Are We Reading Eclectically Enough?

I don’t want to keep banding the cancer word about, yet I do think its interesting that since I was told that those evil cells were now firmly friends of mine I have been thinking differently about reading. I mentioned last week how I went from racing through lots of books and today I wanted to discuss how it made me wonder if I was actually reading eclectically enough, and eclectic reading in general, so I hope you will all offer your thoughts.

I was actually eavesdropping at the hospital waiting area where they have a book exchange, which I find an interesting idea in a hospital, I mean the NHS have been great but no one wants to be coming back and forth to a hospital do they really no matter how necessary – sorry I have digressed. So anyway I was eavesdropping as a couple were routing through the shelves. They came across a copy of an unnamed but incredibly pastel coloured book and the woman said ‘oh even I wouldn’t read that it looks like utter chick lit nonsense’. On a separate visit a different pair were routing through the books on the shelves and came across a book that she described as ‘dafty alien rubbish, that’s the kind of thing you would read’ before shooting an eyebrow up at him. I found this interesting as both assumptions I had made about the same two books yet hearing them out loud I thought ‘oooh what snobs’ and then thought ‘oh dear does that make me a snob?’

I am hoping it doesn’t as really I would classify sci-fi and chick lit not as books that I am snobby about but just ones that aren’t really to my taste. This used to be the same for non-fiction books, however I have slowly but surely started to convert myself, and the same applies to classics actually (though these were more books that English Literature lessons at school put me off rather than me being adverse to them in the first place) which I have been trying harder at… occasionally, in fact I should be making more of an effort with the classics again and finally read a Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy if I am honest.

Why don’t I think I like sci-fi, fantasy and chick lit? Well I have never been a huge fan of aliens in books, in films and TV it’s fine, I used to love The X Files and am still a fan of Doctor Who (though not to excess), but for some reason on the page its never quite washed with me. I have yet to read a book that has convinced me by an alien world. The same applies to fantasy, I tried Lord of the Rings when I was younger and just thought it was ridiculous and have carried that thought, without testing it again, ever since. Weirdly though I love a good tale of the supernatural or ghost story, not that they are the same but its interesting a spooky world can ignite me (yet I don’t tend to read horror either) yet an alien or troll filled one doesn’t seem to.

Chick lit and I used to be friends. Who hasn’t read Bridget Jones Diary, and what made people less sneery about that book than others? My friend Gemma has been telling me for ages I must read Marian Keyes and I have always winced a little and said ‘really?’ I have been told to read Jenny Colgan often by Paul Magrs and the same response has been given. Yet I used to read everything by Lisa Jewell, and ‘A Friend of the Family’ is still one of my favourite books, and yet I havent picked up another in years and years. Why not?

So maybe its time to challenge myself, I have pulled four books I have been sent (I couldn’t find any fantasy) out of the TBR and they are by the bedside and will be little tests, to be read on a whim of course, that will gently test the waters with my tastes once more (the Daisy Goodwin sounds up my street, I have seen the film of I Am Number Four, Jessica Ruston is Susan Hills daughter so have always wanted to try her and I have had success with China Mievilles crime novel so might with his full on sci-fi)…

But I think its time for a gauntlet to be thrown down and see if maybe I need to be a bit more adventurous. So I thought you could all help by suggesting your favourite books in various genres (because I am aware that while I love crime fiction books there are lots of you who don’t) and seeing if we could enlighten each other to what books we have loved that might open new reading paths for each other. So here are the categories and I have put my favourites in and left question marks in the ones I have no idea about .I have missed out literary fiction as I never really know what that means; I just think that’s general fiction isn’t it or have I opened a can of worms there? Have I missed any other genres?

Chick Lit: ?
Crime Fiction: Any of the series by Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah or Susan Hill
Horror: ?
Fantasy:  ?
Non-Fiction: In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosely
Science Fiction: ?

Anyway it could be a fun little exercise for a Tuesday. If you don’t fancy giving it a go then do let me know your thoughts on eclectic reading (or do both) in general. Are there any genre’s out there you avoid and if so why? Do you often test the waters with genres you think you don’t like to see if your mind can be changed or do you think with so many books out there life is just too short and it’s best just sticking to what you know? Is all of this just a question of taste, can you be converted?


Filed under Book Thoughts

28 responses to “Are We Reading Eclectically Enough?

  1. Rob

    For speculative fiction, have a look at Postscripts magazine from PS Publishing. (The back issues are much cheaper, though shorter, than the new ones.) It’s a handy way to try reading a range of genres and styles. Another good way to dip in would be the chapbooks published by Nightjar Press. I’ve read a few of those and it’s a fantastic series.

