This week, defining your genre as a reader:
- Means you know yourself well
- Can close you off from finding other things you love
- Will help you avoid things that annoy or trigger you
I’m going to look first at why people choose genres. There are several things to take into consideration and the people who know what they like are a unique bunch.
I’ll then give my thoughts on why it is sometimes good to expand your choice of reading, and then why it’s sometimes a good idea to stick to what you know.
People who know what they want from a book
Some people assume that people who read the same genre (or few genres) all the time are faulty in some way.
I strongly disagree.
People who have chosen a genre they like and are sticking to it are brilliantly advanced people because they understand what they like. This is a part of understanding themselves that some people struggle with for a long time.
Also, in my own personal experience, the people who say this about others are equally as entrenched in a few small genres and refuse to step outside of that comfort zone. They just don’t realise how small their world is.
The people who have told me to ‘branch out’ and ‘try new/better genres’ have invariably been people who simply don’t understand Speculative fiction. They dismiss it and think I could choose ‘better’ stories to read. Usually, they are people entrenched in a very small genre themselves. They have read a tiny, tiny fraction of the great books out there and have the gall (and lack of self-awareness) to lecture me about my reading choices.
Also, people change over time. You might change your preferred genre, and that’s fine.
How people choose their genre
There are lots of ways in which people choose their genres. Here are some of my suggestions.
Understanding what you like
In order to identify the genres you like, you have to identify a range of things you like, from characters, settings, plot, pacing and narrative style. Some people like a wide range of these, others a much smaller range.
Understanding what it is you like means – ironically – that you can find a broad range of books you like in all sorts of genres.
For instance, someone who likes mysteries might like Cosy Crime, Spy Thrillers, contemporary Police Procedurals and Urban Fantasy. All of them have a strong mystery element, often in first person, with one protagonist solving a murder.
By identifying the elements you really like, you would be able to branch out into a range of genres and still find books to love.
Immersing yourself in a genre and knowing the tropes, language and themes
The more you know about a genre, the more you will get out of it.
This is true of a lot of things, and it’s because you learn to spot nuances, references, allusions and collaborations in the stories that would pass others by.
By knowing the history of the genre and the recent trends, you can see how recent books are in dialogue with older books and current ones.
Also, a lot of genres (such as Fantasy) use certain words, languages and symbols that people who are au fait with the genre will understand straight away, but people who are not familiar with it will find confusing.
Your social group reads the same genre
People often read books because they are recommended by friends.
That’s a great thing, in my opinion.
It’s also how a lot of people end up reading in one or two genres, because they’re in an echo chamber of people recommending the same things over and over again.
This has recently been really easily seen on Twitter, whenever there are lists of ‘must-read’ authors. I saw the same names coming up again and again on these, even on the lists which are claiming to be highlighting diversity. I’m not arguing that they weren’t doing that, but I’m suggesting that recommending the same non-white (usually American) women as a reaction against the many, many lists of mainly-white men isn’t quite as diverse as they thought. When the same names come up on every list, it’s an echo chamber.
I have read a lot of books by those authors. I enjoyed many of them. I recommend many of them. And the people I recommend them to are the people who are open to reading them.
Like calls to like, as they say.
Why it is a good idea to stick to your genre
Genre actually covers a lot of ground.
I am a fan of Fantasy books and, when I tell some people I read that, they wonder how I don’t get bored ‘reading the same thing over and over again’.
Well, I have news for them: I could read nothing but Fantasy for the rest of my life and still have almost infinite variety.
As you know, Fantasy is the umbrella. Below that, there are dozens of sub-genres that are very, very different.
If you have found something you love to read, people should let you read it. You don’t need to expand out, you don’t need to read something they (or society) has deemed more appropriate or enriching. Unless you’re reading for work, you get to choose. You know what you want. You have spent years narrowing down exactly what makes you tick and you’ve found a genre that gives you what you’re looking for in a book. More power to you.
You can tell I feel passionately that others shouldn’t pass judgement on our choice of reading by the fact I’ve written several posts about exactly this. Check out Stop book-shaming children and How to tell genre-snobs to f- off in three glorious phases.
Why it is a good idea not to be led completely by genre
The most obvious answer is that, if you are led by one very specific genre and refuse to read outside of that, you’ll never experience something radically new and different.
By branching out, you might find something you love that you would never have considered before.
I am a member of a book group and the members take it in turns to choose the book each month. I have read some things I would absolutely never have chosen to read. Some of those books, I hated. Some, I merely found tedious. And some, much to my surprise, I loved.
Think about the genres you’re choosing and what you want to read.
I’m not suggesting you go out and read a load of other things, I’m suggesting you consciously decide to either choose something new or stick to what you know. I don’t mind either way, I’m just suggesting you do it deliberately by understanding yourself.
If you can identify the elements you really like, you can search out more books like that, no matter what genre they’re in. It’ll be less hit-and-miss. The more you narrow down what it is you really like, the easier it will be to find books with that in them. You might well be surprised by the range of books that does contain it.