There are certain topics and actions that will almost universally set all booklovers off. Oh, some will have different levels of anger—see my handy scale below—but if you’re a dedicated reader, you probably share some of the same pet peeves and irritations with your fellow bookworms.
I’m Amy Green, fiction publicist here at Bethany House, and I’ve noticed a few trends in reader posts on social media about what readers really hate. Let’s all rant together now, shall we? (It’ll make us feel better.)
This happens most often in online reviews, but pity the real-life friends who start with an innocent discussion of the main premise of a book and then, wham! Out of nowhere, a major spoiler from the last half of the book or beyond. “It’s very touching, just don’t get too attached to So-and-So…” “My favorite part is when you find out that What’s-His-Name is the father.” “It’s so clever how the Thingamajig you see in the first chapter ends up being the missing artifact all along.” You get the idea.
How, HOW, does this happen, people? Fellow readers should be aware of the fun of discovery and not want to ruin that for others. Maybe it’s just over-excitement? Whatever the reason, when in doubt, apply the Green Family Rule (originally applied to boring monologues recounting dreams at the breakfast table, also good for descriptions of books and movies): you get two sentences to describe the plot. That’s it. Use ‘em wisely.
My Angry Reader Level: 2 if I wasn’t going to read the book anyway, 6 if I was.
Two: Covers that Don’t Match the Character
Occasionally this is objective—the main character’s hair or eye color is wrong, the dress is from 100 years too late to be accurate, there is no mention of a dog in the book despite its prominent place on the cover, and so on.
Other times, it’s subjective: “There is no way the hero looks like that!” “That just isn’t how I pictured the town in my mind.” “Um…what’s with that color?” We all have our likes and dislikes, and not every cover is going to check all of our boxes, especially if we have a vivid imagination and a careful attention to detail. The ones that really get it wrong, though, are likely to be a constant annoyance to readers.
My Angry Reader Level: 3. That’s decreased a lot since I started working in publishing. Now, I know: A. often the book isn’t fully written before the cover is complete, B. there may be a marketing reason behind something I wouldn’t have chosen, and C. designers are very busy people and may occasionally make a mistake or not have access to the exact right model or image. These things make me less mad, but I still completely understand when readers grumble.
Three: Movies that Don’t Match the Book
The level of outrage for a bad adaptation will vary from person to person. Most will find themselves somewhere within the following categories:
The Purist: “Where was the carriage scene from page 193? Why does the duke have only two sons instead of five? Two of my favorite lines were not quoted verbatim, and don’t even get me started on how the Incident of the Plum Pudding was handled! Here is a detailed list, chapter by chapter, of what was wrong with this movie. I DEMAND ACCURACY.”
The Peacemaker: “A screenplay just can’t be as detailed as a novel, but it was lovely to see my favorite characters brought to life. There are a few things I’m sad were left out, but overall I think it kept true to the spirit of the original. And it will probably get a lot more people to read the book, too!”
The Permissive: “Meh, so only a few plot points were the same and the moral of the story is the opposite of the author’s original intent and there were five new major characters. No big deal. It was fun! You’ve got to judge the book and the movie totally separately.”
The Illiterate: “This was based on a book? Do people even read books these days?”
My Angry Reader Level: 3-11 depending on how much I loved the original story. (Like, Netflix, I’m telling you right now, if you mess up your upcoming Narnia series, Aslan and I are coming for you. And let me remind you, in case you haven’t read the source material enough WHICH YOU SHOULD: he’s not a tame lion.)
Four: Phony or Irrelevant Reviews
Whether they’re bots or trolls or people who are just confused, some one-star reviews on Goodreads or retail sites skew the system. I’m talking things like: “Package was ripped open” or “not the large print version” or an all-caps rant about a totally different book with a similar title. All the real reviewers out there have to cringe—and there isn’t usually a good way to pull those reviews out of the running.
