Bookish Pet Peeves

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 4th, 2013

Customers with strong opinions are the best. They know what they like, or at least what they don’t, and that can make recommending books so much easier. Let’s face it; it can be hard to suggest books to people who say, “I like everything,” because it doesn’t give us a starting point. And, frankly, it isn’t true. No reader likes EVERYTHING. (I’m always tempted to hand those folks some cowboy fiction or a convoluted space opera, any books from a very specific or relatively narrow-interest genre, just to see if I can shake loose an, “Okay, maybe not that.”)

Some of the most opinionated customers are pretty hilarious about their dislikes. Once, Josie recommended Like Water for Elephants to a customer who shuddered, then shook her head dismissively and pronounced, “I hate circus books set during the Depression!” as though that were a tired and teeming genre.

Another customer came in recently and said, “I can’t stand child narrators in adult books. Although… I did like Room.” [Which, for the record, is about as child-narrator as you can get.] She continued, “I also hate unreliable narrators. Or animal narrators; my book group read a God-awful book narrated by a dog.” [These three pet peeves, expressed so firmly stacked, catapulted me into a private mental tangent during which I pondered the viability of an unreliable child-dog (i.e., puppy) narrator — and then cursed James Howe for beating me to it with the Howie series.] I couldn’t help asking if this customer had other pet peeves. “Sure,” she said. “I always know if there’s a family tree or a map at the beginning, the book is going to be tedious.” [For the record, I disagree! Especially about maps. Although I know what she means; it does happen sometimes. Perhaps only in adult books.] She concluded her parade of personal literary horrors with, “And if a book switches between two time periods, usually the contemporary story is better. …Although I didn’t feel that way about Possession.” All right, I can work with that. I ended up recommending Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, a rich little plum cake of a novel, in the hopes that someday this customer will return and say, “Oh, I just love books about female chicken pluckers in Napoleon’s army who are disguised as men for safety and fall in love with beautiful married Venetian women! More of those, please!”

My favorite recent customer pet peeve was a 12-year-old girl with a great, dry sense of humor whose reading taste runs toward fantasy. “I like some realistic books,” she said, “but not the kind that are, like,” [she adopted a melodramatic, quavery Southern accent], “I saw the rain … on the farm … and it reminded me … of Papa.” That made me laugh for days.

Readers, what are your bookish pet peeves?

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