Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Books I Cannot Like

I am reading a book right now that I want to love--I really do--but I can't. It's well written, the plot is there, the characters are tight, falls flat. For me. For the millions of fans of the book (and movie), it worked, but not for me.

And I realized--there are some styles of book that I will NEVER like. It's just a personal preference, just like how I don't really like movies like Meet the Parents where the main character has the worst luck EVAR or any movies by Jim Carrey (with the exception of The Truman Show).

Anyway, here's the kinds of books that I just do NOT like:

  • Books where the author talks to the reader. This was a problem with me with the Lemony Snicket books and, more recently, The Tale of Despauraux. Here's the thing: I feel like I'm being talked down to in these cases--like the way Lemony Snicket assumes we don't know the meanings of words and gives them to us. Now, some people love this plot feature--up to and including Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte--but it breaks the fourth wall for me and kills the book.
  • Books where the solution to a problem is found in another person (i.e. my world revolves around him!). I have this friend, right? He thinks that his life is horrible, and if he'd just find a woman to share it with, it would be a dream. Also, I teach high school. All the girls' worlds revolve around the boys, and vice versa. My point is, when a person OR a character thinks the solution to all of life's problems can be found in a dream lover, I am out. Look, I love the husband. Like, a lot. But real love isn't obsession, and real love loves despite the problems and flaws--it doesn't, for example, get distracted by sparkly vampires.
  • Books where the solution to the problem could happen if the character just said something. This is why I am not usually a fan of romance novels. If the guy would just tell the girl, or the girl would just tell the guy that they liked each other, problem solved! Of course, the plot would be two sentences long...but I am the type of girl who says what she means and doesn't beat around the bush, and it drives me crazy when characters do. Just say SOMETHING!
  • Present tense voice. See? Sometimes I have to eat my own words. Ask me about present tense voice a year before, and I would have said I hated it. But now...well, I'm writing a manuscript in it. And some of my favorite books have since been written in that tense. The moral of the story? Any of my personal pet peeves can be tossed out when the rest of the writing's good enough.
Now, I don't mean to slam on anyone's writing or books here (not even you, sparklespire). These are just the kinds of stories that will, invariably, turn me off. They totally work for some people. My mother, for example, adores the classic romance he-loves-her-and-she-loves-him-but-OMG-we-can't-tell! formula. Lemony Snicket has made an indeliable mark on children's literature--and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I just think it's interesting how some tropes just grate on people's nerves.

How about you? What kind of style in a book will automatically turn you off?


lotusgirl said...

If any style is done well, I can like it. The things that bug me is when I can feel that the author is pushing certain propaganda and when I'm talked down to.

PJ Hoover said...

I haven't tried to isolate specific issues. Sometimes my mind just has a really hard time wrapping around the sentences. I don't if it's related to cadence or sentence structure or lack of plot. But it happens.
I like present tense more and more (which is good since I have one MS written this way).

Kelly H-Y said...

Too funny what you mentioned about present-tense voice ... because I just wrote my first PB in it ... and it was strange, but that's the way I felt I needed to write it. And I ended up loving it. Had never done it that way before, and actually had to explain that is was 'on purpose' to a friend who was critiquing it (she liked it after she got that I meant to do it! :-)).

Davin Malasarn said...

Yeah, I'm glad you are okay with present tense! I ended up getting addicted to it even though I thought it was so strange at first.

The books I can't stand are the ones with really obvious cliffhangers, like books that end chapters with the opening of a door to a mysterious room only to leave us hanging for another hundred pages before we figure out what was inside. It makes me want to skip ahead, and I hate it when a book does that because I end up jumping all over the place.

C.R. Evers said...

I can't think of anything I Won't read. Since I've had kids, I have a hard time reading books like lovely bones or true life stories of horrible things that happen to kids. But that doesn't mean I can't read any books like that. It just depends on how it's written.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I'm not sure if there's anything too specific that I hate. Probably books that lack any sort of depth. Unfortunately, I'll usually have to read halfway through to realize that no, what I thought was leading somewhere symbolic and deep isn't anything at all. I just like things I can sink my teeth into. Great post. :)

Angela Ackerman said...

I agree with all of these. Present tense doesn't bother me, but there's a right way and a wrog way to do it, and I find that few writers can get it right.

I was so glad to see you disliked the Snicket books for the same reasons I did. Ugh--I think I read two of them ad just couldn't force myself to read on.

Anonymous said...

The Lemony Snicket style worked for me - it was the plot that didn't. At first I liked all the unanswered questions, but eventually they mushroomed and seemed to spin out of the author's control.

As for what style doesn't work for me, anything with... too many ellipses... like the heroines' dialogue in Barbara Cartland novels... and Danielle Steele's books...

Or run-on sentences, or a style with too much description of the "She had long golden hair, flawless creamy skin, blue-green eyes and a dimple in her cheek."