A Sampling of Minor Literary Irritants

I am not an entirely generous reader, as should now be entirely clear. And, as such, I have gathered a tidy collection of…are they literary tropes? Not really. Habits? Sort of. I don't know what to call them, other than Things That Bug Me.

This is all evidence of the stingy bitterness of my heart, but there you go.

1) Did you know that the light from those stars took thousands of/millions of light years to get here? Those stars might not even be there anymore, we're seeing the light from long ago.
OK, I know. The weird thing with this one is that it pops up in many otherwise excellent books, and even so it never fails to drive me up a wall. It shows up SO MANY TIMES! It feels like Deepness Lite™. Get a sense of mortality and existential dread with just one quick mention!

2) The eskimos have over 50/60/100/whatever words for snow, but we only have one word for love/fear/whatever.
First of all, I don't even think this is true. Second of all, even if it is I don't care because every drop of meaning has long been squeezed out of this fake-fact by repeated mentions.

3) The Chinese character for crisis actually contains the word opportunity.
OK, to be fair, this is more of a terrible thing people say in the world of work, but I have spied its hideous lying form in books as well, and I want to say: NO. This is not true, and even if it is, I don't care.

Boy, don't I seem in a cranky mood today? I promise, I will cleanse my mind and heart of nastiness before I return. But before I do, because misery does, in fact, love company, are there any of these that plague you? And will you tell me them in the comments, so I can feel like I'm not the only crab around?

10 thoughts on “A Sampling of Minor Literary Irritants

  1. I’m super amused with this thread. And just for fun, you might want to look at this: http://pinyin.info/chinese/crisis.html
    My son started taking Spanish at school and he has asked me several times what his name is in Spanish. I tell him that it is the same as in English. He has the same name in every language. Similarly, the word crisis isn’t truly translatable. It didn’t come from a latin root which can be traced and merged into English.
    People also say there is no word for “thank you” in Hindi, but in Hindi there are many ways to say, “I appreciate the gesture.”
    One that bugs me is the word “stupid” in kids books. To me, that is a toxic word. Why on earth is it considered appropriate?


  2. Thank you for this. All of these are irritating. I can’t think of any that bother me at the exact moment (except maybe people who use inappropriate words instead of “said” in order to ‘liven up their prose’– one example is from “The Eyre Affair,” where he actually wrote the following: ” ‘No,’ he proclaimed.” There was no proclamation going on– the guy just said no. But the word ‘said’ was too dull I guess).


  3. The thing that pisses me off is the bit in EVERY FREAKING TEEN BOOK EVER where the main girl kisses her love interest, and it goes on for AT LEAST half a page in its adjectives.
    Oh god it irks me.
    And Terry Pratchett dissed the Eskimo myth in one of his books, by the way.


  4. oh I love you! This has been a welcome antidote to a day of saccharine positivity. I am generally allergic to anything with a theme of ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘when a door closes a window opens’.


  5. i, personally, could not live without your charming cantankerousness, so please keep it coming!
    i would have to say i am not so much bothered by motifs or tropes but by characters that just SHOULD NOT EXIST anymore:
    the manic pixie dream girl.
    the magical black person.
    also, books that are supposed to speak against a particular evil but end up reading like a “how to” handbook for that evil or using it for titillation… a la ‘girl with the dragon tatoo,’ or every book by mr. rapey raperson himself, george r r martin. that is a bit of a sore spot with me though, and something i realize does not bother most folks, which is totally okay.
    i guess it’s just a question of what kind of allowances you’re willing to make for a problematic book or at least, one containing annoying or problematic things. i feel like i am constantly asking myself how much crap i am willing to put up with and still like or even love a book.
    so i guess i am now competing with you for “grumpiest reader ever.” YAY!


  6. Yes, was talking to Mr. Diamond and he quite agrees with your assessment/moniker of Mr. Rapey Raperson, though I must say I did enjoy those books. And yes, it’s a question of what you’re willing to put up with. Just like people, I guess—they are all flawed, but some you can take, and others you just can’t.
    Also, you have probably not had 5 straight hours of uninterrupted sleep in a few months now, so I think you get some kind of grumpiness handicap or something.


  7. I can definitely apply and receive that grumpiness handicap aswell. Two sick kids!
    Okay, I thought of another. Kids books (written by adults) that are written in first person (with the first person being a child) with bad grammar! I just read one.


  8. This is amazing! We’ve been meaning to ask bloggers to list their biggest pet peeves in kidlit (ie prophecies in fantasy). Looks like you’ve already started…


  9. I read a lot of mysteries, so what makes me grumpy is when there’s some kind of emergency/kidnapping/alarming event and nobody has a cell phone. I mean, that’s fine for older books, obviously. But you set your book in 2010 and everybody uses cell phones all the time EXCEPT for the emergency/kidnapping/alarming event, when nobody goes, “Oh, here, let me call the police on this handy mobile device!”? Infuriating.
    This can be easily remedied by having your character drop their cell phone in the toilet, or leave their cell phone at home when they are going out for a run, or get lost in the woods where there is no cell reception, or accidentally drop it in the street where it is run over by a truck, or (in a pinch) forgetting to charge it the night before and ending up with a dead battery. But pretending cell phones don’t exist for that scene? RIDICULOUS.


  10. Re: George R R Martin and his many many issues, this is an interesting read http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2011/09/how-to-be-a-fan-of-problematic-things/
    Things that bother me include obvious genetic traits that are passed down to children just to prove paternity. Red hair is my least favourite. If you find a red haired man in a book, you can be fairly confident that at some point he will father a child whose parentage will later be indicated by a flaming head of red hair.


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