preference for giving it an objective or concrete classification, and that preference tends to form the backbone of what we call the public taste.

I think, too, that by narrowing this discussion to literature, or to popular entertainment at most, we are passing over the fact that this kind of tension exists in terms of politics, religion, morality, education, and every other subject over which human beings can possibly divide. It's the age-old question: "By whose standard shall we judge?" If not yours or mine, is there a better one? Are they all equal? And which, if any of us, has the moral authority to determine even the issue of equality or inequality?

Nathan, I know from reading other blogs that you are not the only agent/publishing professional who has strong feelings about the "trashing" of books. Part of what I see is that while you and other agents feel able to make judgments on the personal appeal or saleability of the work in question, the word "trash" and its equivalents carry the weight of a moral evaluation, which I think most of you try to avoid. That too is a conscious decision based on a standard--your own, which you may hold in common with others.

But it remains a human standard, nonetheless, and until we come to an absolute standard formulated by an entity with the moral authority to overrule all our private standards and the conflicts between them, there really isn't an end in sight.

And yes, I did have to write a paper on a similar topic in college. :-)

Diana said...

I've only skimmed the other comments, but I wonder if part of the reason people tend to talk trash about books (or movies or restaurants or what have you) is because secretly, they're afraid that if they say they like a book, other people will look down at them for having bad taste.

Richard Lewis said...

Lately I've read two novels by authors whose previous novels I've thoroughly enjoyed as an after surf entertainment, salt water dripping out of my nose and into my cold beer, and was disappointed by their current offerings (well, as current as a tourist left behind can be in Bali – that's how I get much of my reading, as there aren't any full service book stores here). These books weren't so much trashy as they were lazily written. Lazy, not trashy, and I think I deserve to call the authors on this because I know they can do better. They *have* done better.

Newbee said...

Enough of this "trash talk"!

This is my take on the subject. It's all about class in my opinion. I don't think it's ever a positive thing to talk about someone's work of any kind in that manner. It just makes you look bad. If you want to say those things...go right ahead. But, I think you're making yourself look like the fool.

Sarah Jensen said...

I often leave comments without reading through them all, and I've read Authoresses. I believe I understand what she's saying. Some stuff shouldn't be published because it seems that the editor was left out of the process.

I said earlier, we all need work, and I don't believe in destroying someone by telling them that their work sucks, but sometimes, it does.

Heaven knows my book did in the beginning. I hope it's a thousand times better now. And if you would've read it back then, I bet most of you would think it sucked. Some of you probably still would.

And again, good writing is good writing whether you like it or not.
And my book was NOT well written.

I've never known Authoress to trash talk, she's polite and kind, but sometimes, books--published and on shelves--are poorly written.

Nick said...

Do you think you are a better agent than most of the other agents in the profession?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that thinking many poorly written books are published has anything to do with whether or not you believe yourself to be a good writer. It has more to do with whether or not you enjoy the majority of books you pick up to read. Have you noticed that many readers believe there are bad books published, but most agents/publishers who have commented on it claim that it's not true. Perhaps those within the industry are merely defensive...since the books are published for the readers, and the readers believe there are books of poor quality published...
Sure, the majority of published books are good books - even if they are not necessarilty to my taste - but there are a lot of crappy books out there with lazy writing and skimpy plots. Not to mention the lack of orginality...I hate it when I feel like I've read a book 15 times already and it was just published.

RainSplats said...

If I'm expecting a roast and I get a coffee--even a great coffee--I'm gonna feel disappointed.

It's natural for aspiring authors to critique writing skills as they read. It's part of the learning experience. "I could do that," and "I could do so much better.." inspire you to work harder. "I could never do that - he is a GOD!!!" makes you reach for the chocolate brownies.

It may be impolite to type it out, but we're all thinking it.

Tell me you don't laugh at the poor souls on American Idol who only think they can sing.....

Damyanti said...

What I think of myself has a writer has no relevance to what I think of other people's work.

I started out reading much before I started writing, and yes, I did find some books that I thought were "trash" even then.

But these were very few in comparison to the ones I found really good. When I go to a bookstore today, there are still more good books on the shelves than I have hours in the day to read.

