This week’s Top Ten
Tuesday Thursday list was actually suggested last week by The Broke and the Bookish:
Top Ten Book Turn-Offs (thanks to Michelle for this idea! You know..you are reading and then SOMETHING happens to completely turn you off — cheating, absent parents, multiple POVS etc.).
Oh my. I always try to play nice, but this kind of prompt brings out my inner reading/writing snob. OK, then, the gloves are coming off…but I won’t name any names. 😉
Not long ago, I had a policy that I would always finish any book I started–well, at least, I’d intend to. (It would never come off of my “reading” shelf, even if the bookmark hadn’t moved for years.) But recently, with my to-be-read Goodreads shelf growing exponentially, I realized something.
No longer would I chain myself to an interminable abomination of dictionary refuse. If a book meets one of these ten deal-breakers, it now finds itself on a new shelf: banished (to the back of a closet. I still can’t ever get rid of books.).
1. Bad writing.
I can’t help it. I may care more about the way you’re saying something than what you’re saying. Like I’ve said before, good language can save a bad story, but bad language can ruin a good one. It’s about the journey as much as the end. You can chalk this up to my obsession with grammar and vocabulary. I’ve gotten even more picky since my writing program at DePaul, but this has always been a #1 make-it-or-break-it point. I can usually tell within one page if I’m going to like the writing.
2. (Only) weak female characters.
This one should not be a surprise, considering how much I love strong female characters. What may surprise you, though, is that qualifier–“only.” I actually am okay with one or more weak female characters being in a book IF AND ONLY IF their weakness is meant to portray a negative, especially in opposition to a strong female character. For instance, if a society prizes weak women, but the lovable heroine is strong and transcends–and preferably changes–that (stupid) society, that’s okay with me.
3. Obsessive love.
This one actually was a surprise to me when I finally realized it. I’ve always been, and still am, a romantic. The best stories have a love story in them–but, I realized, that’s not all they have in them. I think the best love is one that makes you stronger, better, more balanced–not one that is all-consuming. I also think that love has to make sense; it’s not instantaneous, and it’s not equivalent to lust. I think we’ve all learned those things the hard way, whether through personal experience, through watching friends in their PDA vacuums, or reading books with few pages between descriptions of longing. Some people can’t get enough of non-stop romance, but I still haven’t found an example of this that I like. My new blog friend Canary the First just wrote a list of suggestions for me to try, located on the comments of my “Banned Books Week Fun” post, if you’d like to check it out. By the way, somehow, I’m slightly more tolerant of obsessive love in movies than books, but NOT IF IT CAUSES A #2–on this list, that is. (Ahem, a weak female.)
4. Unjustified disturbing violence.
I’m pretty squeamish when it comes to violence. I’ll always close my eyes during a movie and wait for someone to tell me when that part is over. I’ll sing “LA LA LA” over violent parts in audiobooks so I block out most of it, and I’ll glaze over the sections in printed books. Forget about horror movies and gory horror books (though I’ll still read psychological horror, sometimes, if it’s creative and I’m feeling brave). When it comes to violence, I feel it must be justified. It’s really not that different from #3; anything intense needs to make sense and have a place. The Hunger Games was very hard for me to get through, especially the last book, but I felt like the violence was an integral part of the story; it wasn’t just there to be sensational.
5. Static characters.
When you go through life and learn things, you should change, right? No one is born perfect; that’s what makes us human. So books should be the same, in my opinion. Even if the characters aren’t human, they will annoy me if they never change. My favorite type of book is one where characters surmount their challenges and become heroic because of it. Also, the opposite reaction to those same challenges is ripe potential for some great villains.
6. Annoying narrator–text or audio.
I like to think I am a nice person who’s tolerant of people different than me, even if I’m not their biggest fan. But if I’m going to have to listen to someone talk for 400 pages or 10 hours, I’m sorry, but I have to like you. If I’m annoyed by the character, usually by some unredeemed, unchanging trait (mean, airheaded, etc.), I do not want to hear what you have to say; I do not want to see the world through your lens. As for audiobooks, I prefer readers who are a medium on an enthusiasm scale. Zany can be overwhelming, and boring is, well, boring.
And, for the ultimate example of a narrator mismatched to a text, witness Gilbert Gottfried reading excerpts of 50 Shades of Grey. Warning: NSFW, rated R, and hilarious.
