Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Overcoming Reading Reluctance

I need to stretch my reading horizons every few years or I find I start gravitating back toward reading only those books by a few favorite authors and nonfiction for research purposes. This happens because over time I think I acquire a certain amount of reading reluctance, and don't give new or new-to-me authors a fair chance.

Reading reluctance is more than burnout or a rut; it's a bit like giving yourself an allergy. If I read enough books in the same genre that for whatever reason I don't enjoy, I start having a knee-jerk negative reaction every time I see a new release in that same category. It doesn't even have to be in the same genre; if I read enough badly-written dragon fantasies -- and I have -- even a glimpse of a dragon on someone's cover art can make my skin crawl.

I put together a list of some genres I'm currently not reading and thought about why I'm not reading them, and what I think it would take to bring me back:

Apocalyptic or Dystopian Fantasy: However misplaced it might be, I still have faith in humanity, so I've never been a huge fan of this genre anyway. It can be very depressing stuff.

What I would read: Anne McCaffrey-esque books where everyone escapes the apocalypse, finds another place or time, starts over and doesn't screw up that world.

Chicklit Romances: The humor often seems mean-spirited, and the fashion references are completely wasted on yours truly. Also not a fan of those highly idealized girlfriends forever books, in which two or more female characters seem to fall in love with each other while the male characters serve as your basic brainless, bulgy wallpaper cutouts or brainless, bulgy walking vibrators. Inspirational chicklit can and has made me physically ill.

What I would read: Anything that ditches the gushing BFFs, the over-the-top fashion, the insulting goofball comedy, and wretchedly-disguised bigotry, and replaces them with honest humor, real male characters, genuine feminine wit and above all, respect for the peaceful and faithful no matter what name they call their deity.

Historical Romances: After a long sabbatical I came back to this one and did a bit of reading around, but I was disappointed yet again, and my burnout reburned out itself.

What I would read: Because the usual time periods and characters have all been knocked off ad infinitum, I'd like to see some historical romances set in radically different eras, on continents other than Europe and North America, and with a variety of cultures and storylines. I'd definitely spend major bucks on any ancient world romances that hit the shelves.

Mashups: Not crazy about someone dumping zombies, sea monsters and vampire slayers in classic lit and slapping their byline on it (picky, I know, but I'm the same way about chopped peanuts on hot fudge sundaes.)

What I would read: Clever twists on classic lit in which the author does not copy and paste a single word from the original novel.

Memoirs: The last memoir I read was back in 2002, and there simply aren't words to describe that book that would keep this blog PG-rated. It had one positive effect; it made me instantly take a lifelong vow never to write a memoir.

What I would read: The diaries, journals and letters written by ordinary people who have/had interesting jobs and/or lived in interesting times.

Political Nonfiction: My grandmother made me read all the Watergate books, which she felt were important and I felt were a horrible punishment (in my defense, I was twelve. I wanted to read Laura Ingalls Wilder, not Bernstein and Woodward.) Have not touched a book on politics since.

What I would read: Nothing I can even imagine here. If I were given a choice between reading PN and having a colonoscopy without the fentanyl, I'd start undressing.

Science Fiction: As much as I've tried to like having all that endless pseudo-Platonism, rabid socialism and heartless nihilism shoved in my face, it just gives me a headache or puts me to sleep. The few SF authors I enjoyed reading when I was a kid are deceased now, and I've read everything they wrote a couple times over.

What I would read: Anything fun, adventurous, imaginative and not boring written by someone with a sense of humor. Or Edmund Cooper and A.M. Lightner, should they ever reincarnate.

Unauthorized Celebrity Bios: Celeb books don't do much for me, and most of the time they're as tasteless as they are badly-written. After all the support Oprah has provided for authors and the Publishing industry, for example, this latest bio about her getting all the hoopla seems ungracious as hell.

What I would read: I'd like to give the gossip and scandal sniffing a complete pass and read more factual accounts of the lives of people who have made a huge difference on the plus side for humanity, especially in medicine, like Avicenna, Edward Jenner, William Harvey, Joseph Lister, Charles Drew, Janet Lane-Claypon, Jonas Salk (and that list just goes on and on.)

