Robin Ince is known for many things. To some, he’s a rationalist comedian who places a strong emphasis on science while hanging out with top minds Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox. To others, he’s the long-suffering butt of Ricky Gervais’ practical jokes.
Somewhere in between these extremes lies the actual man, a comedian whose comedy emerges from a combination of his quiet rage at the world and a sense of optimism and inquisitiveness, looking at the stars (quite literally) while aware that he’s always going to have one foot (not so literally) in the gutter.
Born out of the life of a touring comedian, Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club sees Ince turning his eye on the countless trashy books that some say should never have made it to our shelves. Indeed, that his quest relies on plucking each one from the country’s charity shops (and occasionally the country’s skips) suggests that the opinion might be correct.
Far from what you might expect, this is no ironic quest for trash. In each of these literary abominations, Ince finds something strange worth celebrating.
From books such as What Would Jesus Eat? to the infamous Secrets Of Picking Up Sexy Girls, to Guy N. Smith’s series of Giant Crab novels, Ince guides us around a world of books so bad that they’re good.
Strangely, Ince’s love of this material is infectious. It would be easy to write nothing but derisive tear-downs about bad prose, excruciating plots and demented logic presented as fact, but Ince reserves his true sneers only for the self-deifying journalists and celebrities.
The rest of the time, the books are approached with good humour, recounted as if they’re jokes that don’t realise they’re funny, a kind of tribute to the insane world that somehow allowed these books to, not only be written, but published and sold.
As a comedian, Ince has a naturally confident prose style, and the jokes he makes are laugh-out-loud funny. In deconstructing these books and himself, Ince manages to find the poetry in the mundane and the failed, spinning out simple ideas into winding extrapolations until they become bleak, angry, or poignant, or some combination of the three. Footnotes appear on almost every other page, recalling his freewheeling stage delivery, so overflowing with ideas that he can hardly speak fast enough to keep up.
The biggest problem with the book is that, quite simply, Ince is so successful in making these literary abominations sound like works of unmissable genius that their absence from the pages is felt too keenly.
One of the first books mentioned is The Stag Movie Review, a book which describes the content of pornographic (‘stag’) loops, and in its own way, Ince’s book becomes the bibliophile’s equivalent. As funny and informative as he is, as perfectly selected the few extracts that he offers, you can’t help but wish you could read more.
It’s possible that was always the intention, of course. As someone who has always restricted his charity shop searches to a quick scan for cheap graphic novels, I have a feeling the next time I step foot in one I’m going to be on the lookout for similar bad books. And be careful, because if you read this book, it’s more than likely you’ll come out of it feeling the same way.
Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.