Friday, 8 January 2010

A balanced literary diet


I’m often baffled by heated discussions about reading preferences. When it comes to certain books…Dan Brown’s novels, say, or the Stephanie Meyer Twilight series, it seems like battle lines get drawn and people are determined not to move into enemy territory. And as Claire Allen discussed in an entertaining and thought-provoking post on Monday, chick lit can be another of those light-the-touch-paper-and-run topics when it comes to discussions among readers.
I’ve been thinking about all this a lot and have come to the conclusion [again… sigh] that I’m a bit strange.
Let me put it like this: am I the only person who views books like food?
Okay, I know this sounds like a huge leap in logic, but stay with me here. Reading nourishes and satisfies me on a daily basis, or it can leave me feeling empty and hollow if it isn’t very good. But my point is this: just as I wouldn’t dream of eating the same meal every day for a month, am I alone in craving variety in reading matter?
The tone of the discussions mentioned above is often ‘I only ever read XXXX genre’. It seems a bit like saying, ‘I only ever eat cheese.’
My desire for contrasts means that on a broad level, I might read a children’s or YA novel straight after reading an adult one. Or if I’ve just finished something literary and sombre, a lighter, frothy book feels like a palate cleanser. It goes further than that too. If I’ve just read something historical and English, I’ll probably fancy something US and zeitgeisty straight after.
It’s part of the joy of reading for me. Part of this may be the freakish speed at which I read. It’s not big or clever or designed to sound like a boast in any way [I sometimes secretly think it’s actually a bit weird] but I am such a voracious and obsessive consumer of books that I tend to chew them up a bit quickly. Maybe this is a failing and I should spend longer savouring the experience, but I can’t help devouring books just as I would a delicious meal.
Now don’t get the impression I’m just some sort of reading Hoover and don’t care about quality. I do, deeply. But sometimes I fancy reading something a bit trashy, just as the urge for a bag of Marmite crisps [or two] can be impossible to ignore.
I’m not pretending I’ll read any genre either. I generally don’t enjoy sci-fi or fantasy [although my two favourite YA books of last year: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness both had sci-fi echoes] and I’m not a big fan of chick lit, apart from the few Marian Keyes I’ve read [sorry Claire]. I do have preferences, of course, but I can no more imagine only reading one kind of fiction than I could exist on a diet solely of cheese.
I’d love to know what others think about this.
Does anyone else feel the need for a balanced literary diet?

24 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

I feel no need whatsover! I was a wide reader as a child, but nowadays, really only read chick lit or Women's Fiction.

I don't like very literary fiction, and if you do you probably read more of a variety of subjects.

But then, i am also quite rigid with my eating Caroline, and eat exactly the same thing every day for breakfast and more or less the same thing every day for lunch!!

Great post!

CarolineG said...

That's fascinating to me, Sam!

Mind you, I wouldn't say I have a wide ranging music taste, to take the analogy a step further....

Rachel said...

I believed in a wide range of tastes across the board. My music tastes are bizarrely eclectic and hate categorising things into genres. Likewise my reading, I read pretty much anything.

But nothing, no nothing will make me read Dan Brown again....

Samantha Tonge said...

JUst goes to show how different all our literary diets are, RAchel! Some of my fave books are the Da Vinci Code and Twilight Series.

I'm the opposite, Caroline - i have a very wide taste in music.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I think what you say is emminently sensible, Caroline. I just wish I could follow it. I used to be an avid reader, but have found that since I've begun writing, I read much less, and also tend to stick with Women's Fiction. I'd like to ask people, actually - WHERE and WHEN do you read? I read on the loo in the morning (!), on train journeys and in bed at night.
Susiex

CarolineG said...

Ah, as to whether I'd ever read certain things 'again' Rachel....that's a different matter!

Sam, that diet'll rot your teeth and clog your arteries, you know :) :)

CarolineG said...

Susie,
I can't sleep unless I read something first. I read in the bath too. I also read if travelling by tube, and have been known to read in bank queues!

Helen Black said...

Oh, I read everywhere, and anything.
I generally have at least two book son the go at any one time. Often a fiction and a non-fiction book.
That said, I'm drawn to crime books like a bee to honey. Similarly crime drama on the telly.
I just can't resist.
HB x

John Soanes said...

