Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been making a conscious effort to record the books I read. It’s not something I’ve really done before, despite having a Goodreads account, which I actually use very little.
But keeping track of my reading has been an interesting exercise and it’s made me think carefully about the books I choose to read. For a while, I’ve been wondering about the quality of my reading material, and whether I should make the effort to select more literary fiction.
Recently there has been some discussion online about the idea that reading should be challenging rather than simply entertaining. People have strong views either way.
In the past I read a lot more literary and classic fiction, whereas now my reading time tends to be dominated by genre fiction. This hasn’t always been a conscious choice: since I’ve been reviewing novels online I’ve become focused on reading as much as possible, so I tend to lean towards books that will engage my attention and allow me to read quickly.
In August, I read a bumper 16 novels, mostly because I reread the entire Southern Vampire series. I’d never have read as many books if I’d gone for something heavier.
But I’d like to spend more time on classics and modern classics, as there are so many fantastic books that I’ve never read. There’s always that small element of shame when you have to admit that you’ve never read a particular book or author, despite being a keen literary type.
I enjoy having the balance of something that makes me think on a deeper level, with something that is purely entertaining. Often the more ‘literary’ fiction can be a slower read, as it doesn’t use plot in the same way a crime thriller or YA supernatural novel might. And many books are more concerned with style over substance: just because a reviewer has praised them doesn’t mean they will be an enjoyable read.
Of course, you should be able to read whatever it is that you want without worrying about other people’s reactions. As a former literature student, I’m happy to try difficult or highbrow novels sometimes, but if every book had to have some kind of literary merit I would be transported back to my academic days where every book had to be analysed and interpreted on a deeper level. Sometimes I just want to lose myself in a book, regardless of whether it makes it onto a ‘top 100 books to read before you die’ list.
What’s your approach – do you like a challenge when it comes to your reading material, or do you go purely for an engaging story?