Women's Fiction: Alas, not enough Kleenex in the bathroom or aspirin and tranquilizers in the medicine cabinet to cope with all that drama. That and if I really want to feel instantly bad I'll call the family member who always updates me on whose marriage is in trouble, who is unemployed, who has a home being foreclosed on and who might have an inoperable brain tumor.

What I would read: It's hard to be specific because this genre has the potential to be so much more than the aisle of endless sobfests. I don't mind books with downs as long as there are some ups thrown in for balance. A storyline that doesn't use tragedy as a crutch or an ending. Less soap opera, more realism.

YA: I'm winding down on a determined effort to read more in this genre, and mostly coming away with delightful memories of all the reasons I wanted to kill myself during my high school years.

What I would read: I like history, and I know I'd like to see it through the eyes of a youngster. Haven't found any decent historical YA yet, but I think the right author will eventually grab me.

What books are you reluctant to read, and why, and what would it take to get you to read them? Let us know in comments.


  1. I love strong heroines. Warrior women. Women who don't NEED men, but can love one anyway.
    But I've had enough of their 'heroes' who do little more than growl, grunt, and act as walking, muscle-bound dildoes.
    That puts them on a par with the stereotypical romance heroines who did little more than stamp their feet, pout, and pound their tiny fists against massive chests.

    I'd like to see a little more balance. Let the guy earn his title sometimes. Hell, maybe let him get ANGRY about being a useless sex object--at least he'd be interesting.

  2. Have you tried Alexander McCall Smith? The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series is one of my all-time favorites. There are eleven books in the series and each one is a gem. Whenever I need a break from my usual genre rut, this is where I go to freshen my mind, get a dose of positive, and take in a little wisdom along the way.

  3. I'm definitely not a reader of celebrity biographies or much non-fiction at all for my sins.

    In an effort to become more *classically* well read however I have decided to undertake this challenge:
    Now I have no doubt you've read far more books on here than I have! I thought it would be interesting to force myself to read other books that were classics that I might not have picked up otherwise. It might be another way to pick up some books you wouldn't have done otherwise. You can download the list here in a cute little spreadsheet:

    P.S. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is not on there, nor is Harry Potter or any sort of celeb biography. Unless they were interesting of course. It's strictly fiction stories; books.

  4. What are you, my evil twin? I tried to read historical romance after a long pause, but I cannot read this book. I can't identify with the characters and suspect hero and heroine deserve each other in the worst way.

    I think the only SF author I've read for years (besides you) is Lois McMaster Bujold. Sense of humor is a must.

    Basically I'm reluctant to read a boring, depressing, pointless book. Make it interesting, hopeful and have a point and I'll check it out.

  5. I'm allergic to hyper-macho thrillers. You know, the ones that say, "And the (white Republican) Americans are saved once again by the brave men of the CIA!"

    However, I'm glad such books exist. People buy and read massive quantities of these books. They are reading. They are buying books. That's never a bad thing.

  6. Anonymous7:37 AM

    My problem with SF is the authors tend to get stuck on an idea in lieu of focusing on plot or characters. "Yes," I want to scream, "you're the bastard child of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein. GET TO THE FRAKKING STORY!" It's fine if you weave a pet concept into a story. Just quit making it THE story.

    I also can't stand anything labeled post-modern, particularly when the author or critic sniffs disdainfully that it's "above" genre fiction. I started to read THE CORRECTIONS a few months ago and threw the book across the room before finishing the first chapter. Why?

    OK, Stephen King, the original wordy author, does not take eleven pages to establish that an old couple bickers, is probably a pair of Alzheimer sufferers, and tends toward hording. Steve would take five and lace that with humor.

    I'd have done it in one page.

    Style with no purpose is...

    Well, it serves no purpose. It's like listening to an orchestra warm up and praising it for not having any structure like that stuffy old fart Mozart.

  7. For a historical suggestion, I just started reading the Immortal Brotherhood Novels by Lisa Hendrix. They are Viking Knights who have been cursed to Immortality by a Witch.

