This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.
Being varied as a reader and a person is an admirable thing. There’s no way around it, we go around talking about how variety is the spice of life for a reason. Being open to the ever-growing multitude of book genres and subgenres allows us to be “well-rounded” readers and human beings.
That said there are some genres that I just can’t seem to force myself to read of my own volition. You may feel the same way about certain categories of books, too. It’s okay. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about allowing yourself to have preferences and be somewhat limited in your reading habits. When it all comes down to it, there’s no possibility of you being able to read every book out there, and it’s not even likely you can read one book by every author in the world during your lifetime. Do you despise thrillers, or Victorian classics? Don’t sweat it or waste your time worrying about what people will think. Instead, focus on books you love that widen your horizons and strengthen your knowledge base.
As a bit of an obsessive-compulsive reader, when without reading materials, I will go to desperate lengths to keep my mind busy. Before I know it, I’m reading the ingredient list on a box of cereal, which doesn’t figure among my preferred genres. But under normal circumstances, I have my cheat sheet, of genres that don’t generally agree with me that I share with friends and relatives and I highly recommend it. Because no matter how much people harp on “it’s just a book”– books can have a strong emotional punch and sometimes I’m not up for a black eye. Add to that the simple truth that reading books takes time, and time is limited, and I feel completely justified in being a little picky when it comes to what I’ll read.
The genres I avoid can be divided into two main groups: Genres I enjoy but avoid because they upset me after the fact, and genres I avoid because I simply don’t enjoy or appreciate them.
Genres I enjoy, but avoid anyway
What am I talking about? There are books that you may enjoy that haunt you after the fact, disturbing your waking, and resting hours with nightmares about killer clowns and climate change.
- Horror novels in particular are not for me. Because however much I may enjoy the superb writing of Stephen King, it’s never worth the months of my life that I spend being afraid to doze off into a dreamland populated with scenes from The Shining. So for sleep’s sake, I avoid horror novels like the plague.
- Stark, post-apocalyptic fiction like that of Cormac McCarthy in his Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, The Road is another no-no for quality shut-eye. Images of people gathered around a cozy fire, roasting a baby on a spit are not happy fodder for my overactive imagination and uncooperative subconscious.
- Science fiction in general is something I often skip for the same reason. Even funnier tomes like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake have sometimes made me start in the middle of the night and regret my reading habits when the wheels in my head won’t stop turning.
- Fantasy can cause a similar reaction, but I love it too much to leave it completely alone, as I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to Laurell K. Hamilton, Juliet Marillier and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
The genres that give you nightmares or make you uncomfortable after the fact may not be on this list. Maybe you’ve had to stop reading political memoirs or nonfiction works about the environment because you even though you enjoy reading and learning about important world issues, you can’t afford to keep tossing and turning. If you’re truly addicted to a genre that has this effect on you, my suggestion is to read it at a time of day far from your scheduled bedtime, and right before bed, read something different that doesn’t give you crazy dreams. It won’t always work, but it’s better than nothing if you can’t bear to swear a particular genre off.
Genres I avoid because I don’t enjoy them or find them worthwhile
Some genres just aren’t worth our valuable reading time. Maybe we don’t enjoy them, or maybe they strike us as beyond vapid and beneath us. That’s okay, too. Some of the genres that I avoid for these reasons are the following:
- Self-help is fine and good for lots of people. Me, my reaction is most often anger or disgust. Who’s the author to tell me how to solve any problems I may have? Why do I care what he or she thinks about how to make new friends? Do I even need to make new friends? Before I know it, I’m wrapped up in a conundrum of denial and rage—no, I don’t have a problem that self-help can solve, and it doesn’t matter, because all of a sudden, I’m furious about it. So in the end, the books are useless for me, because I don’t have the right attitude. I want to be self-sufficient, not dependent on some so-called expert to fix an important aspect of my life. Ironically, on the other end of my love-hate book spectrum are how-to books, which I adore. An expert telling me how to live my life=unacceptable. An expert telling me how to install a light fixture or publish my first short story=awesome.
- Inspirational gift books full of transformational stories like Chicken Soup for the Soul also figure high on my list of genres I despise and avoid. Although I’m loath to admit it, this sort of writing tends to make me cry and feel like a cheesy female stereotype. I don’t enjoy crying or feeling cheesy.
- Self-indulgent celebrity memoirs by the likes of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian try my patience and give a bad name to the larger genre of biographies and memoirs. Not to be condescending and judgmental, but I have more important things to read and think about, and am most often annoyed by the story of some actor or model’s ascent to fame as inspired by it.
Books in genres that you don’t enjoy or view as worthwhile should be skipped sans guilt unless the book in question was written by a loved one, or is required reading for work, school or your book club. You only have one life, and a limited time to read as much as you dare.
So what if I avoid horror, sci-fi, self-help and celebrity memoirs? That still leaves me with a list that includes literary classics, chick lit, mysteries, novellas, romance and westerns, and that’s only in fiction. Besides, setting some general limits doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally make exceptions for celebrated classics and Pulitzer-prize winners–I know I do.
Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.