Could hideous prose and ghastly poetry be more entertaining than great literature?
Comedian Robin Ince was determined to find out and has spent the last few years rummaging through charity shops, jumble sales and even the odd skip to compile a collection of the world’s worst – and inadvertently hilarious – books.
Here he takes us through a hinterland of crass classics including an autobiography by It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’s Don Estelle (better known as Lofty) and every nutrition nut’s favourite, What Would Jesus Eat.
From the Mills and Boon gem Diamond Stud, written in the strange ‘romantic artificial insemination horse farm genre,’ through a whole host of toe-curling, cringingly awful tomes, Ince celebrates the very best of the worst in literature.
A perfect ‘dip into and enjoy’ extravaganza, there are categories guaranteed to both appal and amuse ... sex, poetry, bad science, autobiography, New Age, thriller, horror, columnists, religion and the perennially favourite romance all come under close scrutiny.
With his eye for the absurd and his cynical brand of intellectual humour, Ince generously allows books previously consigned to either history or the dustbin a brief glimpse of fame.
Glimmers of unexpected and illuminating sunshine peer out from the darkest of recesses of long-forgotten shelves because hidden amongst the book world’s dullest diatribes are nuggets of pure gold comedy so vacuous and audaciously anarchic that mining for them must have been a labour of love.
Take poets’ corner ... who would have imagined that best-selling, multi-millionaire American author Danielle Steel once penned an ode named Jam, ‘geometrically perfect but telling us nothing whatsoever.’
‘Jam./ There must be jam/You told me/Firmly’
Singer Cliff Richard’s forays into autobiography take a bashing, particularly his penchant for pondering the swimming skills of monkeys, and John Major’s late brother, Terry Major-Ball, who famously revealed a liking for bacon and eggs even though ‘it’s not politically correct,’ is another star of the tell-all brigade.
Occasionally Ince will rant against the more obvious targets ... loud-mouthed newspaper columnists, the New Age set and celebrity fantasists, but his tone is generally affectionate and gently teasing.
And as the last page is turned, the realisation dawns that the author’s fine array of literary abominations tells us as much about his own life as the pretensions of the erstwhile authors he has encountered.
(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)