My Angry Reader Level: 4. I’m always bothered, especially on behalf of my authors, but I try to keep in mind that no one actually looking at the reviews will take them seriously and that the overall star-rating impact isn’t going to be huge.
Five: Insulting Comments from Non-Readers
Whether it’s picking on your favorite genre, bringing up the fact that characters are not “real people,” or delivering the classic, “You have too many books” line (as if those five words make sense in that order under any circumstances), sometimes readers can get pushed over the edge. Maybe it was just a joke, but beware, especially if the comment was interrupting said reader in the middle of a book.
And it goes the other way too, readers, so no making fun of non-bookworms. (Open-mouthed incomprehension and confusion is probably inevitable, though.) Anything that implies “I am superior to you because we don’t share the exact same preferences” should be avoided.
My Angry Reader Level: 1-6 depending on the person’s intention. And mostly I’ll calm down and recommend a book I think they’d like instead of wasting time being mad.
Six: Long Hold Lines
You’ve just gotten a glowing recommendation from your friend about the newest book you have to try. Hurrying to the library website, you click “Place a Hold”…only to face the cheery pop-up, “Congratulations! You are 63rd in line for this title.”
Turns out, saying, “I don’t want your congratulations, I want my book!” does nothing to move the line along faster. Nor does refreshing the page every other day (or hour…or minute…). You secretly suspect there are people out there who keep the book unread the full two weeks just to look impressive on their coffee table, and others who are doling out quarters in overdue fines to hold theirs even longer out of pure spite, but without proof, you’re stuck waiting just like everyone else. (And hoping the book doesn’t arrive for checkout the day after you’ve left on a week-long trip and can’t pick it up.)
My Angry Reader Level: 5, but mixed with sadness. I try to tell myself it’s no one’s fault, that I should be happy others are discovering a good book…but waiting is hard, guys.
Seven: “Wrong” Ending Choices
Whether it’s the unexpected death in the last few pages (you and your tissue box were just not prepared) or the love triangle that resolves in the exact opposite way it should have (don’t they realize they were meant for each other?), sometimes we don’t think authors made the right call with their endings.
This can include all kinds of categories, from agree-to-disagree preferences to “where on earth did that come from and was the editor asleep on the job?” moments. Sometimes, readers are pretty sure they could have written a more satisfying last chapter, if only the author had asked them.
My Angry Reader Level: Usually 2, occasionally 4. For the most part, I remember that authors have put a lot of thought into these endings and usually have Very Good Reasons for their choice even if it’s not the conclusion I was hoping for. Every now and then, though, I come across something that is not just unexpected, but blatantly out-of-character or contrived or factually impossible. That will move me up a few notches on the irritation meter, but I also recognize that deadlines and writers’ block exist and not every book is going to be a consistent winner.
Eight: Book Vandalism
They’re out there, breaking the spine of an unpurchased book at Barnes & Noble, inking up half of a school-assigned novel in highlighter and then donating it to a thrift store, folding down corners of library books to mark their spot. They are the ones who will (gasp!) hold a book over their head to protect themselves from the rain instead of stuffing the book inside their coat. They walk among us, lurking in the shadows of bookloving spaces everywhere.
I call them…the Book Vandals.
Now, all of us have accidentally damaged a book at least once in our life. (Picture seven-year-old Amy crying as she peels a soggy Stuart Little off the playground slide where she left it. It was a traumatic day.) That’s not what I’m talking about here.
No. This is serial, unrepentant destruction of books, especially those that don’t belong to you. That, true readers know, is unacceptable.
My Angry Reader Level: 8. Unless you’re two years old and left unsupervised with a crayon box, there are no excuses here, people. (And if you’re two years old and reading this blog, you’re enough of a prodigy to know better.)
If you liked this list, follow the blog so you won’t miss next month’s post about “8 Things Guaranteed Make a Reader Happy.” (That way you can tag a friend or spouse to give them ideas….)
Which of these are high up on your Angry Reader List? Are there any I missed?