After seven years in the book business, I think we have a winner, Dipsy. Dipsy's agent brought in four books, which are so unrelievedly awful as to be worthy of display in a glass case with bits of string and dead mice.
Contrast these two passages, one from Jonathan Edwards, the other from Dipsy. They're both about the same length (85 words vs. 82 words). But notice how Edwards, in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," uses vivid, frightening images to convey the ideas of fear and dread. Kathleen Norris would say that such language is incarnational; that is, the language relies on imagery to convey meaning at multiple levels.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.The sentence, though long, is easy to follow because of the imagery and construction. Contrast it with Dipsy's account, which apparently made sense to her.
The glass was a barrier for the billowing clouds of steam pumped by machines at the rear, which like projectors in a theatre, streamed images on the stage set, shutting out the billows of the Image Chamber, as it was called, closed as it would be on a stage set, shutting out the billows before the next ones formed, giving the viewer time to figure out what he had just seen, an imaginative world made of steam no less, wet and changeable.Cover art should not provoke a reaction opposite the one the illustrator had in mind. Consider the cover art, which Dipsy did her own self. A lot is going on. It apparently is a preview of everything in the book.
However, nobody on the staff at the bookstore could get past the gray thing in the center of the illustration. Alan started choking on his lunch and had to be patted on the back. Ellen said, "Well, great. An erect penis in the kids' section." I told Ellen that the book was for young adults. She replied that no young adult reader would be caught dead with a book featuring an erect penis, a clown, and a giant reptile. Michele asked, "What's that red stuff? Is it flames or blood? And did the guy climbing the building just poop out an s?"
When a book causes reactions ranging from numb bemusement to dry heaves, we won't carry it—but I'll hang on to it for show 'n' tell.