I’m a picky person. I’m a picky eater (getting better, though); I’m a picky music-listener; and I’m incredibly picky about what I read. Blogging has really helped me expand my horizons, particularly through things like year-long reading challenges and getting to read ARCs. I also love getting to see reviews of books I probably would never have heard of if not for this amazing blogging community!
Though I certainly read more diversely now than I did a few years ago, there are a few things that have remained deal-breakers in my reading life. Here are some of the worst offenders, and let me know what yours are in the comments!
1. Fragments, fragments everywhere! Fragments, though not something you’d want to put in an essay, are often acceptable as a stylistic choice for creative writing. They particularly make sense in dialogue, because real-life dialogue is rarely ever grammatical the way writing is. But when there are more than two fragments in a row, or more than three or so to a page (on average), it gets a little tiresome. I’ve particularly noticed this in YA series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, but it’s also come up (and bugged me severely) in adult novels like The Silent Girls.
2. Love triangles, or really any superfluous romance in general. There’s a reason I don’t read romance novels: they’re full of clichés, they’re unrealistic at best and harmful at worst (looking at you, Fifty Shades), and frankly, they’re BORING because you know exactly how they’re going to end. (Okay, I guess there are several reasons I don’t read romance novels.) I don’t need books to have absolutely no romance whatsoever, because that’s almost impossible to find these days, but I quite appreciate when romance takes a back seat to whatever else is happening in the story.
That’s not to say that I don’t like stories about love, because I do, and I’ve read a bunch of books recently that focus on love greater than that between two people (The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Glittering World in particular come to mind). But romance is something I’m much less interested in.
3. Bad or nonexistent editing. I’m not talking about in ARCs, either; I’m talking about actual published works. A typo here or there is excusable—I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where I haven’t found a typo at some point—but willy nilly errors in tense or forgetting a verb in a sentence is totally unforgivable. I just read The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad and while the story was okay the writing was unthinkably bad, so this particular deal-breaker is sort of close to the surface of my mind at the moment.
4. Pretension. Ugghhhh this has got to be one of the worst things to deal with as a reader: an author’s unstoppable pretension. Of course, everyone interprets writing differently, so our definitions of pretension might differ. I’m thinking along the lines of Jonathan Safran Foer, whose every word just oozes “look how smart I am!” Similarly, James Joyce and his utterly incomprehensible (except to the elite few, of course) writing make my blood boil.
Something I’ve never understood is why writers write if they don’t want people to understand what they’re saying. What was Joyce’s goal in writing Ulysses so that it was absolutely inaccessible to anyone at all except himself (and eventually Joyce scholars who studied every minute aspect of his life in order to understand it)? I can’t help but think that he must have thought so much of himself for publishing this impenetrable novel that scholars have puzzled over for decades. Either that or he’s been punking us for almost a hundred years now.
5. Character-driven stories versus plot-driven stories. Don’t get me wrong; great characters make a book. But I want a plot, too. I want exciting things to happen—the scarier the better (I’m a huge horror junkie). I think this is maybe why I didn’t like The Virgin Suicides as much as I wanted to or as much as I expected to based on what I’d heard about it; it’s mainly a character study of the five Lisbon sisters by a group of boys who lived in the same neighborhood. Things happen, but it’s not exactly exciting.
The one exception I’ve found to this rule so far is J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. There wasn’t a whole lot of plot there either, but the characters were just so incredibly drawn that, after a while, it was impossible not to be invested in their stories. (Of course, it took me about 200 pages to get invested, so I don’t blame you if you quit before that.)
6. Getting hit over the head with the author’s morals or politics or anything that I didn’t actually pick up the book for. Like I said above, I read primarily for plot; I don’t want to be proselytized to. All stories have morals, of course, and all authors have biases. But if your bias is glaringly obvious, I’m either not going to read your book or, if I do read it, I’m probably not going to review it very well.
What are your deal breakers when it comes to books?
