Bookish Pet Peeves

confused old lady meme

I see a lot of ‘pet peeves’ posts complaining about things like insta-love, people letting out breaths they didn’t know they were holding, love triangles, etc. These bug me too when they happen, but they’re not the things I notice most and that get on my nerves most often.

After some thinking, here are five things in books that get my goat but I don’t see mentioned that much.

Unpronounceable gibberish

This mainly comes up in fantasy – maybe it’s a spell, a character name, a country, a line of dialogue in a fictional language. But it’s an impossible garble of consonants.

I loved Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle when I was younger, but if I skim through the prologue of Eragon again now this is one of the things that pops out at me. ‘The Shade jumped out from behind the tree, raised his right hand, and shouted, “Garjzla!”’

Garjzla? What the hell is that?

OK, the Ancient Language isn’t English and doesn’t have to follow the exact same pronunciation style, granted. But ‘brisingr’ is another word in it, and it has the courtesy to be readable. Or he could’ve been inspired by French, and shoved way too many voweuls ein theeire. At least it wouldn’t be a mess of consonants.

Difficulty for the sake of it

I can take some difficulty in form and language for the sake of a good effect. Jon McGregor does some cool stuff, Infinite Jest is my jam, I liked Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, that sort of thing.

Sometimes, though, they’re just taking the piss.

Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller was super meta and the concept was great, but it didn’t have to be so thorny and pretentious. I gave up on Henry James’s What Maisie Knew because the bloke forgot how to use full stops properly: every sentence was a whole bunch of clauses, impossible to keep the train of thought together until you get to the end – anyone in that class who finished the thing deserves a medal. Even with Infinite Jest – why did he use ‘aleatory’ when ‘random’ is a perfectly fine word that means literally the same thing?

I can take a bit of a challenge when it pays off, but come on! There’s nothing inherently good about being difficult. If your book has to come with complimentary aspirin and a reader’s guide, that’s a bad thing, you numskull! It doesn’t make you clever!

Weird creepy sex stuff

I’m not opposed at all to books dealing with this side of life. Plenty handle it well and are better for it; and if you like reading romance, that’s not my cuppa but all power to you. But sometimes it’s just the author being unexpectedly weird and creepy out of nowhere. Sometimes books honestly make me worry if their authors are okay, y’know? Like, if I shook their hand I’d have to wash mine.

This was something I complained about in B. Catling’s The Vorrh – I don’t need to know all about a woman made of Bakelite’s kelp-lined vagina, thank you. Move on from that and back to the story.

It comes up most in ‘literary’ books. Ian McEwans Black Dogs is great, but who asks their mother in law about what their late father in law was packing below the belt? That’s not a normal question. I didn’t sign up for this cringe.

I found the ‘TNP’ (don’t ask) stuff in Julian Barnes’s England, England okay, because although it was really weird it actually fit in with the plot and the satirical mood of the book. The brief histories of the MCs sex lives were comparatively more normal, but felt a lot creepier to me with the way it was handled and there for no reason.

J.G. Ballard’s The Unlimited Dream Factory was the peak of this: pretty much all about a chap jacking it all over a village, literally. And when I looked at the blurb of another book by him in a shop recently, it seemed to be the same thing again. That’s a yikes from me.

Description dumps

We all love to hate infodumps. But its annoying cousin is the description dump, stopping a plot in its tracks to drone on about every detail in the layout of a house, to wax purple prose about how the cold winds coming down from the mountains rustle leaves in front of the house, to describe what a character is wearing in so much detail that I forget what colour their shoes are by the time it’s got up to the species of bird that provided the feather in their hat.

Sometimes extended description can genuinely add something. But a lot of the time, nobody cares. Paint the scene and move on.

Something getting overused

mentioned the constant references to Kerri’s supposedly inconceivably amazing hair in Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids. It’s just hair! Lots of people are ginger, get over it mate!

Or in Jo Walton’s Among Others, a decent book, but hey, what’s the narrator doing now? Oh yeah, she’s reading another book, somehow finding time to devour the entire SFF canon while attending school and dealing with the magic stuff. And now she’s joined a book club!

Or, as in another series I liked when I was younger, Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. What’s the inciting incident in this one? Oh, it’s Wolf missing/in trouble again. Of course it is.

Maybe it’s a phrase the author really likes, maybe it’s a gimmick overstaying its welcome, maybe it’s a weird preoccupation, maybe it’s not trusting the reader to remember something. Gah.

So, five pet peeves. Do these annoy you too?

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8 thoughts on “Bookish Pet Peeves

  1. I agree with all of these…other than the first one. There are actually a lot of languages with large consonant clusters (and some with words with no vowels, etc.). A lot of Slavic languages or African languages for example may contain strings of consonants.

    Some linguists theorize that the balance of consonants vs vowels in languages evolved based on what was more efficient for sounds to travel in the environments where they were spoken. (Languages used in drier climates tend to use less vowels). Vowels for example travel better in windy environments where consonants may get lost.

    Even English words may surprise you sometimes with how weird some words are (did you know Syzygy is a word?). And there are lots of languages that have characteristics that the English alphabet doesn’t properly account for (Chinese words have “tones” associated with them, for example).

    I know this wasn’t really what your post is about, but I thought I’d share 🙂 Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that, I definitely see what you’re saying.

      If a character is using a real language I won’t be annoyed if it’s hard for me to pronounce. Completely different context there. If Paolini had originally been writing in another language, too, that’d make a difference for me. I don’t have the right for all words everywhere to be anglo-friendly (like, the history ‘n all…).

      But if it’s a fictional language, in a work originally in English, I personally find tongue-twisters detract from the writing. ‘Garjzla’ takes me out of the scene for a moment, ‘brisingr’ is fine to me: both fictional words based on Norse.

      Like

  2. john page

    It’s a fine balance between too little information and rabbiting on incoherently and many authors fall foul. Appreciate your observations and that’s what makes the World go around. John.

    Like

  3. These are some of my pet peeves regarding books as well. Purposely making language difficult, confusing the plot and over describing a feature of the story —if they are bad enough can have me putting a book down. I gave up on Infinite Jest! Kudos to you for reading through!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a really great post! I’m glad you focused on some different things- as opposed to the usual tropes (though I’m definitely guilty of going after those lol 😉 ) hahaha completely agree with you about the unpronounceable gibberish! I do think that sometimes authors are taking the piss when it comes to how difficult they make their language seem. And I really don’t like the cringey, creepy sex vibe that some books have- don’t get me wrong, I’ve no issue with sex in books, but sometimes it’s just used weirdly (McEwan is a prime example of this- I mean, in Nutshell the narrator is a foetus and describes feeling his mother having sex… and no, I didn’t type that sentence with a straight face, cos it’s too ridiculous for words). Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

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