Everyone has literary pet peeves. For some, it’s the precocious child narrator. Some people can’t deal with it when the author breaks the fourth wall. Perhaps you get a little stabby when confronted with linked short stories. For me, the most irritating, infuriating, rage-inducing Literary Thing is the preachy book that uses the conversations of the characters as a mouthpiece for the author’s Message-With-A-Capital-M.
I don’t mean preachy like the Anne of Green Gables, let’s all just be nice and have bosom friends and plant gardens kind of preachy. In fact, preachiness in a kid’s book doesn’t really bother me at all. It’s when the preachiness is masquerading as literary fiction that I get a little eye-rolley.
When I can point to a book and say, “this was used by the author to explain his/her world view,” a book has passed the preachiness threshold. More specifically, if a selection of dialogue or a speech given by the narrator (or worse, a dream a character has) can be added to the end of the sentence, “The moral of the story is ___,” the author is preaching.
It doesn’t even matter WHAT is being said. Whether it’s Shug Avery’s dialogue-driven explanations of the nature of God in The Color Purple or John Galt’s ridiculous 70-page defense of heartless capitalism in Atlas Shrugged, the whole Using Your Characters’ Conversations To Make a Moral/Political/Religious Point is pet peeve-tastic. It’s lazy. Just write an essay.*
This can be a truly unpopular opinion in circles of readers who are in books for their “improving” capabilities. I’m not that reader. I’m in it for a good story and for excellent writing that makes me appreciate what language can do. I’m not in it to be directly told what to think by a character while they’re doing the laundry or addressing the multitudes. I’m not saying that I’m not open to new ideas or thought processes that are presented in fiction- I’m just not open to them when they’re presented cheaply and without subtlety. I need to be quietly drawn in by the prose, gently led to your conclusion (or even better, given the opportunity to arrive there myself).
Am I alone here? Among your literary pet peeves, does this one factor in your reading life?
*Moralizing in Victorian-or-older novels isn’t as bothersome to me because that was where the evolution of literature was at the time. I feel like storytelling has moved on by now.