Thursday, December 9, 2010

Literary Pet Peeves

Literary Blog Hop


I am honored to be participating for the first time in the Literary Blog Hop, sponsored by the folks at The Blue Bookcase. This week's question:

What is one of your literary pet peeves? Is there something that writers do that really sets your teeth on edge? Be specific, and give examples if you can.

My biggest literary pet peeve used to be a text full of allusions to things I didn't know.

Don't get me wrong: I've always loved to work hard and think hard when I am reading.  Once I learn just a bit about a subject, I want to find out more and more, reading everything I can get my hands on about that topic.  I've always been someone whose knowledge is quite deep in certain areas.  The problem is that while my knowledge may be relatively comprehensive on some topics, it is completely missing in others. In other words, deep--but not broad.

For years, I was been intimidated by classic literature from Homer to Virgil. I didn't know ancient history well and and I couldn't keep all those gods straight.  Knowing so little about French history made me steer clear of Balzac and Zola--and also War and Peace.  And if you haven't read all those kinds of books, how can you hope to understand James Joyce?

Of course, calling this a "pet peeve" implies that the problem was with the literature.  Thinking of it that way, I could dismiss the books and justify to myself why there was no reason to read those outdated dead-white-men texts anyway.

But obviously, the problem was not with the classics.  Instead, it was with my own education and confidence.  So much of what I think are peeves--in books as well as in life more generally--are simply prejudices or fears.  A little patient work might allow me to overcome them--and find an undiscovered country of new pleasures.

So I am setting off on this journey of reading major classics in more-or-less chronological order to overcome my resistance.  You can read more about my background and project plans in previous posts.  Please join me!

41 comments:

  1. one of the great things about reading in the internet era is we can track down almost any bit of information or unravel any allusion with a google search-I understand what you are saying but thing you have little to worry about-

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  2. Google does make reading so much more productive. I hadn't thought about it, but maybe that is part of the reason my book plans have changed so much over the last few years. I used to try to read things with the support of library books--and that gets kind of cumbersome and slow when you're trying to study other things for work. Now it is so much easier to get a wide array of interpretations and exegeses without investing an tremendous amount of time just in the search. Thanks!

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  3. I always like a MAP in a book that is PLACE dependent. If the book doesn't have one, I find one of my own.

    doesn't matter if it is fact or fiction, I love to see a map.
    It is interesting to read about John of Gaunt (and about his hold, the Savoy-(gone, but there is now a hotel a stone throw away with the same name
    0, and see where the chapel of St Clemim's is (it still exist) and have a sense of London in his time. (and see how many of the building/streets/landmarks still exist.)

    Google maps help, but i invested in an historical atlas.. to see how thing (cities, countries, maps of the world view) have changed over the centuries.
    (in very old maps, (13C europe say)
    Jerusalem was the center of the world.. (a christian view of the world centered on it.. not local country capitals!) Just knowing that changes everything!

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  4. I found that as get older (and wiser) that I can now really appreciate all those classics from high school and college.

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  5. OfTroy: Excellent idea to have a historical map while reading! I bet it will be very helpful as I approach some of the early stuff--and as you say, even for much of the more contemporary literature from places with which I am not as familiar. Thanks!

    DuskyLiterati: Isn't it amazing how much our reading changes over time? Sometimes it is just because we're better able to understand something or more willing to work hard to figure something out, but often it is just because we've had new experiences. I can't imagine what people think about Madame Bovary if they read it at 18, for example!

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  6. That brings us back to the topic of endnotes, which are provided to give us enlightning information, yet make the reading process much more tedious.

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  7. I don't know if I can call any of my pet peeves "literary." I dislike when people (esp women) faint constantly or get sick because they get cold or wet. It seems melodramatic and stereotypical (you rarely see the men get sick after a horseback ride in the rain). Then I have writing pet peeves, like Orwell using the term "presently" every time he wants to skip over a scene. I also can't stand dialect most of the time, but that's just personal taste. I don't think any of those are "literary" pet peeves.

    I must admit, I do like French in the texts because I know enough French to understand, but not enough for it not to challenge me. The Russian naming system and philosophy and history is difficult for me. I keep trying to read Russian authors but they dont' work for me so well.

