The Changing Taste Buds of a Reader; Is It Just a Phase?

Over the last few months I have noticed that my taste in books seems to have changed. I normally revel in a good ‘literary’ literary novel, yet oddly in the last month or so I have noticed that this is waning. I have started at least six or seven that I have then put down onto the back burner/shelf or simply passed on to someone else. It has made me wonder if my tastes in what I read had changed and if so why might that be?

Gav and I used to talk on The Readers (and interestingly Thomas and I discuss it on this week’s episode) about those most literary of books in which someone spends ninety odd pages walking to the shop and thinking about something. I was always quite a vehement defender of these books, yet I have noticed that those books simply aren’t working for me now. I lose interest, I am not really bothered about Mrs Muggings (I have just made her up, she isn’t in a real book that I know of) and the strife of her second marriage that lies in tatters and all her offspring who are all suffering in their varying ways – particularly middle class ones I have noticed.

That isn’t to say I have gone off literary books completely, far from it, I just think what I need with a literary novel is something, erm, novel or something with a different feel to it. I mean the thing is even with something like Jelly Belly (bear with this analogy, I have been eating a lot of them of late) you have your favourite flavours that you save till the end and then when you have had a few of them you think ‘ooh lovely tutti-frutti, but actually maybe I would like a tropical punch one now!’

Maybe a curry analogy, I always order chicken tikka but actually really like loads of new ones when I dare to try them, might have been better but the image wouldn’t have been so pretty. Sorry, I digress…

I haven’t given up on literary novels and just moved to ‘genre’ fiction, though I have noticed I am having a real hunger for crime, but I have noticed that I don’t want endless waffle and inner monologues and rhetorical questions for a three page paragraph. Basically flowery just isn’t working. I need hard core plot, narrative and characters. I need to be hooked in very quickly and made to want to come back. Putting a book down and forgetting about it has also happened a bit this year and it gets me and the book nowhere fast if I carry on.

Could it be that my tastes have changed for good, or is this just a phase? I am actually wondering if in fact our circumstances, and I don’t just mean mood which is really important, can change the readers we are? I can’t sit down for hours and hours reading like I did a few years ago and it was my main job. I don’t have the long commute to get slowly involved. I grab minutes in the mornings and afternoons and then have a few solid hours here and there in the evening around work, so maybe that is the change. I do find it quite unsettling though.

So I thought I would ask all of you about it? One of the many joys of social media and blogs is that you don’t feel like such a weirdo when other people feel the same. Interestingly, my mate Emma said that she thinks it can be a case of reading in cycles, she is currently having a phase of reading dark depressing books like she did in her early twenties. Could that also be the case? What do you reckon? Answers on a postcard, or preferably in the comments below. Ta!

26 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness

26 responses to “The Changing Taste Buds of a Reader; Is It Just a Phase?

  1. Careful, careful, it’s a slippery slope… Welcome to the ‘dark’ side! After a very literary (dare I say pretentious) snobbery period in my late teens/ early 20s, I started reading crime fiction ‘to relax’ while doing my Ph.D. … and I haven’t looked back since. There is so much variety there and -even when a book isn’t marvellous – at least you’ve had a puzzle to solve. But there are many literary gems, too, ‘hidden’ under the crime label!

  2. I think the same as your friend Emma. I think we are interested in different types of book throughout our life probably depending on what is happening in our life at the moment or our questions or needs. Like I had a chick-lit period (needed just silly things to read to escape from the had work), books about after life (was wondering funny enough about after life!) and now it depends on my mood. I try to alternate the type of books I read but if we have a closer look, there is a sort of pattern (books about the war, about family secrets, ect…). And we can go through months without reading or only a few things compare to other periods when we can never read fast enough. I wouldn’t worry about it, even if it can be frustrating but reading must be a pleasure.

  3. I find that in the last several years I enjoy “literary” novels with a particularly odd angle or genre bent. Some that come to mind: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, Karen Russell’s work, etc.

  4. Victoria

    I went through a similar phase last year, where I started lots of literary fiction, only to stop reading. Instead I read lots of crime and short stories. This year I seem to have recovered my reading mojo and am back reading literary fiction again. However I also agree with you that circumstance does affect how and when you read.

  5. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Definitely, reading comes in phases – you can’t force it, you can only follow your reading heart and pick up the books you want to!

    • I totally agree with Kaggsy and others here… I would suggest going with the flow… (When big changes happen in your life, it can affect you in different ways. Don’t force it. It’s fine to read other stuff.)

