Look first impressions with books are pretty much life vs death.
This might seem dramatic to you, but aRE YOU JUST JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS ABOUT ME AND THIS POST????
Ok fine, yes you’re right. I am dramatic and this post is dramatic and my whole blog is just falling down that dramatic mountainside. (Writer, OK? It’s my job now. I lay claim.)
So I’ve always been a voracious bookworm. So after 150 years of this, you definitely develop the fine skill of Judging Books Pretty Early On And Being Right. I don’t consider this unfair. I know what I like! I know what clicks and what drives me to grind my teeth. And recently, with my decision not to do negative reviews, I’ve started fine-tuning my abilities to figure out if I’ll like a book before I waste time starting it.
Because also: IF I START. I HAVE TO FINISH. It physically pains me not tooooo.
So what are some of the little “Warning Signs” that pretty much assure me I won’t like a book?
Well sit down. I’m so glad you asked.
Although before we go further I want to thoroughly complicate everything by admitting (a) these aren’t ALWAYS the case, so therefore (b) I often try every book anyway, and (c) yes that is why I’m constantly screaming.
1. PROLOGUES …. O H N O
Like obviously this isn’t an “always” so I won’t ditch a book just because of a prologue. (HELLO The Raven Cycle has a prologue and it is perfection.) But I’m just not…a…fan generally.
I find prologues tend to be (a) confusing because there’s no context, (b) usually NOT about the protagonist so why do I care mate, (c) fantasy prologues have a 97% chance of being so cliche my teeth hurt, and (d) jUST GIVE ME THE STORY I’m impatient and needy.
2. WHERE IS THE PROTAGONIST THO
I’m a big believer in the protagonist being introduced in the first sentence. But the first page = IS A MUST. If I have to go through a detailed 500-words describing, like, the town or an obscure myth that’ll be important later but is heckin’ boring now — THEN I’M SO DONE ALREADY. I need character oriented stories! Don’t send me on a mental vacation before the book even starts!
3. THE BOOK TELLS ME IT’LL BE BORING
Why would you do this.
I start a book and the first thing the character declares is: “I AM SUPER BORING AND LIVE IN A BORING TOWN AND MY LIFE IS BORING.” Possibly this is supposed to be relatable, but if I wanted boring, I wouldn’t have picked up a book. I realise this can be a tactic to say “and then life got exciting!” but honestly it’s just telling me we have a Plain Mary Jane/Greg Stu narrating and my carpet will have more personality.
Also I hate it when it’s an outright lie. Like the protagonist says “I AM BORING MY HAIR IS BROWN” and then goes on to be a code hacker, interns for a billionaire company with a shady past, has a dark family secret, etc etc.
Get yourself togEthER, mate.
4. AFTER THE 1ST CHAPTER? STILL NO IDEA WHERE THE BOOK IS HEADED
Stakes should be stated in the first chapter! I am just such a believer in this!
I’ve read books that take over 100pgs to tell me what the character (a) wants, and (b) what the plot is going to be for them to get it. No??? That needs to be up front or what do I root and care about? Just pls throw yourself into the snow and fIGHt something.
Yes I am impatient. We’ve discussed this already. I just never get on with meandering books.
5. NAKED DUDE ON THE COVER
Is this a direct burn @ City of Bones? YES. Because I love that book and absolutely did not read it for years because the nakkkkkked guy on the cover. It’s just a total warning not to even bother picking up the book (and if I do risk it and try the book, half the time if it’s YA there’s no nakedness anyway!! WHAT IS GOING ON.)
6. IT SAYS “FOR FANS OF [INSERT BOOK I HATE HERE].”
Ohhhh this is so hard. But as soon as I hear a book pitched as “for fans of Throne Of Glass” I’ve already left. I’m sprinting. The horizon is mine. But the worst part?! USUALLY these sort of pitches aren’t correct anyway! I mean for goodness sakes, I read The Scorpio Races because it was pitched as “just like The Hunger Games”. W-what. How. No. I have questions.
Also these suck for books I love too. As soon as you say “for fans of The Raven Cycle” I ALREADY HAVE WAY TOO HIGH EXPECTATIONS AND SOMEONE’S GONNA CRY SOON WITH DISAPPOINTMENT. Me? The book? Both probably.
7. PASSIVE PROTAGONIST
Change yer fate, Merida, is all I’m saying.
Look I get that some characters are thrown into their adventures. But I want them to be active participants. I read far too many books where it HAPPENS to the character. I want THEM to happen to it. If a protagonist is hugely passive then it feels like I’m cooking a marshmallow that’s going soggy and will fall into the fire and wow, fine, Hades gets to enjoy it not me.
8. ENCOUNTERING THESE SENTENCES EARLY ON.
These aren’t like 1000% for sure indications that I won’t like the book. But they are like that first sniff of smoke right before you realise your toast would excite an artist who draws in charcoal instead of your stomach that wants breakfast.
- “Getting a boy/girlfriend is all I want.” Why. Aim higher. Where is your Slytherinness.
- “I am a girl but other girls are dumb.” I will cut something. Girl-on-girl hate is so wrong and we’re done here.
- “I hate everyone in my life.” Super huge chance the protagonist is actually the jerk here.
- “My parents would never lie to me!” Indication that we’re about to have 350 pages of parents lying about your werewolf/pixie/secret organisation family history.
- “I had a good night’s sleep.” UNREALISTIC AND UNRELATABLE CONTENT.
9. WHEN THE BOOK IS OVER 500 PAGES.
There are so many exceptions to this rule though (Strange the Dreamer, A Conjuring Of Light, Illuminae omgggg) but the reason I often baulk at really long books these days
is bECAUSE I HAVE A REALLY SHORT ATTENTION SPAN I’M CRYING IT’S GETTING WORSE AS I GET OLDER is because I almost always say these books are too slow. I just like fast things. I like to get to the point.
10. CHARACTER FAILS AT THEIR “TALENT” IMMEDIATELY.
If I had a dollar for every time an assassin was introduced and fAILED in chapter one, I would have money to buy them 700 pens to fill out all the application forms for new jobs that they sorely need.
Failure is good. Shakes things up! Scares us all! But a book just feels disappointing from the get-go if the book lies! How am I supposed to trust anything if this character (spy/assassin/A+ student) has one job and they fail?!