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“Oh, I never read that…”

September 7, 2008

Our most recent [Fiction] Friday asked that select a work of fiction that we would never normally read.

Why?  As writers, why would we consider any work as something that we would never read, and what criteria do we use to decide that?

Obviously, as with all other people, we have our personal preferences.  I selected a work from the “chick-lit” genre.  I don’t read chick-lit, but I can’t say I would never read it.  It isn’t aimed at me primarily (for the obvious gender reasons).  On that level, there isn’t a broad appeal to me, but as a writer, shouldn’t I dip into it occasionally?  Don’t I owe it to further development of my craft to experience and appreciate the work of others?

When I have read chick-lit, I have enjoyed it.  I loved Bridget Jones’ Diary (guilty secret #1).  I enjoy Jane Austen, who some have claimed to be the progenitor of chick-lit.  For my [Fiction] Friday entry I chose a book by Candace Bushnell, most famous for Sex and the City I’ve not read it, but back in college I used to watch the TV show (guilty secret #2) so I have a sneaking suspicion I may enjoy it.

(As an aside, Jane Austen is also serious literature, Pride and Prejudice is my favourite Austen novel, and Bridget Jones is essentially Pride and Prejudice – so perhaps  that’s why I like it…)

As a reader or a writer, you may not enjoy the work of a particular writer.  For instance, I find Dan Brown unreadable, yet he writes about things I am broadly interested in.  If the way a particular author writes does not gel with you, then that is a valid reason to not read them.

Can someone dismiss an entire genre, represented by a plethora of diverse writers, so easily?  As readers, whilst I would still encourage the occasional sampling of new works, reading is primarily a pleasure activity.  If you do not derive pleasure from a particular genre, then it defeats the purpose of reading to force yourself through it.  Enjoyment is subjective, and what Person A enjoys is just as valid as the Person B’s preference.

But we’re not just readers.  We’re writers too.  We can validly dislike a particular author for reasons of style.  We cannot validly dislike a particular genre for reasons of substance.  I don’t read chick-lit because as a male reader, I am not the target audience.  I don’t read romance because I find it formulaic and hollow.  I don’t read legal or crime novels because I’m trying to disconnect my life from law.

Should I close my own writing off in the same manner?  Pigeon-hole myself in one genre?  Most writers do find themselves working mainly in one or two genres.  Is this because they can only write in those genres?  I don’t think so.  A good writer can write well in any genre.  I believe writers wind up in one genre over others because it is the one they personally enjoy the most as a reader and a writer.

We cannot be so proud that we are unwilling to look at what works in other genres.  We don’t have an excuse to not look at good writing across all genres, just because it is unfamiliar to us or unappealing as a reader.  Sometimes our best writing comes when we move out of our comfort zone.  Perhaps we should move beyond our reading comfort zone once in a while too.

One Comment
  1. jodicleghorn permalink
    September 9, 2008 12:32 am

    “We don’t have an excuse to not look at good writing across all genres, just because it is unfamiliar to us or unappealing as a reader. Sometimes our best writing comes when we move out of our comfort zone. Perhaps we should move beyond our reading comfort zone once in a while too.”

    Here here! Very well written.

    Part of the decision to write seriously this year, was to read seriously also. My reading ritual each month is two books (about 600 pages) I treat myself with one novel that I know I will enjoy, and a novel intended to push me as both a reader and a writer. My most recent extension, which admittedly did take a bit to settle into, was 100 Years of Solitude by Gabrielle Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize winner for Literature in1992) It’s certainly not something I would normally read – but I’m very glad that I did. You can see the legacy of having read it in my latest [Fiction] Friday

    It IS something that my partner does normally indulge his bookworm tendencies in.I guess I am lucky in that regard. My partner and I have very diverse tastes in books, genres and authors so we have an eceletic bunch of books threatening to take over our home. I’m going to try some Rushdie later on this month at the suggestion of my partner and my new fascination with the genre of ‘magical realism.’

    Your confessions Paul reminded me of how I was unable to finish by “Sex and the City” and “Brigit Jones Diary”, but how I loved both of them on the screen (died in the wool SATC addict!) Perhaps its being able to do ‘chick lit’ on the screen, but I certainly can’t stomach it written down. Perhaps my problem is that I’ve never come across some good chick lit.

    And I think writing outside of your genre is another example of dangerous writing, the pushing of the boundaries and finding those places of discomfort where we produce some of our greatest work. For that reason I believe we should do it regularly – after all, perhaps the genre you write best in is something that you never even considered (because I would have told you with a straight face last year that I DONT write adventure stories, I WOULD NEVER write a pirate story and I most certainly CANT write science fiction!) It’s a good thing I’ve become a little more open minded this year 🙂

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