Cheating is definitly a deal-breaker for me, if it happens in a book I'm reading, I will not finish it and if I know beforehand it happens, I won't start it.ReplyDelete
Other things bother me in a book but is more like an annoyance than anything else, like slut shaming, time gap, a lot of POV, non announced cliffhanger (when the author doesn't disclosure that the book is not a stand alone)...
Oooh, good point with that last one—it seems like everything is a trilogy nowadays, so I wouldn't have even thought about not knowing that a book is the first of a series. Very good point!Delete
I totally agree about the bad editing. It distracts me so much that I can’t get through the book. That’s why I’m always reluctant to read self-published books. All of the ones that I’ve read so far have been full of typos.ReplyDelete
Aj @ Read All The Things!
Love triangles that don't make sense, like a girl caught between an awesome guy and a guy who is demonstrably bad. People who are "best friends" but have nothing in common and don't seem to enjoy being together. Authors telling me that a character has a characteristic but then showing them being quite different.ReplyDelete
That said, I could read character driven fiction ALL DAY. I don't need a dramatic plot, just some interesting people making choices!
Yeah see...I need a plot :) although of course I will make exceptions for excellent character-driven stories like I mentioned in the post, and I won't turn something down purely based on that. But I do rely heavily on blurbs, and if the book seems plot-less, then...no. I just need *some* intrigue, usually in the form of a plot, but I can occasionally be swayed by some sort of interpersonal drama (preferably of the non-romantic persuasion)—think something like Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. Not my usual jam, but I really liked it.Delete
My main one would have to be when a character is portrayed in a specific way and then does or says something that is completely out of character. I feel like they were just momentarily changed for convenience.ReplyDelete
Pretentiousness gets me too. It why I have a hard time with some "literary greats". I will also add it's lesser cousin, swarmy. I can't stand it when a book is too quippy. It feels like it is trying to hard and too much, like a character is always "on". I like wit, I like sarcasm, I like self deprecation, but spare me the quips. I also have a hard time when I don't like any of the characters, but I'm supposed to care about them. Lastly, the other one that gets me is when a book is JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER BOOK IN THAT GENRE.ReplyDelete
Ah, yes, the "always on" thing can be annoying, although I did like it in Andy Weir's The Martian. If you haven't read it: Mark Watney, the main character, is abandoned for dead on Mars and must figure out how to survive until the next mission can rescue him. The book is about 3/4 his journal and about 1/4 outside people (his crew, NASA, etc.) trying to figure out how to rescue him. Watney is unfailingly optimistic, jaunty, and even—dare I say it—plucky, but somehow it's believable and it works (for me, anyway; it might not for you).Delete
I don't like the last one, either (or love triangles, or sentence fragments, or poor editing, or ... :P). Tolkien didn't, either ;) He made a distinction between allegory (which he despised) and applicability (which he approved of), the difference being that allegory is shoving your morals down the reader's throat, applicability is the reader deriving meaning from your words. I tend to agree with him; I love it when I read a book and feel like it's speaking to the very heart of my soul, but hate it when it feels like a thinly-veiled cover for proselytization.ReplyDelete
Yes!! And sometimes it slips by until someone points it out to you and you realize just how obvious it was the whole time, and then it ruins it for you. (I'm actually thinking of a movie here: Wall-E. I LOVED that movie, still do, really, but a little less once someone pointed out the really-not-veiled-at-all environmental message. I just wanted robots in love!)Delete
I totally agree! Especially on superfluous romance, pretension, and character-driven. I need something to happen. I think that's why I read mostly genre fiction like fantasy and historical fiction. There is typically built in plot development. That is also why most contemporary is a miss for me. I agree, great characters make the book better but to enjoy it completely I need the plot development to be strong.ReplyDelete
On that note, my one dealbreaker you didn't mention is intentionally evasive one clues and/or being shocking for the sake of being shocking. I like a good mystery and love a surprising plot twist but if you are making me just through hoops only to take something out of left field I'm going to be furious. I will be even more furious if it's all smoke and mirrors. And then of course there's the dues ex machina. Basically if you are solving everything by something sudden or shock value that's a deal breaker.
Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally
Ahh yes the good old deus ex. All of a sudden the solution comes out of nowhere. That's one of my biggest issues with Stephen King—even though he's one of my favorite authors, it's no secret that he's kind of crap at endings.Delete
I've read a few otherwise interesting books that left me disappointed in the end because the author so clearly felt the need to push across his/her worldview, to the detriment of the plot. At that point it doesn't really matter how good the book was, I'll be left feeling pretty negative about it.ReplyDelete
I'm a picky reader as well. For some reason I seem to struggle with road trips novels, and the wrong sort of love triangle can drive me up the wall. However, I think it's worth pointing out that when you say, "There’s a reason I don’t read romance novels: they’re full of clichés, they’re unrealistic at best and harmful at worst . . ." you are painting with an incredibly broad brush. While it's perfectly fine for romance novels to not be your thing, I would definitely hesitate to lump ALL romance novels together in the "cliché, unrealistic, and harmful" category. It, like any other genre, is wildly diverse and resists such blanket classification.ReplyDelete
I think Angie captures my opinion on romance novels perfectly! Sure, there ARE harmful and cliche and unrealistic romance novels out there but I've read some really great and empowering and wonderful ones. Funny. Smart. Thought-provoking. I'm sure you didn't mean to dismiss ALL of them but that sentence seemed a little problematic to me as well.Delete
And yesssss the pretentiousness. But I'm dying bc JSF is one of my faves hahahah.
Haha, I know a lot of people love JSF and I was a little nervous about that XD but I just didn't see it when I tried reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Just not my thing, I guess—to each their own!Delete
As far as the romances go: I haven't come across many non-cheesy, non-cliched ones...but I also haven't looked very hard because it's just not a genre that interests me. And I do think the genre probably gets a lot of unfair bad press thanks to travesties like Twilight and Fifty Shades. But I've read more acclaimed romances too (Atonement, The Time-Traveler's Wife) and just found them...uninteresting and blah. There's always some sort of tragedy and I hate sad things, so that's part of the problem, I think. The other problem, personally, is that unrealistic romance is annoying, but realistic romance is kind of boring! So my best bet for what I choose to read is to avoid romance altogether.
There so predictable, so boring and rarely bring the story forward. I read a lot of YA and today's trend that all stories must have a (romantic) love story, preferably the love triangle are so tiresome. What really puts me of is to see all these strong girls (and women) becoming the typical stereotype, most of the story ending up revolving around 2 boys. *sign*
And that brings me to one other big deal breaker for me, plain sexism, violence and oppression that the author try to mask with some strange love story or passions or just supernatural element!
And I totally agree about the plot-driven stories, yes of course great character is a must, but you need some plots more then one could be great, but it will be fine with just one, I'm not picky. :)
Thanks for a great post!
(Haven’t read The Glittering World and since you mention it in the same sentence as the ocean, one of my all-time favorite, think I’ll have to check that one out)
And tonight my English is worse than ever, what I meant was abuse, not oppressionDelete
(Note to self, don't try to many things at the same time when you are tired)
Yes definitely read The Glittering World if you liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane! It's similarly magical and lovely. I'd love to hear what you think when you've read it.Delete
And I also agree that it's so annoying when this supposedly "strong" female character is reduced to a stereotype (and/or is in an abusive situation that is glorified somehow!) because she HAS to be in this ridiculous love triangle.
