More secondhand books to be wary of

I’m sure that you will have guessed by now that I don’t mean to condemn anything out of hand. I’m just having fun. You may have forgotten having fun if you’re a bit po faced. Having fun is a very good way of employing your time.

But here are some danger signs.

Any book that features only orcs, elves, dwarfs…

I struggled conscientiously through Lord of the Rings back in the 1970s, and I cannot say that I feel uplifted by the experience. I once heard a possibly apocryphal tale about Tolkien bouncing some ideas off Hugo Dyson, another member of the Oxford based writers’ group The Inklings. Dyson, an Oxford don, apparently said ‘Oh f***, not another elf.’ He’d have got my vote.

I do not have a problem with fantasy. I have read all of Terry Pratchett’s output, most of it several times. I simply hated Lord of the Rings.

I had to pause there for a lightning bolt. Nope, didn’t happen. More proof of my atheist beliefs. God did not rain down fire and brimstone. Phew. There’s a relief.

To be fair, I truly liked the films. They were magnificently well visualised. Who was the director? Peter Jackson? Anyway they were fantastically good. Know why? There is so little worry about the history, they are straight on action movies. Also, as a person who has a y chromosome, I have to mention that there’s Liv Tyler. Arwen works for me.

Any book with an intellectually adept woman who is emotionally vulnerable

For goodness sake, that’s such an old theme, and I find it offensive. I find weak women offensive. Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, please hold your heads up in glory. They can write in a way that works. Joanna Trollope (here we go again), she does OK. But some of the rest… Aarrgh.

Any book with an intellectually adept man who is emotionally useless

Women tend to be the authors of stuff like this. Please be noteful. I did not state that women write about men like this.

If a fictional woman moans that her man is a commitment phobe, she should perhaps look a bit more closely at herself, since it’s just possible he’s afraid of committing to her, not phobic in general. That’s a very different matter.

Any book written entriely in the present tense

This is just a personal foible, but I find it very mannered. There’s also the danger that you as a reader will be lacking any context or background. You may not have an Inkling (I’m good, aren’t I?) what’s going on. The upside to this is that it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen. Surprise endings are a way of life in books written in the present tense.

Anything that’s palindromic, or does not feature the letter e

These approaches are simply intellectual posturing. It’s not big, though it is clever.


I have no problem with the idea of these. None at all, because to ignore them would have derived me of some of the greatest reading experiences of my life. I’ve read a fair amount of Virgil, and Ovid, and some more of the Classics. I sure as hell couldn’t read Crime and Punishment in the original. This is my fault, I know. I’m English and insular. My French is at the level of la plume de ma tante, I can just about get by in Italy, German is beyond me. I used to be OK at Latin poetry (it’s relatively easy, since unlike formal Latin, it’s very freeform.) But I’m a linguistic clod, so I need to rely on translators.

However. If the credits say Translated from Urdu by (insert name), Emeritus Professor of Magyar… you may be in trouble.

There’s an associated issue here. The phrase The definitive translation… Let’s think about that. Let’s think about the Classics. Latin has been around for a while. So has Greek. If this is the definitive translation, what the hell have all the other translators being doing with their lives? Getting it wrong seems to be the answer. But that can’t be right, can it? If it were, how would there be any grounds for comparison? There must have been something in them. So now how does someone decide this is the definitive version? If the reviewer is so smart, why didn’t he/she produce the definitive translation? And if they couldn’t, how can they then say this version is definitive? I’m puzzled.

Any book that requires a list of dramatis personae

Sorry, I get lost. Anything Russian is a complete nightmare for me. There are so many characters. I’m not saying it won’t be a great story, but if I have to keep referring back to the list of people, I get a bit tetchy.

Side issue. I don’t think that some of the characters work well when they’re badly translated. Take Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn.One of the characters is called Bone Chewer. Do you believe that as a name? I don’t. It’s wrong. The translation is wrong. It’s a transliteration, not a translation.

Any book where there are more footnotes on the page than actual text

The prosecution calls Garrison Keiller. I found Lake Woebegon Days absolutely unreadable. Then I recently bought a copy of Canterbury Tales, with massive footnotes on every page, explaining the language. I don’t claim to fully understand Chaucer’s language, but you’d have to be a complete idiot not to be able to grasp what’s going on.

Any writing where the author uses the opportunity to show how damned clever he is and how well read

‘The court finds guilty as charged. You have been accused of the crimes of being pretentious and deliberately contentious.’ Judge dons black cap. ‘Take him down.’

Have I just kicked a hornet’s nest? I do hope so. Too bad I’m not Scandinavian.

14 thoughts on “More secondhand books to be wary of”

  1. ooh, how many people have you offended in one post 😉 if the tolkein hordes don’t get you the peter jackson fans will…though i think you’re safe from the read-it-in-the-originals, they’re too busy being superior with yellow jackets to mind you… re bone chewer though, i think it’s a sign of how few events of mass starvation there were in britain that there are no phrases for that…chewing your belt in french, bread and scrape in english, still some bread…
    have fun with anthills next 😉

  2. I tried reading LotR but got bored. The books I read have Dramatis Personae. Uhhh .. yeah … present tense = shit … you know the main character won’t die. Books with palindromes should be gone through with a rotavator

  3. WordsFallFromMyEyes said:

    This is hilarious. Love your style – & sense of humour, court ‘n all 🙂

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