This is not a tag or a review. I’m lining up more of my regular posts for the rest of this week and next, but I wanted to take a break from the regular and try something different.
Here I’ve compiled a list–a list of book-related pet peeves, little things that annoy me, although they’re not deal-breakers. Is anything really a deal breaker? I’ll read just about anything, but I do occasionally have some issues with the books I’m reading. So here are ten structural components (not content related, as that’s a whole different category) that irk me when it comes to books:
- Deckled edges. You know, the ones where pages are designed to look rough and uneven. I think I might like the aesthetic of it more if the pages were cut more randomly, but they usually have these uniform zigzags (I’m talking about looking at the book from the bottom or top, not at each ragged page individually) that make even this attempt at disorder look orderly. And they’re harder to turn, at least for me. I prefer being able to thumb through evenly cut pages while I’m reading.
- Covers with people on them. Sometimes they’re abstract enough that I don’t mind as much, but I hate when my creative process is thwarted by having a character’s appearance thrust upon me that way before I’ve even opened the book. Sometimes, the person on the cover doesn’t even match the description given inside the book for the character he/she is supposed to represent. Generally, I just don’t like covers that try to tell me how to visualize any part of the story.
- On a related note, cover art that doesn’t match the content of the book. For example, a book about a one-story haunted house with a cover dominated by a creepy-looking two-story house. If a visual is going to be forced upon me, I would at least like one that’s plausibly accurate to the story. Generally I prefer cover art that’s sparse and/or abstract, or features a symbol from the story rather than a photographic image, because the photograph often seems to have been taken in the wrong place.
- Titles in a series that are too similar. I’m talking City of… City of… City of… in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, or Percy Jackson and the… Percy Jackson and the… Percy Jackson and the… in Rick Riordan’s (obviously) Percy Jackson series, or even A court of… A court of… A court of… in Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series. When I’m reading them, and when there’s only a couple of books published so far, I can keep track of the order. But when they’re farther back on my radar, when I’ve got the whole story in my memory and I’m not anticipating the next title, how am I supposed to keep track of which one’s which? I don’t mind a nice long series, but in fantasy especially I have to keep a list of the order because some of those fantasy series are more about the bigger picture than the individual book and it gets hard to tell pieces of the story apart. Even Harry Potter could’ve been titled simply “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Chamber of Secrets,” etc.
- Books published in all different sizes. I can’t exactly complain about buying different editions of books in a series that leave me with differently sized books in a set, but wouldn’t the world be so much simpler for book lovers if all books were printed at a uniform size? Or even a couple of uniform sizes, to give paperbacks and the smaller YA books their usual form. Instead, it seems that many publishers adopt their own sense of book-size norms, and thus it is such a challenge to arrange my shelves properly because my lack of space means I have to organize by size instead of something more obvious, like the alphabet or genre.
- Built-in bookmarks. These look nice, sometimes, and they feel like getting a bonus with a book purchase, but when I’m not actually reading the book, what do I do with that bookmark? I hate leaving it in the middle of the book because I leave bookmarks in the middles of books when I’ve started them and then put them back on the shelf for whatever reason to wait for a rainy day. I’ll probably come across that book in three years and wonder why I never finished the book and try to pick it up there where the bookmark is at. Or, even if the bookmark is left at the front or back of the story, it still has its tail dangling out of the edge, which will probably develop a permanent crease from being stuck under the book on the shelf for however many years it takes me to pick it back up, and it’s just so disappointing to have marred that bonus part of the book. Besides, what kind of reader doesn’t already have their own bookmarks? Or, if not actual bookmarks, little pieces of paper or small objects that easily substitute for one?
- Incomplete boxed sets. I know this is a marketing trick to convince more people to buy more books early on, but why can’t we wait for boxed sets until the series is actually complete? And if it is, why in the world would I want only part of the series in the box? I adore boxed sets, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with my excitement as a child for all those books and stories wrapped up in one gift package when I’d done well in school or something. But now I have a Harry Potter boxed set of books 1-5. I appreciated that at the time, because it meant I was able to read all five books at once. But now I love those copies because they’re the ones I read over and over, so I’ll always have a mismatched set. I could buy another set, but I still wouldn’t be able to part with my first copies.
- Redundant headers on book pages. You know how sometimes there’s that header or footer on every right or left page (usually near the page numbers) with the chapter title on it? I don’t mind those. I mind when the header is on every page with information that’s on the book’s cover, like the title of the book or the author’s name. I suppose maybe if I were an author I would like seeing my name on every page I’d written, but the title? Which reader forgets on every other page which book he or she is reading? That’s just unnecessary labeling. If it’s a detail I can check in half a second by flipping back to the cover of the book, I don’t need it on all the pages inside the book. Sometimes having a chapter title there, if it’s aptly named can be fun to look back on throughout the chapter to see how it ties in to the story, but I’m not likely to need reminders on the title or author all through the book. It’s overkill.
- Dog-eared pages in books that have been borrowed. I don’t mind bending down the corner of the page on principle. I don’t usually do that, but I have done it. In your own book, you have every right to do whatever you want to the pages. But when a book I check out from the library, or worse, a book I lent to a friend, comes to me with the corners still turned down, that bothers me. If it’s used as a bookmark, then when the page is passed the corner should be smoothed out again. If it’s used to mark a page with a quote the reader wanted to jot down, then the reader should jot down his or her quote and smooth out the corner. This is not as bad as someone writing in a borrowed book. I would consider that a worse transgression than a “pet peeve” would indicate. But dog ears in borrowed books grate on my nerves.
- Words written vertically on spines or covers, with the letters standing on top of one another. This is not necessarily always bad, if the words are particularly short or there is some necessary meaning to their being arranged this way. In English, we read from left to right in rows; that’s the standard. Unusual fonts are fun. I don’t mind if the letters overlap, or are written at a slant, or even if I have to turn the book to read them. But there’s something about reading English letters up and down that takes extra unnecessary effort. I don’t usually have to read many words, I just look once and move on to the next one because I know the shape of the word on sight without having to decipher the order and sounds of each of the letters. Think about it. As you’re reading this, your eyes jump from one word to the next, right? You don’t look at every letter, you see the word as a whole, recognize it, and move on. That doesn’t happen with vertical words. I’m not opposed to difficult reading. But I do mind having to put extra work into puzzling out the title. The title should pull a reader in, not antagonize him or her.
These are a few of my bookish pet peeves. Recognize any of yours on this list? Have any others you’d like to share? Keep in mind these are all a matter of opinion, and that my disliking any of these elements does not mean that I think they are “bad.” I just do not understand the appeal to using them this way. Is there anything in my list that surprises you? Feel free to comment below!
The Literary Elephant