Our Reading Lives

Our Pettiest Bookish Nitpicks

Cassie Gutman

Staff Writer

Cassie Gutman is happiest when surrounded by books and dogs. Originally from a small, funny-named town near Louisville, Kentucky, she now edits words for a living near Chicago and would like to be paid in ice cream. You can find her on Instagram @happybooklovers or on Twitter @cassiepgutman.

You know that feeling when you’re absolutely engrossed in the best book, totally mesmerized by the writing, but then WHAM — a super small, minuscule, tiny detail throws everything off-kilter. Enter petty book nitpicks.

The petty book nitpick is when a person in a book refers to Midtown as “Midtown Manhattan” and you can instantly tell they’re not a New Yorker when they’re supposed to be, or when a character who is from a southern state says “grab me a pop!” instead of soda or Coke. They’re not giant errors that ruin an entire narrative, but these teeny tiny nitpicks yank you right out of that book, and they’ll never leave your brain ever.

Even Roxane Gay has a nitpick to be passionate about, lamenting when authors confuse cement and concrete (which are absolutely two different things and do not equal each other).

Even though I’m using the term “nitpicks” here, some of these are absolutely not nitpicky (like proper accent marks!). They’re just very small details noticeably incorrect or that don’t make sense, and they stand out to readers.

In the back channels of Book Riot, we ended up having heated discussions (rants) about the nitpicks that bothered us most, and after we chatted for a long (long) time about them, we thought we’d air out some of the pettiest nitpicks that really stuck with us, and we cannot ever get over them.

Nitpicks We’re Still Mad About

The main character quickly packed lemon bars into Tupperware “straight from the oven.” Lemon bars need to cool and then set in the fridge! It takes hours! You’re packing a soupy mess! —Danika Ellis

A character went with her son to get him “signed up” for Narcotics Anonymous. That’s not how it works! You just show up! There’s no signing up! —Tracy Shapley

I can’t remember all the books I’ve read where a character says something in Spanish — without the appropriate accent marks. Those marks are not for decoration! They change the entire pronunciation and/or meaning of the word! Put them back! —Eileen Gonzalez

In a MEMOIR, of all things, a book where things are ostensibly true, the narrator referenced the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and she completely flipped the France/Brazil rivalry! You can’t be happy about Brazil winning in 1998 and sad when France wins in 2002 when that never happened. France won in ‘98! Brazil beat them back in ‘02 and it was GLORIOUS! I barely pay attention to sports and even I found that error INSTANTLY. —Sarah Hannah Gómez

A scientist took a sample of fresh brain tissue, stored it in Tupperware, and tucked the entire thing in her pocket for later analysis. No! The brain is one of the very first organs to deteriorate. You can’t carry that Tupperware in your pocket for hours. You’re going to end up a goopy mess. Think watery jello. How are you going to analyze that? —Vernieda Vergara

The main character in a crime noir randomly compliments the volunteers who “do all the work” in a certain city’s rather well-known rose garden. Trouble was: I worked in that rose garden once upon a time. It was definitely NOT run by volunteers. Petty, petty, I know. But it was a lot of hard work. Roses bite! —L.L. Wohlwend

I read a novel set in 1921 that was lovely in many ways, but there was one historical inaccuracy I couldn’t get over. A bully took a ketchup-covered sanitary pad and “slyly stuck it to the outside of [another character’s] skirt”. As someone who is a bit fascinated by the history of menstrual products, I was so bothered! Disposable menstrual pads, only invented in the late 1880s, were too expensive for common use for decades, and were looped through a complicated menstrual girdle or belt. Menstrual pads you can “slyly stick” to anything weren’t invented until the 1970s. Why am I still thinking about this??? —Susie Dumond

The main character’s love interest suddenly becomes evil and then the one we thought was the mean one becomes the main character’s everything. Like, what? Way to give me whiplash! I’m looking at you, Sarah J. Maas… —Aurora Dominguez

As a person with a mental illness, I’m really nitpicky about writers getting psych meds right. Often I’ll see something way off base, like a character with Bipolar I prescribed antidepressants when they are actually not encouraged for Bipolar I since they often cause mania. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to get this right (and I’m not claiming to be one). Reaching out to a sensitivity reader or consulting with someone prescribing psychopharmaceuticals goes a long way toward accurate representation. —Sarah S. Davis

I hate when the cover model, illustrated or otherwise, doesn’t match the description in the book. I’ve read more than one romance book where it kept talking about the hero’s mustache and the cover is completely clean shaven and free of facial hair. So annoying. —PN Hinton

I’m an identical twin and I can’t read any fiction about twins unless it is written by a fellow twin (or some very special cases). We are somewhat similar people because we grew up in similar circumstances, but we’re not the exact same, nor are we actively fighting against our similarities by acting as differently as possible. I can’t read my twin’s mind, we’re not two halves of the same self, and I’m not a goddamn hallucination of her mental breakdown. We are two distinct people and we are NOT A METAPHOR. If you are an author who needs twin characters in your book, please ask me about it first! —Julia Rittenberg