Broadening Your Horizons
As evidenced by this blog, which is dedicated almost exclusively to my paranormal, science fiction, and fantasy obsession, I can be a little narrow with regard to which books I’ll read. But I see tastes in reading a lot like our tastes in food. Was I always obsessed with these genres? Now that I think of it, there was a decided overabundance of ghost stories and horror stories in my childhood. I read Fear Street and Goosebumps by R. L. Stine, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. My collections were full of ghosts being picked up under underpasses in prom dresses and women getting their hands chopped off and running off roofs (thus creating a banshee… don’t ask). My calendar every year revolved around Halloween. Christmas? Birthdays? Bah! Now, Halloween? That was the holiday to end all holidays. In fact, my father would practically resort to yelling after we got a little too obsessed with the occult/paranormal for a little too much of the year.
Still, that isn’t and never was all I read. I remember reading Pestis 18 by Sharon Webb when I was either in elementary school or middle school. Ooh, that was a good book. And I absolutely loved (still do) Edgar Allan Poe (wait, that’s probably still in the above genre). I love reading Sherlock Holmes and James Patterson, Greek mythologies and Jane Austen. I read mysteries and comedies (though I haven’t in quite a while). Still, point being, I’m not so narrow I can’t branch out.
And I have. You go back a few years and I would have balked at the idea of reading a romance. I thought they were formulaic books for whiney girls (and I’ve always been more of a tomboy). True, many publishers (like Harlequin) are quite formulaic. I have a “friend” who considered writing romance and changed her mind because the publisher handed her a manual on writing romance which listed. The two should meet on X page, their first kiss should be by X page… I still get a little embarrassed by the covers (but that’s the advantage of ebooks… hehe). I read paranormal romances more often, but I’ve read a few of Tami Hoag’s romances and I own every single book Janet Evanovich has ever written, and read most of them at least twice. I have a few others here and there and have even read a few Harlequins.
Sure, they’re terrible. Sure, they’re smut and formulaic and there’s a surprising regularity in themes. Tycoons, millionaires, billionaires, princes, princesses, Texas cowboys. Need I go on? But I kind of figure it’s like watching a B rate horror flick like The Blob or Eight legged Freaks. Or watching an action movie with no discernible plot. Or even really, really bad slapstick comedies like Dude, where’s my car? Yes, they’re terrible. I recently watched a movie so bad (I will not even say the name but it was a zombie flick), I spent the whole time in shock. It was a train wreck. There was no logic. It made no sense. I couldn’t seem to turn away. Usually, I can predict horror movies. I know who will die and when. I know who will survive to the end. That one? I gave up guessing.
But, like I said, even those dinky, formulaic Harlequins have their places. I mean, sure they won’t be winning any awards any time soon, but when the entire goal is entertainment? Job accomplished.
Now, somehow this post idea sprouted from an article I saw in the NY Times online. It went on about how literary fiction written by women tends to be relegated to “Women’s Fiction” even while literary fiction in the same subject matter written by men does not. It’s an interesting article and I encourage you to read it. It also went about talking about how men have a tendency to automatically disregard things written by women as not applying to them and their interests, sometimes on subject matter, sometimes on cover images, and sometimes strictly because the author is a woman and he feels it automatically won’t interest him.
This got me thinking about literary fiction and, more specifically, its fans. Well, all book fans really. But literary fiction fans are probably the most stringent example I’ve ever seen. Some literary fiction fans tend to feel anything else is inferior, garbage even. I had one friend tell me Dean Koontz was a terrible writer, not because she didn’t like the subject matter, but she thought his writing was somehow inferior to the authors she tended to read. I was, frankly, flabbergasted. Dean Koontz is an author who has been frequently praised on his writing skills, using descriptions and settings to express mood. The man’s got skills. But, because he didn’t write “literary fiction,” he was somehow inferior in my friend’s eyes. I lost a little respect for her after that, especially considering she’d never actually read anything by Dean Koontz to make such a claim. This is like saying you don’t like spinach and then admitting you’ve never actually tried it.
So, in closing, I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone. Pick a genre you’ve scorned, would have never picked up in a thousand years. Then ask people to suggest a title or google search for the best of that genre. You might surprise yourself and find you’ve found a new favorite.
What about you guys? Have you wrongfully misjudged a genre before? What book made you change your mind?