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  8. The whole footnotes/endnotes issue is so dear to my heart. As I said in the comments to Dusky Literati's hop post, I'm an academic historian by training who loves to read books with all the connections and sources mentioned at the bottom of the page. That makes it easy to trace what is going on--but many readers are distracted by them. Endnotes are a compromise--there for people who want to flip back and forth but possible to ignore. Endnotes with no marks in the text drive me crazy since I don't even know when the author or editor is telling me information I might want to know. But many folks love reading without being interrupted. That makes sense to me most if one is reading almost exclusively for plot--but that isn't the way I read in general.

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  9. I love allusions or references to things I don't know so long as there are endnotes to help me or I've got the Internet to hand.

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  10. Falaise: Yep--Discovering the Oxford editions and the Penguin editions (which both seem to have extensive introductions and notes) has been just as important to my ability to read classic fiction as Google has been.

    Amanda: I like French left whole (when quoted) as well--although my French is pathetic and I need a good translation in the footnote. It emphasizes that the Russian speaker was using French (for example) and gives us a depth we might not get otherwise.

    And to connect with your post today, I loved seeing the Greek in the Sappho volume, even though I don't understand a word--not even most of the letters of Greek!

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  11. You're so right about that--I was probably 19 or 20 when I read Madame Bovary, but still not very mature--I'm sure it would be a completely different book to me now.

    In addition to google and maps and charts (all of which I like to access), I read a lot of challenging books in a book group--that way we can help each other with allusions and references.

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  12. Like others have mentioned above, the internet is very handy these days. Personally, I've never particularly had trouble with literary allusions mainly because I grew up on a lot of classical mythology and abridged versions of ancient classics. But it really is a joy to explore them some more over the net, when delving into a classic.:D

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  13. Btw, do let me know when you're about to start reading Homer's The Odyssey. I have a version here by Allen Mandelnaum that I've been meaning to read for ages!

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  14. Penny: The idea of reading some of the classics with other people is one of the reasons I started this blog. And I just found a local classics book club as well! Given how much I love talking about books with my partner David, I'm sure that puzzling out books with other readers will be a great joy.

    Risa: I think I will be reading the Odyssey in early-to-mid February and would love to have you join me in whatever way you like. My upcoming reading list will always be in the sidebar (with tentative dates for the next few books) if you want to see what's coming up.

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  15. I have three pet peeves. OK, a lot more but I'll share three.

    1) When a book is marketed as "historical fiction" but is actually a fictional story which takes place in the past and the history is all wrong and not researched.

    2) When authors make authoritative historical statements, without any proof(example: “King Solomon’s trading post” in “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean" http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=79)

    3) Consistency. That's more an editing issue but it drives me nuts when things are consistent. Want to italicize all foreign words? Fine, but either italicize all of them or none.

    Great post, I tweeted it to my following.


    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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  16. Man: Ooooh, I am a consistency freak too--except when it comes to my own work.... And thank you very much for the tweet.

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  17. My main pet peeve in literature is ennui.

    Really, if the characters are bumping into the walls or bored by their own lives, then what...is..the...point?

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  18. Shelley: Have you read Madame Bovary by any chance? I was stunned by how fascinated I was by a woman drowning in ennui!

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  19. Good luck with your goal/project to read more classics. The allusions and language can be hard to get through but it's so often worth it!

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  20. Hey, thanks so much for participating in our Hop this week! I know how you feel when it comes to so many allusions, if I don't understand them I just feel left out. That is where footnotes or endnotes come in handy.

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  21. Red: Thanks for your good wishes and for stopping by to say hello!

    IngridLola: My pleasure! Thank you so much for putting this wonderful hop together.

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  22. But isn't that the beauty of Joyce he makes you want to read other books to learn where he came from when writing ? ,all the best stu

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  23. What a lovely comment, Stu. I am looking forward to the point in time when I can agree with you!

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  24. I just got a Kindle and find that many of the classics are free, so I have Tolstoy, Dickens, Henry James, Dostoevsky, George Eliot, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and many more books downloaded and ready to be read or reread. Will I actually do it??

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  25. BBD: I'd love to have you join in for some of the reads! I will warn you that while all the free books written in English (or another language you can read in the original) are an incredible resource, keep in mind that works in translation usually have really old translations that sometimes turn newer readers off. And there are no introductions or endnotes in the freebies, either. Still, it is amazing to be able to access all those free digital classics available on places like Project Gutenberg.

