The Disappointments Book Tag (Re-Worked)

I think we all try not to spread negativity on our blogs, but a negative review is at times just irresistible. I am now recovering from a rather bad reading spell, having read a number of disappointing books recently, and have decided on this tag to both vent my feelings and maybe ward off others. This is a re-worked by me tag which I first spotted at The Bookish Mutant and the original creator is The Reader’s Game. If you decide to do this tag as well, I would love to read your answers.

A Disappointing Debut

The Moviegoer [1961] by Walker Percy. I know how popular and admired this book is, but I only found it exasperating and disappointing. I love films, books with existential themes and New Orleans-set novels, so I assumed this would be a perfect book for me. I was wrong, and I still do not understand how this book could have won the National Book Award in 1962 over such books as Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Heller’s Catch-22 and Yates’s Revolutionary Road (one of my favourite books). Having said all that, I do have Percy’s Lancelot [1977] on my TBR and it looks like I may like it more.

An Author with a Novel You Love, and a Novel You Dislike

Kazuo Ishiguro. I love his book The Remains of the Day [1989] and dislike his most recent sci-fi novel Klara and the Sun [2021]. In fact, since I read the book my dislike for it only deepened. The film rights for this book have already been acquired, and for those who cannot wait that long, there is another similar film to check out – Kogonada’s After Yang [2021], a tale about one family’s coping strategies after their artificial intelligence “helper” has broken down. Amazingly, as I write this, I am also becoming aware that Kogonada was actually influenced to make this film by one of the quotes from Percy’s The Moviegoer! (talking about coincidences).

A Disappointing Non-Fiction

I can even name three: Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist [2012] by Christoph Koch, which I found annoying, with little insight offered on consciousness, but with many obvious statements, as well as filled to the brim with random and confusing personal ramblings on various non-science topics (including faith) which only expose this eminent neuroscientist as both naïve and quite ignorant; My Penguin Year: Life Among the Emperors [2019] by Lindsay McCrae, which provides scant information on the actual penguins, but much moaning about the author’s virtually non-existent and unsympathetic “hardships”; and France: A History: From Gaul to de Gaulle [2018] by John Julius Norwich, which is a very strange “concise” history of France with much bias and selective presentation inside.

Great Idea, Poor Execution

Mr Cadmus [2020] by Peter Ackroyd. I enjoyed the beginning of this story and Ackroyd’s idea of a satire, but the second half just did not deliver. This is a tale of two spinsters living in a quiet English village whose lives “overturn” by the arrival of one mysterious foreigner.

Novel Where the Characters Change in a Bad Way

I loved Osamu Dazai’s bleak No Longer Human [1948], but surprised myself by not liking much his novel The Setting Sun [1947]. I though this book about the “crumbling Japanese aristocracy just after the World War II” had a strong beginning, but fell apart mid-way through. Besides, I was not impressed by the characterisations, nor their developments throughout the story.

Are there any books that you have found disappointing recently or maybe not living up to your expectations?


26 thoughts on “The Disappointments Book Tag (Re-Worked)

  1. Yeah recently I found I didn’t like Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking or Qian Julie Wang’s Beautiful Country, even though both I was really sure I would like them. The problem with a “bad book run” is you kind of stop reading. What I do then is going back to a book or story I know I will like no matter how many times I read it, usually Borges’ Labyrinths, Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus or Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Books that are still fascinating (to me) on the tenth reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Memoirs can easily go either way, at least for me, and this type of reading can be so disheartening. You pick up one book, you don’t like it, you pick up another, you don’t like it too, and this frustration can only snowball and I start to doubt – am I looking for something particular in a book, being impatient and not paying close attention, needing a break? Yes, I think it is a great idea to pick up a book that you know you are going to love and possibly even take more time with it than usual. I find that you always discover something new on each Borges re-read. I am now prioritising Wolfe, too, so many thanks for your previous recommendation, one of the authors I will be reading very soon, as I will mention in my next post.

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      1. If you’re in a “book funk” and tackling Wolfe, I would start with Fifth Head rather than jumping right into the New Sun tetralogy. And no need to put my recommendations ahead on the book-read list – I tell people I’m reading their book, and then a year later I finally get to it, even though I am very excited about reading it. I’m excited that whole year, in fact sometimes I think being excited is better than reading the book and being disappointed. Best of course is being excited and reading a great book. And it happens enough to keep us going….

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        1. Yes, the same happens to me. The book I am really looking forward reading is actually Peace. Neil Gaiman raves about it a lot in his non-fiction too. They way he describes it is certainly very intriguing: “Peace really was a gentle Midwestern memoir the first time I read it. It only became a horror novel on the second or the third reading” (Gaiman). Can I resist something like this for the whole year? 🙂


          1. Yes Wolfe fans all agree that Peace is his best. Wolfe thought it was his best. Faulkner level of quality. I think it’s the most terrifying book I’ve ever read. You can read my GR review. It’s not sci-fi though. I’m not sure what it is.

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  2. I finally got around to reading The Moviegoer two or three years ago, simply to remedy a big “gap” in my reading; as you say, it won the NBA over some (very) serious competition. Like you, I love novels with a New Orleans setting (I lived there for a couple of years and I’m very fond of the place) and I’m fine with existential themes. None of this helped with The Moviegoer, which I truly, absolutely, totally hated. Well, I will admit there were a few scenes that were o.k., and that Percy does have some talent, but on the whole I found it a highly pretentious work that hasn’t dated well.

