Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group hosted by Lainey from Ginger Reads Lainey and Samantha from Thoughts on Tomes. Every Wednesday of the month, readers and bloggers present their Top 5 Wednesday choices for a specific topic. Today’s topic are book trends we’re tired of, which can refer to both the appearance of books as well as their content. Because I’ll find something positive about almost every book cover, I’ll be focusing on content-based trends and tropes I’ve grown tired of. Of course, my top choices would be insta-love and love triangles since we still seem to get those worn-out tropes, especially in YA, but I’ve tried to come up with a few a bit more creative trends I wish we could erase from the publishing industry for good.
The book community has been craving more diversity in literature, which is an extremely positive development. The world is diverse, so let’s portray it as it is, right? We as individuals differ in our genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and so on, and it’d be ignorant not to speak to all readers when we create characters whom we’re supposed to relate to. What I’ve noticed, however, is that some authors heed the call for diversity for the wrong reasons: Sales. Look, it’s great that authors introduce diverse characters but, in my opinion, it doesn’t suffice if they don’t mean what they depict. For example, having a dark-skinned or gay protagonist on the cast without addressing how this character may feel about it––how skin colour and sexuality affects their self-image (both in positive and negative ways), whether this character is sensitive with regard to this topic, or if he or she encounters racism/homophobia––is superficial, half-hearted work. It is not enough to create a character and then paint them black or make them gay or have them believe in Allah. As a reader, I want introspection. I’m not satisfied with having diverse characters just because it’s trendy. I want to know how diversity impacts the characters and their lives. Foremost, I want depth, not superficiality.
Overly Flowery Language
I adore beautiful prose. I love descriptive writing, which has me paint a detailed picture in my mind, and metaphors and skilled wording. Flowery language can give a book its unique touch but there’s a lot than can go wrong. As positive examples, I’d name The Wrath and the Dawn, The Winner’s Curse and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The writing is partly flowery but well-balanced with clear, short, and concise passages. It is trendy to write poetically, but there’s a fine line between beautiful prose and purple prose. When I read the chapter sampler for The Star-Touched Queen, I was instantly mesmerzed by the writing. Soon enough, though, I realized I was only half-focused on the plot, for I was distracted by all the extensive descriptions and metaphors and poetic swirls of wording. There is such a thing as too flowery language. Too many adjectives, too many metaphors, too many fancy words. If I’m going to adore a writing style, I require a balance between extravaganve and simplicity, otherwise I’ll get lost in the prose and forget about what actually counts in a book.
The Chosen One
There is a father of all Chosen Ones and that’s Harry Potter. There will only ever be one original and unique literary figure which was chosen for a destiny of greatness, and every character that came after and tried to achieve the same thing was merely a copy of him. Now, I’ll admit that some books I love feature heroes and heroines who are chosen for a specific path. Personally, this trope is a matter of subtlety for me. It starts irking me as soon as I am reminded on every other page that the main character was chosen, is special, holds all the power, has to complete a difficult task alone, and above everything is the fucking Chosen One. In Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard, for example, I stopped counting at some point how many times the heroine rubs into the reader’s face that she is the Lightning Girl and will therefore lead the rebellion to its success and yadda yadda. If a character is the the main character, obviously there’s a reason for that, perhaps a certain magical ability or a social status that comes with power. A main character is special, for otherwise he or she would not be the pillar of the book’s cast. But let’s keep the specialness subtle, shall we?
Obviously, this applies mostly to fantasy and dystopia, but it’s not entirely redundant in other genres, either. I cannot believe that we’re still getting fantasy books with poor world-building. I mean, creating a 3D-world is the basics of How To Write Fantasy 101. Now, I admit that it’s hard with so many releases to keep your world original and unique, but you can still do a good job. My basic need for a fantasy novel is a world-building in which the realm is explained to me and this includes everything that sets a realm apart from the world as I know it. What does the realm look like? Are we talking pine forests or deserts? How do the people look? Are there different ethnicities? Is one ethnicity considered inferior or superior? How do they live? Houses or igloos or tents? What do they wear? How does fashion differ between ethnicities? What do they eat? What societal traditions and laws exist? What happens if one breaks said laws? What’s the role of men and women in this society? What does the governmental system look like? Is there magic and if yes, where does it strem from and how does it work? Are there different religions and belief systems? What do the people believe in and how does it affect their lives? I came up with this in 30 seconds, and yet I still read books in which these things are hardly explained.
Mental Illness Done Wrong
Hey you, yes you. The character in the front, to the right. I’ve heard you’ve been battling a mental illness––depression, you say?––for a while and I think I’ve come up with the perfect cure for your condition: Fall in love and all your sadness will dissolve like *poof*. So, I think you can guess what I’m hinting at here, but let me elaborate. The inclusion of mental health in literature, especially YA contemporaries, has increased a lot over the years but the execution sometimes leaves much to be desired. Now, as a Clinical Psychology graduate, I’m probably a little more alert as to how mental illnesses are portrayed in books, but I’ve seen many readers and reviewers, suffering from mental disorders, who have been seriously pissed off by authors moving mental health into a certain light. I’ve avoided each and every single release which has implemented the Love-As-A-Cure trope. Because no. If love were a cure for mental illnesses, I think mental health care facilities would’ve run out of patients by now (which we haven’t, let me tell you). Suggesting that love is a game changer with mental illnesses, such as anxieties and depression, and suicidality is belittling of the severity of these conditions and therefore offensive. Furthermore, a mental illness is not just a two-item checklist you can tick off. It doesn’t suffice to tell the reader “Here, my character has bipolar, so he/she suffers from episodes of mania and depression”. As with diversity, the portrayal of mental illness requires sensitivity, insight, and introspection. There is nothing worse than a cardboard character who is mentally ill, because if someone is mentally ill, then there is obviously more to this person and their condition than meets the eye. Look at the past and their experiences, look at their personality, look at how the illness impacts this person, and distinguish which thoughts belong to the illness and which don’t. Mental health is an important element of YA literature and it deserves extensive research, depth, and respect. And the same, of course, goes for somatic conditions.
So, these were some bookish trends, tropes, and clichés which have been irking me lately. Obviously, there is always a narrow line between the book trends I love and the ones I hate. Something I want in books, for example the representation of diversity and mental health, can easily tip into something I shake my head about. It’s all about how it’s done right, but that view is, of course, very subjective. Now, it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on the book trends I listed? And what aspects would you list among the ones you’ve grown tired of?