Eric's Reviews > Going Bovine

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
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's review
May 28, 2010

did not like it
Read from May 28 to July 07, 2010

As I plow through this sludge, I'm reminded of a favorite quote, which I think is from Charles Ives, "Awards are the badges of mediocrity." I am becoming cynical and distrustful of any work, fiction or otherwise, that wins any award.

I don't read a metric tonne of YA, I like much of it, and this book looked interesting. The cover, title, and premise of this novel intrigued me; but since I insist on doing idiotic things, like reading forwards, after I return home from the library, I should have known better. I found the writers mocking and limp satiric voice off-putting, not nearly so in the teenage protagonist, but still...satire needs to be leavened with wit, truth and sympathy, all of which are almost completely lacking in this book.

Yet, I am plowing on, at nearly the half way point, the book is just a chore to read. I will put up with language, sex, violence, anything, as long as it is integral to the story, it's development or morality - in this case it seems to have been the product of (perhaps an attempt at) shock value, or maybe pseudo-realism, and ultimately comes off as cheap writing. Also the book is full of modern cliches about everything - the wise African American, Jazz loving, record store owner; the detached, fitness obsessed, morally obtuse, overly logical father; the ditsy, liberal arts Mom; the shallow, weight obsessed, mocking cheer-leader sister; the Texan, Christian, high school hypocrites. Blah, blah, blah.

The protagonist is unlikable, which is fine for a start, but after 100 pages I wished him to go away, especially since the novel is all first person narrative. Also, as someone who was a nerdy teenager, not too long ago, he just didn't seem real - I remember what it was like to be 16 and on the outside, not caring about much, but still there was something very manufactured about him, and his world. It didn't ring very true - the writing is very good (in spite of my comment above about choices of language), the author, Libba Bray, knows how to write; but the story just didn't jive very well. All of the irony and Don Quixote references were slathered on far too thickly for my taste and showed an inability to create a plot of originality or value - as a result the story didn't generate any longing for more, for beauty, or for the character to triumph. It is basically a modern anthem to a sort of Nietzsche-ian despair and a plummet into narcissism, disguised as wisdom. Plus it didn't help that the works major conceit is transparent, I am 99% sure I know how the book will end, and peeking at the other reviews here confirms my suspicions. The bulk of the narrative, the whole peripatetic voyage is too much, all the time, small doses, honey please. The humor is cruel and un-truthful, and the topics of attack are frankly easy in our current culture. She takes on materialism - oh no, not that, no one's ever done that before; and mega-corporations, oh, no, not that, not like the mega-corporation that's publishing this tripe. Please. Here other targets are equally easy - and in fact she has neither a consistent philosophy or moral vision for the work so far - what she likes is lauded, what she dis-likes is condemned, hypocrisy is the main theme - and since hypocrisy is the ne plus ultra of modern sins - so what? She reveals throughout the book her own any rate...

If you want a dark window into our culture - with little literary or redemptive value, you might like this book - otherwise, don't waste your time or money. I have rarely been moved to write such a scathing review, but the waste of talent that this book represents and the awards it garnered demanded it. I'm highly suspicious that it was the meaninglessness and nastiness of this work that prompted the awards - how else to explain the awards with its lack of merit, originality, or vision.
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05/30/2010 page 322
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Alex amen.

Lily this book is god. i guess you just dont have a sense of humore

message 3: by Eric (last edited Nov 12, 2010 07:57AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Eric Lily wrote: "this book is god. i guess you just dont have a sense of humore"

I assume you don't mean to assign divinity to this book, or perhaps that isn't a typo and you do think it has divine status, which calls your theological judgment into question, at least a little bit. Or perhaps it's a joke, and I just don't get the joke; having no sense of humor. Or there is a third option, you are learning English or you speak it as a second or even as third language (in which case I apologize for being so snarky, partly), but even if that is true, then why were you rude to me for no reason?

