I’m having one of those days when everything but everything is irritating. I had intended to blog today in order to write another review, as I seem hugely behind and I’d like to get a record of this year’s reading in order before the end of year lists and so on. But when I saw that the literary blog hop had taken as its subject ‘your top literary peeves’, I wondered whether it wouldn’t be a good idea to get some grumpiness off my chest. But of course, I could think of loads of things that were annoying me, but very few of them had anything to do with reading. There’s very little that I dislike stylistically per se, although I suppose if pressed, I could say:
The use of the present tense
I read lots of books written in the present tense, far more than there were a decade ago, and it seems to be the inevitable choice for certain kinds of genre writing. I believe the idea is that the present tense makes the story more immediate and, therefore, thrilling. But to my mind it only emphasizes the madness at the basis of narrative. The story that you are reading from the book held in your hands cannot possibly be happening simultaneously in the present moment. That’s the only timeframe it really cannot be happening in.
Unmotivated happy endings
Again, it seems to be fashionable to slap a happy ending on a story, regardless of what terrible scrapes the characters have got themselves into, and what intransigent personality flaws they have so far displayed. I believe the idea is that this is uplifting, and offers hope, but all it seems to do to my mind is to emphasise the gap between narrative and reality, and that’s wide enough as it is. A happy ending is uplifting if it’s plausible, but when you can feel the strings being pulled, then it’s a contrived marketing device.
Characters lacking self-awareness
I can’t abide characters who crash through the plot, swerving about in their motivation, acting irrationally and never questioning themselves or being challenged by the other protagonists. We’ve all met those sorts of people in real life and gone out of our way to avoid them. Don’t make them the main character and then have their problems unfold neatly; it doesn’t work that way.
So those were the only things I could think of that I do not much care for, although of course, when used in the right way, with intelligence and sensitivity or humour and insight, then I expect I wouldn’t mind them. Perhaps one of the things I really don’t like is the obligation to be prescriptive about narrative. Do I sound really grumpy to you? Like I said, it’s been a frustrating day and winter, and Christmas in particular, is starting to get to me. It’s been a day full of people on wobbly bikes (twice with children strapped into seats on the back) veering all over the road in front of my car when the visibility’s poor, and shoppers literally zigzagging across the aisles at a snail’s pace while they contemplate Christmas purchases, so I can’t get past. I’m sick of the queues in the shops and the terrible weather outside them. I’m fed up of Christmas songs on the radio and relentless advertising on the television. This is one of those times of year when my restricted diet really gets to me – I manage fine mostly, not being able to eat sugar or yeast or booze (or dairy fats but that’s out of choice because I’m not keen on them). But all I see at present are endless adverts for rich, fancy food. I may know for sure that eating mince pies dripping with cream and Christmas cake with marzipan and icing and mulled wine would make me feel horrifically ill, but that doesn’t stop my head from wanting them. So one of the things that’s really annoying me is
I would happily live without it. I used to love the season as a child, but then my poor mother did all the work. Now I have to buy Christmas and cook it and queue in the post office to send it and no single day of the year is worth such mountains of preparation. Given my choice, I’d do something far, far more low key, but I don’t have the choice. Whenever I suggest cutting back, my menfolk look all sorrowful and hardly done by and like I’ve just delivered a brutal jail sentence. Do my menfolk wish to help with the preparations, though? You bet your life they don’t. Or that’s not entirely fair: if I give Mister Litlove the coordinate point location of an item in a shop on a day when nothing else distracts his attention, he will try and get it. But if I assign general tasks to them they practice the kind of brinkmanship I cannot compete with, and happily reach Christmas Eve with nothing done, somehow expecting a miracle equivalent to the virgin birth to occur. So, knowing that this is the case, and knowing that Christmas is not a pleasure for me I thought I would try to do something this year to buck myself up a bit.
Best laid plans backfiring
And I decided I would sort myself out with a special reading list for the festive season. I put on it some readings from the founders of Christianity – Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. And I added to it a collected volume of fairy stories by Hans Christian Anderson, a couple of rewrites of the King Arthur legends and some fantastical, magical sorts of stories. I wanted to steep myself in numinous writing, to feel the sense of wonder and awe and possibility that Christmas ought to stand for, not this tiresome and tiring battle with a million chores. Most of the things I wanted to read, I didn’t possess, and so I put together a little amazon list and made a pre-Christmas treat for myself, a sort of payment for my trouble. And of course, those books are now somewhere lost in transit. Whether it’s the bad snowy weather to blame (and goodness knows everything stops in this country when it snows) or the strain of Christmas deliveries on our rubbishy postal service, but presents I’ve ordered both before and after have turned up, just not my books. Where are my books? Where is my palliative reading to sustain me through the bleakest of bleak seasons? Who is playing this cruel trick on me?
Being Irritated By Myself
But most of all, I’m just annoyed with myself. I know I shouldn’t let all these little things get to me. I ought to want to give my family the Christmas that gives them pleasure, and not mind the time it takes to prepare it because I’m doing it for them. And I do have other books to read, and if these ones are lost then perhaps it means I ought to read what I already possess. Being irritated by winter is a hiding to nothing, because it isn’t about to turn into spring any time soon. I ought to make the best of it. But today I just can’t talk myself out of my black mood. And I really hate it when that happens. Sorry for the whine, blogging friends. I will try to reconcile myself with the season and return a cheerier soul towards the end of the weekend!