Image:Jon Dowland

A light-hearted ramble about bookish pet peeves

Contrary to the title, I usually think of myself as someone who does not easily complain when it comes to books. That was until my growing irritability stemming from the endlessness of TikToks, Instagram reels, and social media posts of books having been annotated and tabbed into oblivion. Listen, I understand the idea behind highlighting or underlining lines of personal significance in theory, although not in hardcover books. I adore books having proof of being loved, as well as the Kindle feature that points out lines which have been frequently annotated. But you have to stop somewhere.

A plethora of colourful tabs just make your books far too chunky. How do they fit on your bookshelf? Does it not ruin the pacing of reading if you’re continuously pulling yourself out of reading just to reach for the tabs and pencils? I know the ridiculousness of being annoyed by such a habit – however, it all just feels too performative, almost disingenuous.

Joining the performative category is books with reviews as blurbs. I don’t care how much the book is enjoyed by established writers – their compliments are not an adequate synopsis. They don’t bring you any closer to understanding the plot of the book. Surely, a book’s blurb can’t be trusted if it can’t explain to you what it is about? It does both the author and the target audience a disservice, because who would feel compelled to read it without any explanation? At least these give me less of an incentive to further clutter my bookshelves.

It’s occasionally fun to indulge in benign complaints about the most trivial accessories to reading

Writing this is reminding me of the absolute mess that is my bookshelves. A combination of buying more books than intended and cramming books onto my shelves after bringing them home from university means that they are no longer organised. There’s no decorum, and nothing is alphabetised: it’s just chaos. It drives me mad, and I cannot understand how anyone could choose to organise their books in any other way except alphabetically by author. How do you find anything? As for the people who organise their books by colour, I do not understand at all. A rainbow, however pretty, does not create order.

Some of these points will sound ridiculous, I know. And I am aware that not everyone strives for futile bookshelf decorum. But it’s occasionally fun to indulge in benign complaints about the most trivial accessories to reading. For example, I love to complain about hardcover books. They’re clunky to hold, they take up too much space in my bag, they don’t fit in my book sleeve (kindly crocheted for me by a good friend of mine), and so on.

Occasionally, my complaining surpasses that level of irritation, escalating into frustration. This isn’t common, but it does extend to the realm of reviews and recommendations. It’s incredibly frustrating when low ratings are given to books based solely on an individual’s expectations not being met or, even worse, when it’s based solely on an individual’s misconceptions about the book. Reviews themselves are entirely subjective, and I can understand the disappointment over a book not being what you thought it was. Regardless, this is entirely separate from the quality of the book, and it’s rather unfair to try to spin subjective opinions as derogatory truth when the reputation of both the book and the author are at stake.

On a lighter note, another review-related pet peeve is Goodreads. I find it to be outdated with not enough nuance, it’s owned by Amazon, and there are better alternatives. TheStoryGraph, for example, is far more detailed for reviewing and tracking reading. Plus, I keep getting emails from Goodreads even after blocking them. I can’t escape them – no matter how hard I try.

I’m curious to know what other people’s bookish pet peeves are. For now, I’ll end with some oddly specific annoyances of mine:

Romance subplots in young adult mysteries: Am I a sucker for each Karen McManus book? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Does there need to be prominent romance in every single book? Not really. Does there need to be an iteration of the same relationship every time? No. especially not in The Cousins.

Pride and Prejudice discourse: when I finally got round to reading Pride and Prejudice, I was confused to find that the ‘enemies’ part of ‘enemies to lovers’ was absent, despite hearing so much about it. I might have taken the term ‘enemies’ too literally, but I stand by it. They’re more like ‘indifferent acquaintances to lovers’. I still had a great time reading it, though.

Gale Hawthorne: I appreciate the complexity of his character and how he is written. But every time he whines about unrequited love, I want to bang his head against a wall.

No speech marks: I’m looking at you, Ali Smith. Although the abstract nature of the Seasonal Quartet makes it more forgivable than Sally Rooney.


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