Bad Books (and people who talk about them)

Sometimes I see a book and think this sounds like it’s going to be horrible. Occasionally that thought is immediately followed by I need to read this. Which is the only explanation I have for reading The Queen of the Tearling.

But while the occasional trip down the ‘so bad it’s hilarious’-lane is fun, on balance I prefer to spend more time reading good books than books involving royal guards that are worse at protecting monarchs than Jamie Lannister. Or books where the hero shows off the Iron Cross he got for saving Mussolini (The Zenda Vendetta if you really want to know…)

So I was very happy when I fell over this book some years ago:

Robin Ince's Bad Book Club

In his Bad Book Club, the author gives a very enjoyable insight into special treasures he picked up in charity shops. Treasures like an Elvis biography written in verse, a book about giant crabs attacking and eating people, gynecological Christian romances, a book about giant rats attacking and eating people, a collection of essays in which people discuss their sexual fantasies involving celebrities, a book about giant worms attacking and eating people, Z-list celebrity biographies, guides for psychic sex and…more books about giant crabs attacking and eating people because apparently, I missed a lot as person who is too cowardly for any kind of horror. It’s a great way to get the condensed horribleness of all these books, without having to read all of them yourself.

And now it turns out there aren’t just books about bad books, there are also podcasts. Like I Don’t Even Own a Television. Every episode the hosts discuss another bad book. They start off with a summary of the plot, do dramatic readings of the best/worst passages and – depending on the book – speculate on what a character might do in a certain situation, which celebrity might be a fan, cast the movie adaptation or just pick a random passage to read out loud.

But they do all that without being mean about books that don’t deserve it. Because some bad books are bad because they are a bit ridiculous (or more than a bit). Like books about giant mutated animals attacking and eating people or a group of heroes traveling through a fantasy-land where everything is a pun. Other books are bad because every chapter features another -ism and the obvious author self-insert protagonist thinks all his problems can be solved by shooting brown people. The podcast features both types of books but always makes it clear that there’s a difference between them. There have also been a few occasion where at least one of the hosts admitted that they enjoyed the book a lot more than expected and it never takes away from the fun of the episodes.

Recently IDEOATV did a crossover with Worst Bestsellers and even though I had told myself I wouldn’t start any more podcasts, I enjoyed the crossover so much I had to listen to some more Worst Bestsellers. I only listened to a few episodes so far but also really loved them.

They have a similar basic set-up but with different games (What would Wolverine do if he was in this book and is it cooler than what The Rock would do?) And while neither podcast focusses specifically on one genre, Worst Bestsellers is rather heavy on YA and romance. It also features more recent and well-known books, so I have heard of more books they discuss on the podcast. And in some cases, I have already heard a lot about the books they are discussing and I admit I have already heard/read/watched so much about Fifty Shades of Gray that I don’t need to listen to anymore. But that leaves still enough other episodes that I want to listen to (like the Flowers in the Attic episode). And it’s not like I haven’t skipped IDEOATV-episodes for various reasons (like: I unironically enjoyed the Dragonlance-books I’ve read).

[Podcasts] Deadly Manners

deadly+manners+site+homeDeadly Manners is a 10 episode, dark comedy murder-mystery series set in the winter of 1954. It follows the events during the night of the affluent Billings family annual dinner party with their distinguished, eccentric guests. However, all is not fun and games as shortly after the party starts, a snowstorm begins to rage outside, trapping all the partygoers inside their host’s mansion. When a murderer starts killing off those in attendance, the guests must figure out who is responsible, or at least how to stay alive — lest they be next. 

Listen to it here (or wherever you listen to podcasts)

Deadly Manners‘ biggest problem is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to do. Poke fun at old-timey country house murder mysteries where the guests are always surprisingly unperturbed by multiple people dropping dead in a short time-span? Because it does that now and then. Guests lament that the dinner will take longer with a body in the kitchen or exclaim that the fourth murder now really makes the hostess look bad and I grinned at a few of these bits. But I also couldn’t help thinking of the older adaptations of And Then There Were None or Edgar Wallace’s Das Indische Tuch which played exactly that ridiculousness completely straight, with stoic butlers asking if Sir already knows how many plates will be needed for the breakfast tomorrow or – if it turns out that after another sudden and unexpected death – there is one plate too many, remove it with the same stoicism. And compared to that Deadly Manners always comes over as trying too hard. It drops these sentences in the middle of a conversation without caring about what comes before or after them.

