Things That Bug Me About Books

From the cynical bastard who brought you “Things That Bug Me About Fantasy” comes a new list of complaints about things I find annoying in writing and publishing in general. As per usual, these complaints are my personal subjective opinion only, and also as usual, I welcome and encourage agreement, disagreement, and apathy with just enough interest to post about your apathy, as long as everybody remains civil. So without further ado, let’s get to the complaining!

The presence of “A Novel” in the title of a novel
Go to the fiction section of any given bookstore or library. Pick a random stretch of shelf. Read the titles. I would put money down that fully 75% of the books you examine will contain the phrase “a novel” somewhere on the cover. Seriously? Almost everything on the fiction shelf is going to be a novel. Poetry has its own section, anthologies have their own subsection. I suppose short stories or novellas might be an exception, but that’s a tiny percentage. I just don’t get why this is a thing. Ironically, fantasy and sci-fi seem to be the genres that don’t do this, but it is so prevalent in general fiction that I can only assume there is SOME reason for it, but I’ll be damned if I can think of what it would be. It isn’t like people are supposed to include the ‘a novel’ in the title when they describe it to people. Why are you there!?!

Someone being “The Next [insert author here]” when that author is still alive and writing
It is absolutely valid and good marketing to bill somebody as being “the next so-and-so.” This tells potential readers what style and genre a new author represents, and makes a bold claim as to their skill matching that of the referenced author. However, when that author is still alive and publishing, this is horribly disrespectful. “The next Stephen King?” The dude is still publishing. Stephen King is the next Stephen King until he dies—then you can hand the title over to somebody else. This seems to be especially popular these days when someone publishes a very popular novel/trilogy/series and hasn’t yet really produced anything afterwards, so they can monopolize on the fame to push a new author who is themselves just trying to monopolize on the fame, but it still just annoys me.

Unsolvable mysteries or, “The Scooby-Doo Effect”
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with mystery. Heck, it’s an entire genre of fiction. Everybody loves a good mystery. What annoys me is when we the readers are presented with a mystery, and are even given clues that appear to relate to said mystery, only to discover at the end that the answer is something completely unrelated to anything you’ve been shown and you had no way whatsoever to actually figure it out. This is especially egregious in long-running book series, where things are presented as a mystery to solve early on, and then the resolution, in some cases multiple books later, is nothing you could possibly have determined yourself.

While it is a mark of good mystery writing for a reader to only solve a mystery at the same time as, or just before the protagonist in the book, presenting us with a mystery and then giving red herrings and removing our ability to apply our own reason to the mystery is just annoying.

“Chekhov’s Gun” is a principle of writing that states, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

This needs to be adhered to more often.

Alternate covers in series that look cooler than the original covers
Cool looking covers aren’t really a complaint. The complaint is when you have an ongoing series, multiple books, with a consistent theme in the covers, you know, so they all match. And then, once you’ve bought a bunch of them, and they all nicely match on your bookshelf, they get reprinted with different, cooler covers. My prime examples are the “adult” style covers for Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Those covers are frigging AWESOME. And so I can either switch over and have mismatching covers now, or re-buy all the books I already have, giving away or donating all the old covers to replace them.

Come on guys, can’t you see the future and tell the books will be popular and get the classy cover artist to design the covers right away? My bookshelf OCD can’t handle the idea of mismatching covers!

Long ongoing series that lack a ‘the story so far’ introduction
While I know that a lot of people refuse to read a lengthy series until it is done, allowing them to read every book consecutively and thus not need such a thing, as someone who has spent multiple decades on a single series waiting for each book to come out (looking your way, RJ/GRRM) and felt forced to re-read the whole series multiple times to make sure I’ve kept straight what is going on, I feel these sections are a must-have for anything running longer than a trilogy.

The best version of this that I’ve found is Kevin J. Anderson’s The Saga of Seven Suns series which provided a roughly 8-page recap of the main events of the previous few books at the start of each book, with main characters and events and things listed IN CAPS to remind you which things were particularly relevant. The big loser on this front has got to be The Wheel of Time, which pretty much just expects you to remember, despite it being more than 20 years between the first and last book. Even the author completing the series, having written two books, had to go back and re-read to make sure he was keeping everything straight.

So there we are, another round of things that annoy me in writing. Please agree with me, and disagree with me! Tell me that I’m right, and tell me that I’m wrong! I love conversations about literature and writing, as long as everybody can keep chill and relaxed about it. So please, comment below and tell me about the things that bug YOU in literature!