  2. This post chimes with something I’ve been thinking about recently – prejudices both good and bad are hard to overcome but after having no interest at all in contempory fiction, or fiction written by men, or fiction in translation I’ve been offered a few books over the last year that fit all those catagories and I’ve enjoyed all of them (the one I bought myself not so much) but whilst it can only be a good thing to encounter new writers and different points of view I also think my time is a bit limited to put on hold all the books I know I want to read in favour of ones which are more of an unknown quantity. i’m trying to find a balance…

    Science fiction wise if you haven’t read Douglas Adams – well he’s pretty good, and so is early Terry Pratchett. Jan Marsh’s work on the pre raphalite women is gossipy as well as academic and the pictures are good, Robertson Davies is a brilliant canadian fiction writer that I would recommend to anybody, Georgette Heyer for adventure filled historical romance (which I guess is chick lit)

  3. Louise

    I’m not at all into chick lit! My friend gave me the Shopaholic series about 8 months ago,still unread! I’ve never read a Marian Keyes either,they all seem to be the same thing..?

    I ignore all chick lit type covers,however maybe i shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover as, not long ago i read The Ice Cream Girls,the cover screams chick lit and i nearly tossed it aside until a friend told me to try it and see…it’s not chick lit at all!! but actually a psychological thriller!

    I’m not into sci-fi (saying that who doesn’t love Buffy and Angel)and dystopia,but i loved The Passage!

  4. Ana

    For Crime fiction definitely Donna Leon since she has a wonderful police detective whose wife teaches English lit. All the stories are set in Venice. Just wonderful, civilised and fascinating. In Sci Fi it is very old indeed but Brave New World is hard to beat. Helen Garner writes non fiction that I really enjoy. Try The First Stone or The Spare Room.

    For the other genres I am not really a fan nor qualified to comment in any way at all!!

    All my prejudices on display here.

  5. Dispense with your prejudices and just read ‘good’ books! Who cares what “category” someone thinks they fit into? Chose some books, as I do, completely at random.

  6. I try very hard not to be prejudiced, as someone who loves sci-fi, fantasy and horror and has often been told that its all genre rubbish. However, I still have a problem with a lot of chick lit, but you are right, its not about sayng something is bad, just that it doesn’t appeal. Unless it’s Dan Brown; I’ve never really recovered from the Da Vinci Code…

  7. First of all want to say so sorry about the diagnosis. I’ve been away from reading blogs for too long and seem to have missed a lot of news. I hope that things go well and you can read lots.

    I can’t even imagine the horror I’d feel over the tbr pile with such a situation. I can see what you mean about wanting to read more diversely but oh what a hard choice. Don’t want to waste time on books you don’t like either right? I’m afraid I’m not great on any of the categories you mention to have recommendations though other than non-fiction which you seem to have covered!

  8. ‘The City and The City’ is totally all out sci-fi just with a bit of genre mixing.

    Let’s see what else I can recommend:

    Chick-lit: ‘The Little Lady Agency’ – Hester Browne (crazy families, totally mad money making idea and a sensible but love lorne heroine whose lack of self-confidence is something for her to work through, not a trait we feel makes her endearing)

    Crime: ‘Black Water Rising’ – Attica Locke (nominated for last years Orange prize so not sure whether you’ve read it). What about ‘Death of a Red Heroine’ by Qui Xialong, or (lit-thriller, but there is a crime) ‘Crossing’ by Andrew Fukada?

    Fantasy and sci-fi: Ummmm too many to recommend! I think your problem might be with high fantasy (eleves and lots of world building) and space operas (aliens, space ships to be really quick in explaining it). Although I’d love to see you try some more from both those categories I have lots of other kinds of fantasy and sci-fi to recommend. Will email.

  9. I’m afraid I don’t like Sci-Fi or Horror and am not terribly drawn to fantasy — but if you want really high-class fantasy look for what’s usually called Magic Realism — and read Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, which is a really great novel. Crime of course I read masses of and can recommend Kathy Reichs, Andrew Taylor and Kate Atkinson, all brilliant writers. xxx

    • I’ll certainly second your suggestion of Angela Carter!

      • Louise

        I bought that Angela Carter today,any 2 books for £1.00! my other choice was something about dressing in denim and cordroy,it had a dolls body on the front..the cover is ugly but Simon’s post today is what made me pick it! 🙂

  10. Chick lit: This genre can be so hit or miss for me, but I’ve recently discovered Georgette Heyer through blogging and absolutely loved Regency Buck.