Some of us like the beauty of language, some like intricate stories, and some want a combination of the two. It is hard work to please everyone.

That said, there are some books that please no one and still make it to the shelves.

Thankfully, the beauty of the publishing process is that these are kept to a minimum.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Thank you for posting this Nathan. I've been noticing with the new year a lot of this myself and frankly, it's upsetting. I agree with you 100%. I loathe the word trash.


Eva Ulian said...

I have just posted six questions on my blog for writers, readers, agents, publishers and editors in an attempt to restore the Novel to its former splendor.

Daisy said...

All the literary flair in the world is of no use if a writer has nothing to say. I have stumbled upon so many simple blogs that have inspired me with their warmth/ humour/ honesty yet some of the most brilliant writing has had my head slumped upon the keyboard with its monotony.
There's just nothing more dull or misguided than the literary snob x

Devon Ellington said...

I think there's more than one reason writing is labeled as "trash."

Some of it is subjective. One of the great things about being in an industry with such a wide range of material published is that there's something out there to appeal to almost every taste. Not everyone is going to love everything. It's part of the gig.

If people don't like it, they don't have to buy it. Nor do they have to read it (unless they're being paid to review it), and, hopefully, if that's the case and they don't like what they read, they can communicate it in an effective and constructive way instead of using the lazy way out by calling it "trash."

Sometimes it's out of jealousy. "Why is X published and I'm not? I'm so much better." If you think you're so much better, then buckle down, perfect your art AND your craft, start selling, and prove it.

I am good enough to earn my living in this writing life. I always strive, with each piece, to learn something, to stretch, to get better. There will always be writers who are better than I am, who are labeled as "better", and there will always be writers who are worse (as in not bothering to learn the craft and remaining unpublished) or labeled "worse" by others who prefer my work to theirs.

Rather than waste my time and energy in comparison studies, I'd rather spend it honing my craft, making it the best it can be, and continuing to get it out there.

Devon Ellington said...

As a P.S.:

I LIKE to read work by writers I feel are "better" than I am. I learn a lot and it makes me work harder.

Jess said...

I think you're right overall. Hence, mostly, why I answered how I did yesterday.

Here's a question that I'm curious about completely unrelated to this topic. I know one of the cardinal rules of un-pubbeds is to never sub if the book's not done. But I've read more and more authors who say they made their first sales on a partial, etc. When is it ever okay to sub without the novel finished? I know generally you want the novel done because an un-pub is untested whether they can finish the book AND have it be coherent, but then there are also no hard rules in most parts of this biz (except never start a query with a rhetorical question, of course). What's your take on it, Nathan?

Lapillus said...

Maybe it's a low self-esteem or empowerment issue.

For some people, it's a matter of thinking they are better, and yet, finding themselves continually rejected. For others, they merely feel powerful being able to "trash" something that has "made it" if you will.

And, of course, I'm sure there is much else in between.

Interesting topic though...

Mira said...

Oh, I get it! Or think I do.

I couldn't understand why this whole discussion felt so loaded, and even hostile.

I think you're trying to defend the choices you made in the last contest.

I think your argument here, Nathan, is that authors over-estimate their own work, and so they can't accurately judge other people's writings either. Ergo, your choices were correct.

You know, surely there was a better way to try to make that point? (Which I don't agree with, but that's another issue.) Authors have it hard enough without being scolded for being arrogant.

Authors doubt themselves all the time. Even Stephen King wrote that he writes his first draft as fast as possible to outrun the doubt.

Let's not add to that.

Adaora A. said...

A lot of being an author is luck. I don't think it serves people well to hold to jealousy and bitterness by using words like "trash" just becaus lady luck hasn't stopped by yet. It's all a matter of chance really (whether you're sucessful or not, whether the stars align and you get that dream job or not), so why make it worse be being so negative. Be open to other sorts of work and recognize that someone will take a shinning to your work, and others will think it just doesn't agree with them.

Mira said...

Well, now I feel like I'm scolding 'you.' Well, I'm sorry, but I wasn't sure how else to make my point.

