Top 5 book turn offs

The Broke and the Bookish often asks some fiendishly difficult questions as part of itsTop Ten Tuesday meme. The latest round got my grey cells working overtime but I still couldn’t come up with more than five absolute dislikes – aspects of books that prove to be a strong turn off for me.

Sloppiness. Mistakes, well yes I’ve made a few. I just don’t like it when I find them in a book that supposedly has been scrutinised several times over before it hit the press. Proof reading is a tremendous skill – to do it well you have to read each word individually (when I write for work I often read the text backwards). Spell checking tools  have their uses but unfortunately they often mean we get lazy and don’t read the text carefully.  Is that why I seem to see more and more spelling errors in the books I read? Or is it a sad reflection on literacy standards? Either way it irritates me.

Predictable Book Blurbs . By predictable I mean the kind of text that having told you something of the plot, ends with a phrase along the lines of ‘their lives were changed forever’  or ‘their lives were never the same again’. There are way too many of these and they always sound so weak – as if that’s all the publishers could think of to incentivize us to buy the book, It usually has the opposite effect on me. Fortunately I ignored my usual prejudice recently and did read Alison MacLeod’s Booker long listed novel The Unexploded even though the inside cover said  “the lives of Evelyn, Otto and Geoffrey are changed irrevocably.” It was a cracking book let down by such a poor bit of marketing spin.

Adjective overkill. One sign of a not very accomplished author is that they think the overall effect will be enhanced if they load their narrative with adjectives.. For me it doesn’t – I like to use my imagination and think myself how someone behaves rather than get told. Dialogue which relies on attributions like ‘he said, laughingly’ or ‘she nodded her head vigorously’ are a turn off for me. Another dislike is the idea that every other noun that desribes scenery or weather has to have a qualifying adjective. Susan Hill’s A Woman In Black was completely ruined by that feature for me.

Books written in vernacular. It’s so hard to write in local dialect or in a form of language that accurately represents a long ago era and to make it meaningful. I hate historical fiction which peppers the text with thee and thou in an attempt to make it sound authentic. Sharon Penman’s novel about the Welsh Prince Llewellyn was superb but it did cause much gnashing of the teeth to find odd Welsh words dropped in here and there without much rhyme or reason other than to remind us that he was of Welsh origin.  Of all the Booker prize winners I have yet to read, the one I am dreading is James Kelman’s How Late it Was How Late which is written in a working class Scottish dialect. 

Talking animals. Like many a child I loved Black Beauty and Wind in the Willows but my capacity for anthropomorphic characters has almost completely disappeared. Now I have little tolerance to any furry creature who dares to give voice in print. The worst are where the creatures are given human traits in order to ‘teach us’ something (as in Watership Down or The Golden Compass). Give me real people any day.


About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on October 4, 2013, in Book Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I’ve always felt that some “popular” authors just write the story and then go back and fill it with adjectives to get it to a required length !

  2. I’d agree with all of those but make an exception for The Wind in the Willows on the last point. The only Somerset Maugham I have never got beyond page 5 of is his first novel, Lisa of Lambeth, which is written mostly as dialogue and set in a late Victorian Cockney slum. It is as a result a vile, vile, authentic thing that makes my teeth itch with frustration!

  3. I totally agree with sloppiness. There are proof editors, right? The rest, I don’t feel strongly about them, probably because I haven’t figured out what my bookish turn offs are. Melodrama is one, but I think that is rather subjective as opposed to talking animals. One cannot deny the leporine conversations in Watership Down, right?

    Regarding vernacular, I think you might also dread True History of the Kelly Gang, if you haven’t read it yet.

  4. Adjective overkill and excessive metaphors. Wind in the Willows will always be wonderful for me. You might make an exception to your dislike of talking animals in the case of Kathyrn Davis’ “A Thin Place”. Unfortunately, mentioning this gives away the punchline, as it is unexpected in the book, but it is a good read. Unfortunately, I read it before I started writing book reviews on my blog.

  5. Again, my list would be different – I can cope with talking animals. Your first three are also bugbears of mine, especially tpyos (sic). I can handle a little vernacular, but couldn’t stand Trainspotting because of it either!

  6. Talking animals!! Argh!!

  7. I agree with you about mistakes and typos. It’s gotten to the point where I am impressed if I don’t see any.

  8. Awe I love vernacular! Trainspotting is one of my favourites. It wouldn’t have been the same without the heavy Scottish accent. I agree with you on your other points.

  9. I like your list, although mine wouldn’t be the same. I don’t really mind talking animals as long as what they’re teaching isn’t trite or too platitudinous (Is that even a word?) and I almost never read book blurbs for fear of spoilers. Mistakes in the text of a finished book can be hard to avoid because you don’t know about them in advance, but I definitely hate books written in dialect, and those are easy to avoid! (Unless you’re trying to read all the Booker finalists, I guess!)

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