In a book I was reading recently, it got to the bit where the couple were in a clinch and things were hotting up. As they were kissing, she ‘felt his nature rising.’
Seriously? I’ve read a lot of coy phrases describing erections, but that was a first. It somehow reminded me of being in a forest watching the sun rise. I was enjoying the book up until this point, but the phrase jarred me completely out of my reading zone.
Awkward sex scenes in books is one of my pet peeves. As an author I fully appreciate how difficult it is to write original sex scenes, but coy terms and clichés used for bodily parts and having sex just end up making a farce of it.
Every year British literary magazine Literary Review bestows the Bad Sex in Fiction Award on the author voted to have written the worst sex scene in a book published that year. In 2015 singer Morrissey won it for the sex scene in his debut fiction novel List of the Lost, in which he referred to a ‘bulbous salutation.’
Beside that, ‘nature rising’ seems very tame. If the ‘bulbous salutation’ has whetted your appetite for more, you can read the entire winning scene here.
It got me thinking about other pet peeves I have as a reader. Here are some others:
Authors who describe their characters’ clothing in minute detail. One particular crime writer describes every bit of clothing, right down to their socks (colour and thickness), watch (size, colour and brand) and jaunty handkerchief sticking out of the pocket (plain or embroidered) of their shirt (colour, brand and material).
The other problem is that this author’s fashion sense leaves a lot to be desired, particularly when it comes to women, so by the time I’ve visualized the murder suspect in a floral blouse with a frill at the neck, mustard cardigan with an emerald brooch, and green tartan skirt with tan stockings and black court shoes, I’m ready to throw a Vogue magazine at her.
Dream scenes. Dreams are boring – whether they’re the dreams of real people or characters in a novel. I always skip the dream scenes, even if they’re supposed to reveal something deep and meaningful about the character. There are a couple of exceptions to this:
· If the dreams are funny. I’m compelled to say that as I have included the odd dream scene in a couple of my books (How Not To Commit Murder and Perfect Sex). But in my defence they’re short and amusing. And if you don’t like them, feel free to skip them too.
· My own dreams are fascinating. My partner can vouch for this – he has studied dream analysis and I always give him a blow by blow description of my dreams so he can interpret them for me. I know you’re dying to hear all about them, but there’s not enough room in this blog post, so another time perhaps.
You’re busy? Every day? Oh well.
Precocious kids. Six-year-olds who have an armoury of witty repartee, cute observations and disdainful comments directed at all adults to make them feel like prehistoric imbeciles. Admittedly they seem to be more prevalent in movies, but I have read the occasional book in which the kid is more knowledgeable and together than the adults, rescuing a kitten from a burning building, whipping up a batch of pancakes and cleaning up afterwards and giving his mother advice about her love life.
Whereas in reality, a six-year-old will be glued to the X-box while the building is burning, have no idea how to cook pancakes but will leave a trail of cereal and milk across the kitchen and as for love, they have one word – ‘Yuk!’
Lack of quotation marks around speech. I’m looking at you, Tim Winton and Richard Flanagan, amongst others. Why is that? Are the authors too lazy to bother with them? I agree that quotation marks are annoying to insert, especially when you’re in the flow of a piece of profound dialogue that’s going to change the world.
But in my opinion it makes reading so much more difficult when the dialogue is indistinguishable from the rest of the narrative, and you have to stop and think,’ Oh yes, now he’s speaking.’ And it’s also difficult to distinguish the characters’ thoughts from their speech.
I have noticed that it seems to be mainly the authors of literary fiction that do it, so maybe it’s a trope of that genre. Researching it on the internet, I found I’m not the only person annoyed by this, so I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn’t turning into a GOW. (Grumpy Old Woman).
Whatever the reason, I refuse to read a book written without speech quotation marks, which according to some advocates of that style, marks me as a lazy reader. I’ll lie on the couch and drink to that!
What are your reading pet peeves? I’d love to hear them – please rant and rave in the comments box below.
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.