Being grumpy about books

For family reasons, this week’s post is a day early.

What turns you off a book?

I’m in a small book club (two members) which is very enjoyable. However, I’ve noticed that when I know I’m going to be asked for intelligent comment, my beady eye searches more eagerly for negative things to say than for positive. I would almost feel a failure if I turned up and said, “Wonderful novel – loved it – couldn’t fault it.” This isn’t just because the meeting might be short – ecstatic fans can still find a lot to talk about.

It’s probably in part because being negative implies being clever. “I have seen through the author’s/advertiser’s attempts to win me over – I’ve uncovered the flaws he/she hoped were hidden”. And similarly “I am cleverer and more thoughtful than the author, so please think I’m clever and thoughtful enough for this club.”

So what, briefly, are the things I don’t like in books? Hmm.

  1. Detective or mystery stories that don’t supply a solution, or leave you to choose between two. Thankfully rare;
  2. Very flat and repetitive writing. I ought to be more tolerant of this, because I find it very hard not to be repetitive myself. From an early draft of WDKC: “You are under oath not to leave this house without my leave. I am not giving you leave.” I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t me who noticed three “leaves” in two lines;
  3. But equally, convoluted attempts to avoid being repetitive, eg “The girl looked up at the young man. He looked back at the lass”;
  4. Characters who all talk in the same style and are difficult to tell apart. In extreme cases, characters who all talk like the narrator;
  5. Long sentences with too many qualifying clauses, eg “Jonas stroked his pet elephant, which had been given to him by the hospital matron, that wonderful woman whose hair was the colour of the ruby which he’d stolen three years before from odious Lord Biscuit, who….”
  6. Stories that are too big for one volume, and don’t get finished. Enough said;
  7. Stories with no chink of light, and no likeable characters;
  8. Stories that are boring (obviously) or not recognisably a story;
  9. Endings that come out of nowhere, and don’t properly conclude the plot. (My own temptation is the opposite: to go on too long, and tie up every loose end.)
  10. Very melodramatic/portentous section or chapter ends: “And with these words I unwittingly sealed my doom.”
  11. Stories that ignore basic morality without seeming to be aware of this. A book with an evil protagonist, say, should know that (s)he is evil. Time-travel stories where people mess up the past for their personal benefit should at least address the issue;
  12. Books whose plot or writing style is so complex they make me feel stupid for not being to follow. But on a good day I enjoy a challenge;
  13. Alien settings. This is odd, coming from a fantasy reader. I seem to get on better with pseudo-medieval Middle-earth than with realistic contemporary Africa. This is a worrying thought;
  14. My hackles rise when people in medieval dress say “OK”. (On the other hand, I don’t tend to object when they say “Good morning”. Both may be equally wrong. So what I’m saying here is that anyone writing a historic or pseudo-historic novel should match it exactly to my level of historical awareness and linguistic taste. Hmm.)

The perceptive reader will have seen that what I’m really saying, especially towards the end of the list, is that for me to like a book the author has to be lucky enough to hit exactly the right balance between A and B for me personally.

A hard task. Maybe I should be more tolerant.

What makes you throw a book down and not pick it up again?

Love from the PPI Blogger

And in case anyone is interested, the car is washed, the baby photos have been sent to the bridesmaid, the speech is written, and in theory all is ready.


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