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    1. Thanks for agreeing! Pretentious is the word, what sentences! Perhaps I am not the right reader for this book anymore. I went through a lot of “existential” novels and cinema and perhaps I didn’t find the book as “enlightening” and “clever” as my much younger self would probably have found it, I don’t know, just a thought.

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  3. This must be the reason ‘Mr. Cadmus’ by Peter Ackroyd didn’t make much of a splash. I remember when Peter Ackroyd first started writing fiction in the early 1980s, he was considered somewhat a star.
    I have also not had much luck with Walker Percy.

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  4. Ha, love this tag. I do enjoy reading bad reviews and hearing about disappointments. Agree that spreading negativity for negativity’s sake is not good, but it’s such a relief when you hear you’re not the only one who didn’t like a book that everyone else seems to be loving.

    I feel the same way about Ishiguro, as you know – adored The Remains of the Day/Never Let Me Go, disappointed by The Buried Giant/Klara and the Sun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! And yes, me too, from me I can also add Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, certainly his most complex work where he tries to present the strange workings of our consciousnesses. In other books, it sounds like Ishiguro tries something new, but then rewrites the same themes and even characters. Even in the late 1990s, it was already implied that his best work was already behind him. I wonder if he will deliver something else in future. I certainly hope so.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are not alone in finding The Housekeeper and The Professor underwhelming. I found it so too. Japanese literature is always rather understated, but my reason probably has to do with the fact that I have been fascinated and researched a lot into the real case of Clive Wearing (a “music” and not “maths” man in this case) with a “30-second episodic memory”, and I guess Ogawa’s novel lacked that “novelty” aspect for me and naturally excitement that stems from it, though I did find the story rather touching.

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  5. I am a big fan of Walker Percy (my son is named after him) and although you may like Lancelot okay, I’m here to tell you that Love In the Ruins is his best novel. It helps if you like satire; the novel is definitely dated in some ways but not nearly dated enough in others.

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  6. I remember being disappointed by Margaret Atwood’s three whiny character story-of-a-bunch-of-affairs Life Before Man. Then I loved The Handmaid’s Tale when it came out – and the TV adaptation. Didn’t much care for The Edible Woman, either.

    Life Before Man wasn’t helped, in my estimation, by being told in rotating FIRST person pov – just couldn’t keep switching allegiances, and they weren’t happening with any of the characters, either. I should probably go back and try again some day.

    Not everyone requires a solid identification with SOMEONE in a movie or book, but I seem to. Otherwise, I just don’t care. My bad, probably.

    And then there was A Confederacy of Dunces, which won the Pulitzer after Toole’s mother persisted when he committed suicide – it was brilliant and horrifying; I didn’t make it past Chapter 1. Such horrible people.

    Picky, picky.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can also be a very selective and critical reader (I think the more we read the more critical we become), and Margaret Atwood is also a hit-or-miss for me. I consider The Handmaid’s Tale her best novel, but then I haven’t read many. The Edible Woman sounds interesting to me from a purely psychological perspective, but then I thought that about a number of her other books and they ended up to be not quite what I expected. I agree that the issue may be at times Atwood’s execution or structure.

      It’s interesting to know your reaction to A Confederacy of Dunces. Walker Percy (him, again!) was also the one ultimately pushing the book to publication, or so I think I read. I haven’t read the novel, but, strangely, it first appealed to me on no other basis than for the fact that it was set in New Orleans (love the place and am sort of mentally “collecting” books set there).


      1. Re: Dunces. I managed the first chapter because the writing was brilliant, stopped forever because the gorge rose so high. I don’t understand that kind of writing. I don’t want anyone telling writers what they can or can’t write, but I wonder about writers who spend all that time with those characters – as a choice.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, it is a wonder sometimes, but then again it sounds like Toole really was one tormented soul, so to speak, and perhaps his characters are bound to reflect the worst there is (that’s my unread and “uneducated” guess, of course). Perhaps I am more tolerant in this respect, but it depends on a book and what it tries to achieve.


          1. The problem is that every tortured-soul writer thinks they would just win the Pulitzer if people understood them – and Toole did. That kind of long-schedule intermittent positive reinforcement is (behaviorists tell us) THE best possible way of keeping a behavior from extinguishing.

            I’ve had family members like that. They didn’t want to do the work, the learning, the practice, the trying of new ideas. They were convinced their freshman effort was IT. It’s a little hard to be on the receiving end of that at family gatherings. They also tend to think you’ll steal their idea, so no one gets to see it. So you can’t evaluate.

            You get to READ the book – so you have a basis for judgment. You’ve read MANY books, so you can compare – your judgment, while flexible, is formed. I’d be curious to hear your opinion of Dunces if you start it.

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  7. I had the same experience with Mr. Cadmus, several of Ackroyd’s early novels were really interesting, but with this one he was careless and seemed to run out of steam partway through.

    Several friends told me how much I’d like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and one of them got a copy for me. Well, I loathed it and haven’t been able to pick up another one of his books since.

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  8. I really like this post idea! It is true that sometimes we expect so much out of a book and it doesn’t live up to our expectations! This has happened to me with some books that I took ages to read and recovering from that “funk” was not easy! I think the most recent one was Tolkien’s Silmarillion which is great but not what I expected, so I found reading it was sometimes more of a struggle!

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