7. A Mean/Bigoted Author
We live in an age of celebrity, where spotlight is constant and public image is everything. For some celebrities, all publicity is good publicity; even if people are saying bad things about you, at least they’re talking about you, which will likely lead to some sort of increase in your revenue, even if only by echoing in the subconscious minds of consumers. But guess what, authors? Readers pay attention to words, and because you are a master of them, we WILL hold you accountable for them. So while it might have been OK for the public to watch Transcendental poets escape from civilization into the woods, writing a book the public would subsequently be frantic to buy, now, with the transparency of social media and instantaneous news posts, writers have to watch what they say. I won’t delve into this too much in this post, but I may in the future: in recent literary news, lauded author Jonathan Franzen was at it again with his offensive statements which can pretty much be summed up as he doesn’t want people to buy his books because most of us are too stupid to appreciate them. Well then, Jonny, we won’t. Enjoy your Ramen noodles. Literature is one industry in which bad publicity is just plain bad. I don’t want to spend time in your head, reading your words, if you’re outright hateful.
8. Sentimentally sad for no good reason.
This one really gets to me, because I’m usually blindsided by it. If I suspect a book will rip my heart out, I ask a trustworthy reader if it will, and if so, if it’s worth it. If I don’t know anyone who’s read it yet, I wait till someone gets around to it (sometimes via my convincing), and then I ask. I almost feel bad about this, but it’s just that I REALLY get emotional about books. More than is normal
or healthy. And it’s very hard for me to like a book where every lovable character dies, but unfortunately, I’m usually too invested to see it coming and avoid it.
I have to admit that as an author, I’ve been guilty of this. In a writing workshop at DePaul, my teacher Michele Morano described my story as “manipulatively sad.” It took me some time to understand what she meant, but after being manipulated by other sobby books, I finally understand. If a book–especially an ending–is extremely sad, it must be justified. Usually, a completely sad ending doesn’t work so well; bittersweet chocolate is far more palatable than 100% cacao (I’ve tried it, trust me, it’s disgusting–it’s an oily bean, after all). The ending can be a surprise but mustn’t be an out-of-left-field shock. There has to be poetry in the sadness. And usually, I’m happy to let someone relay the poetry to me. I’m just trying to save trees by conserving tissues. O:o)
I’m guessing this guy isn’t going to be subject to an author’s lusty musings, but that’s sort of my point. There’s a fine line between interesting romance (see #3) and shameless out-of-place erotica. I think authors can fall into this trap when a character becomes popular, which is almost guaranteed for popular YA novels, and the more–um, intense–fans clamor for more descriptions of abs and sweat rolling between shoulder blades, distracting from a perfectly philosophical scene that may not even be told through a crush’s eyes. I doubt a fellow blacksmith, holding a molten tool, is watching a bead of sweat trace a pattern over the sooty chiseled cheek of his uncle (but I guess it could happen). Anyway, fan service is a turn-OFF for me, not a turn-ON, you naughty authors, you.
10. No ending
Do you like the symbolic lack of punctuation on this one? I wanted to be subtle, but I can’t bear a suspicion of a typo. What would the neighbors think?
While #8 sometimes isn’t clear till the end, this one definitely isn’t. Sometimes, you may start to suspect you’ll be disappointed when an epic moment has concluded, or not yet concluded, with only a few pages left. At the least, it won’t be the shapely plot diagram you’ve grown to expect.
I’ve come to accept endings not wrapped with a bow, endings that are ambiguous, or even endings that are sad (#8). But you must give me something, or else I’ll think it’s a printing error. It’s like driving ten hours to a grocery store but never getting out of the car. What’s the point?
And so concludes my list for this week, readers. Because of how long it took me to compile this, I’ve realized it’s harder for me to be negative than positive. I think this is a good thing. It also may be because I am more or less illiterate in pop culture, and memes can take forever+ to find when you don’t know what you’re looking for. On that note, a special thank-you to my sister for helping me find many of these. It went something like this:
Me: *scrolling endlessly on Google* Jennifer, have you seen this picture of a crazy-looking girl’s face, I think I’ve seen it once, she’s like a stalker or something…?
Jennifer: Oh, yeah! That’s Overly Attached Girlfriend!
As I mentioned before, she is my pop-culture liaison.