Film,  Librarianship,  Me

So Bad It’s Good

I don’t know about you, but I love bad movies.  You know, those movies that are so bad, they’re good.  Some fairly famous examples include:
Troll 2

The Room 

and, on a more personal note,

House By the Cemetery

It’s a thin line that makes bad movies good, and easily they can drop-off the “good” again scale, and be bad once more.  It is also different for different people.  Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie that’s supposedly a great “bad movie”, and I’ll think…this. sucks.  It is a certain feeling, a mood, or a situation that can totally sway how a movie is forever thought of in my mind.

But can this happen with books?  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a book that was so bad, it was good.  Usually, if something is that bad, I’ll stop reading it.  And if I do finish reading it, then what was probably bad about it was something that made me angry, as opposed to making me want to laugh.

So why is this?  How come movies have such an advantage in this?  I can think of a couple of reasons.  First, books are read independently.  A big factor in what makes a movie experience entertaining is when it is shared.  When I was in Library School, my husband, me, and a bunch of my schoolmates used to have “bad movie nights”.  I’m sure if we watched these films on our own, they wouldn’t be *nearly* as amazing as they were as a group.

Case in point: This gem, right here.

But with books, you don’t (usually) read simultaneously with other people.  You don’t share in the quirky moments as they happen, which makes it more difficult to create the memory and bring that moment into a permanent place in your mind.

Another reason why books have trouble making themselves known as ‘books so bad they’re good’ is that the investment is much greater in a book.  A movie takes a couple of hours to watch; a book, on the other hand, can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months (or more), depending on the book itself and the reader.  So when reading a book, if something strikes you as amusing, even in its badness, it is much less likely that you are going to recommend the story to a friend afterwards…why would you tell someone to read something you thought was terrible? (Unless you have a good reason for thinking they’d like the story, or you just like making people suffer).

And the third reason I think we are less kind to books as we are to movies is that, simply, we view things differently.  Bad acting is laughed at, and is sometimes made into jokes that many can share.

Bad characterization, however, makes us roll our eyes, and become frustrated with the story.

A stupid plot in a film can be thought of as ridiculous, while a ridiculous plot in a book is just stupid.  And technical errors in a film (such as a mic hanging down into a shot) are awesome, while spelling and punctuation errors are just downright annoying.

So, we are unforgiving of books.  But that’s not to say that a ‘bad book that’s good’ doesn’t exist.  It’s just that I haven’t come across any.  Have you?


  • David List

    I haven't necessarily come across any bad bad books… None that stand out in my memory anyway. BUT I'm so right there with you on bad movies.
    About a month ago, Tommy Wiseau and Greg were touring in the ATL area and there was a showing of The Room complete with Tommy and Greg doing signatures and answering questions (And Tommy acting like the loveable but insane person that he is)
    This has gone down as one of the funniest times of my entire life. I had no idea a horrible movie could be THAT hilarious in a crowd. I suggest any fan of bad movies to look for showings of that movie… and bring plastic spoons.

  • Matt Carman

    Agreed that it's much easier to share the experience of a bad movie than a bad book! Though there is actually a podcast that tackles bad books — Read it and Weep (read-weep dot com). They alternate between books, movies, and TV, and do a great job of both tearing down and mildly praising poorly written tomes.

    If you're looking for essays and illustrations about great-bad movies (The Room and Troll 2 included), check out I Love Bad Movies (ilovebadmovies dot com). Five themed issues of enjoyably bad cinematic bliss!

  • Matt Carman

    Oh, one more thing — there is actually a book that's so bad it's good. Flashforward, the novel on which the TV show was based, covers such heady concepts but is so poorly written that it's actually laughable. Without exaggeration, the author uses either "of course" or "obviously" on every single page, sometimes multiple times per page. If everything were so obvious, why'd he bother writing any of it?

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