Sunday, 14 March 2010

Close the book and try the next...

When browsing in a book shop, what makes you shove the book back, with undue force, whence it came? I've made a list:

  • Any book starting in the mind of a crazed psychopath as he watches his next, invariably young and female, victim. I have no desire to find out what happens next. I know I won't like it.

  • Misery memoirs. I read for pleasure.

  • Fiction written in the present tense. Just annoying.

  • Anything in which vampires or werewolves form a council. Although these councils might at least collect the bins on time, unlike the one in my area. (Thank you for that one, Steve Jensen.)

  • Any novel which starts with a description of ‘the boy’, ‘the man’ or ‘the woman’, as in ‘The boy, his feet scarring the pristine sand, wandered along the deserted stretch of shore’. For Pete’s sake, tell us his name! You’re going to have to eventually, why not straight away?

  • Books about circuses, which are curiously devoid of any real circus acts, leading me to suspect the writer has never been to a circus in his life.

  • Novels with a young, affluent, able-bodied male narrator, who does nothing but whinge in a supposedly amusing fashion about a) having to go to work and b) not getting enough sex. I am meant to sympathize, and I do not. Not even a little bit.

  • Fantasy involving elves, or anything colourably similar, such as leprechauns or fairies. Or faeries, faes, pixies and what I have just seen described as other wee folk. No, no!

What about yours?


  1. Oh this is good! Here's mine-- characters names like Prabloxcv and Swirthwon. I don't care for fantasy anyway but I for sure won't read it if the characters don't have real names I can pronounce.

  2. Totally agree, Karen - but you forgot to mention that the very worst fantasy names include random apostrophes, like Kl'ren or Bhy'sltyr.

  3. Haha, right, how could I forget the apostrophes lol! Maybe cuz I never got that far into it? And I just see you're a fantasy writer -- oops!

  4. Not any more - and my fantasies are not typical of the genre. The characters talk normally, for one thing, and all have pronounceable names.

    So you see, I was doing it all wrong.

  5. Hi!!

    I know it was written in 1979 but Marion Zimmer Bradley's Catch Trap - her bestest non-fantasy novel about circus folk based on her own experiences is a must, a must, must, must read!! If there is ever going to be a "circus" book on everyone's shelf - it must be this!


    Oh I love all sorts of books - I'm too eclectic for my own tastes. I go for the nice cover of the front of the book! LOL!!

    I've not really answered your question have I? Er.... I think it's because I dislike the book after I read and regret having bought it after being seduced by its cover..!!


    Take care

  6. Do you know, I haven't browsed an actual book shop in ages? I know, that's quite some admission. Like saying I'm a Christian who hasn't been to church.

    Books are so expensive and I buy so many of them that I always know what I want before I even go in there.

    I know from discussions on the internet, reading reviews, taking recommendations, Amazon 'search inside', that sort of thing.

    But I do love the smell of a book store.

  7. Kitty, I must get hold of The Catch Trap - it's got glowing reviews on Amazon. I have a special interest in circus as my daughter did static and flying trapeze for eight years from the age of nine.

    Stace, I tend to order books from the Book Depository myself, partly because there isn't a bookshop handy by. This makes me feel a little guilty - I'd hate to see bookshops disappear.

  8. I love to browse in bookshops and have to admit that the marketing department are right: the cover is a huge influence. Anything with too many pastel colours is out, as is anything with guns or knives. Personal preferences, I know.

    After that, the first paragraph is key and a narrator who bores me during that is destined to go back on the shelf. Yeah, yeah, they're building the atmosphere, but do they have to go on about it?

  9. Covers are vitally important, and I'd hate it if my (theoretical) publisher was intent on one I didn't feel was right. There are some gorgeous covers around - I think they are better now than they've ever been.

  10. Interesting post, Lexi. Entirely agree with your first two points - but certainly not your third! Thought provoking stuff though - it's easy to forget when you're immersed in writing that one day you hope to have a bookshop reader.

  11. Could it be that your work-in-progress is written in the present tense, James?

    Most readers agree with me on this one. I read of one author whose agent got her to re-write her novel, changing it from present to past tense, to make it more saleable.

    I think there has to be a good reason for using the present tense.

  12. I think a lot of younger readers enjoy present tense. Look at the massive success of The Hunger Games, for example.

    One of my favourite ever (adult) books is present tense (An Equal Music by Vikram Seth).