But perhaps Deadly Manners has a slightly more serious intent and wants to make a point about old-timey country house murder mysteries always being very white and straight as well as very apolitical? Because among the main characters is a black woman (originally from Liberia and adopted by white American parents at a very young age), a Jewish couple and some secret Lesbians and McCarthy’s ghost makes his appearance (not literally). But they never really go deep into any of this. Half the characters drop some casual antisemitic stuff in between finding yet another body and discovering yet another dark secret. Olivia, the adopted daughter, argues about the effects of colonialism on Liberia and gets essentially told not to worry her pretty little head about this. But those scenes also hang in thin air. There are no consequences, nobody has a genuine change of heart.  It feels like somebody had had an all-white script and decided it needed to be more diverse, swapped some characters but not given it any more thought.

And all of this ended in a finale that possibly also wants to poke fun at the kind of mysteries that lay open every character’s past sins in the final chapter but it just didn’t work for me. It was too far-fetched, too ridiculous and silly. Perhaps I wouldn’t have minded it as much if the rest of it had captured me more. But as it is, I’ll give the possibly 2nd season a miss.

The Inevitable True Crime Podcasts Post

I like podcasts. I’m interested in true crime. Currently, everybody and their pet-dog has started a true crime podcast. So it’s inevitable that I talk about my favourites.

All Killa No Filla

1400x1400_10064095Comedians Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean discuss serial killers. And go off on hilarious tangents. While they discuss many well-known cases like Bundy, Dahmer and Brady/Hindley they also attempt to include older cases or some from outside the UK/US.
Now sometimes their tangents are genuinely hilarious but for a while, it got too much. A few episodes seem more like ‘two women tell jokes and occasionally mention serial-killers’ and a few of the episodes after the 30st feel exhausting rather than funny. But they managed to get back on track and now I’m again excitedly awaiting each new episode.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: Peter Kürten, the three-parter on Fred and Rose West, Graham Young


Wine and Crime


Each episode three friends tackle a different crime-related topic. That means they start off with some background on the topic, which can mean ‘Canada’s crime-stats’ in the Crazy Canadians episode, some psychological insight into the person who commits a certain type of crime or a more scientific approach when the topic is forensics. Then two or more cases that fit the topic are discussed.
The episode-topics are wide-ranging and so far have included necrophilia, international abductions, evil twins and much more. In general, I’m drawn to the more concrete topics (‘Missing Persons’ or ‘Odd MO murders’ are just topics that are so vast that a single episode can only scratch the surface) but the podcast is always fun.

You also get a wine-recommendation in each episode but even if you like the idea of drinking the wine that’s paired with the Necrophilia-episode, non-US listeners will have a hard time finding most of the wines.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: any of the forensic episodes, ax-murders, crimes of passion.



Two teachers each pick a crime-case from the UK or Ireland and tell the other (and the audience) about it. While ‘crime’ usually means murder there have been episodes on various con artists, Ronnie Biggs, and a (less humorous but very good one) on Jimmy Saville. Often they pick less well-known cases which can be a strength but also a weakness. It’s nice to hear about people that haven’t yet been discussed in several podcast-episodes and documentaries but some stories are also simply not very well-known because they are not that interesting.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: Herbert Rowse Armstrong, Paul Glen & The Black Panther


Real Crime Profile


Unlike the previously mentioned ones, this is a much more serious podcast. Profiler Jim Clemente, profiler and victim advocate Laura Richards and Criminal Minds Casting Director Lisa Zambetti discuss various true crime-related subjects. They started off with an episode-by-episode analysis of Making a Murderer and The People vs. OJ Simpson and still discuss TV-shows in detail but also other cases that grabbed headlines (like the murder of Meredith Kercher and that of Reeva Steenkamp). They do jump around a fair bit so you sometimes get a few episodes on one topic, two one-offs about completely different topics and then get back to the first one which can be confusing.
And, as said, they are not light-hearted. I still enjoy listening to them more than to any other of the ‘serious’ true crime podcasts. They are less detached and – yes this does sound like a cliche now – I believe them that they actually care about the topic they are talking about. Besides,  two people with lots of expertise in law-enforcement and one person who is simply interested in true crime make for a great combination of hosts. They can go deeper than podcasts that are hosted simply by interested amateurs but don’t get too technical.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: the series on The People vs. OJ Simpson, the episodes on Meredith Kercher


Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories


Another podcast that is not like the above. Unsolved Murders is completely scripted. Not something I usually like, since the spontaneous banter is what draws me towards podcasts. And while the discussions the hosts have are interesting and funny, you will never forget that this isn’t spontaneous. But they also have something else: full-cast reenactments. Not cheap ‘Somebody says Hey who are you and then screams loudly *gory sound effects*’ but well-written scenes that introduce the victim(s), the suspects and the circumstances. And, as somebody who loves audio-dramas, I enjoy that way to introduce a case more than one person just rattling down the facts.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: The Axman of New Orleans, Benjamin Siegel, The Villisca Ax-murders