The 3 Words that Stop Me From Buying a Book
[image description: piles of books stacked around a blue door.]
I know everyone has quirks about the descriptors that make them immediately want to buy a book (mine are art heists, southernisms, and darkly comedic stuff) as well as the descriptors that make them steer clear (ahem, likening the protagonist to Holden Caufield).
But there are three words that send me running even faster than referencing Holden Caufield outside of Catcher in the Rye: tour de force.
According to the dictionary, tour de force is just a noun meaning “an impressive performance or achievement that has been accomplished or managed with great skill.” It’s used as a compliment––and rather high praise at that. It should make me want to buy a book that’s described as a tour de force since that means whoever is calling it that really loved it.
But it doesn’t.
What is it about these three little words that irk me? Like most pet peeves, it’s hard to say. But I realize my abhorrence of the phrase has more to do with my own personal connotation of it than it’s actual intended meaning.
Usually when I see books described as a tour de force, it’s application is meant to imply that the book was written rather quickly and perhaps didn’t get the editing overhaul it might have needed.
I can trace my adoption of this (perhaps faulty) connotation to high school English class when we read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. The novel was described as a tour de force and, in my humble opinion, if there was ever any novel in need of some heavy editing, it was that one.
The most memorable line is “My mother is a fish” for fuck’s sake.
I’m sure there’s some deep literary and philosophical meaning to all that, but I thought it was silly when I read it over a decade ago and I still think it’s silly today. William Faulkner fans can send me hate mail. It won’t change my mind.
I racked my brain and calling books a tour de force and/or likening the protagonist to Holden Caufield are the only things I could think of that would stop me from buying a book. I bet every reader has their red flags, so I’d love to hear yours! Tell me in the comments.