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Sunday Salon: Mini-vacation edition

July 12, 2009

Happy Sunday, y’all, and greetings from my parents’ house! I came up for the weekend partly for a mini-vacation (in the sense of “vacation = laying around, reading, blogging, watching DVDs, and ignoring my responsibilities for a few days”), and partly to take care of some errands – like bringing several boxes of books home pre-move. I’m moving in a few weeks (little move – same town, new place), and again in a year (big move – new town), and while one day I will have a place where I can have a room full of bookcases, at the moment, lightening the load of books that I want to keep but don’t necessarily want to re-read in the next year seemed prudent.


On the reading front, I haven’t been in much of a mood to read this week, which combined with re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince pre-movie, has meant that I haven’t finished but one book, Oathbreaker, Vol. 1: Assassin’s Apprentice. The review will be coming soon, but I wanted to talk about one of my pet peeves that unfortunately came up pretty frequently in this book: gemstone eyes.

Seriously, fantasy authors: can we please put a moratorium on the gemstone eyes already? I’ve had it up to here with the “strange and/or vividly colored eyes as a marker of special magical and/or supernatural heritage.” Silver, gold, topaz, amethyst, sapphire, emerald, whatever; enough! As Bookshelves of Doom pointed out, gemstones are hard and cold, and no one’s eyes *actually* ever look like that. If someone’s eyes are intensely dark green, say so! Or at least find a different simile than the closest gemstone (although make sure your choice is actually the color you think it is *cough*AnnaGodbersen*cough*lichen-eyes*cough*).

Actually, better yet, find something else to indicate that your characters are special – a stripey lock of hair, eyebrows that burst into multicolored flame, whatever. The “fancy eyes=powerful magic” device crops up often enough that it’s gone well into cliché territory by now, and it got to the point where every time the word “sapphire” was mentioned in Assassin’s Apprentice, I found myself rolling my (blue-green tourmaline-colored) eyes.

What say you, readers? Any clichés or descriptive devices that crop up again and again in your reading that drive you bonkers?

Also, don’t forget about my giveaway of Emma Darwin’s A Secret Alchemy! It’s a great book, and I’ve got FIVE copies to give away, so scoot on over and enter by Wednesday!

22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2009 12:31 pm

    Your bit about the gemstone eyes made me chuckle! Good luck with your move.

  2. July 12, 2009 12:57 pm

    I haven’t been able to do any simultaneous reading…I’ve just been re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince myself (I finished very very early this morning)! I can’t think of any overused descriptive terms right now, though I know there are lots out there that make me roll my eyes. I guess, I sort of like it if the author doesn’t describe the character’s physical appearance too much unless they have to. Also, sometimes they don’t do a good job integrating the descriptions, so, you’re just reading and then suddenly, blam, a whole paragraph about how pretty and special-looking the character is. That does make me do some eye-rolling.

  3. July 12, 2009 1:10 pm

    You gave me a good laugh too!
    Your post made me think of how much I roll my eyes at authors who try too hard when it comes to describing simple things like hair color, skin color, eye color, etc. I get seriously irritated if an author describes a character with a “coffee color skin”. I always wonder : black coffee? Latte? Moka? I’ve seen the same cliché used for different colors, and it really confuses me!

  4. July 12, 2009 1:11 pm

    Hope you are enjoying your mini-vacation. I know what you mean on the books. Mine are still at my mothers house, too. I try to thin them out, but they still take up a lot of room… So, they will be residing there for a while.

  5. July 12, 2009 1:48 pm

    Ugh, I hate moving… good luck with that! I’ll wish for a big room with open walls for towering bookshelves to fill for you :-)

    Cliches for me… The only thing that comes to mind is the groaner opener “It was a dark and stormy night,” which, if you didn’t know, is how A Wrinkle in Time started. That may have been part of what made it hard for me to get into the book to start with. I am glad I pushed through and finished it though, it’s now a book I remember with fondness :-)

  6. July 12, 2009 2:34 pm

    The thought of multi-colored flaming eyebrows just kills me!

    It does kind of irk me when authors step away from the narrative to tell you what colour hair and eyes their characters have, though, regardless of whether they’re sapphire coloured or whatnot. I mean, I like to know these things so I can picture them, but I prefer it when the author finds an organic way of inserting the information into the text.

  7. July 12, 2009 2:44 pm

    A mini-vacation sounds like a dream come true!!! I love reading and watching DVDs and pretending I don’t have to do all that other stuff. :)

  8. July 12, 2009 2:57 pm

    You crack me up! Your commentary about eye color is hilarious. I hope you enjoy your down time – you definitely deserve it!