Couldn't agree more - after reading something hefty and serious, I like to give my brain a break with a thriller or some Wodehouse or the like. Same with music for me - sometimes I want some instrumental music, other times a bit of pop or rock.
But I have to say I don't think I've read anything which really is chick-lit (apart from that Trebizon book I read at school because the cover was ambiguous in its design). But few of them have ever appealed (though in interviews I always think Marian Keyes is very amusing).
J

Samantha Tonge said...

LOL, Caroline. I think i am already clogged up.

I have recently started reading all sorts of short fiction and am hoping this will widen my horizons.

Kath said...

I too have been reading much less fiction since I took up writing short stories but then again I partly started writing because I felt as if I was running out of books to read. And it could be to do with age, as I'm over 50 and have been an avid reader all my life. Now I read women's mags for market research and the odd detective story for comfort. Might try these Twilight books though - are they meant to be for teenagers? I enjoyed "The Dark is Rising" when my son was growing up and "The Owl Service".

Paul Lamb said...

Well, every genre can have "nourishing" reads in them. S/F is known to approach literature in many cases, for example. I tend to read "serious" books, and even in that grouping there is a huge range of approaches, subject matter, and even writing styles. I don't seem to have the patience anymore for the really commercial stuff (like Meyers, Clancy, Brown, et al.) like I did as a youth. Also, there are a wide range of cheeses out there.

Samantha Tonge said...

Well, Kath, the Twilight books seem to appeal primarily to teenagers, but Meyer originally wrote the story 'for herself' and there are a load of 'Twilight mums' out there who are fans!

I found the books kind of inbetween genre. There isn't much teenage cultural stuff in them, i found, as the main characters are (to say the least) not your average teenager. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

CarolineG said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Paul, I guess you're right on the variety of cheeses! That made me smile. I agree that there is variety within genre, but not enough for me, I suppose.

Blossom said...

Interesting post ...

The bath is the place I tend to do most of my reading ... hence some very sodden novels. A five hour-plus train journey to Cornwall recently was bliss because I had all that time for reading. But since my time for writing is limited I don't read as much as I used to – or would like to.

Women's fiction, humour and good crime novels are my staples. Lissa Evans' Their Finest Hour And A Half arrived yesterday and it looks fun, so I shall start that today as a break from editing.

Sci-fi, fantasy, highly literary fiction and short stories don't appeal. I read the Da Vinci Code but would never read anything else by Dan Brown

Blossom

Derek said...

I've read some cheesy books.

Simon Kewin said...

I agree absolutely. Why would you restrict yourself to one type of book and miss out on so much? I also like to read as widely as I can and I certainly don't worry about categories. Who was it who said there are only two sorts of book : good and bad?

Luisa Plaja said...

Great post, Caroline! I love your eclectic reading tastes. I think I'm very choosy, myself, but if the supply of 'my kind of books' becomes less plentiful for any reason, then I'll read anything!
Backs of cereal packets don't seem as interesting as they used to when I was a child, though...

Karen said...

I don't just read in one genre. My favourites are women's fiction, psychological thrillers (Lisa Unger's a current favourite)some literary, and right now the latest Adrian Mole, which still makes me laugh out loud.

I prefer fiction to non-fiction (barring the odd funny autobiography) and still tend to read mostly in bed or on train journeys!

Kath said...

Thanks, Samantha.

CarolineG said...

Thanks again all.
Blossom, am 100% with you on reading in a nice hot tub. Karen, I've never heard of Lisa Unger...must check her out.
Luisa, I always think the back of a cereal packet is better than nothing :)

womagwriter said...

I couldn't agree more, Caroline. I love to vary what I read widely - YA, chicklit, historical, racy thriller, Booker prize winner, with the odd bit of biography or other non-fiction thrown for good measure. I think this began as a child on rainy caravan holidays - when I ran out of my own books to read I'd borrow Mum's Catherine Cooksons, Dad's sci-fi and brother's Biggles books or Commando comics. I'm still like that now - will read anything, but prefer it to be well-written.

CarolineG said...

Womagwriter, I think you've hit on something there...I also used to forage around for anything I could find to read.My mum and dad had books around the place but weren't voracious readers, so i'd read anything I could get my hands on!

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