  6. I have a theory that as you get older you tends to move away from the heavy literary tomes. There are too many other things going on in your life. This is what happened to me. But wait, it is not always like this. My mom is now reading the most literary of literary and that is because she is in a new phase of her life (retirement). So we just have to wait a few years until we are ready for the heavy again.

    • The weird thing for me is that I’m the opposite. I’ve been reading *more* literary fiction as I’ve gotten older. There are genres that I don’t touch now that I couldn’t get enough as a teenager.

      To paraphrase Tolstoy, each reader is a reader in their own unique way.

  7. I agree with the reading-in-cycles theory. I’m a big mood reader, so for a while will only read nonfiction, then only (or mostly) literary, then romance or classics for a while, and so on. These cycles don’t go on for years, but are pretty consistent. The bigger cycles are things like, oh, I don’t know, I used to read a LOT of mysteries, and I don’t so much anymore. And i sprinkle in a few fantasy novels that, when I was in my late teens, made up a lot of my reading diet. We change, our tastes change, what we need from our reading changes.

  8. I think your friend Emma has a good theory there. I love a good literary book (or well written genre fiction) but too many in a row melts my brain. I like literary pallet cleansers (mine are generally YA) the books that give your brain a break before you delve once more into 90 pages dedicated to a desolate moor.

  9. David

    My reading tastes have definitely changed, or perhaps more accurately evolved, over the years. In my early twenties I’d always go for something with a bit of magic realism (Rushdie, Marquez, Okri) or chunky historicals (Lawrence Norfolk, Iain Pears) and avoided contemporary settings like the plague. Gradually I went off those kinds of books (and haven’t read any of those authors I just mentioned in quite a few years) and embraced your Mrs Muggins ruminating on her marriage and children. In the past couple of years I’ve noticed my tastes changing again a little: a steady diet of new literary fiction does tend to reveal that a lot of current writers write quite similarly (don’t know how much that owes to writing courses like East Anglia, Iowa etc.) and some just aren’t all that special. There are many writers, some of whom get listed for big prizes, who if they stopped writing next week would be out of print within a decade, because they’re frankly a bit ho-hum (nothing new there of course) and I wonder why I’m wasting time reading them. So I’ve been reading a lot more older fiction (by which I just mean twentieth century rather than The Classics, stuff with a bit of an established reputation – the likes of ‘Rebecca’ and Pulitzer winners like ‘Lonesome Dove’, ‘All the King’s Men’ and ‘Angle of Repose; or ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘Fortunes of War’ and Christopher Koch’s novels from the 70s and 80s) and have been really refreshed by that, and I can certainly see myself doing that much more and just cherry-picking from the new books.

    PS: your grabbed minutes of reading here and there – I can see how that lends itself to faster paced books (I noticed you reading ‘The Farm’ and ‘The Rosie Project’ on Goodreads), but short stories would fit perfectly with that. In addition to a novel and another story collection (I read a story before breakfast, and spend a couple of hours with the novel in the evening), I’ve got J. Robert Lennon’s ‘Pieces for the Left Hand’ on the go at the moment – each story is no more than two pages, and I’m constantly picking it up and reading one whenever I have a spare minute (literally – that’s all they take).

  10. It’s probably a combo of available time vs a phase you’re going through. Don’t worry about it, keep reading – whatever you fancy.

  11. January through April, my job pretty much takes over my life. It requires 90% of my mental energy and there is no significant downtime. I have pretty eclectic reading tastes, including literary fiction, but I have found in the last couple years that during that crazy period at work I can’t read anything terribly “challenging”. I gravitate towards suck-you-in page turners that don’t require too much brain work. I want to get swept away, escape, maybe be a little inspired but I definitely do not want to contemplate the deep mysteries of our mundane existence. So, I think read taste is somewhat dependent on what stage of life you are in but on a smaller scale what your situation of the moment is.

  12. It’s funny you should post this now as I’ve been thinking exactly the same thing lately. Although I do still read literary novels, I find myself being drawn back to genre fiction more and more, and have even been eyeing up a couple of YA books and some non-fiction (unheard of for me). Perhaps it is simply a case of reading coming in cycles, but I do also think that when you read a lot, you start to notice the amount of sameness there is in much contemporary (mainstream) literary fiction. I often think that something I might have thought was a masterpiece back when I read, say, 10-15 books a year would now only warrant a ‘meh’ type of response – not because I’m a more mature reader but simply because I feel like I’ve read pretty much the same thing, addressing the same themes, numerous times before. While genre fiction may be more formulaic and not as well-written, it often provides the thrills, excitement and escapism that literary fiction can lack. In any case, I think reading whatever you feel like reading is always the best decision!