    I think it's all about what suits the story...I wrote the early drafts of my WIP in past tense (which is what I normally write in) and it was missing something. I rewrote in first person present and it really worked.

  13. I wouldn't say present tense is never appropriate - I recently used it for a short story, where I wanted the narrator not to know what was coming to him. But a whole novel? For me it's a turn-off, and I'm not alone...

    But from the examples you quote, it's gaining ground.

  14. If I recall, you are not a Pratchett fan, but I have to say that his Tiffany Aching books, featuring the Wee Free Men, are wonderful reads. For anyone who likes to see the conventions of the fantasy novel given a poke in the eye, Pratchett is the man.

    Not sure if he has set any of his Discworld novels in a circus. The opera has had its day, and his take on academics is priceless.

  15. I like bits of Pratchett - Mort I've read most of - and perhaps I will come round to him in time.

  16. Great post, Lexi

    I’m afraid browsing in books shops is a luxury I haven’t had for a while. I have so many books already waiting to be read that I just can’t randomly choose things – which is a shame.

    Back in more halcyon days though things that would put me off included:

    Long, convoluted opening sentences.

    Any opening paragraph that was littered with bland (and therefore unnecessary) adjectives

    Although not 100% against novels in the present tense, I was always a little suspicious of them

    Anything that sounded too earnest

    Regarding your point on front covers I’m afraid to say that most authors don’t get a say in them. I’ve been told I’ll be shown the artwork for TAR, can make suggestions, but will have no veto.

    Interestingly, even publishers don’t get the final say. Another author at Hodder had the cover to his book changed after a well know supermarket didn’t like it and demanded a new one. This is probably quite revealing about where the real power in publishing lies these days.


  17. Agreed, Guy.

    I wish you every luck with the cover of The Afrika Reich - I can't wait to see it.

  18. I agree with all but the last, being partial to wee folk. But only in small doses, as part of a larger tale.

    (pun intended)

    For me, chick-lit is invariably depressing. I have no wish to spend time with spoiled, self-absorbed, sexually rampant fashionistas in real life, let alone my leisure reading time. Well, it's not like I actually KNOW any in real life but you get the picture.

    What else? Anything that opens with carnage, or heavily armed soldiers/warriors/mercenaries crouched behind a wall.

    Anything that opens with a long, rambling description of the past, or of an object at which the main character is staring. Or someone who is kidnapped and wondering what will happen to them next. Unless the voice is really, really good.

    I'm sure I'll think of more as soon as I hit "Post".

  19. Aw, Jeez, I just realized something: the current opener of my book has Rangers crouched behind a barn. But I don't even like that scene. I put it in to please the FTQ crowd.

    Why can't I just use "Once Upon a Time?" I love stories that start that way.

  20. Naturally, I did think of some more:

    - Anything with an innocent child or servant being molested or assaulted.

    - Anything featuring graphic sex, sexual references, or foul language.

    - Anything in first person.

    - Anything in which a hideous, evil creature is hunting a victim in the dark. I've tried several times to get past the first few pages of Eragon and just can't do it.

  21. Just finished reading "The Road" by Cormac Maccarthy and he didn't name any of the characters, but it was a damn good read.

    As to what puts me off, it's difficult to say but usually I read the opening paragraph and if I find myself saying, "Get to the point" then I put the book back.

    Recently picked up Norman Mailer's "The Fight" and was completely engrossed. Read the whole of the first chapter and realised I didn't have enough money to buy it. Will go without Kit-Kat for a few weeks to save up the cash.

  22. That doesn't leave very much, Christine :o) I agree with many of yours - not first person narratives, though; that would rule out such favourites as The King Must Die and I Capture the Castle.

    Richie, perhaps you have hit upon a new rating system for fiction: the Kit-Kat Scale - how many Kit-Kats would you forgo to buy this novel?

  23. In the opening scene? No, I don't want to see a child or servant girl being beaten or raped.

  24. And, I picked up a book at a bookstore (I forget what it was) and read the first few pages. It started out interesting enough, but then the next thing I know, the woman peels off her clothes, jumps into the swimming pool, swims up to the edge and starts giving the neighbor a blow job in front of her husband. No, I don't want to read a book like that.

  25. I've come across books on the writers' sites I frequent where I can't help thinking the author is getting something out of his system - it's of the same order as writing on a lavatory wall, but with pretensions. Some of these books are well-written; but call me Miss Prim, I don't want to read someone working out his personal kinks in public.