You have alot of power running this blog - as a charismatic, funny, intelligent agent, who, not incidentally, writes quite well. You reach alot of people.

So, I've decided you're worthy of being held to a high standard.

So, there you are.

Nathan Bransford said...


I didn't really have the contest in mind, and I'm perfectly content (and confident) with my choices. I am just throwing out the possibility that there could be a nexus between authors thinking their own writing is superior to others (possibly inaccurately in some cases) and a small fraction of these writers then putting others down out of a sense of superiority.

Not really worried about the contest.

Kristan said...

A thought I had last night (which hopefully will defend some of us and make you feel a little better, Nathan):

Even if we think we write better than average, that doesn't necessarily mean we think "average" is trash!

Kim Lionetti said...

"I. Loathe. This. Word."

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Roy Hayward said...

I have always referred to them as pulp, not trash, but that may just be me splitting hairs again. However, I have encountered nicely bound and highly promoted pulp on book store and library shelves all of my life. I am getting much better at identifying them before I buy/check out these books.

And I don't think the subjective or 'eye of the beholder/reader' argument solves the problem. There are some great works. That I esteem as great, but won't read. They are just not my thing.

But there are these other works, the not so great. I read many of them. Most of the times, if I read them, they pass above the pulp bar. I was given a book a a fairly successful author by the name of Clive Cussler. I read it. It wasn't pulp. It was even my kind of thing. But I won't be reading another. I found the characters flat and under developed. The plot was uncompelling, and the dialogue predictable. I won't be calling him or his books trash, but I can't recommend them.

But recently I was given a book to review for a fellow. I read the first chapter and have been avoiding the book and the author ever since. I don't even want to give his name. Not only did the book not appeal to me, but there is a great lacking in the writing. I know why this author hasn't found an agent or publisher, and I know why he gave it to us to review. I just don't want to have to read it.

That is when I start toying with the pulp classification. Sadly I sometimes encounter published works that make me feel this way. I wonder how they made it passed the second cut. (I mean a fluke can happen on the first cut, but two levels? really?)

Your comment about hundreds of people liking a book before it gets published is a bit daunting. Sure I think I write better than the average person, and that includes better than the average unpublished author, but most of the time, I read books and say, "I am just as good as this guy." I sometimes find books where I say, "I wish I could write like this guy." I feel good about the book at both times. But when I read a book and say, "I can write better." This is when the frustration begins that makes some say, "Trash!" even when it is not really truly trash.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Jerry Springer versus Agatha Christie : Who's More Trashy?

I am aware that the Jerry Springer Show is at the top of many people's trashy TV list. I am aware of this after 8, 9, 10 hours of doing medical transcription, getting done around 2 a.m, and flipping through the remote to land on the Jerry Springer Show.

How shall I put it. Is the Jerry Springer Show like something out of Goya? Is it exploitative reality TV? Is it holding poor, relatively uneducated people up for ridicule by everybody else? Or is it an uncomfortable wakeup call for people with certain ideas (ideals) about "what it is to be an American" etc. I mean, fat women in their underwear punching each other on TV are Americans too. High school grads? GEDer's? Springer doesn't usually get into that...

And then, if you watch Agatha Christie murder mysteries, which is this cute old Englishwoman in a straw hat, who always shows up just as the murder rate explodes in a picturesque English village...a "classy" "tasteful" show...are you buying into a certain version of English history which locates the Beatles in Liverpool, England...but not the English slave trade...or the idea that there are no fat women in the UK willing to go on the telly and fight in their underwear over some man?

Taste and class. I like Agatha Christie - sometimes - and sometimes I like Jerry Springer - a compassionate liberal in real life. I'm not so sure what Agatha Christie's politics were...I would like to read a Christie bio to find out more.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

A True Story

Once a computer programmer was explaining to me why he loved old Star Trek reruns -

"Because the acting is so good."

12stargazers said...

I saw yesterday's poll and decided not to participate -- it sounded like a trick question. Then I saw the numbers and knew it was one.

This post reminds me of Sturgeon's Law (the short version is "90% of everything is crap") and his related comments about genre prejudice.

