I’ve been thinking this week about bookish pet peeves, those things in books that drive me crazy. These pet peeves are, in my mind, not necessarily marks of poor quality, like bad characterization. Nor are they failed attempts at doing something cool, like a complex plot that spins out of control. What I’m thinking of are qualities that the author might in fact have intentionally incorporated into the book and that many readers might appreciate. But they turn me off entirely.
I suspect all of us have our own idiosyncratic and personal pet peeves. I thought it would be fun to share a few of mine and invite you to share yours.
So without further ado, here are my top three bookish pet peeves. These are the things that will almost always cause me to put the book aside.
- Historical characters that are too modern.Clare sounded off about this earlier this week, and I thoroughly agree with her. Often, I think historical fiction authors want to make their characters relatable by also making them modern, but I read historical fiction to understand different times—and the people of those times. I don’t mind when authors make their characters ahead of their time, but for me to believe in them, they shouldn’t seem like people who have just stepped out of a time machine. To me, the insistence upon instilling modern values into historical characters also implies that the present is in all ways superior to the past and that people cannot hold old-fashioned ideas and still be likable and interesting.
- A message that must be heard. I imagine that a lot of authors write with some sort of message in mind. That’s fine, but I hate it when the message becomes more important than the story and the characters. When the message becomes of supreme importance, the author all too often ends up creating contrived circumstances to illustrate a point. Characters become mouthpieces for the author or representatives of a point of view instead of full-bodied people.
- Treating readers like idiots. I also hate it when authors need to overtly explain every action a character takes and every thought in a character’s head, sometimes repeatedly. Or when authors include info-dumps of background information. It’s true that some authors don’t explain things well enough (and I end up feeling like a idiot), but in general I’d prefer to have to work a little than to be told how I’m supposed to feel and what I’m supposed to think. (I can tolerate the idiot treatment a bit more in audiobooks because my mind tends to wander when I’m listening, and backtracking is a bit more awkward with audiobooks.)
So those are my top three. I can think of plenty of other things that bother me (like the obsession with bodily fluids in historical fiction or the bizarre trend of rejecting quotation marks for dialogue), but those things aren’t going to tip me over into disliking an otherwise good book. But the three pet peeves above will almost always push me into the dislike column.
How about you? Do you have any bookish pet peeves? Now’s your chance to vent!
Notes from a Reading Life
- Paradise Lost by John Milton (church book club)
- I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita
- After Claude by Iris Owens
- Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
- The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton (audio)
- King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett (reread)
- The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. Found on the book discard shelf at my office.
- Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryu Murakami. LibraryThing Early Review book.
- A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates. Review copy from HarperCollins/ECCO.
- The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig. I’ve been wanting to try Zweig, and I found a NYRB edition in the remaindered books at the wonderful Politics and Prose bookstore.
- Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon. The last National Book Award finalist for fiction. My trip to Politics and Prose was in pursuit of this book so I could read all the finalists before the winner is announced.
- He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope. For the upcoming Classics Circuit.
- Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. For my church book club.
On My Radar
- Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi. A Hungarian novel about what happens when a 35-year-old women who lives with her parents goes to spend a week in the country. Thomas at My Porch says, “Although Skylark processes some very complex emotions and is alternately playfully humourous and gut-wrenchingly sad, its plot arc is rather simple.”
- Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. A dark book about carnival workers that Sasha at Sasha and the Silverfish says is “one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
- The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks. A 1960 novel about a woman dealing with the consequences of on out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Danielle at A Work in Progress says, “Lynne Reid Banks is a wonderful storyteller; I was wrapped up in Jane’s life from the first page.”