    The first Immortal Warrior was Medieval. The second which I need to start reading is supposed to have elements of Robin Hood in it.

  8. Man, my don't reads list would read a lot like yours...

    I don't read:

    YA-just doesn't appeal to me.
    Chick-lit-again, doesn't appeal.
    I don't political books of any sort... PERIOD.
    Anything celeb related.
    Memoirs-why would I want to?
    Mashups-most of the classics bored me anyway-why read the mash up version?
    Erotica-in general, erotica doesn't work for me unless the romance is there.

    The next time you want to try historical romance, maybe give Meredith Duran a try. I usually don't read historicals much, but I mead her at Nationals and had a lot of fun talking to her and her book Written on Your Skin appealed to me, and once I started it? Couldn't stop it. Loved it.

  9. I agree with you on so many of these genres. On the YA side, it's not historical, but I can't say enough good things about Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments trilogy (first is City of Bones). It's been one of the few books/series that have made me look at that in an "I aspire to write that well" kind of way instead of a "holy crap I can do better than that" kneejerk, which I often get with fiction. You might check it out.

  10. Anonymous9:44 AM

    Hmm, what do I not want to read? (Pauses to think really hard).

    I think I agree with 90% of your assessments on the various genres you listed. The only one I might balk at is Women's Fiction. I do not read it on purpose, but sometimes it surprises me. The last Wo-Fic I read was P.S. I Love You. Although a tragic opening (and yes Kleenex was involved), it moves forward from there and shows how a woman can adapt, overcome and cope with loss and rebuild her life. The movie was not even as close to good in my opinion as actually reading the story.

    Okay, so now, what I really don't want to read:

    Anything bad dragon. I agree, no one has done it like Anne McCaffrey although Misty Lackey's version of dragons is pretty good because she does not make them sentient beings.

    Never have, never will read celebrity bios, although I did recently read The Blind Side. Another book much better than the movie.

    Politics --EHHH!

    Sci-Fi. I would read anything Sci-Fi by you, Anne McCaffrey or Elizabeth Moon. Other than that, I need to explore some of the other older Sci-Fi authors 'cuz the new ones do not capture and hold my attention like classic Sci-Fi.


  11. I find my reading avoidances (is that a word?) usually revolve around genres that I'm currently writing in. For example, I love YA, but I'm working on a YA story. I worry so much about being influenced and/or discouraged when reading YA titles I tend to avoid them entirely. I know this goes against common good sense that would tell me to read everything YA I can get my hands on in order to learn the good and bad.

    My one avoidance no matter what is Chick Lit. I'm so not a Sex In the City fan, and all Chick Lit reminds me of that. I just cannot relate to any character who spends $750 on a pair of shoes no matter how well drawn or compelling the story. Give me a character in Keds and I'm there!

  12. I don't read much non fiction, either, but I recently read "Life, Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back," by Douglas Rushkoff.

    I was so blown away by it, I blogged about it. http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2010/03/you-must-read-this-non-fiction-edition.html

    Now I'm talking to everyone I know to read this book! LOL.

    I can only hope that someday, someone will be as passionate about something I've written. :)

  13. Great historical YA that I remember reading as a teenager:

    The Ramsay Scallop
    Catherine, called Birdy

  14. I refuse to read any romance where one or all of the characters die at the end (yes, I am looking at you Nicholas Sparks!).

    My immediate urge, when reading a post like this, is to suggest books you might like in the very genres you just said you wanted to avoid. It is irresistable!

    But I'll restrain myself to simply mentioning that Cryoburn, the new Vorkosigan novel By Lois Bujold, comes out this fall...

  15. I'm not fond of Historical Romance or Sci-Fi either. But there are exceptions for each. I love Lisa Kleypas, who is the most original formula romance writer I can think of, and Julia Quinn, who is too funny for me to notice the setting (much). And I very much enjoy the Stardoc series.

    I've recently gotten a bit of a reader's inertia with the paranormal romance and/or urban fantasy genre. I used to love it to bits, but after the flooding of not-so-brilliant to downright-bad books in the genre, I just can't get up the motivation to try new writers.

