Some Bookish Pet Peeves

Happy Feast of the Inauguration!

This is a feast day we made up simply because 2021 needs as many excuses for celebration as it can get. (Our next one will be in mid-February: Victoriana Fest, to celebrate the birthdays of a few of our Victorian heroes – Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and Abraham Lincoln. Expect traditional, stodgy foods.) Later tonight we’ll be having an all-American menu of veggie burgers, sweet potato fries, random Californian beers we found at Waitrose, and pecan pie with ice cream. And Vice President Kamala Harris’s autobiography is on hold for me at the library to pick up later this month.

Since I still don’t have any new book reviews ready (though I have now finished seven books in 2021, which is something), here’s some more filler content based on annoying book traits I’ve been reminded of recently.

Some of My Bookish Pet Peeves

Long excerpts from other books, in the text or as epigraphs

I often skip these. I am reading this book to hear from you, the author, not the various philosophers and poets you admire. I want to learn from your expertise and thought processes, not someone else’s.

Exceptions: Tim Dee’s books are good examples since he weaves in copious quotations and allusions while still being eloquent in his own right. Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World includes a lot of quotes, especially from poems, but I was okay with that because it was true to her experience of traditional thinking failing her in the face of her son’s impending death. Her two bereavement memoirs are thus almost like commonplace books on grief.

Long passages in italics

I sometimes see these used to indicate flashbacks in historical fiction. They are such a pain to read. I am very likely to skim these sections, or skip them altogether.

An exception: Thus far, the secondary storyline about the mice in The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin, delivered all in italics, has been more compelling than the main storyline.

Huge jumps forward in time

These generally feel unnatural and sudden. Surely there’s a way to avoid them? And if they are truly necessary, I’d rather they were denoted by a new section with a time/date stamp. I’m not talking about alternating storylines from different time periods, as these are usually well signaled by a change of voice, but, e.g., a chapter picking up 15 years in the future.

Not being upfront about the fact that a book is ghostwritten

I have come to expect ghostwriters for political memoirs (Barack Obama’s being a rare exception), but in the last two years I’ve also come across a botanist’s memoir and a surgeon’s memoir that were ghostwritten but not announced as such – with the former I only found out via the acknowledgments at the end, and with the latter it was hidden away in the copyright information. I’d rather the title page came right out and said “by So and So” with “Ghostwriter Name.” (Anyone know whether Kamala had a ghostwriter?)

Matte covers or dustjackets that show fingerprints

Back in 2017 I wrote a whole post on the physical book features that I love or loathe. It was a good way of eliciting strong opinions from blog readers! (For example, some people hate deckle edge, whereas I love it.)

Something that bothers other readers but doesn’t faze me at all is a lack of speech marks, or the use of alternative indicators like dashes or indented paragraphs. I’m totally used to this in literary fiction. I even kind of like it. I’m also devoted to rarer forms of narration like the second person and the first person plural that might be a turn-off for some.


[Added later]

No, or very few, paragraphs, chapters, or other section breaks

How am I supposed to know where to stop reading and put my bookmark in?!

Whom is dead

Not just in books; in written English in general. And, even if this is inevitable, it still makes me sad.

Any pet peeves making you a grumpy reader these days?

48 responses

  1. Definitely agree with the first peeve. Happy Feast of the Inauguration to you, too! Something to be happy about at last.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was so relieved that yesterday went off with no problems. I am hopeful of the positive changes we will see even in these early months.

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  2. The single-sentence paragraph will never not make me mutinous. (Ironic!)

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    1. It occurred to me last night that I must add this: I can’t stand when there are no paragraph or chapter breaks!

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      1. I don’t hate it as much as you do, but it throws me! Reading Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer Without Men rn and putting in the bookmark willy-nilly feels… weird.

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    2. I’d forgotten that was an issue there. The weakest of her books that I’ve read, I thought. Are you enjoying it?

      I have little plastic arrows that can be put in to mark a particular place on a page, but I don’t like using them because they leave a crease.

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      1. So far yes; I don’t think she’s sacrificed her dry wit or depth of reference for a lighter story, though perhaps that comes later…

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  3. Not being upfront about the fact that a book is ghostwritten – this. I work with ghost writers and i do know at least one book where the writer asked not to be acknowledged at all … but otherwise it’s really annoying. It also means I rather love funny old Goldie, because not only did he acknowledge it on the title page, he gave his ghost his own acknowledgements page (which acknowledged me!).

