We have a recycle bin at the library that should be called the Cornucopia of Surprise. Mostly, it’s trash. Newspaper circulars. Worn paperbacks with detached pages. Broken books. Wet books. Moldy books. Useless donations like roach-nibbled encyclopedias, obsolete plumbing manuals, and Weight Watcher recipe cards from 1974.
But sometimes, you find treasure. One time I found the social studies book I used in 2nd grade! Not the exact same one, but you know what I mean. And I sure did swipe those recipe cards.
Mousse of Salmon, anyone?
I recently walked by and saw a book.
Not just *any* book.
Quite possibly the ugliest book I’ve ever seen.
I grabbed it, spying ‘WD’ scrawled over the barcode in stinky black marker.
See. I have this mental condition where I feel sorry for inanimate objects.
Like that last slice of bread
. . . too thin for a sandwich.
the grape on the grocery store floor
. . . forever separated from its family.
I own my psychosis.
And I held that poor, ugly book.
Deemed unworthy. Given the WD death-stamp and cast aside while its prettier friends remain on the shelf.
I read the summary, skimming phrases like gorgeous cop, hilarious consequences, and battle of her life.
Can’t be too bad, I thought, a familiar delusion spreading over me.
What if this book is awesome?
And what if no one ever picked it up because –let’s face it– the cover was ugly. Like how did a publisher let it go out like this ugly. And how many others were destined for the Withdrawal Cart o’ Death because of unfortunate cover art?
Oh no, little darling. I hugged the book. I’m gonna give you a chance. To prove you’re worthy.
I tenderly wiped roach-nibbled dust chunks from the cover.
And a new Book Lab was born.
BOOK LAB was never about reading something safe and popular. We got Oprah and James Patterson for that. No. It’s about experimentation and pushing boundaries while spotlighting books we’ve
- Never heard of
- Ignored far too long
It’s a win for the book, no matter what. Please recall the very first experiment in which we selected books blindfolded. Nedra’s pick was not only a delightful source of weiner jokes, but actually a very good read (despite its cover) causing a tiny surge in circulation after her review!
So far we’ve learned:
- Book covers LIE.
- Pulitzer Prize winners DO NOT SUCK.
- Some ‘Classics’ kinda do.
- Librarians are more valuable than Google.
- The book isn’t always better than the movie.
So how would UGLY books fare in a new experiment?
We gathered at the library.
“Please pick the ugliest book you can find,” I said.
Define ugly, they said.
I showed them my book.
“Almost no one on the planet should pick up your book and think it looks awesome,” I clarified.
And they were super excited.
I could tell.
They wandered into the stacks –warriors armed with good attitudes– and
saved picked their novels.
Later we gathered over food and wine to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly.
(Our favorite part.)
The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald
Wife leaves husband before the first World War. Man moves to Russia with kids and develops weird relationship with Nanny.
What did Nedra think?
Nedra’s rating: 2
Goodreads rating: 3.76
Last time it was checked out from the library? 2015.
The Solid Mandala by Patrick White
Here’s Petra, describing an overly symbolic story about twin Australian brothers, one simple, one clever, living in questionably close confines.
She loved it.
Just kidding, she gave it 2 stars.
Goodreads rating: 3.95
Last time it was checked out? NEVER.
This book has NEVER been circulated.
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West.
Tod is a young scene designer obsessed with Faye, a 17-year-old platinum vixen obsessed with fame. The Day of the Locust reveals loose morals, twisted desires, and the false, corruptive lure of Hollywood.
Emily thought it was great and read a few pages. Sounded good to us, too! Researching Goodreads, I found this little gem:
“Adults beating the spontaneity out of children so their kid can be the next Shirley Temple. How twisted. Adults dressing, speaking, moving, expressing themselves in imitation of what they see on the screen. How sick. How appalling. How American.”
* Note: This book was written in 1939.
Emily’s rating: 4 stars.
Goodreads rating: 3.79
Last time it was checked out from the library? 2013
Wait for it.
Mixed Blessings by Diane Amos
An investigative reporter minds her grandfather and old-fashioned aunt while her erotic-fiction writer mother’s away on her Honeymoon. Meanwhile, her fiancé’s ex reenters the scene and her aunt gets pregnant.
— the sequel to last year’s smash Getting Personal, per the cover.
Ya’ll know I wanted to like this.
To be absolutely fair, it wasn’t near as bad as I thought it was going to be and actually coasted along with 3 stars. Even with phrases like “apprehension streaked through me” and “air whooshed from my lungs” and “trepidation streaked down my spine.”
But too many adverbs and cliches weighed this farcical plot down . . . annoyingly.
My rating: 2 stars.
Goodreads rating: 3.5
No library data as it was already withdrawn.
Maybe you’re thinking, Hey Miss Judgy McJudgerton! Those covers aren’t bad!
- ‘Ugly’ is subjective.
- Lotsa books have lotsa covers.
I doubt Nedra would’ve picked her SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE novel if it looked like this:
But therein lies the fun.