    I also resist reading popular fiction, especially those that everyone hype about. I can never figure out what's so great about them from the few that I did read. I have, for example, never finished the Harry Potter series or the Twilight saga.

    And I don't read non-fiction unless it is work related. The only way someone can get me to read these stuff voluntarily is to bribe me. A lot.

  16. I hope you will give my zombie novels a chance. My self-published works were just picked up by Tor. They feature strong females leads (Jenni and Katie) that my fandom really adore. Though the novels have the usual elements of zombie horror, they are more about the people who are working together to survive than the bullets and gore in other zombie novels.

    The series is called As The World Dies and the self-pubbed versions are coming down soon with the Tor versions starting to be released early next year.

  17. I've been listening to mostly audio books the past few years. I still have a few authors that I have to have the print but I also get the audio version. I've actually been able to listen to books that I normally wouldn't be able to read. One example would be CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR. I don't usually do nonfiction, political or otherwise but I really enjoyed this one. Never saw the movie either. I've picked up several new to me authors by doing audiobooks. Some have been good choices and others only ok. I DO highly recommend Linnea Sinclair but I think she is more science fiction romance. She does funny and heart wrenching and she also features cats who usually have a role to play.

  18. I refuse to read most non-fiction, because I read to escape and most of it seems a little depressing, so why on earth would I want to read about how sucky life can be? Reading is my happy place, dangit.

    I don't really read books that get gushing reviews from literary critics either, because I have to work too hard at absorbing most of what they seem to like. Have to be in the mood for (brain) food, and most of the time quite honestly I want popcorn. Good well-written and engaging popcorn, to be sure, but more entertaining than anything else.

    In that same vein, I really don't like books that people say they like just to prove how smart they are, it seems silly. Those same readers would probably turn their noses up at Tad Williams or Neal Stephenson, and it's their loss.

  19. In Jr. High I finally got up the nerve to try SciFic/Fantasy (reading was so NOT cool as I remember) and fell in love. I tracked down every Christopher Stasheff book I could get my hands on, old school style by calling all the book stores one by one. I still have that grubby list with each title checked off, and now I can find one with just two clicks. I would recommend, for YA Historical, Ann Rinaldi-although I haven't read her in 10 years or more. I have everything she wrote and credit her for my love and fascination of history. I was living in VA at the time so I got to see some of that history in person and I will forever be grateful for that influence.

  20. Oh, you have to give the Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing a try. It's historical YA and it *rocks.*

    Seriously. You should find a copy right now.

  21. We definitely share some reading allergies.

    I avoid all political non-fiction, because I can and do make up my own mind on political issues without someone trying to shove his or her views down my throat.

    I avoid most memoirs and biographies, particularly those of celebrities and politicians, because they are often vapid and I usually do not care about celebrity X or politician Y or the life story of yet another western woman who went to Kenya and married a Massai warrior. I will read biographies and memoirs if necessary for a paper I'm working on (I will read a lot of stuff for academic purposes that I don't usually read) and I will read biographies of people who truly interest me.

    I avoid the historical romance genre, unless it's by a tried and true author or a new writer who comes highly recommended, because what passes for historical romance these days has too little history and too many anachronisms for my taste. I'd love to see traditional regencies make a comeback, because I enjoyed those.

    Probably terribly unfair, but I refer to women's fiction as "breast cancer and adultery books" and I have no desire to read about either.

    I used to have issues with chick lit, until I came across a few examples I really enjoyed that avoided the usual clichés. The problem is separating the wheat (good stories about the lives of young women today with a touch of humour and some romance) from the chaff (brand name laden novels about self-absorbed and unpleasant people). Julie Cohen is highly recommended and for chick lit with some fantasy try Shanna Swendson and Mindy Klasky.

    I have largely given up on SF, even though it used to be my favourite genre, because the vast majority of what is published today doesn't appeal to me. I am heartily sick of the singularity and heartily of novels full of potentially good ideas, loads of technobabble and characters thinner than cardboard cutouts.