About Dan Ruffolo

Dan Ruffolo
Dan is a History and Philosophy graduate from Laurentian University. When he’s not reading an excessive amount of fantasy and sci-fi novels, or putting way too much time into online gaming and forums, he runs a Wine Shop in the north end of Toronto Ontario. A lifelong fantasy reader, and gamer nerd, Dan’s life ambition is to become a librarian.

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  1. So true, especially the “a novel” bit. I can understand if your book is called “How to Fix Your Patio Door.” Then you need to tell people it’s a novel. But if your book is called “Journey of the Enchanted Dragons,” I think I can do the math.

    As for the unsolvable mystery, there’s a very popular mystery novel that I thought was awesome with all its twists and turns, suspects and clues, and ended leaving me thinking, “Really? That’s the murderer?” Ninety percent of the book was nothing but red herrings, because most of them didn’t point to the real killer at all. I won’t give it away in case you haven’t read it, but I will say that I need to get a new tattoo. A dragon tattoo.

    • Dan From Canada

      I guess there might also be an element of the fact that I’m just not a mystery reader. Maybe someone who reads a lot of mystery novels can chime in too.

      I mean, watching the characters fall for red herrings is fine, but being given them ourselves seems as effective at creating a good mystery as jump scares are for making good horror: Kinda cheap.

  2. So with you on the extreme lack of recaps in fantasy series! A huge reason why I gave up on the WoT 🙁

    • Dan From Canada

      I mean, if you have the time and will to consecutively read ten or eleven thousand pages, the series isn’t bad (but not that great) but would it really have killed them to put a couple pages in at the beginning just to refresh people?

  3. There should be some way that you can just purchase the slip covers for hard backs. That way the new “cooler” versions can just be swapped out for say $3 instead of say $30 for the book all over again. Or, in the case of a few of my earlier hard cover books, I can replace old covers extremely worn from use.

  4. i’m glad i’m not the only person with “bookshelf OCD.” mismatched books really, really bother me. it makes me even more mad when they just switch cover styles halfway through a series, to “market them better” or something.

    • Dan From Canada

      Thankfully I haven’t come across any series that actually just -switched-

      All of mine were re-releases after the fact. That would SUCK!

      • game of thrones did it. i had picked up the first two books used with the original, what some people considered ugly, cover art, and could never ever find anything after that with that style.

  5. So with you on the covers! So glad it’s not just me with OCD cover matching tendencies!

  6. Long ongoing series that lack a ‘the story so far’ introduction

    THIS! A million times over THIS! I read a lot, so even having just a year gap between volumes in a series leaves me fumbling around for awhile trying to catch up on who is who and what went down in previous volumes. It gets worse as the series go along since there is so much to remember and I’m in the middle of SO MANY SERIES. Having some sort of refresher with the characters’ relationships to each other and even just where they were when the last book ended would me incredibly helpful.

  7. I actually really like how in the Wheel of Time there’s no recap. I’ve been reading it off and on for the better part of 3 years now, and yes, because there’s no recap I’ve begun to forget things. But weirdly enough, as a reader, that draws me into the story more. It’s the friggin wheel of time. As time passes, fact turns to myth and legend and is eventually forgotten! I definitely feel like, because I’m forgetting some minutia that won’t be brought up again, I’m actually more along for the ride than say if the author info-dumped everywhere.

    The characters themselves grow so tremendously and what they have to care about changes so much too, it makes sense that at some point we should just forget about the bullshit they went through in the past, and focus on their present. If they don’t care anymore, why should we? And in rare cases, that might make a plot twist more interesting….

    Although I have to admit that when I don’t catch a callback, I kick myself.

  8. Yes, yes, yes, yes and oh-hell-yeah! I’m also totally with you on the whole ‘The story so far’-thing. I don’t even think you’d have to do it as explicitely as that and have your own summary in the front – in the Dresden Files, for example, Jim Butcher does a magnificent job of summing past events up within the actual novel. And, at least in my humble opinion, it’s not done in an irritating or even annoying way, that makes you think “Come ON, I read the other books, I KNOW what happened.”

    I also absolutely agree to this annoying habit of announcing more or less new authors as the next, brand new and shiny ‘InsertFamousAuthorsNameHere’. For a while, everybody seemed to be the next Tolkien, now they moved on to making everyone in Fantasy the next Martin, just because he’s really big right now. As you said, this might help a little to have a very rough idea of what to expect. But not only is it disrespectful to the authors referenced to, especially if they are still alive. In my opinion, it is completely unfair to those new(or not-so-new)comers, because they have to live up to this comparison and thus fulfill certain expectations – something they most likely cannot (and I guess also do not want to) do.

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