I Want You to Know That I Forgive You*

We all have our pet peeves as readers. Of course, they’ll differ from person to person, but we all have them. If you’ve ever sent a book to Station DNF because it had several grammar/spelling errors, or because it was written in first person or present tense (or both), or because the author used a trope that bothers you, you know what I mean.  And yet, when you think about it, we often forgive those things in authors whose work we love. In a way, we have a double standard: one for our ‘auto-read’ authors, and one for other authors. I first got this idea from a terrific post by FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews. G’won, check it out. And check out her excellent blog while you’re there. You won’t regret it.

Back now? Thanks. FictionFan was discussing Denise Mina’s The Less Dead, but there are a lot of other examples of authors who are so talented that we forgive them things we night not forgive in other authors. As I say, everyone’s different, but here are a few examples from my own reading to show you what I mean.

Many people (I’m one of them) really enjoy character-driven stories. We want solid plots, of course, and when we read whodunits, we like to match wits with the authors. But characters are important, and so is character development. So why am I such a fan of Agatha Christie? After all, she’s not known for a lot of rich characters. Here’s why. For one thing, there are some Christie novels that contain strong, rich characters. Feel free to differ with me if you do, but novels such as Five Little Pigs, 4:50 From Paddington, and Cat Among the Pigeons, have interesting characters with some depth. More importantly, even those that focus less on character often have strong, well-imagined plots that are clever. Christie’s ability to manipulate plot threads and misdirect the reader makes many of her novels engaging, even if the characters are not as strong as I’d like. So, I forgive her that.

Another pet peeve that some readers have is that they dislike the use of the present tense. I know I don’t like it. In fact, in the case of most authors, using the present tense is enough to pull me right out of the story. And yet, I don’t mind it in Paddy Richardson’s work or in Elly Griffiths’ work. Both authors draw me into their worlds, and create rich characters, solid plots, and strong senses of place and time. Those are the things that truly keep me engaged in a story, so that as I read, I don’t feel as distracted by the use of the present tense. I put aside that pet peeve because the story and characters are so well-done.

Readers also sometimes dislike a lot of grit and violence in their stories. I certainly have my limits. But somehow, it doesn’t bother me in Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series. Those novels take place in contemporary Bangkok, and some of the plots involve real violence – things I wouldn’t forgive in another author. And yet, Hallinan’s plots and characters are strong, as is the sense of place and local culture. I get drawn into the world he creates, so that even if the violence is more than I’d like, I overlook it. It’s also worth noting that in the case of this series, violence falls out naturally from the story. It’s not gratuitous or overdone. Since it fits in with the story, it doesn’t pull me out of the story the way that it would in less capable hands.

One of the more common pet peeves I’ve found among readers is when a story is too long. Stories that ‘drown’ the reader in details, sub-plots, and so on can take a way from the central plots and characters, and that can pull people out of a story. I know that happens to me. And yet, length and detail don’t bother me in C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake novels. Some of them are quite long (Lamentation is over 650 pages). But Sansom provides interesting and important detail that really places the reader in the Tudor England that serves as the context for this series. What’s more, the plots and characters are, at least to me, strong and well-developed, so that the reader is motivated to go along for the ride, even though the journey is a long one. In the case of most authors, I’d be hesitant to read a very long book. But when it comes to Sansom, that’s a different matter.

That’s the thing about readers. We’re sometimes inconsistent about the way we react to books, and that includes our pet peeves. In part, it depends on who’s committing the ‘sin.’ I’m sure you have your own pet peeves. Which authors do you forgive for those ‘sins?’ What is it about their work that makes it worth reading for you, even if the author pushes your ‘annoyed’ button?

Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from India Arie’s Wings of Forgiveness.