Another post in my Judging Before Reading series! Today I’m talking about anti-buzzwords, the words that, if associated with a book, make me less likely to read it.
Anti-buzzwords are more important to me than covers or synopses, because I learned through experience that I really don’t like to read about some of these things.
I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about this before, but if I hear that a book involves an AI/human romance, I probably won’t read it. Not because I have anything against this plotline, not inherently – it’s just that it usually comes with one of my most hated tropes ever: romantic love makes you human. And maybe the book won’t say it outright, but it’s always implied in some way – I love you, you love me and now I see you as a person, being able to love makes you deserving of human rights, romantic love is the most important and human emotion of all…
As I don’t think I’ve ever [been romantically in love with/had a crush on] anyone, this is not that great to read. So, no AI romances for me.
I decided not to read Heart of Iron and Honor Among Thieves because of the AI romances, and the side AI romance was one (but definitely not the only) reason I didn’t like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
However, I love reading about AIs; some books about AIs that do not fall into this trope are The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.
It’s likely that the author isn’t, but in any case, I won’t read it.
I don’t know what it is about the mafia that makes authors from the US completely lose any sense of perspective – there is an entire subgenre of romance completely dedicated to the mafia, “mafia romances”, and no one ever says anything about it – but the mafia isn’t a thing of the past. It still has ugly repercussions on real people now. I don’t want to read about them, especially if they’re the heroes (just thinking about that makes me cringe) of the story.
I don’t have any problems reading about criminals, but not every kind of organized criminality is mafia. And if it doesn’t have the family element, or the extreme distorted Catholicism mixed with reactionary thinking, you are definitely not writing about the Italian mafia.
Don’t use the word “mafia” only because you think it’s a cool word for criminal; that’s not what it means.
There isn’t anything wrong with books about fandom (and I say this because I think there’s something wrong with many American books about the mafia) but it’s not something I enjoy reading about. Maybe because I’ve never really been in one, not actively, and so I can’t relate? I don’t know, but I read three books involving fandom and/or fanfiction, and I ended up DNFing one and rating the others two stars.
Radio Silence and Fangirl are two of the three books I tried reading (the third is Queens of Geek). They’re probably the books that are described as “relatable” most often, at least on goodreads, but I didn’t feel that way. Eliza and Her Monsters is a book I’m on the fence about because it gets so many good reviews and it has anxiety and depression representation, but the fandom element isn’t encouraging (and I also tend not to love most of the anxiety representation in YA, but that’s not the books’ fault either and it would be off topic to talk about that here).
It’s an anti-buzzword because I try to remember that just because many people love a book and rate it five stars, it’s likely that I won’t feel strongly about it if it’s about fandom, even if I trust those people.
Let’s talk about what happened between the end of 2017 and today. During the last months of 2017, I was aware of four books that were, supposedly, about gay pirates.
All of them ended up being either not good, not gay or not about pirates. I’m talking about:
- Barbary Station (read; not good, but gay and about pirates)
- These Rebel Waves (unread; gay, but the gay characters apparently aren’t pirates)
- The Unbinding of Mary Reade (read; not good, but gay and about pirates)
- Seafire (unread; about pirates, but not gay).
So, no good books about gay pirates. And all books I have read since that were about gay pirates – so the Mary Reade one and Barbary Station – ended up having no pirating at all, at least for most of the book. No adventure. What’s the point, then?
I don’t trust this buzzword anymore. It’s not that I won’t read books about pirates, but it isn’t likely that I will pick up some anytime soon, either.
I just find fictional plagues upsetting and I don’t read to be upset. It’s probably the element that leads me to avoid post-apocalyptic fiction the most, and also the reason I’m always hesitant with biopunk books even though I love biopunk technology.
[You could say I avoid bookish plagues like the plague.]
This Mortal Coil is a book whose sci-fi aspects I would probably love, but I couldn’t get through the first chapter (plague!). I have no interest in Contagion and never had any in The Fifth Wave for similar reasons.
Any Kind of Real Tragedy
I’m here to have fun.
I read for entertainment. I don’t read to learn that the world is a sad place, that people have done horrible things to each other and that war is bad. I already know that. If I wanted to know more details, I’d read nonfiction.
I’m not against dark things in fiction – even if I prefer to know that they’re there before reading the book – but dark things that are closely inspired and/or closely following real events? I don’t go there; at least I know that now.
Let’s go back to less sad things.
I like worldbuilding, I like complex magic systems, and superhero books usually have neither. I’d rather read urban fantasy if I want something magical but modern, and I’d rather read magical realism if I want fantasy but I don’t want to read about a magic system. Superpowers just feel flat and lazy to me. The thing is, the powers may look very cool on a screen, but on a page they’re usually not that interesting.
After reading Wonder Woman: Warbringer, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo and Heroine Complex, I also feel like books that deal with superheroes/people with superpowers are always way too over-the-top for me and my suspension of disbelief. They may be fun to read at first, but I get tired of that kind of humor very quickly, and I always end up feeling like the story would have worked so much better on a screen or as a graphic novel.
I’m not a fan of aliens overall, but I understand they can be done well (two examples I love are Space Opera and the Imperial Radch series). My problem is that in many YA books, aliens just feel like humans with different hair and eye color, and even if they have a less humanoid appearance, they will behave like humans. The only aliens I like are the ones humans can’t fully understand. My suspension of disbelief is broken otherwise.
One of the reasons I DNFed Toxic by Lydia Kang was the fact that its aliens acted a lot like humans with odd hair and skin colors.
It will make you cry!
If reviews always mentions that a book will make readers cry, I’m less likely to read it. For two reasons:
- I don’t like being sad. Again, I read for entertainment, being sad for hours does not qualify as entertainment, I can already do that myself without needing a book;
- If the author isn’t amazing, I will feel like I’m being manipulated. You could argue writing is always manipulative, but I shouldn’t notice it while reading;
- Most contemporary tear-jerkers are sicklit, and sicklit as a genre is both highly unoriginal (books with the same plot as The Fault in Our Stars existed when my parents were teens) and ableist, because publishing seems to care about chronically ill people only when they die or get cured.
I didn’t care about We Were Liars when I read it, and I read The Fault in Our Stars when I was 14 (I hated it so much I wasn’t even sad). Then there’s White as Silence, Red as Song (Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue, which actually means White as Milk, Red as Blood), which was written by one of the most overrated Italian authors to ever exist, and when I think about how difficult it is to get published in Italy and then get translated, I don’t want to think about why he managed it with a trite leukemia-based sicklit book. I’ve never read it, I had to see the movie in class, it was enough.
Of course, there are some exceptions. One book that I liked even though it was sad and many people said it made them cry is We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, but I read it because I trusted the author and it was gay (anti-buzzwords or not, this combinations will probably make me pick up the book). I’m glad I did, because I loved it.
Do you like/dislike any of these things in books? What are your anti-buzzwords?