Every reader knows there can be certain things about reading, books, and the bookish life that just rub you the wrong way, whether it’s a quirk of an author’s writing style or over-used story trope, or a marketing tactic or business practice of book publishers, or the practical traits of books as physical objects, or any other thing that niggles at the back of your mind. Here are three of mine.
1. Movie tie-in book covers
In the words of Myq Kaplan, “Brad Pitt is in this book!”
This is a pretty common pet peeve among readers, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. We all know why publishers do this; they’re trying to get people who love the movie, but maybe aren’t big readers, to buy the book, which is wonderful. I’m all for people discovering a love of reading through any pathway they can. I understand it, and I’ve made peace with it, but it’s still irritating.
(Slightly less irritating, but still kind of annoying, is when a publisher prints a new edition of a book with the original cover, but with that “Now a Major Motion Picture!” badge. Like suddenly the book is now worthy of notice because it’s been made into a movie.)
2. Conspicuous Author Syndrome [TM]
So I think this may be common among readers, as well, but it’s really hard to put your finger on it, or at least it was for me, so many may not realize they have this pet peeve.
It took me a little while, peeling back several layers of irritation, before I was able to pin down that this is the root of what was actually bothering me (and this is kind of a long explanation of how I got there, so bear with me).
It started with something that only slightly annoyed me. I read several reviews for several different books on Amazon that all said something to the effect of, “I thought the author [or even worse, called the author by their first name, which just seems disrespectful or pretentious to me, or maybe both] did a really good job of [fill in the blank].” That might seem pretty innocuous, but I read this sentence or something similar several times over the course of a couple hours one day, and it’s one of those things that once you’ve noticed it, that’s ALL you notice.
The repetition would be enough to irritate most people, I think, but I was sure there was some deeper reason why this bothered me SO MUCH. Am I just irrational? Well, yes. But I wanted to justify my irrationality.
Then I started to remember similar phrases and word choices that have stuck out to me in book descriptions for some self-published and indie novels I’ve come across, descriptions that most likely were written by the authors themselves, I’m assuming. (I’m not by any means disparaging self-published novels in and of themselves, by the way, just the bad ones.) I’ve seen several that said something like, “This book will give you insight into the characters’ thoughts and emotions.” That bothered me because…
THAT’S WHAT BOOKS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO!
It’s super strange that it had to be explicitly stated, like maybe the description was written for people who have never read a book before? I don’t know.
Connecting these two trains of thought helped me to realize that my visceral negative reactions to these word choices had more to do with the more general and abstract experience of reading than with the word choices themselves. When I read a book, I want it to be an immersive experience. I don’t want to be thinking about how the author is doing a great job of something, or the great insights I’m getting into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. I want to be in that world, and get to know the characters like they’re real people, and experience the story with them. And if I’m noticing or thinking about the author at all, I’m not really in that world; I can see it, but only from the outside.
So when a review says “the author did a great job of describing the settings,” or whatever, what that says to me (whether this is true or not) is that the author DIDN’T do such a good job of whatever it was, because if they had, you wouldn’t be thinking about the author at all.
This may seem weird, but I don’t want the author to explain things to me. I don’t want to read or hear anything from the author themself regarding their book beyond the most basic summary, because if what they have to explain about it is really so important, it should be in the book. So when authors explain their books, whether in self-written book descriptions or interviews or wherever, what they’re really doing is trying to control how the reader perceives the book.
3. Libraries shelving classics in the YA section
I can honestly say that this is the only thing that bothers me about libraries (besides overdue fines, but we bring those on ourselves), so in the grand scheme of things, that’s not too bad. And I’m sure not every public library does this, but many do in my experience.
Let me tell you why this bothers me, because I know you want to know. I am all for teens reading classics. I was a teen who read classics, after all, and I’m now a grown-up who reads both classics and YA fiction (among other things).
And I’m sure there are good arguments for shelving classic novels in the teen section of the library; high school students may need to read them for class, so putting classics in the section where those students likely spend the most time makes a certain kind of sense. But on a deeper level, this placement choice is really making a statement about YA fiction, teenage readers, and a broader conversation around genre labels and gatekeeping that I don’t agree with.
By classifying Dickens and Faulkner and Austen novels as books for teens, the message is that adults don’t need to read classics. I know that most adult readers probably would not buy into that message, but that’s still the implication.
There is also an underlying (and maybe unintentional) reinforcement of the ever-more-deeply entrenched YA genre label in the placement of classics in the teen section. If teenagers need to check out a classic to read for school, they don’t ever need to leave the teen section to find it; they don’t ever have a reason to be exposed to fiction written for adults, or to leave the insular YA bubble.
I think there is value in designating novels as YA, and not just for the publishing industry. But I also think that libraries are not the publishing industry, and they shouldn’t function like a Barnes & Noble (although Barnes & Noble is not functioning so well these days, amirite?).
Ironically, most bookstores I know don’t put classics in the teen section.
What did we learn?
These three pet peeves are my biggest bookish gripes, but there are other little things that come up from time to time, too. I think the common thread in the things that really irritate me is that they’re things that can taint a reader’s perception of a book. Just let people read books; don’t try to control their experience!
What about you? How do you feel about my pet peeves, and what are some of yours? Let me know in the comments!