  9. July 12, 2009 3:39 pm

    I love this! Gemstone-colored eyes? Not cool. Good luck on the move.

  10. July 12, 2009 3:40 pm

    Not a fan of gemstone eyes either. Actually, I was going to say what Memory said – it I actually notice a physical description, chances are I won’t like it. I prefer it when authors use subtle ways to let readers know what a character looks like, and even then I don’t need too many details.

    Good luck with the move!

  11. July 12, 2009 10:15 pm

    Agree about the gemstone eyes, also when an author abruptly interrupts the flow of story for any detailed physical description it annoys me. I want the appearance to be a quiet part of the narrative. Another eye-descriptor that I find over-used is when they supposedly look stormy, rolling with colors, changing like a chameleon.

  12. July 12, 2009 10:29 pm

    What is it with us this week? Is no one reading? Scary!

  13. July 13, 2009 7:33 am

    I agree about the gemstone eyes. That’s how they’re described in so many fantasy books. Honestly, I’ve never seen a person with eyes like gemstones, so the descriptions only annoy me.

    I hope you enjoy your mini-holiday!

  14. John permalink
    July 13, 2009 10:10 am

    I’ll see your gemstone eye-color (“see” as in see ’cause we’re talkin’ ’bout eyes…hahaha, I’m funny…puns) and raise you hair-color, skin-color or anyother distincive physical trait, including but not limited to the LACK of a distinguishing trait (diamond-in-the-rough cliche). Then again, fantasy is all about the cliche, which is why I don’t read it too much anymore or why I particularly like fantasy that doesn’t follow the established formulae.

  15. July 13, 2009 10:35 am

    LOL! I can’t think of anything like your poor issue with gem-eyes, but I see the word ‘avuncular’ in a book and I wonder how/why does this word pop up EVERYWHERE and does anyone ever SAY this word in conversation!? (This word has been haunting my reading for years.)

  16. July 14, 2009 9:31 am

    good luck with the moves and have a great vacation. I wish I had all the room I need for my books…lol maybe I should stop getting them.

  17. July 14, 2009 3:53 pm

    Moving, always fun.

    I didn’t post a comment yesterday when I read this but last night I ran across “…/Her goodly eyes like saphyres shinging bright/…..” by Edmund Spenser (of Fairie Queen fame) circa 1594, I immediately thought of you.

  18. July 14, 2009 3:54 pm


    “shining” bright. Not shinging. (Although I typed it that way again.)

  19. July 14, 2009 7:42 pm

    Ha ha, I hadn’t thought about the eyes thing before. But you’re right — I remember it most recently from Graceling, but it’s all over the place in fantasy.

    Personally, I think flammable eyelashes would be a great indication of magic :) Or maybe webbed toes?

  20. July 15, 2009 9:30 am

    bermudaonion – Thanks! I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else at the moment…

    Sharry – I agree, give me a vague idea of hair color, height/body type, and maybe skin tone, and I’m good to go.

    Kay – I’m not a coffee drinker, so I always pass over that term without much thought, but you’re totally right.

    Kailana – I’d keep them with me, but the idea of having to move them twice in a year is just unappealing.

    thekoolaidmom – I know it’s a cliché, but I can’t think of anything *other* than A Wrinkle in Time that started that way… hmm.

    Memory – Agreed! Although some of the ways authors think they’re integrating that stuff into the text still wind up feeling really artificial.

    Amy – I still had plenty of errands to run during my mini-vacation, but I got in at least a solid day and a half of lounging around. :)

    LH – It was a good time, thanks! Back to the grind today, though…

    Vasilly – And yet, they keep reappearing…

    Nymeth – Agreed, too! I don’t really picture characters – particularly their faces – in a whole lot of detail when I read, so the author may as well save the heavy-duty description.

    Joanne – Oh, good call on the color-change eyes. Although… my eyes do kind of change between blue and green depending on what color I’m wearing. Maybe I’ve got a secret magical history that even *I* don’t know about! :D

    debnance – It does seem to come in waves, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s a disease… we’ll call it “bookflu.”

  21. July 15, 2009 9:35 am

    Meghan – Clearly you aren’t hanging around the right kind of magical people. ;)

    John – So… your characters can’t have any special characteristics, but they can’t have no special characteristics either? Are you sure you don’t want to register

    Care – Oooh, good one. There are bunches of words like that that I pronounce wrong, because I’ve read them tons of times but have never once heard them said out loud.

    Serena – Nah, that’s no fun. :)

    Carrie – Well, since it’s Spenser, that I can forgive. Besides, he’s probably the *originator* of this particular cliché. :)

    Kim – Particularly if the webbed toes indicated a magical heritage that had nothing to do with water. :)

  22. July 15, 2009 11:19 am


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