Even though I previously vowed not to make this blog a compendium of gripes, this literary one occurred to me recently and is begging to be written. The fact that I haven’t had a lot of time to write anything else is another motivation. To make the whole experience more palatable, just read aloud with your best Andy Rooney voice.
Have you ever noticed how nonfiction books often plop excerpts of stuff from the current page along the side – or worse, in the middle – of the page? Usually, they’re big boxes of text in a separate font, often italicized for emphasis, like the islands of script aren’t obvious enough. They call out some idea or cleverly written phrase the publisher – I can’t imagine it’s the authors idea – wants to make sure you read. Or read twice, maybe.
Those things drive me crazy. As I read the page, my eyes wander across to that oversized interloper as if it were magnetized and my eyes were filled with iron filings. I yank my eyes back to where I was reading, sometimes causing visual whiplash.
If I’m lucky, the text was something I’d already read. Otherwise, it’s information I haven’t reached yet, so it’s out of context at best. At worst, it spoils some surprise. What if an Agatha Christie book had a little side blurb like this one:
To borrow Cynthia Tobias‘s eminently useful query: What’s the point?
Are publishers afraid we might miss some critical point? Are they trying to drive it home through repetition? More likely, they’re only there to pad out the book (or post, in this case) so it has more bulk… and that makes it better.
Maybe I should be grateful. Those boxes might actually be an embedded “Cliff’s Notes” version of the book. I can read the whole thing in twenty minutes if I just read those inserts. With some books I’ve read, that could have saved me a lot of time and aggravation.