Thursday, April 2, 2009

I like...

I like...

Well, lots of things, really. I quite like fantasy literature, as the more observant among you may have noticed. I like poetry, I like sports books on that most maddening and obsession inducing of sports, cricket. I’m prone to a bit of comedy, a bit of serious literature, and I’ll even admit to reading the odd romance novel if you catch me in a particularly odd mood.

Before this turns into a singles’ advertisement though (Book lover WLTM same, must love urban fantasy and own complete works of Neil Gaiman), I think perhaps we should pause to consider just how wide those claims I’ve made are. I say that my taste runs to fantasy, poetry, and cricket books among other things, but those are categories so broad you probably wouldn’t attempt to jump over them on a motorbike, let alone read everything in them.

Let’s take the narrowest of those categories as a starting point. Cricket based sporting books run the gamut from ghosted autobiographies to novels and back again, often by way of some truly awful poetry. Just because I like Sir Ian Botham’s comedy novel Deep Cover and quite enjoy Gideon Haigh’s latest collection of essays A Green and Golden Age doesn’t mean that it necessarily follows that I should want to read the ‘autobiographies’ of players who haven’t been around more than a couple of years. Nor does it mean that I want to sift through the majority of poetry on the game, just because I might happen to like some of the work of the late Alan Ross.

As for the other two categories, you might as well say that your taste in music is jazz and rock. In much the same way that those musical genres have branched out into so many categories that practically no one can keep track, let alone claim to like everything in between Dave Brubeck and Alan Holdsworth, so too it has become almost impossible to simply say that your taste runs to either poetry or fantasy. If you claim to love the former, do you mean concrete poetry, free poetry, traditional rhymed verse, epic poetry, haiku, or one of the hundred other strands of it? With the latter, do you mean something traditional and epic like Tolkein, modern and strange like Gaiman, hilarious like Tom Holt’s work or maybe something from that weird borderland between horror, fantasy, teen fiction and romance that calls itself urban fantasy?

Even when you’ve settled on a subcategory, it should be fairly obvious that you won’t necessarily like everything in it. Despite being something of a fan of the comic fantasy oeuvre, I haven’t been able to finish a Robert Rankin book in years. I keep getting them out from the library, thinking that because they fall into the genre I ought to like them, but it never quite works out like that. Perhaps it’s just that there are only so many jokes about sprouts I can take.

It isn’t just that I don’t like surrealist fiction, because that would be falling into the same trap from the other end, declaring with wholehearted enthusiasm (or rather, lack of enthusiasm) a hatred for a particular genre. Possibly the best known example of this is the ‘I don’t like classic literature, it’s boring’ syndrome, which seems to affect a lot of readers at some point but again makes the mistake of lumping the whole category together rather arbitrarily. As it happens, I quite like some surrealist stuff, if Jasper Fforde’s works can be considered that.

Which is, of course, one of the biggest problems here. How exactly do you decide what fits into the categories you’ve decided aren’t to your taste? Where exactly do you draw the line between fantasy and horror, for example, given the amount of crossover between the two? More to the point, how do you decide it without actually having to read the books in question, since doing so would rather defeat the object of declaring your dislike? What ends up happening, as often as not, is a reliance upon that tried but not very true combination for finding out about a book, the cover and the blurb. Go on, admit it, there are books out there that you have taken one look at before thinking ‘No way am I ever going to read that’. I know I have.

To a certain extent, of course, this sort of thing is perfectly normal and even useful. It saves us from reading a great many things that we won’t enjoy while redirecting our attention towards things that we probably will. There are, after all, only so many books that we’re able to read at once, though you wouldn’t always know it from the stacks of partially read things lying around my house.

How many times though have you read something you didn’t particularly like because it looked like the sort of thing that you ought to enjoy? How many times have you put up with a bad book just because it happened to be by a favourite writer, or in a genre you like, or because it had a nice cover? Remembering that it doesn’t work like that can save you from a lot of awful prose.

I’d like to think, however, that there’s something more positive to say than simply ‘even your favourite genre will contain books you won’t like’, so let’s turn that around. Somewhere, probably somewhere on the edges, buried under the books that everybody knows about, your least favourite genre will probably contain something you’ll enjoy.

In fact, now that I think of it, there’s probably a quick challenge in that thought. Think of your least favourite genre. Now, if you feel like it, try finding something in that genre that you can manage to get through with something approaching enjoyment. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

Who knows, if I really look hard, I might even find a ghost written autobiography that I don’t feel the urge to throw across the room.


J.S. Peyton said...

I've always had an aversion to self-help books. But back in late 2007 I grit my teeth and read "This I Believe." Yes it was "inspirational" in an almost corny sort of way, but I loved it anyway. I still don't read self-help books on a regular basis though. Old habits are hard to break. ;)

Jodie said...

I'm also a self help hater but lately I've been seriously thinking about reading 'He's not that into You'.

I don't generally dislike genres but there are certain hot topic issues I hate reading books about.