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    1. It only seems fair to acknowledge their work, and to make it plain that this celebrity (or whoever) had help.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Too small a type face! My eyesight ain’t bad, but I will reject a book, even one I’m keen to read, if it’s a pain to decipher.

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    1. I’ve never had to reject a book for that yet, but it is a consideration. Very small print in a book means I won’t take it to bed to read, and will probably move through it much more slowly overall.

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      1. You’re still young. Just you wait …

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    2. I’m sure I will notice my eyesight deteriorating before too long. I wear contacts during the day. Already I find low-light conditions more difficult than I used to.

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  5. Ghostwriters ought to be acknowledged, such bad form not to, they surely improve the average memoir hugely. Those matte covers too were novel at first for the feel, but the fingerprints remain. I’m with you on both of those.

    Small font sizes and awkward to read typefaces are a bug bear for me. Reading the chunkster that was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was an ordeal on that front (luckily the writing was good).

    I’m beginning to get fed up with books of consistently short chapters (I’m thinking 2-3 pages, as opposed to vignettes which I love), pandering to shorter attention spans. Still haven’t plucked up courage to dive into Ducks, Newburyport though – their complete opposite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember Eleanor once told me hairspray is the way to get rid of fingerprints on matte covers. I’ve never tried it, though, as I don’t keep hairspray around!

      I once took a look inside a Dan Brown book at my in-laws’ (though I’ve not read him) and that’s exactly what it was — chapters of two to three pages all the way through, with some form of cliffhanger at the end of each! It was rather laughable. I don’t mind long chapters as long as there are some section breaks along the way so I know where to pause.

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  6. Oh I hate a matte cover too!

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    1. I always take dustjackets off when reading a hardback, so that’s not so much of a problem, but with paperbacks it’s impossible not to leave fingerprints and it makes them look so messy.

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  7. I also have a hard time with no chapter breaks. As much as I love Marilynne Robinson, I had to tell myself to hang on, when her latest, JACK, opened with a gigantic first chapter–all one scene, really. And to hide the fact that a book is ghost written is wrong, I think. Of course, I write for university leadership all the time–and nowhere does it say, ‘btw, this message was written by a development writer who’s never stepped foot on this campus,’ so I guess it’s probably more widespread–across industries–than we think. Funny you mentioned small print–I just got my first pair of readers the other day (bye-bye, youth!) and I don’t know what took me so long. Reading a copy of The Power and the Glory right now, printed in the tiniest type, but I’ll probably use the readers for everything going forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t get anywhere with Jack; then again, I thought the two other sequels to Gilead were unnecessary, so I didn’t have a good attitude going into it! I tried re-reading Gilead in the fall and enjoyed many of the observations yet found it overall too slow and plotless.

      That makes sense to me: it’s an institutional voice and you wouldn’t necessarily expect CEOs to write all their own reports or speeches, just as you don’t expect politicians or celebrities to write all their own stuff. It’s when it’s an everyday person and they don’t acknowledge that they had a co-writer, or basically didn’t write the book at all, that I feel cheated. (I was astonished on the copyright page of the surgeon’s memoir to see “Text by” some other person! In what sense was it the surgeon’s book?)

      I’ve never needed vision correction for close-up stuff, though I might struggle in low light. My dad resisted reading glasses until his 60s, I think! He’d long been the only one in my immediate family without glasses or contacts.

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      1. Also, as an everyday person, myself, it amazes me that other everyday writers can get book deals–only to have the writing done by someone else. How can I sign up for that? Ha.

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    2. I guess the excuse was that he’s so busy saving children’s lives that he doesn’t have time to write a book … in which case he shouldn’t have decided to ‘write a book’! (I know I’m really down on this one example. The writing was so average in the first chapter that I didn’t continue with the book, only to learn that it wasn’t his writing anyway.)

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      1. You’re right to be disappointed–and down on that example. I wonder how many more like it are out there!?

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  8. I agree about long quotes from other authors. I tend to skim or skip those too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad I’m not the only one. It can be done well, but too often feels lazy, like they can’t be bothered to make their own point.

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      1. It reminds me of trying to increase the page count in school papers!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. My biggest peeve is no quotation marks for speech, followed by giant paragraphs! And typos, of course.

