This Thursday I’m planning to write a follow-up post to this one to discuss the themes and topics in books that I’m always interested in reading about. Since I’ve made several past references here to the sorts of stuff I dislike, I thought it would be a good idea to share the full list of things I won’t read about before diving into everything I love.
I’m the sort of reader who gleefully jumps from one genre to the next based on everything from the recommendations of certain people in my life to what I stumble across in the new arrivals section of my local library.
This list is going to do the same thing. No one genre can contain it, and any genre I read will occasionally include titles that fit one or more of the points on this list.
1. Sexy, Sparkly Monsters.
I will happily read all sorts of stories about vampires, zombies, werewolves, and unnamed creatures stitched together by Dr. Frankenstein so long as these characters are not romanticized or de-fanged in any way. While I might feel other emotions ranging from compassion for them to concern for their future, monsters are first and foremost supposed to be frightening. If they don’t give me that initial jolt of fear, I won’t be very interested in them.
I know I’m in the minority here, but I also don’t find monsters sexually appealing in any way. This is even more true for the dead, and therefore possibly rotting, ones.
2. Sympathetic Portrayals of Bigotry.
There’s a massive difference to me between writing about a character who is deeply prejudiced against specific groups and the author or narrator working – consciously or unconsciously – to make bigoted ideas themselves more palatable to the audience.
I believe that it’s a good thing to create three-dimensional characters, protagonists and villains alike. In no way would I expect every bigoted character to only be represented by their worst flaws. That isn’t how prejudice works in real life. Someone can be perfectly charming to friends or relatives while still doing and saying terrible things to the objects of their hate.
The juxtaposition of these personality traits can make excellent fodder for a story, but I still don’t believe it’s ethical to ever make excuses for the existence of hate or for the people who spread it.
3. Graphic Violence.
Occasional references to rape, torture, murder, and other acts of violence are okay with me, especially if they were integral to the development of the plot. However, my imagination is far too vivid for me to read detailed descriptions of these things without them coming back to haunt me later on.
I prefer types of conflict that don’t do that to me. This photo of a woman who dropped her ice cream cone is only tangentially related to this point, but the distraught expression on her face is about as much despair as I can handle before needing to move onto more cheerful subject matter.
4. Deus Ex Machina.
That is, I don’t like contrived endings or when characters who have been wrestling with a complex problem for hundreds of pages suddenly realize that the solution to their conflict was a simple fix a few sentences before the final scene.
I’d much rather have a sad ending than a happy one that doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the tale.
5. Inspirational Fiction.
After multiple failed attempts to get into this genre, I came to the conclusion that it was never going to be my cup of tea no matter who wrote it. It is the only genre I’ve permanently given up on, and I felt a little sad about that for a long time.
This rule definitely isn’t limited to religion in general, and it kicks in even if I happen to completely agree with the author’s point of view. Any topic can be sermonized if it is written by someone who is more interested in pushing a specific agenda than telling a satisfying story.
There’s a huge difference between writing a story that was influenced by your worldview and allowing your worldview to dictate how a story is told. I don’t have much patience for the latter at all.
7. One True Love Personality Transplants.
Okay, so this one might take a little explaining. I have no problem reading books that include romantic elements as a minor or major part of the plot. This isn’t an anti-romance rant at all.
What bothers me about certain characters falling in love, though, is when those experiences erase their personalities and identities.
Years ago I read a series about a character who had decided early in life never to have children. They had excellent reasons for that decision, and they stuck to it until the very end when they fell in love and suddenly changed their mind about having kids despite the fact that none of their reasons for making that choice had or could ever change.
This isn’t a type of storyline that I’m inherently opposed to, by the way. Not everyone knows what they want out of life when they’re a teenager, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing how a character changes their mind about a major life decision like this. It can be a fantastic way to demonstrate genuine character development when done properly.
The thing is, anyone who writes this sort of tale really should show how and why someone would change their mind about something so important to them. When such an important mind-shift is brushed away as a sign of True Love ™ five minutes after someone falls in love, I can’t help but to wonder how soon that character is going to deeply regret having kids (or moving thousands of miles away, or giving up their career, or making any other sort of drastic lifestyle change when there was no foreshadowing of them wanting those things for the vast majority of the plot).
8. Love Triangles.
If this wasn’t such a common trope in the romance genre, I’d probably read way more romance novels.
As someone who is polyamorous, I always hope the main character gets to keep dating both of the people they’ve fallen for. Why make them choose? They can love more than one person at a time and therefore free up the plot for more interesting types of conflict.
9. Needles, Blood, and Surgeries.
Kudos to those of you who enjoy very detailed descriptions of what goes on in an operating room or doctor’s office, but this is something that makes my stomach turn.
I’d prefer to continue to know as little as possible about how exactly medical professionals fix the human body when it gets injured or sick. The fact that they’re (often) able to help people feel better is all I need or want to know.
10. Very Long Books.
Other than J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien, I generally don’t read a lot of long-winded authors. Two or three hundred pages is more than enough space for me to get into a story in the vast majority of cases, so it would take something really special to convince me to jump into a very long read.
What topics are on your Do Not Read list?
9 Responses to 10 Things That I Won’t Read About
I just re-read ‘Cutting for Stone,’ a very long, well over 500 page book (without much white space) by Abraham Verghese. I loved every word of it the first time and the second. It never felt long-winded. I don’t read anything with violence or fear except when I look at newspapers. I would not go to a horror movie or read a murder mystery for fun. I’m still traumatized by Dial M for Murder which I saw when I was about 13.
Wow, that’s quite the accomplishment! Good for Mr. Verghese. What did you like most about his book?
What I love best in a book are:
1. Make it short… with a few exceptions were a book is a whole world.
2. How are characters described… I have to feel some sympathy for most of the people… totally loathsome people are tiring.
3. Surprise me in the right way… sometimes it’s a surprise slowly dawning other time a sudden twist… but leave enough of the book to give some resolution..
Two favorite books the last few years:
Stoner by John Williams
Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I completely agree with your list there. Never Let Me Go was a great story.
Great list! It’s as if you peeked at my list 🙂 I never used to have a problem reading graphic descriptions of violence, but after having kids, I can’t anymore. Can’t watch it on the screen either.
Another thing I can’t stand is ‘instant love’, which happens so often, especially in YA fiction. Even though that’s my writing genre, I hardly read any YA these days. And the love triangle! I love your idea though, to just keep it as the norm and concentrate on other things. I might be brave enough to give that a go.
Great list. I’m in total agreement on points 1 and 3.
Glad to hear it. And thank you.
For me, it’s dead kids. I know there are countless fantastic books about loss of children, but the whole topic disturbs me too much to consider. My brother wrote a book about a family who had just lost their infant daughter. It took me about ten months to even crack the book. Sermonizing: My biggest problem here is that by definition, the author is telling, not showing.
Yes, that’s a very common topic that people don’t like to read about. I can’t blame you there!
And you’re totally right about telling vs. showing.