After all, we can choose to hate or love a book, and disagree about that; but then why should you (or anyone) impune a complete lack of humor to me just because I don't find the same things as funny as you do? Or fourthly, you just don't bother to proofread what you write and you can't spell or be bothered to use capitalization or punctuation, which, might lead me to conclude, that your writing shows a state of personal laziness and a general disregard for your own self-worth, since you don't mind showing people how stupid or careless you are...

So ultimately, I don't know what to say to your comment...

(That's a joke, by the way!)

Um...humor, well no, if this is what constitutes humor, then I guess I don't have any, if you want something that is actually funny, may I suggest "The Walled Orchard" by Tom Holt.

Now, I don't like being so grumpy, but I find the whole internet habit of attacking someone who disagrees with you, ad hominem, very childish. I don't know you, so let me apologize for being so cutting above; but I've done so to make a point.

It isn't very nice is it?

We should not do it, and I'm sorry I responded that way; but I do want to drive home my point. I want you to understand that this sort of behavior leads to nothing productive or meaningful. I don't know you Lily, so I assume you are someone who just really liked this book, and perhaps you feel a little personal loyalty to it because it brought you joy, meaning, or whatever it brought you. Now, just because I hated it doesn't mean anything about me that you imply; just as the fact that you liked it, doesn't mean anything about you that I implied above; except you were rude and unfair to me.

All this means about both of us is - we have different taste in books - there may be some very good or very bad reasons for that, but that's it.

Now for you to tell someone "i guess you just dont have a sense of humore"; well, it's rude, pointless, and doesn't make me want to agree with you; so if that was your goal it didn't work. If you thought it would make me change my rating for this book and given it some more consideration, it didn't work. However, if it makes you feel better to insult me, because you've just defended something you like, then I'm glad you feel better at my expense, but you did so by seeking to hurt a person you don't know. Please take this advice in the way I intend it, to help you, and anyone who reads this to take a different tack in the future. I still think it is better to treat other people the way we would like to be treated.

I'm very tired of people being rude to other people online, and hiding behind the internet while they do it. I'm writing this little essay in the hopes that you won't do this again, and then I won't have to respond to something like this again.

I just want us to be able to communicate without insults. I'd love to hear why you think I'm wrong, or what about the book is so good and important, where I say it isn't. That would be fine, it would be fun even!

Or you could have just written on my page that you disagreed with my opinion, but don't insult someone who is much better at insults than you are, and who cares about these things, and has a bit of free time on his hands at the moment.

Also, try to remember, it's a book, we can hate it or love it; but that doesn't give us the right to hate or seek to hurt people who disagree with us.

If you re-read my review, you'll find there are actually jokes in it, (not very good ones I admit), but I do have a sense of humor, or at least I think I do. Also, I praise the writing skills of the author - I don't attack her, even though I hated her book, but I do have the right to hate her book, unless you want to argue that an artist work is "part of them", in which case we have a long conversation ahead of us - and even if I hate her product, her ideas, and her style - these are not her, at least to my lights. As far as she goes, she seems like a really nice person, who I think writes very well; but I think ideas matter, and her book is full of bad ideas, and her good prose writing doesn't overcome the dramatic flaws and philosophical problems raised by her book.

I think the ideas in this book are very important ones, and that they matter quite a bit. The big ideas about life matter, they shape who we are, how we respond to the people and events around us, and how we as a society make decisions together. So when these ideas appear, especially in books that we find entertaining, and that are popular among young people (because the ideas they embrace or entertain (in the old sense of the word) help shape their ideas), and because awards are influential with many people - and this book won a highly important award - I feel even more strongly about the quality of the book and its ideas, and its reception than I normally would.

So it becomes really important to counter those ideas, if I think they are bad, hence my review. And a book like this, popular, award-winning, and aimed at youth will attract more of my attention than if it had been written by a hack, was aimed at adults, or had very low sales or high sales and no award.