  13. Yes, I think it’s cycles/moods/whatever’s going on in our lives. I went through a long memoir period as well as a crime novels period. I suppose I tend to “binge read” in any one type of genre/subject and then suddenly I need a break! I have just started getting into the Victorian period so I suspect I will be reading the Brontes and other Victorian writers until I feel it’s time to move on or take a rest.

  14. sharkell

    I find my reading choices change depending on how busy I am and how much stress is in my life at the time. If I have time, I’ll take the time to read something a little more challenging. If I am really busy, I need to have something that will grab me from the beginning of the book and carry me through as I read in snatches (like you are at the moment). I don’t think so much in terms of literary fiction and genre fiction as I find it hard to distinguish between the two, This year I am not reading as many books, but I think that is because I am starting some, getting part way through and putting them down again as I am not in the right frame of mind for them at the moment. I also decided to read more translated fiction this year and that has been a bit hit and miss for me.

  15. It could be a change. I notice my reading has changed over time but I think it is most likely cyclical as suggested by Emma. At the moment you might need heavily plot driven books to keep your mind occupied rather than more leisurely, ponderous books!

  16. I went through a phase of bereavement = trouble at work = depression three years ago and all I read for 18 months was crime fiction. It wasn’t a deliberate choice, it just happened. I just couldn’t be bothered with wittering literary novels or anything that required effort. I’m almost out of that phase and my last two reads were Capital by John Lanchester and The Luminaries. Go with the flow and don’t worry about it.

  17. Eleni

    I can’t bear it when a character takes three pages to make a cup of tea. Then looks out of the window… Then sits down,.
    There is so much snobbery re labels/ genre fiction. I love any book that I look forward to reading, rather than feel I should finish cos I started. The best are books that take you by surprise or challenge you in some way. I think the is an idea that if you write ‘literary’ fiction then plot doesn’t matter. Plot/ conflict/ character whatever you want to call it does matter, always. It just isn’t always this happened then this happened. I say read whatever you fancy reading whenever you want to.

  18. This happens to me every now and again, too, but I always end up going back to it. Literary fiction will always be my favorite genre. I think our brains just need a break and a palate cleanser once in a while.

  19. Didn’t you just have a birthday? Now you’re older you realise you don’t have enough time to read long literary passages. (Only joking). Also it’s spring there so you’re probably antsy. Crime books fit antsy. It is all to do with mood. Sometime I have a crime mood, sometimes a literary mood, sometimes can’t see enough movies and I don’t read enough. I’m in a cooking mood now but still reading though not in huge chunks. I have just discovered how nice it is to listen to a book while cooking something for a couple hours. Read whatever you like. You’ll discover new books that way.

  20. elizabeth

    I think all reading comes in cycles. I often have to break up my reading with some non-fiction or something lighter after reading heavy literary titles. So I think it’s ok to change your tastes for a while. Remember: we aren’t here to judge least of all ourselves.

  21. I agree with your friend Emma. I read by my moods. Sometimes I would go with heavy literature for months on end, and then crave some fantasy, and then crave lit again, and so on.. It’s all about how I feel at the moment and what speaks to me then.. What I’m looking for at that particular time of my life. I’m guessing it might be the same for you.

  22. I’m going to echo the other commenters: I wholeheartedly support the cycle/mood theory. Throughout high school I only read scifi/fantasy. I’m not sure if it was to escape from all the dreary required reading or if I just didn’t care about ‘real’ lives. After that I fell hard for crime fiction and through that, discovered cozy mysteries. Total brain fluff and tons of fun, but definitely formulaic. Once the formula got to me, I moved on to YA, historical fiction, magical realism, biographies, wartime fiction.

    I’m definitely a reader who goes through phases. I’m currently reading my first hard scifi in YEARS and am pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying it. I’ve been knee-deep in historical fiction for a few months now and wanted to mix it up.

  23. Pingback: Book Bloggerista News, March 31, 2014 | Parajunkee

  24. I definitely have longer phases and shorter moods that affect my reading preferences. And it’s at least partly influenced by other things going on in life. If I’m struggling with headaches and fatigue (as I do) then I need something either gripping enough to keep me going in spite of feeling rubbish, or something easily picked up and put down like short stories. But sometimes it’s just a random inexplicable urge for a certain type of book. I’m happy to give in to it – as long as I’m still reading, it’s all good!

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