I've always considered the numbers on reader's perception to be more like 10% crap/junk, 10% brilliant excellence and the remaining 80% spread out on a bell curve.

Reading, from my experience, is a very subjective process. Calling something "trash" in a blog/online/etc is like a five-year-old insulting someone by calling them "stupid." It's easy to use, easy to understand and covers a lot of ground.

Diana said...

To add to Devon Ellington's PS.:

I love that moment where you finish a book, and you find yourself holding it in front of you, looking at it with reverence while thinking, "Wow! How did they do that?!" Sometimes its the structure, sometimes it's the idea, sometimes it's three pages of awesome dialogue. But I really love that experience.

stephanie said...

Thank you, Morgan, for mentioning the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I was going to, and you saved me the trouble.

@Morgan colleges have started reporting that the applicants they’re seeing today far surpass previous generations in terms of their accomplishments College administrations often report one thing while faculty see something altogether different. Many of my "highly advanced" students can't locate a grammatically correct sentence with a compass and a flashlight, and this has been true at all but one of the universities at which I've taught.

"Trash" is a word I'd like to see deleted from our lexicon with regard to published literature, beloved by all or few. My respect for writers, published and non, is too great to use this word.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the word trash, but is it wrong for people to say they think a book was horrible? After all, word of mouth is one way many books become popular in the first place. If people weren't giving an honest opinion, praising a book wouldn't mean anything either. I don't like to see cruel or horrible reviews for books, but a book is a product that is being sold. If a people think a particular product sucks, they tend to say so. Why should it be any different with books?

DCS said...

The motivation for getting me started on a journey to write a novel was my disappointment in the quality of books I was reading. So as a way of challenging myself I said, "Self, if you think so many books are bad, YOU try writing one that's better." I'm not sure I have succeeded, except to realize that even writing a bad book takes a lot of work and probably talent. End result is that I have more respect for authors I dismissed before, and I am happy in continuing my search for the Holy Grail of publication.

Renee Collins said...

Amen, Nathan! Great post.

I am SO over haters.

Why must people use their energy in negative ways? So, a book/movie didn't float your boat. SO WHAT? What is the point of wasting your precious time and energy to go onto Amazon or places like it and write a scathing review? Does it really solve or change anything?

other lisa said...

I do think it's okay to say that I think Book X isn't that great or Book Y has these problems. I don't think there's anything wrong with making reasoned critical judgments. What I think this post is primarily addressing (I could be wrong) is the vitriol and at times lack of reasoned critical judgment when people "trash" a book. I think that as a culture we've gotten meaner than we were, that somewhere along the road to here it became okay not just to win but to grind your opponent into the dirt. I place the moment mean became "in" right about where greed became good.


Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "What is the point of wasting your precious time and energy to go onto Amazon or places like it and write a scathing review? Does it really solve or change anything?"

Well, it does solve something...people feel so powerless with so many changes going on globally that are not good - scary - threatening - and you can't do anything about those things.

But - you can trash a book on Amazon! I had a boss once who threw pens and pencils across his office when he was mad - once one of them came sailing out the door (his secretary had decorated his office for his birthday, after he had told her he didn't want ANYTHING done for his birthday). Right, so it's not constructive and is a waste of energy - but people are like that. He was also getting ready for laying off about half the department, so he was a bit stressed out anyway. I was "just the temp," observing the prequel (this was the real estate appraisal department of a bank) of the economic meltdown in Michigan.

To each their (unhealthy) own: Pens across the office, or brutal reviews on Amazon etc.

Anonymous said...

Having recently taken part in a challenge that involved reading and comparing the 2008 Man booker prize winner (Adiga's White Tiger) with the one that got pipped at the post (Barry's The Secret Scripture), it is very clear that books are like tigers and giraffes - one person's trash is another person's prize winner.
So, in answer to your original question, (to paraphrase) "Do you write trash, or does the other guy write trash?"
A. "No, I write giraffes. I have no idea what the other guy writes."

Anonymous said...

I found the question hard to answer as I don't read very many of the comments people leave. I didn't feel like devoting an afternoon to reading all 176 comments to determine if I think I am a better writer than they are. So I didn't post a comment. I spent my time writing instead.

