If an author is getting the job done, their book will spark strong feelings in the reader. The books we remember the most evoke the strongest emotional reactions. The funniest memoirs, the saddest love stories, the most shocking biographies, the scariest novels. But what about the books that really tick us off? Anger is passionate, powerful and comes in many guises. But what would make a reader so angry they would hurl a book across the room?
There are some books that make me mad by virtue of being so promising and then falling disappointingly flat with a crappy ending or plot holes big enough to herd cats through. Miriam Toews’ memoir-style fiction A Complicated Kindness was one such book. I thought it was intriguing – a rebellious, creative teenager growing up in a Mennonite community – but I found it so poorly executed I wished she’d given the idea to someone else.
Sometimes a book makes me seethe with self-righteous indignation, which can feel good now and again. Take Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. For all I complain about and criticise it, when I first started the first novel, I was at least pleased that the protagonist, Bella, seemed independent, opinionated, and strong, with her own interests, sense of identity and common sense. That lasted about 10 minutes before she met the bloodsucking love of her life and was reduced to a simpering puddle of subservience and needy angst, begging her pasty paramour to transform her into a fanged fiend because suddenly he was the only thing that mattered.
Many books elicit fury by appealing to our sense of goodness and justice. I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time when I was perhaps 10 years old, and sobbing with helpless rage at the unfairness and ugliness of Tom Robinson’s so-called trial and the subsequent events. As an adult, I experienced a much more acute, terrible and lasting version of that feeling when reading Philip Gourevitch’s non-fiction account of the 1994 machete slaughter of 800,000 innocent people in Rwanda. The title, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, comes from an actual written plea for help from refugees hiding in a hospital. The author of the note was killed, along with the hospital’s other inhabitants the next day.
Whether unintentionally or by design, here they are...
25 Books That Make Us Mad
1. Angela's Ashes
It's infuriating to read about the drunken layabout bum excuse for a father, who won't or can't get himself together enough to help his starving family in the 1940s.
Post-Katrina New Orleans was chaos. Abdulrahman Zeitoun paddled his canoe to people's aid - and for being Syrian, was seized and held with no explanation or contact with the outside world.
3. The Pilot's Wife
Is it a mystery crime thriller? Is it a sassy story of female empowerment? Is it a bosom-heaving romance? All that's certain is it's a crappy book and three hours I'll never get back.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird
The abuse of power by cruel, ignorant people results in the false accusation and terribly unjust treatment of a black man in 1930s Alabama.
5. Portnoy's Complaint
If I longed to immerse myself in the whining and complaining of a neurotic, insecure little man, I would watch more Woody Allen. Portnoy is the least relatable protagonist ever.
6. A Million Little Pieces
Let's be clear - I couldn't care less whether it's true or lies. It's an inexpertly written, repetitive, predictable, self-congratulatory yawn-fest either way.
7. My Sister's Keeper
It's disgusting to imagine parents who could distance themselves enough from one daughter's experience to keep her for parts/organs to heal the other.
Bella seems intelligent, with a strong sense of self and her own mind. Then she meets a pasty, angsty vampire and begs to die so she can be with him forever.
9. The Catcher in the Rye
Holden Caulfield's teenage character is unpleasant but entirely believable as a self-righteous, angst-riddled, complaining adolescent.
10. Fast Food Nation
Enormous corporations are evil, and would kill us all if it made enough profit. In North America, the FDA is an adminstration for both food and drugs. Shouldn't they be separate?
11. Fall On Your Knees
There seems to be a new breed of fiction writers who believe the hallmark of a great novel is to make their readers want to do themselves in from hopelessness and misery.
12. The Diary of a Young Girl
It is impossible to not become furious while reading the ordinary, heartbreaking and everyday thoughts of a young girl and knowing the end she and millions of others met.
13. The Giving Tree
While some people swear by this book, others think the lesson to give of yourself until there's nothing left, and take of someone else in the same way isn't the healthiest.
14.The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
It's an excellent read, with a well-paced story and compelling, characters. But good grief - the footnotes. No book needs this many footnotes.
15. The Last Battle
You get the feeling Lewis just wanted the series to be finished. The main characters, too, seem to have given up, and don't really put up much of a fight at the end. Disappointing.
16. The Glass Castle
Quirky and alternative or not, The Glass Castle
is first and foremost a horrific story of neglected and confused children, abused at the hands of lazy parents.
Written with spelling to match the Scottish dialect, this book nearly made my head explode trying to discern its meaning. I had to read the first 30% aloud.
18. Running with Scissors
Too twisted to be believed. If this memoir is entirely accurate, it's a wonder the poor fellow is coherent at all. Narcissistic nuts shouldn't have children.
19. Bridge to Terabithia
I read this book when I was eight or nine, and cried myself sick. It made me so mad I was sorry I'd read it. But only for a little while. It's a good book.
20. Bad Blood
The hypocritical grandfather vicar, who preaches and abuses his family members while revelling in alcohol and sex on the side, makes the reader's blood boil.
21. The Return of the Native
We get it - it's moody, threatening, solemn and beautiful. But subjecting your readers to this many endless, redundant pages describing Egdon Heath is nothing short of overkill.
22. A Kestrel for a Knave
The protagonist - young, poor, working-class boy Billy Casper - just can't catch a break He finds a wild kestrel which brings a spark of joy into his unfair, bleak life. The ending is heartbreaking.
23. Snow Falling on Cedars
The story focuses on the blatant racism and mistreatment that Japanese-American people suffered during and after the second world war, and its continuing consequences.
24. Brighton Rock
An excellent read (no surprise, from Graham Greene), but it's hard not to be irritated at being asked to suspend disbelief over what Pinkie could reasonably get away with.
25. The Last Time I Wore a Dress
Being diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and "trained" to behave like a proper girl, the author describes her ordeal in a mental institution in the 1980s. Sure to elicit rage in any reader with a soul.