Things that make you throw a book across the room

I recently read a historical romance by a multi-book NYT bestselling author. I won’t name her here, but I’ve read her stuff before and have liked it well enough. This particular book, though, was saved from being thrown across the room only by the fact that I put my back out on Friday, and it was altogether too much trouble to get upstairs to choose another book from my TBR pile. In the end, the story was okay, but I had to wonder how an experienced author like this one somehow got through writing and editing the book and the editing process with the publisher without catching several instances of “I’ve done my research and now you’re going to pay.”

This particular issue bothers me as much as lazy or non-existent research about easily-researched topics. I think I’ve posted before about one book that drove me crazy by having a character, set up as the expert, explain the rules of hockey to another and get them wrong. And another by a British author who hadn’t checked BC’s geography and had characters take a train from Victoria to Whistler, which was supposedly in the Rocky Mountains.

“I’ve done my research and now you’re going to pay” (a phrase I first heard from Diana Gabaldon, though I’ve no idea whether she coined it) can be just as frustrating.

For example, at one point in this recent read, the hero attempts to prove to the heroine that women are as easily addled by arousal as men by seducing her with a kiss. In the middle of the suggestive conversation that leads to the kiss is this, quoted here for illustrative purposes: “Taking her arm, [hero] drew her to a more secluded area of the kitchen garden, behind a pair of pergolas covered with scarlet runner beans. They stood next to a glass forcing house, which was used to compel plants into flower before they might have otherwise. A forcing house allowed a gardener to grow plants and flowers irrespective of the prevailing weather.”

Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m in the middle of seducing someone or being seduced, the specific use of the building by which I’m standing isn’t going to be at the front of my thoughts. Having the explanation of a forcing house there – twice, really – threw me right out of the story and made me uncomfortably aware of, and frustrated with, the author when I should have been lost in the story.

Research mistakes and giving too much explanation of things the reader might not understand are easy mistakes to make as a writer, I know. It’s one of the tough jobs of writing, making the research invisible to the reader, whether s/he knows what you’re talking about or doesn’t. I just hope that if I ever do it, I’ll spot it or someone else will while I can still fix it. Because when research is plain wrong or is presented at the wrong time as blatantly as it was in this book, it interferes with my suspension of disbelief and ruins the story for me.

What makes you want to throw books across the room in frustration?

2012-05-08T21:04:05-07:00

8 Comments

  1. Kaitlin May 8, 2012 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    Hahah, oh my gosh that example was so perfect. I would have been throwing it across the room too. Things that get me are authors getting me confused about who is where saying what. A little bit of ‘hold on let me read that again’ is ok, but straight up “I have no idea what’s going on” is unacceptable.

    Also, too many cliches in a book not a parody. That gets me.

    • Kathy May 9, 2012 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Losing the thread of conversations is a good one. I don’t mind a little of that, either, but a lot is frustrating.

  2. Catherine Duthie May 8, 2012 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    I’ve thrown a book across the room exactly once, but it was the highest compliment to the author.

    It was while reading Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women. Holmes kissed Russell on the forehead and I reacted with none of Russell’s bewilderment but rather with the above expression of annoyance and frustration.

    Two seconds later, I sheepishly fetched it back and kept reading.

    • Kathy May 9, 2012 at 10:04 am - Reply

      Ah, a totally different sort of book toss. 🙂

  3. Kat May 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    …or they were using the pergolas as a METAPHOR for the relationship… “which was used to compel plants into flower before they might have otherwise.” Sounds like a parallel between “seducing” the character and the seduction of plants into early bloom.

    • Kathy May 9, 2012 at 10:07 am - Reply

      Haha… excellent. If that was the intention, it was an awfully clumsy attempt, but you could be on to something.

  4. The Liz, who else? (@theliz13) May 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    This sounds to me like like a writers inability to hide their work. It’s hard sometimes to spend hours on research that is important to a plot… Yet never surfaces in the story. but like you said as well, NOT doing the research is just as bad.
    You have to find a balance between having all the facts, keeping them handy, like an ace up your sleeve, but only showing just as much as the story needs to engage the reader and keep them interested. Show too much, you distract from the action, rob from the mystery, and bore the reader. show too little, and the reader starts to lose their faith in you. Especially where sci-fi and magic are concerned, just saying ‘bob can see through walls’ is one thing, but how did it happen and what are his limits? Without explanation it all falls apart.

    Dear Author, I know the forcing shed is a cool idea that you researched, but unless their seduction winds up directly affecting the yield of that crop, you can skip the explanation of why it’s there. If a reader NEEDs to know, that’s what Google is for.

    The one time I threw a book across the room, was because of a plot twist at the end that essentially stabbed the protagonist in the back. It’s an authors prerogative to decide just how much pain their Main Character should go through… But as a reader, I have my limit of acceptance. In this novel, the character was dragged through hell, and we saw his flashbacks of all the things that he’d done, paving the way for his realization that he truly loved the woman and he DID want to be with her despite their sordid past, and after all that struggle with himself to come to terms with the fact that he -needed- her… In the final scene, he comes home to find her obliviously and completely in love with his best friend.
    I’m pretty sure the author INTENDED me to be furious at that point. It sort of made me feel used. I’d invested all my hopes and feelings into a desire outcome, then the writer pulled the rug out, and laughed. That killed the whole book series for me. I’d peek back at blurbs to see if she ever ‘fixed’ things, but no. She just went on to set up similar twists and betrayals in other books. I was done. Sometimes you want a book to take you by surprise, and twist onto you, other times… You throw a book across the room.

    • Kathy May 9, 2012 at 10:12 am - Reply

      I’d have felt as betrayed as you did with that plot twist. I read one like that where the hero was killed at the end at the moment when I was anticipating – and had invested all that time and emotional energy in the character to get – the happy ending the book had led me to expect. But no. I hated it.

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