What readers hate most in books

From The Washington Post:

A few weeks ago, I asked readers of our Book Club newsletter to describe the things that most annoy them in books.

The responses were a tsunami of bile. Apparently, book lovers have been storing up their pet peeves in the cellar for years, just waiting for someone to ask. Hundreds and hundreds of people responded, exceeding my wildest dreams.

Dreams, in fact, are a primary irritation for a number of readers. Such reverie might have worked for Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” or Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but no more, thank you very much. “I absolutely hate dream sequences,” writes Michael Ream. “They are always SO LITERAL,” Jennifer Gaffney adds, “usually an example of lazy writing.”

Laziness may be the underlying cause of several other major irritants.

Historical anachronisms and factual inaccuracies are maddeningly distracting for readers. Karen Viglione Lauterwasser despairs over errors “like calling the divisions in a hockey game quarters or having a pentagon shaped table with six chairs.” Deborah Gravel warns authors that taking a cruise to Alaska is not enough to write a novel about the Last Frontier. Kristi Hart explains that when your characters are boiling maple sap to make syrup, they should not be stirring it. “You just boil it until the sugar content is correct, and then you’re done.”

Sharp-eyed readers are particularly exasperated by typos and grammatical errors. Patricia Tannian, a retired copy editor, writes, “It seems that few authors can spell ‘minuscule’ or know the difference between ‘flout’ and ‘flaunt.’” Katherine A. Powers, Book World’s audiobook reviewer, laments that so many “authors don’t know the difference between ‘lie’ and ‘lay.’”

“If those who write and publish the book won’t make the effort to get it right,” says Jane Ratteree, “the book doesn’t deserve my time and attention.”

And — quelle horreur! — those copy-editing problems aren’t confined to English. The only things readers find more aggravating than untranslated foreign passages are foreign phrases that contain mistakes. “How is it difficult for authors, editors or publishers to find someone who can proof other languages?” asks Irma V. Gonzalez. “I’m fuming as I type this.”

A few words need to be retired or at least sent to the corner of the page for a timeout. Andrew Shaffer — a novelist himself — says no one should use “the word ‘lubricious’ more than once in a book (looking at you, James Hynes).” And don’t get that confused with “lugubrious,” which Wanda Daoust is equally tired of. Meanwhile, Cali Bellini finds that the word “preternatural” is “overused, abused and never necessary.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

2 thoughts on “What readers hate most in books”

  1. Most of these complaints are not new. And I have a whole new appreciation for the dream sequence bit, because I recently wasted time on a movie where it turned out that everything was just a dream. On the other hand, it made sense that it was just a dream because everything that happened was so stupid. Still, the advice that the story should not be a dream sequence is long-standing.

    Side-eyeing the “preternatural” objection. How would it not apply when referring to something or someone that has a supernatural aspect?

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