Listen, nobody loves books more than I do. I started reading again 15 years ago when a friend marched me to the library and put some of her favourites in my hands so that I’d have some comfort reads over the Christmas holidays that I was dreading. Since then, I’ve been a writer, a bookish podcaster, a blogger, a Book Riot contributor, a bookstagrammer, a bookseller, and a marketing exec in publishing. So this is my world, and I love it.
But I love it the way we love our families. We know they’re not perfect. Sometimes we fondly or exasperatedly laugh at how not perfect they are. There are things that drive me round the bend about this whole word and its absurdities. I’m not the only one! Here’s what two of my fellow Rioters said they dislike about books and the book world.
An over-reliance on comp titles and tropes
I think comp titles and tropes are over-used to market books. I understand why some people find them useful, but they don’t work for me. I don’t necessarily like any book with elements similar to others I enjoyed. I like variety. I need more details about this particular book before I choose it, not “for fans of XYZ.” Besides, tropes and similarities are subjective. Critics and other readers will disagree on whether a book fits certain trends or tropes. Using tropes instead of a more objective, specific description baffles me. It creates an impression, which may be unwarranted, that lots of books are formulaic.
The backs of the books – prime real estate! – being wasted
Do NOT like how the back of the book is now the spot for book reviews (usually by people I don’t care about and/or for previous books the author has written, not the one in my hands) and the synopsis gets relegated to the inside flaps. I don’t want to bend the cover on a brand-new book all the way back, so now I have to stand around the bookstore trying to open the book just enough to be able to read the synopsis without ruining that new-book feel for myself or others. Bleh.
I’ve got my own bugbears, too. I’ve written before about how much I hate the trend of brightly coloured cartoon-based covers that signal light-hearted romcom and fail to even hint at the darker or sadder themes covered by the book. But here are a few more.
Authors hate asking for them, and the authors who are asked often struggle with the pressure of being asked by many more writers than they have time to engage with. They remember what it was like when they were starting out, and they want to help – but they’ve got their own books to write, and sometimes families and other jobs, too. So they say no, and they often feel bad about it. Everybody ends up feeling bad. And do blurbs on covers really sell books, anyway? Does luminous prose or unputdownable really convince you to read that book — especially if you know that the authors are friends and therefore predisposed to like each other’s work anyway?
Quite apart from the design itself, there are a lot of things about covers that can really get on readers’ nerves. Does anyone like the faux stickers that are inbuilt into covers, ruining their aesthetic? I get it — publishers want to shout from the rooftops that this book has been picked by Oprah or optioned by Netflix. I’d want everyone to know that about my book, too. But for goodness’ sake, make them removeable.
But that’s not the only cover misstep out there. A style that changes mid-series so they no longer look good as a group is irritating. A movie tie-in, where the characters don’t look like the ones you pictured in your head, can be frustrating. And step-back covers? The worst. They get damaged so easily — including by booksellers and browsers in shops as they pick them up and reshelve them.
Americanised British books
You can have your Zs; you can strike out those harmless Us if you want. But a British character doesn’t talk about sidewalks, and their humour will be completely different than an American character’s humour. When those things are wrong — often because an editor decided their non-British readers wouldn’t be able to use context clues to figure out the meaning of a word or sentence, so they changed it — I want to throw the book across a room.
I remember fondly the days when I just read, without knowing my number of books. When I didn’t have to wonder whether a book I started in 2022 but finished in 2023 “counted.” The deeper I get into the book world, the harder it is to avoid the temptation to measure yourself against others when it comes to how many books we all read, or even which genres. Read what you want! I will preach all day long. A reader is a reader no matter how many books you get through! I’m a slow reader, and lately I’ve been in some slumps; I need to have grace myself. But when it comes to the end of the year, I find it hard not to feel a little lacking when everyone is sharing their Goodreads goal.
I bet that for every reader out there, there’s at least one thing they find annoying about this world. And yet — there’s so much more to love. It’s worth putting up with these frustrations so that we can have the books we love and experience being swept away by stories. Right?