Two Flights Down said...

Everywhere you go, you're going to see the books that really make the money out on display. Aside from the classics, many of these books are considered "main stream," or whatever you like to call it. I've met many people who want to be writers that consider writing such novels as, "selling your soul." Really? It's still writing, and somebody, I mean, many find these books meaningful to their lives in some way.

So perhaps the word "trash" is being used by writers who are frustrated by such successful, though, comparatively "shallow" books in their eyes, being on display...everywhere. But, of course, this is what a commercial bookstore is going to have on display, and the commercial bookstore is where many people go to see "what's out there."

So I guess I'm wondering, how many people here consider commercial/mainstream/popular/etc. books to be "trash", or "selling your soul."

Trashy Cowgirl said...

Being one of those nasty "Authonomites" has opened my eyes to what is floating around out there in the slush. I've read enough mss now to know I may not be better, but I can hang with the best of them (and some people really ought to stick to their day jobs).

I find a lot of Dan Brown trashing (the word most used is "tripe"), as well as general trashing of the usual suspects like Stephanie Meyers. I don't understand it, myself. I would say, they have to be doing something right. Agent, publisher, best seller.

If that's trash (not that they are my cup of tea),I want to be trashy. Very, very trashy.

Nathan Bransford said...

Yeah, I have to be honest, whatever Authonomy has or has not accomplished in evolving the slush pile, it has certainly created particularly rabid and intense devotees. Woe betide anyone who questions the credibility or quality of that site. It's quite a subculture.

Jeffrey T. Baker said...

The democratization of cultural criticism made possible by the internet can, like any other system, yield positive and negative results. I don't think that the freedom to amass a wide variety of opinions is to blame for snarky reviews— it's often the anonymity afforded to those who make such comments that can be blamed. Why take time to craft a thoughtful statement (even if it's ultimately a negative statement) if anonymity will protect you from rebuttal and public scrutiny. Furthermore, as Martin Willoughby pointed out below, we are in a place culturally that rewards the cutting jab and passionate put-down. Such visceral responses often garner more attention than anything in paragraph form. We've been veering toward a pundit paradigm for at least a decade, and it may be a good while before we see the thoughtful anonymity of Silence Dogood trump the one-star "haters."

Phoenix said...

Interesting to see Jessica F and Kim L comment since Bookends had a similar discussion about "bad" books last year. Which encouraged me to go back and read over some of those comments to see what differences there might be between these ones here and those ones there.

While I personally dislike the term "trash," and while I don't think this is a prevalent trend at all, this is what I had to say at Bookends about the concept of "bad":

I have one word: Gigli

A lot of people supported the production of this movie - to the tune of $54 million. It grossed $7 million worldwide.

A lot of someones thought it would do well enough to sink that kind of funding into it.

Critics bashed it. The movie-going public eschewed it. But producers, studio heads and distributors all had to give it the nod many times over before it was produced and released.

Bad movies get produced, bad books get published, bad art gets hung. Why? Maybe the premise sounded good but the execution was so flawed it would cost too much to spend the time to fix, or the people responsible just hope they can break even or not lose much if they go ahead with the release as is.

In the end, it's all a business decision and a gamble on choices editors and publishers make. And bad decisions are made in business all the time. Just don't gamble that a bad decision will be made with your book. :o)

Trashy Cowgirl said...

You're right there. It's a subculture and some of them are fairly rabid. But, I think you'd be surprised to see what those same people say about it in the forums to other members. It is an extremely self-critical community (actualy the crit is for HC)and it's about to get worse. Wait until you see what's happening next.

I have been quite surprised by what lives in the slush. I swear some people must have written their ms in crayon after the consumption of a bottle of Jack and some dodgey narcotics. But, others have amazing stuff that only needs a few quick fixes to make it in the real world. On Authonomy they are able to get that sort of feedback and better their chances of success.

Others, like me, are making it up as we go along. Again, the feedback is invaluable. I'd hate to arrive at the end with a major plot flaw or 130 echoes I have to remove. I love knowing what my readers are thinking and which characters should have more development, because they are striking a chord. I know that's what crit groups are for, but I'm on a farm in North Eastern, BC and the elk aren't quite as nit picky as I'd prefer.