    And I have completely given up on epic fantasy. I don't have the time to follow some chosen farmboy on a quest to overthrow the dark lord through twelve fat volumes. And don't even get me started on the new wave of gritty epic fantasy, now with 50% less sense of wonder and 90% more unpleasant characters, who wouldn't know a moral compass if it poked them in the butt, and still as fat as ever.

  22. I would have to say Christian Fiction of any sort usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It is too preachy for me and I'm a member already! I get my preaching from the pastor and the Bible, I don't need some author shoving it down my throat when I wanted to know what happened to the characters.
    That's not to say that faith can't have a place in fiction, but lets try to be a bit more subtle.

  23. Historical YA: Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale. YOU MUST READ!!! I have yet to have a friend who does not love this book. It is set in old Mongolia. No teenage-angst -- the history is fascinating, the world alluring, there is romance and friendship and lots of character development, and the protagonist is one of the most positive protagonist I have ever read.

    Margaret Yang I am sure agrees with me. Between the two of us, we've been word-of-mouth selling like crazy.

  24. Yes! Book of a Thousand Days! Go read it! Go read it right now!

  25. Anonymous9:01 AM

    I'm a book slut. I'll read almost anything. :)


  26. it's good to have a wide variety of genres to read. :) My favorite genres include romantic comedy and science fiction/fantasy. And YA. I like reading other genres too though.

    I suppose I am most reluctant to read political/historical fiction because some tend be really boring. The only thing that'd get me to read them would be a school assignment requiring it. :P

  27. There's really nothing that would get me to read something I don't like. Well, if I was required by a college prof to pass a class, I'd read it and have done. But life's too short to read something I dislike.

    As for you not being able to find scifi that you like; I can relate. Usually when I find myself in a position where there's nothing good on the shelves I go for a Star Trek. Star Trek books are my equivalent to most women's Harlequin romances. They are easy to read, have familiar characters that I enjoy sharing time with and, even if it takes several books, the story ends happy and everyone gets what they want.

    There are more fun scifi out there. Have you read the Callahan series by Spider Robinson? It deals with hard topics but with good humor. ... I just dug through my "have read" box. Here are a few scifi I think you'd like:

    Horizons - Mary Rosenblum

    Anything by Emily Devenport (and if you can find out what happened to her, please tell me! She stopped writing suddenly about 10 or so years ago and no one knows why.)

    Probability Moon - Nancy Kress

    Grim Space, Wanderlust & (one more) - Ann Aguirre

    Heart of Gold - Sharon Shinn (romance scifi)
    In fact, there's a whole scifi romance genre out there. I'm not really big on romance focused novels, but you might like them. There is a book of short scifi stories by women called Space Inc. that you might like.

    Grasp the Stars - Jennifer Wingert

    One of my favorite scifi novelists is Julie E. Czerneda. The only series she's written I can't manage to get into is Web Shifters. Other than that, I'd recommend everything else she's ever written.

    I'm not big into modern urban fantasy. In fact, give me a star blaster over magic and werewolves any day. However, there is a new(ish) series by Mark Del Franco that I absolutely love. It starts with Unshapely Things. I can't put my finger on why I like these over all the others I've tried.

    Then, if you can get through the battle scenes in the following, you might like them like I do. I can only read one every so often because I can take only so much battle-focused scifi. But you might like Tanya Huff's Confederation novels. Tough but likable heroine.

    A woman warrior in space novel that doesn't stoop to too much battle (except for one of the later novels that I didn't finish) is Mike Shepherd's Kris Longknife series. It starts with Mutineer, I think.

    And just for grins check out Carl Hiaasen. He writes mysteries not scifi. All his novels eventually start repeating themselves but the ones I started with were funny, fun and adventurous: Skinny Dip, Native Tongue and Nature Girl.


    Now, answer me a question (or point me to the article where it was answered), please :D Why did you kill Cherijo and replace her with Jarn? After you did this it took me three years or more to pick up another Star Doc novel. I'm starting Crystal Healer today and will read the next one. However, I don't really like Jarn and if she doesn't integrate Cherijo soon, I'll probably give up on it.



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