    Sci-fi: Midshipman’s Hope by David Feintuch is a favourite of mine, amounting to a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’ve also heard great things about Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson – I’m waiting in line for it at the library.

    Fantasy: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, the first in the Wheel of Time series. The series bogs down in the middle, but the first four books are great. I also just started reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, which so far is excellent.

    I can’t say anything about horror – I don’t believe I have read a single one…

  11. I’m happy to see you are tackling this question, Simon. I find it hard to break out of my comfort zone. I have to say I still avoid “chick lit” but I have always enjoyed science fiction, fantasy and some crime novels. For sci-fi and fantasy try Ursula Le Guin or Peter S. Beagle, for an interesting crime series try Jason Goodwin’s Yashim detective series or Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan series.

  12. Ruthiella

    I also love Sci Fi and Fantasy on the screen but have difficulty with it on the page. I did enjoy reading “The Lord of the Rings” but it is a very long book. You might try “The Hobbit” instead for fantasy; much shorter and really an excellent book. And I second Ana in recommending “Brave New World” for Science Fiction.

  13. gaskella

    My first love was Sci-Fi and fantasy. I read very little of it nowadays, but would recommend Iain M Bank’s early SF novels, and one of my old faves ‘The moon is a harsh mistress’ by Robert Heinlein.

    Horror – Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist – it’s Swedish proper vampires with loads of gore. Also HPLovecraft’s short stories which I’ve recently discovered which blend Horror and SF into Weird.

    One genre you’ve missed out is Children’s. There is so much good YA fiction out there – do try something by Philip Reeve or Marcus Sedgwick, or Alan Garner or … I could go on for ever.

    Crime – I’m with the Italian fans – Donna Leon, Andrea Camillieri, Michael Dibdin etc – all are brilliant.

  14. cath

    My last SCI Fi is very long ago: The EarthSea Trilogy by Ursula le Guin, I also remember Dune (Frank Herbert)but I somehow just lost interest. Never read any horror and missed out on Chick Lit. But how abouth Myth: Dream Angus is my favourite recent adaptation(Alexander McCallSmith). I’ve started (re)reading the classic Greek myths this year and keep coming back to Women Who Run With Wolves (C Pinkola Estes)and Daughters Of Copper Woman(Anne Cameron).
    And what about Poetry, Memoir, Biography, Letters? I could send you my favourites if you like.

  15. I’m definitely a literary snob, I was panicked when I joined a local book group and realised that most of the books had pink covers – I shuddered and quickly abandoned the group. Some great suggestions above I second Georgette Heyer and Angela Carter.
    The only chick lit I can remember loving is The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. Although one of my favourite books is The Time Travellers Wife and some may class that as chick lit.
    For the Sci Fi what about something with a more dystopian feel like The Handmaid’s Tale or Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, in fact anything by Magaret Atwood. And Anthem by Ayn Rand is fantastic.

    Magical Realism wasn’t on your list, One Hundred Years of Solitude would be worth checking out, and historical fiction, The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber. And you should definitely get to some Austen (Persuasion), Brontes (Jane Eyre), Hardy (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) and Dickens (Great Expectations) – Think I over loaded you with recommendations there but then I’m one of those dreaded Eng Lit teachers….

  16. I used to avoid urban/paranormal fantasy. I read a few of them over the years, and didn’t much care for them, and I figured they just weren’t really for me. But last summer I realized that I had recently read and enjoyed a couple of works that fell into that category, and it made me wonder if I was being a snob in avoiding the genre. I enjoyed those books, so apparently at least some of it pushed the right buttons for me.

    So I decided to test my prejudice. I sampled widely in the urban fantasy field, and my earlier assessment was proven to be more or less correct: most of it doesn’t do anything for me. But there are a few that I really like a lot. I am glad that I read more widely, because I discovered a series that I’ve enjoyed immensely. I just wish that I could figure out how to find the few that I will like, without having to sample all of them.

  17. I have to admit I don’t read much chick lit, although what I’ve read so far have all been alright. And I don’t read ‘inspirational’ books either just because I think I know everything (which I’m beginning to realise I don’t, but still);P

    For sff, I recommend Scott Lynch, Steven Erikson (but it’s pretty heavy and long) and Terry Pratchett, although I prefer his later books. I’m also a fan of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels.

    I don’t read much horror as I’m easily scared except I still think Anne Rice’s early vampire novels and The Witching Hour are excellent.