I hope that helps you to understand where I am coming from, and why your comment was not very nice, or fair. I'm glad you enjoy reading, and I hope you will take my apology for being so strident in tone; but also understand I hope I am helping us all to communicate in a more meaningful and helpful way for the future, and my exercise in snarkiness is to make a point, nobody likes it; so let's bury the hatchet and move on to better things. Let us all enjoy books and write with passion about them, but let us refrain from trying to hurt or demean people who disagree with us. I am probably completely over reacting, but you touched a raw nerve.

Best wishes to you Lily,

PS I'm lousy at spelling and grammar, but we all must try, the better we are at those tools the easier it is to communicate, I know I still have much to improve in those regards as well.

message 4: by Heather (new) - added it

Heather Harrison Maybe she was being ironic? (Although, probably not.)

message 5: by Leona (last edited Nov 28, 2012 11:58PM) (new)

Leona Leski ...

(this is a joke also, btw)(no for real)(except the praise!)

Since you would unironically answer those three dots with 'witty, sympathetic, and truthful' essay long justification I'll just sigh and elaborate.

I honestly thought you were a self-righteous teenager, do what you preach! If Cameron was already a mature (which is implied through sympathy and unselfish prospective aka your truth) kid, I doubt he would have to suffer this whole Donnie Darko-esque scenario. The whole bit is acted out and produced in his teenage little head, and believe it or not, there are different paradigms of teenager besides your own nerdy past-self. There, I just reproduced your 'humorous' and patronizing tonal qualities which do give me a good idea of your teenage self, which must've been more self-absorbed than nerdy. Did I spell that correctly enough? I'm lousy at eloquence, but we all must try, the better we are at these tools the easier it is to communicate, I know I still have much to improve in those regards as well.

Yeah ok gentle ad hominem aside, (sp!!!!) sucks you didn't like it, I'm sorry you posses a total incomprehension to the charms of this book. Obviously nothing I say will change your mind. eh as a person who has read the whole of the young children's section, the rest of bray's books, many many boring 'adult' books, this book is the wittiest and self-mocking thing I can reckon. It's very clever.

Cameron is pretty much a total butt, let us be honest. But heads up, you're not exactly the shining epitome of wry understanding and skepticism you're making yourself out to be. Shrug.

Anne Leona, you said everything I wanted to say, and you said it SO well! Applause!!

Jill Price This book is a wonderful, unique, inspiring existential journey. Bray isn't a hypocrite- her message is clear, and it's consistent. Her satire is also NOT tired; I would in fact argue the exact opposite. Although I wish that everyone could comprehend this book's brilliance, I suppose the resulting polarization only makes it more special. Go read it, everyone!

Skylar Hi, just my two cents here: Libba Bray's style of writing, if you read her other novels such as Beauty Queens, is to make it seem completely ridiculous and slathered with satire and cliche, but if you delve just a little bit deeper in your thinking about the book, you find that she attacks real issues in an innovative way that hits home for a lot of people. On the surface, it's just this random, stuck together weird journey that "doesn't jive too well", to put it in your words. But if you look a little closer, it's full of wisdom, and other emotions that you found to be lacking when you surface-read it. You're not supposed to like Cameron all that much at first. He's that sarcastic little shit that seems just to be throwing his life away, but as he learns through this journey, you begin to like him a little better if you delve just a little beneath the surface. His world is supposed to feel manufactured, it's supposed to have that shiny plastic coating on it because the protagonist sees it that way. We're dealing with a biased narrator, and that totality of getting inside his head is excellent writing, in my book. And lastly, a book written from the viewpoint of a main character who is mainly hallucinating is not supposed to "jive well." It's meant to feel a little disjointed, and bounce around a little bit, because hallucinations usually aren't linear or smooth. You have to take into account what type of narration is being used, and what the narrator is going through. All in all, this book is meant to be thought about, not just read. I'm not here to insult you, and your opinions are perfectly valid, but I think that perhaps giving Going Bovine a second shot would be useful for you. Now, you don't have to listen to a single thing I say, but my opinions are valid too, so I'm going to post them here for your consideration.

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