Editing and grammar errors get me every time. I can't stand them, and so many books I've read in the past year are filled with missing words, misused words, etc. Other deal breakers for me are cliches (I'm so sick of the same ole same ole) and drama for the sake of drama and word count.ReplyDelete
I'm with you on the pretension, although I like Jonathan Safran Foer's work. I was disappointed by The Virgin Suicides too--I wouldn't have minded the character study as much if I liked any of the Lisbon girls.ReplyDelete
If the cover says "heart-warming" then NooooooooooooReplyDelete
Exactly! Or an Oprah's Book Club sticker... *shudder*Delete
Oof, I just dropped Mockingjay in the middle of reading it because the writing is so sloppy. Fragments don't normally drive me crazy because they can often be used for great dramatic or stylistic effect ... if used SPARINGLY. But with Hunger Games, every other sentence is a fragment. You can get confused so fast!ReplyDelete
Other deal breakers for me ... corny, unrealistic dialogue. I get secondhand embarrassment so easily, and besides, if I can't believe a character is a real, living, breathing person, I'm not going to get invested in their plight.
Also, anything super vulgar or sexual. You can include sex in books using subtle descriptions (As Meat Loves Salt, by Maria McCann did this really well. There's a LOT of sex in that book, but it's usually confined to a one or two sentence ~artful description~) But if the author is just throwing in vulgar words for shock value, I get disgusted pretty fast.
OH REAL QUICK: Related to the Hunger Games, one huge dealbreaker for me is books whose plot relies on the main character just blatantly misunderstanding EVERYTHING that happens to them. Every conflict is based on miscommunication, the ~twist in the plot is kept secret from the reader only because the main character makes an obviously incorrect assumption and just forges on anyway... I like books where the characters aren't massive idiots, thanks. And where the authors don't treat the readers like idiots too. :P
On your unrealistic dialogue point, something similar that annoys me is "text-speak" in novels. Reconstructing Amelia comes to mind here. Guys, everyone has auto-correct now and even my 11-year-old cousin instagrams in full sentences. It's like these middle-aged people think all the youngins still typ lyk dis. It really takes me out of the story!Delete
Also, plots (or romances!! This goes for romances too!!) based on misunderstandings are THE WORST. The whole "WE WERE ON A BREAK" thing in Friends drives me INSANE because, well, first, they WERE on a break, and second, when they're about to get back together for that brief episode or two...why couldn't Ross just TELL RACHEL he'd read the damn letter in the morning?? Bah. Stupid. Sorry for all the caps there but...ughhh.
This is such an interesting post! I particularly liked your point about character driven stories, but the point that definitely hit the nail on the head was the one regarding love triangles. Personally, I think that love triangles are extremely overused. Some can be done differently (I'm thinking "The Hunger Games" here), but they are still rather annoying.ReplyDelete
The biggest deal breakers for me are cheating, other god worship, and paranormal stuff... Most times I am able to just weed those out by reading the book descriptions... I know I have a tall order I am asking, I don't mind doing the work by reading descriptions and reviews. I absolutely get frustrated when I have done that work and am an hour or two into the book, or worse its the second or third book and then there it is... No good.ReplyDelete
I hate love triangles. If I see a book blurb mention love triangles, I won't even pick the book up because you know that this angst is going to be the main focus of the book at the expense of the plot. Ugh! Urban fantasy is being ruined by this. I wish authors would stop marketing their PNR books as UF and conning readers!ReplyDelete
I am totally with you on 3, 4, 5 and 6 -- especially 4, about bad editing. As a former newspaper copy editor and lover of grammar, I sometimes literally cringe because the writing and editing is so bad and that's a definite deal-breaker for me. I might finish the book, but you can bet I won't be picking anything up by that author again! The pretension thing gets me too. I always describe these books as having a writing style that's "too literary," but I think you described it much more accurately.ReplyDelete
Yes, you mentioned all my peevish boxes! I disagree about preferring a plot-driven book over a character-driven one. I'm the opposite!ReplyDelete
GREAT topic! I am definitely with you on pretty much all of these! Although pretension, morals and editing definitely top my list! A huge deal breaker for me is when a book has multiple POV's but they just randomly switch and you have no idea who is speaking!! DRIVES ME CRAZY!!ReplyDelete
Oh man, unlabeled POV-switch is just indescribably bad!!Delete
I'm completely the same with romance. If it sounds like romance is to be a main part of the plot I tend not to read it.ReplyDelete