Anyway trash or not, who am I to call someone else's work "trash", escpecially if it'e selling. I'm far too worried about my own trash to care. I quite look forward to the day a stranger cares enough about my work to make a comment. Any comment.

Trashy Cowgirl said...

Two Flights Down,

I like to write what I hope can be considered Literary Fiction, but I say without embarassment, I love a good Pulp read. Did the author sell their soul? I don't know. But, if you look at an iconic Pulp author like Max Brand, you can't deny the man could spin a yarn. Damn fine writing to me.

I deliberately concentrate on infusing my writing with a healthy heaping of Pulp momentum and bang for buck plot development. It has worked for Tarantino's movies, and no one would call them trash. (Ok, someone might)

I'm not as arrogant as to think I can tell you what tomorrow's classic will be. But, trash has been known to endure long after an author has written their last word.

David Quigg said...

Here's the thing with the poll. I'm too new to the blog to make an informed answer. So I didn't respond. But my hope is that most of your readers are better writers than I am.


Well, because I'm not just a writer. I'm a reader. And I can't think of anything bleaker, as a reader, than hearing God's voice boom down to me and say "You are the best writer in all creation. Next to you, all other writing is TRASH."

Would it be flattering? Yes. Would it make for a nice blurb? Yes.

As a reader, though, it would be tantamount to a death sentence. Because I want more great books in the world. Lots of them. Many more than I could ever write.

I hope there's a reader of this blog who will mesmerize me one day soon with a novel as deranged and magnificent as "Pale Fire." I hope someone here will find a way to take over my daughter's life the way Daniel Handler is in the midst of doing. Let my fiction remain forever unpublished if readers of this blog grace me, my wife, my daughter, my son with the next "Haroun and the Sea of Stories", the next "Kavalier and Clay", the next "Assassins' Gate", the next "Einstein's Dreams." Give me another "Fugitive Pieces" -- the only book I ever finished and immediately started again -- and I will remain content here in obscurity.

This attitude is relatively new for me. Slurs such as "trash" have dropped easily from my mouth for most of my writing life. I needed to know I was better than other writers. But nothing was enough. Not beating out a past Pulitzer winner for a regional journalism award. Not having friends tell me that they loved my novel. Because my novel, however much someone might like it, WAS NOT PUBLISHED.

So each book on a bookstore shelf felt like a rebuke. Each book called out "Hey, loser. I'm here and your book isn't." So I read the first sentence of any and every book with one thought in mind: Is this writer REALLY better than me? This sucked much of the joy out of reading. Obviously.

For me, at least, once the joy gets sucked out of reading, there is eventually no more reason to love writing. So I stopped. Stopped writing. For a couple of years.

The urge to create remained. I told elaborate stories to my very patient toddler. I retrieved my high-school camera from a box in my garage. I experimented with cooking. (Grilling grapefruit and mixing it with shredded pork = tasty. Grilling watermelon = a smell I hope you never have to experience.)

I still cook. I still tell long, crazy stories to my kids. But it was photography that quickly became a total obsession.

In the beginning, what I shot was -- well, I'll say it, Nathan -- TRASH. But I didn't care. Not a bit. With writing, I felt like I was supposed to be good. With photography, I expected to be bad. I worked to get better. Hard. Devotedly. But I didn't berate myself for not being as good as I wanted to be. I just did the work and allowed myself to fail in all sorts of new ways each week. When the results were good, I tried to learn from that. When the results were "trash," I tried to learn from that, too.

Photography has stayed consistently pure -- an act of creation based on the desire to see the world in new ways, not on a drive to impress others. My photography is better now precisely because I didn't approach it with my old writing mindset. I try to give myself the gift of taking "trash" pictures. I shoot in bad light without a tripod. I use a big lens when a small lens would make much more sense. I shoot without a lens, wrapping my camera in aluminum foil, which I then prick to improvise a pinhole camera.

For some time, I assumed this meant I'd found my true medium -- that photography was good for me and writing was poison. Then came the 2008 election. Bursting with political ideas that I absolutely NEEDED to share with anyone and everyone, I started writing again. I blogged. On my own, at first. Then, for an established site.