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    1. I correct typos in books, in pencil, even if they’re library books! I’m most annoyed by homophone errors — almost every time I see the word diffuse used in a book, it’s where they meant defuse instead. Ditto for leech vs. leach and sheer vs. shear.

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      1. Yes those are annoying and should have been picked up by proofreaders! Although I think some publishers don’t use them any more.

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    2. No proofreaders at all?! But, but … that’s ridiculous! Surely every manuscript should get at least two full edits from qualified proofreaders, to catch everything. (I’m a proofreader, of science journals, as my day job.)

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      1. It’s going to depend on the publisher, as an editor might also proofread. I have to say, when it comes to self-publishing, some of the ones I’ve read have clearly not been proofread, or certainly not by someone who knows their stuff.

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      2. Oh absolutely, I used to review self-published material and the writing quality could be appalling. I know a lot of people don’t have the budget for proofreading, but they owe it to themselves to get it done professionally.

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  10. Even though I’m not picky about the condition of books (I write in books, I fold pages…) covers that show finger prints are yuck.

    My current peeve – authors who get all their friends to give their book five stars on Goodreads (and it’s not hard to tell when a ‘reader’ has only one book on their shelf and has given it a glowing five start written review!). I recently gave one star to a book – mine is the lone star in a sea of fives….).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ugh, yeah, that annoys me too. I don’t like when authors give their own book 5 stars, accompanied by some kind of witty sentence. Or when everyday readers give a pre-release book 5 stars, or 1 star, based on the author, even though they haven’t read the book.

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  11. With the exception of italics (they don’t faze me but my mom is on your team 100%) I agree with all of these! The ghostwritten thing in particular drives me mad. I read Marina Abramović’s memoir a few years ago and had suspicions while I was reading that it was ghostwritten, but there was no mention of it so I brushed it off and then learned afterward that it was and it just annoyed me to no end. I LOVED the book and undoubtedly would have anyway had I known it was ghostwritten, but it does change the reader’s relationship with the book and I would have liked to have consented to that before I started reading, so to speak.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As well as being disrespectful of the author who did most of the hard work, it seems dishonest on the part of the person whose name is on the cover. I think both should get equal billing.

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  12. I remember that you were surprised to find that the sections in italics in Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing were enjoyable too.

    For me, I don’t think there’s anything that uniformly bothers me. If I believe that the author has made a creative decision, and that decision is consistent throughout (e.g. choosing not to use quotation marks to more fully include a reader in the scene, compared to choosing not to use them because it’s easier to type, or because it looks cool), then I’m along for the ride.

    So I guess I get grumpy for an infinite number of reasons, whenever it seems to me that someone has made a decision without thinking it through and however that shows up. Plus there are so many reasons IRL to be grumpy! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point — plenty of exceptions to that rule 😉 Chris recently found the italicized sections annoying in Empire Falls, but I’d forgotten all about them.

      You are a patient and generous reader!

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      1. I don’t remember italicized sections in Russo either; I just loved that book.

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  13. I hate not having any pages at the end of the book. I hate when the book finishes (literally) on the last page. Like why?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! We are very used to getting a few blank sheets there, aren’t we? I’ve had kind of the opposite problem with Kindle books that finish somewhere around 80%, with the rest being notes, etc.; I was expecting much more story so wasn’t ready for the end!

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      1. Oh that sucks more 😂😂😂
        I know what you mean. You kind of make your own mind up about when a book should finish. I sometimes do that 😂🤷🏻‍♀️

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  14. I’m with you on the irritations of lack of section/paragraph/page breaks. I need a clue as to when to stop, take a breath or even to go to sleep….

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    1. One of the (many) reasons Ducks, Newburyport was a non-starter for me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was for me too. As is anything by Will Self

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      2. I thought Will Self’s Book of Dave was fantastic, the only one of his I’ve read, but most people in my book club gave up or really struggled. Working out the peculiar language and pronunciation and customs was half the fun. I obviously had no deadlines while I was reading it.
        Book blog: https://marketgardenreader.wordpress.com

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      3. You’re about the only person I’ve come across who has enjoyed even one of his books!

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      4. I enjoyed the linguistic challenge of working out what he was writing about. I have a couple of his earlier, thinner books to read. I suspect I’ll enjoy those less but am looking forward to trying them. No guarantees when, though.

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    2. I’ve never tried him … but I’m not tempted!

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