    And I’m a huge fan of historical mysteries and recommend Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series (set in early 20th century Egypt), Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew series (set in 13th century Cambridge), Paul Doherty, Caleb Carr and Lyndsey Davis’ Falco series. Oh, and for contemporary with a classic feel, read Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Predergast series. And I’m a HUGE fan of Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan series too!

    ‘dafty alien rubbish’ – I like that, ha ha.

  18. Darla LaRoche

    For Science Fiction, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is my favorite. What reader wouldn’t want to read about a society that bans all books? Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns and the firemen in this story burn books when discovered. There is an underground rebellion going on where people try to keep books alive!
    For Fantasy, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is a grown up Harry Potter meets The Magician (Lev Grossman). It is told in a Scheherazade style so it feels like you are listening to a wild tale of adventure.
    For crime fiction, I agree with many of the people who listed Donna Leon.
    I don’t read chick lit so can’t help you there!
    Happy Genre exploring,

  19. ana

    So glad Katrina reminded us of The Handmaid’s Tale. A really classic Atwood. At her best!!

    Must confess it was a novel I taught in a former life aeons ago. Loved across the generations.

    Note to self: MUST read Farenheit 451.

    in modern lit fiction, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours was one of my great reads.

  20. For science fiction, you must try John Wyndham, who is one of my faves. I highly recommend Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Trouble with Lichen, and (my favourite) The Chrysalids. He wrote in the 1950s but he was very prescient about all kinds of things, including genetic engineering, our obsession with staying young, etc.

  21. chick lit – no sci fi – some adliss ,asimov ,moorcock in my youth ,fanatasy aa lot when younger ,horror a lot stephen king books ,use read lot of different books in20’s before got set in ways ,all the best stu

  22. It is easy to fall into a reading rut where you are drawn to the same genre but then there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a particular genre and I think people worry too much over what genre they should read. On the other hand, it’s always good to mix it up although I don’t really bother with genres beside from a cursory glance…

    Also, SF isn’t just about aliens, good SF can be an investigation on humanity and implications of technology on it – it can be a very human genre.

    chick lit: no idea, i’ve never been drawn to them. maybe i should rectify that

    crime fiction: try some Charles Willeford

    horror: Clive Barker – try Weaveworld…he can be classed as a horror/fantasy writer

    non-fiction: The Gulag Archipelago

    science fiction: try Hyperion by Dan Simmons or Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

    also because it’s my favourite novel read Lanark by Alasdair Gray
    I’ll write some more later

  23. I’ve been an avid reader of sf and fantasy since my teens, so I’ve got a few recommendations. I would definitely start with Ursula Le Guin – Earthsea has already been mentioned, but I would start with ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’. It’s a novel about a planet where gender is not fixed and individuals can assume either gender or bear children. It’s not ‘hard sf’ and there are no green or slimy aliens! The writing is beautiful.

    In the realms of fantasy, well I think China Mieville is a good place to start for the urban stuff, although I haven’t read embassytown yet. (I think his first Bas-Lag novel, Perdido Street Station, is probably the best urban fantasy novel ever written.) In the epic swords and dragons field you must, must, must try George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, starting with A Game of Thrones. It’s being made into a HBO series (first season airing in the US now) and is absolutely brilliant – set in an alternate late medieval Britain, where the division between north and south is writ large.

    Oh, and I should give a shout for some alternate history: Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, which is a book set in an alternate medieval Spain.

  24. cath

    Forgot to mention before: Doris Lessing wrote SCI Fi Canopus in Argos, Archives (1983 Jonathan Cape, beautiful edition too), a series of five. I have them all but so far only read The Marriages Between Zones,Three, Four and Five (2). Which I really liked.
    The first is: Shikasta, 3: The Sirian Experiments, 4 The Making of the Representative For Planet 8 and 5: The Sentimental Agents In The Volyen Empire.
    And I find reading the comments very inspirational and have learned I may have interpreted ‘genre’a little to broadly.

  25. Hey. Hope you’re doing okay. I would recommend…

    American Gods by Neil Gaiman
    The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint

    Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

    Also, not the greatest books possibly but the 40 Signs of Rain trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson are well written and frighteningly prescient about global warming.

    I’m not a big reader of either genre but am always pleasantly surprised when I dip in. Crime, horror and chick lit I sample even less of so no recommendations I can think of there sorry. Not prejudiced against, I hope, just less likely to read them.

  26. Wowsers, so much to answer and discuss here and so many possibilities and recommendations for all the different genres, I shall have to go and look through these recommends individually and see what takes my fancy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s