Top Ten Tuesday: total turn-offs

Top Ten Tuesday bannerTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week, we’re looking at what stops us picking up a book.

I said last week that I’m fairly picky about books. I wasn’t lying. While it wasn’t hard to find ten things that will make me give a book consideration (and which in combination will see that book jump off the shelf at me like a needy puppy), it’s equally easy to find reasons not to read a book.

Too familiar

I said a couple of weeks ago that books are often a variation on a theme, and last week I identified familiar elements that will get me on board. But a book does need to feel fresh, or my cynical brain will plonk it in the ‘knock-off’ / ‘cashing in’ category and ignore it until further notice.

Boys’ club

I grew up reading books about boys having adventures. I think boys can and should have adventures, but I’m just not interested in testosterone-driven all-male narratives, especially if they’re grimdark (although if they were all queer, I could be tempted. Even Richard Morgan didn’t go there).

Comic fantasy

I strongly dislike comic fantasy novels. I love books to be humorous – but if they’re more interested in their puns, parody and absurdities than in character and plot, I’ll put them back. I’ve got slightly more latitude for farce – but I’m still pretty unforgiving. Just call me earnest. I don’t mind being Earnest.

Inigo Montoya

I am so bored of “you killed my XXX, prepare to die”. There are exceptions (A Song of Ice and Fire weaves this into the fabric of the world to drive the politics, which I love); but any story driven by the death/murder of a parent, lover or child needs something more to pull me in.


I want variety – in species, skin colour, gender, sexual preference, politics, taste – you name it, the more the merrier. If the world-building provides reasons for everyone being the same (and you can expect my side-eye if it does), I’m going to want to see the paradigm challenged.


I’m terribly sentimental, but I don’t like romance. I’m not sure how that works out, but there you go. While I don’t mind a romantic subplot, if it’s the core narrative you can sign me out from the start. I don’t believe in soul mates (I’m with Tim Minchin), so while shipping is fun, I need some other source of tension to drive the story along.

Gang crime

I am left absolutely cold by stories about (genre equivalents of) the Mafia, crime syndicates, and drug lords. Conmen and thieves – sign me up. Drug dealers and gang warfare? Nuh uh. The Lies of Locke Lamora plays it just right: I should hate the setting and the Right People, but because it’s really all about cons and high stakes heists, it won my heart.

Bad cover art

I resisted putting good cover art on my catnip list (it will make me pick a book up to read the blurb; it won’t make me buy it), but I’m ashamed to admit bad cover art will stop me picking the book up at all. This is why it was years before I read A Game of Thrones: I hated the original lurid (UK) cover art.

I’m not interested in your -isms

I often hear ‘separate the author from the work’. I say: fuck that, without apology. It’s my money buying the book, so I can and will choose how to spend it. If I wouldn’t buy them a pint, I won’t buy their book and help pay their mortgage – I don’t care how objectively good the work is.

Word of mouth

Book friends are brilliant friends, and I value their opinions (far more highly than those of any professional reviewer; I don’t care what a newspaper or magazine thinks). If my book friends say it’s a bad book or full of problematic tropes, you can pretty much guarantee I’ll save myself the bother of finding out for myself.

What turns you off?