Friday, February 12, 2016

The Key Word For Me Is "Avoid"

By Art Taylor

I've very much enjoyed reading my co-panelists' responses to this week's question: "Are there any genres you avoid reading? Why?" While several of the writers here talked about genres they don't read often, most of them still pointed to specific titles within those genres that they'd read and enjoyed. Meredith, for example, admits to not reading much fantasy or science fiction, but in the same paragraph celebrated both Madeleine L'Engle and Matt Haig (crossing genres in the latter). R.J. admits some similar preferences, but makes exceptions for Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkein. Tracy focused less on genre than on specific elements of books (bleakness, serial killers, old ladies crawling across the ceiling), but even there cited her own exception to not reading stories about tortured protagonists. And Alan, as Meredith had in opening this conversation, put the emphasis on the fact that genre doesn't matter quite as much as whether a book is simply good (though he admitted to steering away generally from three genres).

For me, the key word in the question is "avoid"—a strong word—and I think it's easier to put the emphasis on the idea of what we prefer to read or, even more to the point, what we most regularly read. Because of my own work as a mystery writer and as a professor teaching classes in genre fiction, I mostly read crime fiction, and because there are simply only so many hours in a day, I don't have time read as widely in other genres as I might like to—so you're not likely to find me with science fiction or fantasy or romance or young adult or historical fiction or erotica or...well, I'm just sampling the genres that popped up in those previous posts. But do I have strong reasons to say I would go out of my way not to read one of those genres? And maybe another key word is "genre," of course—the idea of dodging not just  some topic (child abuse) or element (graphic violence) of a specific book or author but steering clear of an entire swath of books. I've had people tell me that they avoid mysteries for the very same reason that R.J. cited for not reading romance—for being "formulistic and populated by cardboard characters"—and I know those folks are missing out on a lot that the wide world of mystery fiction has to offer. And if I don't like folks making those kinds of broad judgements about my genre, how can I comfortably make similar judgements about another?

While I don't read as much science fiction or fantasy as I did when I was younger (loved some J.R.R. Tolkein myself), I've enjoyed and learned something about craft from reading William Gibson's Neuromancer and China MiĆ©ville's The City & The City and John Kessel's Corrupting Dr. Nice or The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. While most of the books I read are set in the present or recent past, I've delighted in the glimpses of other eras I've gotten from books like Peter Lovesey's Wobble to Death or Sarah Shaber's Louise's War or Louis Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye or The Black Tower (all crime fiction admittedly). And while I haven't generally read much juvenile and YA literature, I had the chance to read extensively in those areas when judging the Edgars for Best Juvenile a couple of years back—and what range and diversity and excellence there! And I've quoted before Julianna Baggott talking about how some of the most interesting work today is being done in the borderlands where genres meet and blend and mash—and let me give a second shout-out on that point to Corrupting Dr. Nice, which blends time travel and screwball comedy and cyberpunk and....

I recognize I'm mostly just echoing what's already been said this week—not the first time, of course! But maybe it's a point worth repeating: Though each of us have preferences and many of us likely read more regular in one genre or some genres than others, breaking out of routine sometimes can be not only enjoyable but also potentially eye-opening and even enriching. 

And on that note, I guess I should go in search of some erotica now, right? ;-)

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