Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top Ten Bookish Pet Peeves

Who doesn't like to complain? Not me. This week's topic over at The Broke and the Bookish is pet peeves of the bookish variety. Here are my top ten.

1. Marginalia
Marginalia is hot these days. I've read several articles singing its praises, such as this New York Times article. Sorry, I disagree. Except for textbooks, I don't mark up my books and I don't appreciate when other people do. I don't want to check out a library book and find some unknown reader's scribblings. If you're Alice Munro or J. M. Coetzee, go ahead and write in my books. Everyone else, hands off!

2. Teeny-tiny text
Okay, the eyes are going, but I do wear progressive lens. And I'm nowhere near ready for large-print books. In most books the font size and leading are just fine. But for others you need a magnifying glass.

3. Super-realistic book covers
I'm not a fan of illustrated book covers that look like photographs. Especially when they replace a perfectly wonderful original jacket. Case in point, Harriet the Spy. The original, which I read as a child, showed a pen-and-ink illustration by its author, Louise Fitzhugh. Cut to the late 1990s, when I bought the novel for my daughter to read. The super-realistic cover showed a modern girl who looked absolutely nothing like Harriet! Ugh. Today, I'm happy to say, Harriet the Spy has been reissued with its original cover, albeit in blue not orange.

4. Spoilers
Ever read a review, blurb, or back cover that gave away too much of the plot? I sure have.

5. Typos
I've worked as a copyeditor, so I know, none better, that it is impossible to catch every typo. Errors slip in and, slippery as fish, they are hard to catch. Still, when I'm reading a published book I don't expect to find more than a couple. Otherwise I begin to think that the book wasn't properly edited, that it's an orphan no one cared about. So why should I?

6. Magazine articles turned into full-length books
We've all read them. The author had a great idea and wrote a magazine article about it. Much applause followed, as well as a book deal. Turns out, though, that the author doesn't have much more to say than he did in the original article. So you read a book that's crammed with filler. This often happens with blogs. A great blog does not necessarily make a great book. 

7. Novels with "huh?" endings
Don't you hate getting to the end of a good novel and you're left with all these loose ends, or, worse, an ending that comes out of nowhere? I sure do. I read a lot of mysteries and this genre is especially guilty.

8. Celebrity-written children's books 
Madonna. Billy Crystal. John Lithgow. Sarah Ferguson. Kate Couric. The list goes on and on. It seems than anyone who's anyone can pen a children's book. They make it seem so easy. Except it's not. Most children's book authors will tell you how many years of hard work it took before an agent or editor looked at their manuscript, never mind signing them to a contract. To add insult to injury, most celebrity authors books are not very good. 

9. Chain bookstores with children's sections crammed with more toys than books
I'm seeing this more and more. My local Borders has a children's section that is packed with toys. And I mean actual toys, not toys packaged with toys (although they have plenty of those as well). The books are shoved against the back walls, almost apologetically. And of course the kids gravitate straight to the plush animals and gizmos and doodads, not the books.

10. Martin Amis and others who disrespect children's literature
In a recent interview the British novelist Martin Amis said only brain injury could make him write for children, adding "I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I could write." Well! A lot of ink has been spilled commenting on his remarks. I'll add that this belief, that children's literature can never be as serious, as important, as worthy, as adult literature is prevalent in our culture. Yes, there are plenty of children's novels that are middling or even not very good. Guess what? The same can be said for adult novels. But the best children's novels certainly deserve the name of literature. I wonder, what books did Amis read to his kids?

Whew! It felt good getting all that off my chest. What about you? What ticks you off?


  1. You know it's so true about kids books, just because they are for kids doesn't mean they don't count! Of course I don't read them myself but when I was a kid they sparked my love for reading so I will be forever grateful! :)

  2. Martin Amis is a stiff. He doesn't like anything. Who cares what he has to say? Saw him on Charlie Rose once - very unpleasant. AND a snob to boot.

    Obviously he CAN'T write for children, hence his absurd comment.

    Writing for children is extremely difficult as anyone who does it well will tell you.

    Maurice Sendak always said: I don't start out writing a book for children, I start out writing a book.

    Great list, by the way! I hate 'typos' and 'spoilers' too.

  3. Wow! So many great points!
    6. Yes. Or screenplays turned into full length books, too. It seldom works well. And then there's the insult of the last chapter being left out of the book, just so the reader will go see the movie. (I'm thinking of the latest over-hyped Red Riding Hood.)
    8. I, too, think it's an insult to good writers everywhere that celebrities can get their mediocre books published just because they are famous.
    9. You see this kind of thing at school book sales, too. Sad.
    10. What an idiot!

  4. The toys drive me nuts also. Or half of the books are craft/coloring books that require no reading (I like the ones that require reading). Why is it that a bookstore with a childrens section as big as a large classroom only has a quarter of a wall devoted to chapter books, and why can't they section those suckers out by topic like they do in the rest of the store so my child can go right to the section full of talking animals instead of ending up with a book about middle schoolers with cell phones.