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  26. I love the idea of anything that makes me have to search for the answers. Robert Graves- Greek Myths is a good book for the tales.

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  27. You're obviously not alone. I find it fascinating how many modern editions of books from previous eras (both fiction and non-fiction) are heavily annotated by the current publishers. Even a recent republishing of a collection of ghost stories by M.R. James--first published in the early 20th century--came with more explanatory footnotes than than your average biography! The editor explained that they believed James just made too many literary and historical references that would be lost on the modern reader.

    As for my "pet peeve"--it's unquestionably "historical novels" that deliberately throw history out the window. What really galls me about such books is that readers who know nothing about the actual people depicted in these novels assume that they reflect reality. Personally, I see it as libeling the dead.

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  28. I don't have a lot of patience for excessive allusions, and I think that definitely prohibits me from enjoying certain books as deeply as I could. Probably one of the reasons I like finding books that can be appreciated on different levels.

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  29. I love what you say about how your peeve isn't actually a fault of the book. I know I've been guilty of saying that a book is too complicated or difficult when the problem is really that I don't have enough knowledge of that era or experience with that kind of book. I'm thinking specifically of my disastrous encounter with Virginia Woolf's stream-of-consciousness style in college.

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  30. I don't think that I haven't really hd that problem but I suspect that it more about the books that I am reading than anything else.

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  31. Parrish Lantern: Great lead. I just bought a book of mythology to help me through the Greek and Roman literature. Thanks!

    Undine: Yep--I'm the reader who needs all those annotations! I do get some biggies since I've read the Bible (a long time ago now) and seen a lot of Shakespeare, but so much still passes by me! And I too am put off by a lot of historical novels. I even get annoyed at academic history books that make assumptions I don't like!

    Melody: I love that works can be read on many levels. Now that I sometimes read things with my young son, I am seeing that anew. Even classic television did it: I remember how many parent jokes there were in Sesame Street!

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  32. Teresa: I am so glad you highlighted this issue. My partner David and I have been discussing this issue a lot lately. And although I maintain that most of what I don't understand is because of my own limits, there are times when authors seem to take great delight in being opaque. Then maybe we're being reasonable when we loose patience!

    Becky: Glad to see you here! Most of the books I've read in the past twenty years are challenging in their own ways, but not full of allusions. Literature before 1800, especially, seems to assume you were educated through the same books the authors knew--but it is sort of true even in very contemporary poetry and the like.

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  33. All good points. I often look things up online while reading. It's good to learn new things even through fiction! :)

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  34. That's a really interesting Pet Peeve. I see where you're coming from. I hate reading references to things I don't understand. I don't feel like i'm ill-read or uninformed, but sometimes there are just really obscure references, or references to time periods i'm oblivious about and then i have to head on over to wikipedia

    Sarah @ LovingBooks

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  35. Rachel: I love your statement that it is good to learn things even through fiction. I think we are sometimes surprised by how much fiction can teach us--both tangible facts and major life lessons.

    Letter4No1: Welcome! Wikipedia has definitely become a huge support for my reading, too.

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  36. Hi, it's my first time here. Found you through the hop and am now a new follower. Interesting take on the peeve, turning it around to yourself like that.

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  37. Excessive allusions always make me feel dumb! I know I can do the research and find out what the text is referring to, but I sometimes just give up.

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  38. Crowe: So many of the things that annoy me have more to do with me than with the other thing. And honestly, that fact really annoys me...

    Anbolyn: Sometimes I get frustrated too. I hope y'all can help me out at those points!

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  39. I think that you nailed it perfectly when you said that pet peeves are generally manifestations of fears and/or prejudices.

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  40. Christina: I've been thinking about that issue and talking with my partner David about it a lot since this post went up. He has pointed out that for people whose pet peeves are inaccurate historical fiction or the footnote issues, it may not be about our insecurities as much as about our passions. I guess he is right--although I still believe that the connection between what we fear and what we condemn is amazingly strong. Thanks for your comment.

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  41. A really good post may I say :) By the way, I wrote a post about my own fiction pet peeves on my blog so I hope you will read and comment with your own! http://nynyonlinex.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/fiction-pet-peeves/

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