Somehow, the new photography mindset thoroughly eclipsed the old writing mindset. It's more great than I can express. I still have high standards. I still care about connecting with an audience. But I'm not jealous. Not of anyone. The books in a bookstore aren't a rebuke. Nobody's work needs to be "trash" for me to feel good about my own work.

It's a spectacular feeling, a freeing place from which to write more, from which to push myself in new directions, from which to do the literary equivalent of shooting through the wrong lens.

To others, I'd say this. If it's working well for you to spend a bunch of time dwelling on the "trash" produced by other writers, don't change a thing. If it's not working for you, try doing what I stumbled into doing. Find something you truly love that you can be really, really, really bad at. Being bad -- in its own weird way -- is the absolute best.

terri said...

There is only one book that I've ever given one star and been scathing. That's because it took my favorite genre/premise and just made total hash out of it! I said that it would have to improve 100% in order to be terrible.

Other than that one thrashing, I don't finish books that I don't like. It goes back to the library or into the used book donation pile.

If I can actually finish a writer's tome, then it means it has earned at least three stars in my universe. Any review I leave from there is generated from my baseline criteria "could I finish it?"

Being snarky, just for the sake of being snarky, especially personal attacks on the writer, is just wrong.

Verification word 'dockins'

terri said...

Quick comment on TV. I kill TV shows. If I like it, then it is guaranteed to only last two, maybe three, seasons. Some of my recent victims include:


and the list goes on. I anticipate my next victim will be 'Brotherhood.' Sigh . . . If you have any shows you would like me to kill, let me know.

The common thread in shows I like (and seem to kill) is that they are dark and gritty and not afraid to have an unhappy ending, to kill off popular characters, and, in general, to leave me in a lurch at the end of a story arc.

I double-dog-dare TV makers and novelists to go out on a limb and not wrap everything in a happily-ever-after ribbon. Cuz you know, when you have that hostage drama or big car chase on page 383, and then everyone is safe, healthy, happy, reunited, and the world is safe at page 425, you know what, I wasn't really all that worried.

I use page 383 as an example, because that is where a recently read book, a very enjoyable and credible medical thriller, fell apart into a silly hostage drama where the tall, slim, blonde, blue-gray eyed, buff, brilliant, recently separated, hero swept in and saved the tall, slim, athletic, gorgeous, brilliant, stacked, blonde, green-eyed, recently divorced, heroine from the villain. Ho-hum . . . I'd much rather the virus got loose and killed a few million.

Trash? Not at all. I gave it 4 stars. It was a great book until page 383 . . . .

Trashy Cowgirl said...


I am so relieved. I thought I killed Deadwood and Rome. I am still suffering from a terrible case of Deadwood withdrawl and have frosaken TV ever since its cancellation (except for that brief stint DW had on the History Channel).

And you know what? I can't even remember the name of "that" guy who saved "that' girl from "that" crisis. I could quote you the final paragraph of "All Quiet on the Western Front" however, even though I haven't read it in about 12 years. And, I still find myself wondering why Duddy Kravitz had to be such a schmuck, and marvelling over the ingenious ending of "I am Legend".

I also wanted to say that I really respect your evaluation methods for a book. Too many people go hunting for the negativity. I do not go into a book looking for POV relapses and passive sentences. Does it carry me away, I don't care where, but does it take me there with a believable plot and characters? Does it come out and ask me to suspend my disbelief, or am I caught in the other world before I know it? That's how I look at a book.

Ok, enough of my gibberish. The kids are napping and I have a date with Tom Black Bull.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute: it's all in the goal. If you want to
a. "sell" art or culture, for any reason, to make a buck, then there are multiple ways to do so. Savory or not.
b. In the US there is a false belief that because everyone has an opinion, then some how they are all valid. Issues of quality and the discussion of craft seem to have fallen to the wayside, much to our collective ruin- see how it has effected education for example.
c. There is no shame in laughter. Some fashion is utterly silly, some art, a lot of culture. Knowing you can laugh at it and doing so can be just that.

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