As readers, we all have our favourite genres. Life can get pretty busy so rather than taking a risk on something new, it’s a lot easier to stick with what you know. Maybe you like an author who’s able to deliver a particular tone every time. I know that when I’m not sure what to read next I tend to gravitate towards Haruki Murakami. He has a pretty big backlog of material that I haven’t gotten around to yet and he always manages to create this kind of dreamy, meditative vibe that’s nice to return to when I haven’t found a good book in a while. So yeh I can identify with people whose shelves are made up of something like ninety-per cent Stephen King and ten-per cent Dean Koontz, but while it’s nice to have an old reliable, I do think you’ll find a lot more books you’ll actually love if you use your favourites as an occasional treat rather than as the main ingredient in your literary diet.
When you stick to one genre you might find that you start to become a little too critical of the books you’re reading. Chances are a while back you found a couple of favourites that you’ve started to compare everything else to and that’s great; a lot of people can’t even find one book they truly love, but you also can’t return to those favourites and expect to experience them like you did that first time around. Sure, maybe you’re the type who’s on their fifth read of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but eventually, you’ll have to find another book that can give you just as many thrills and if you’ve already built up a list of favourite authors within a certain genre, then the neverending search for the next best thing can start to feel like an ongoing slog. You know, I hear about a lot of people who used to be big readers but who for some reason can’t get into it like they used to, which is a real shame because it’s such an easy problem to solve. I think that what it comes down to is that they haven’t actually pushed past their boundaries in a while. Reading is like a muscle and when you don’t exercise it enough it’s going to go away. Don’t worry though, if you feel like it’s happening to you then sometimes the simplest fix is just to start exploring genres you’ve never looked at before.
Genre as a Marketing Gimmick
First of all, I do feel the need to say that I am not a mathematician. However, I do know how to add numbers so I’m pretty sure there are about a hundred genres to choose from and approximately one billion subgenres after that. As you embark on your quest to explore them, it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of these genres are just kind of made up. Of course there are some tropes that make one book science-fiction and another a romantic epic, but these labels don’t always act as a helpful descriptor for what you’re getting into. If you choose a sci-fi novel by Isaac Asimov for example, it’s going to be a whole other experience to one by Philip K. Dick. It’s important to recognise that whatever genres you intend to try out, it’s best to think of them as catch-all terms that let you find your way around. Beyond that, this whole idea of genre kind of comes off as a lazy marketing gimmick. In general, the publishing industry relies on these labels to get their books in front of the audience they think will be most likely to buy them. This might be why you end up with cases like Kazuo Ishiguro, who’s written plenty of science fiction and fantasy, but probably wouldn’t have won the nobel prize if he didn’t have all of his novels included in the general fiction section and why he probably wouldn’t have won any awards for scifi or fantasy if he was included over there. Which brings us to our next point…
Don’t Worry About The Conversation
Word of mouth is a critical part of success in the publishing world. When a big hit happens, it’s generally propelled along by excited readers recommending the book to their friends. Whether or not the book is actually good can become a bit of a moot point when faced with the incredibly large amount of sales that a popular one generates. But it can still be a lot of fun to engage with this kind of phenomenon. Entire communities get built around the conversations produced from them and it can feel extremely validating to have your opinion heard in a dialogue that’s got hundreds of thousands of people involved. At the same time, if you find yourself constantly hopping from one popular hit to the next and not really feeling what any of them have to say, you might be missing out on loads of books you’d genuinely love. Remember when I mentioned Haruki Murakami? Well there’s an old quote from him that goes something like:
If you’re reading what everybody else is reading, you’re thinking what everybody else is thinking.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, ask yourself what the latest conversation in publishing will look like if you aren’t involved. It probably won’t be too different. It’s ok to take a break from the collective consciousness. Finding a book you’ll love and staying in the loop are two very different things. In fact when you go a little bit outside the mainstream, you’ll probably find a book that speaks to you in a much more personal way, even if it hasn’t spoken to many others. So basically the question at hand becomes, how do you find an amazing book that will appeal to you specifically but one that not many other people have read?
1. Ask a Friend
Ok, so you should probably start a little close to home. Ask your friends if they have any book recommendations that might be outside your comfort zone. You might find a new favourite author and worst case scenario, if you absolutely hate the book they recommended, you’ll at least have the makings of a heated debate the next time you meet up for a couple of beers. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me you might not have a lot of friends. If this is the case, you can also try asking people on the internet for recommendations. Why not find a historical fiction community and request a list of underrated classics? Or delve into a genre specific threads on Reddit to choose a few random titles you’ve never even heard of.
2. Search for Lists
Google loves lists. Best of the year lists, best of decade, best of the 20th century. The internet has evolved to become a series of compilation articles arranged into almost arbitrary orders, so no matter what genre you choose, there’s probably a handful of publications that have put together some guides on what to buy. Just don’t stop at the first list you find. Compare a few of websites. Get an idea of the popular opinion. That way you can see what books pop up over and over again and what unappreciated masterpiece might not be a part of the general consensus.
3. Explore the Algorithms
Most websites that sell books and compile reviews will recommend other books that are worth checking out. It’s a bit depressing to rely on a computer code that’s essentially created to sell you things, but sometimes you can find a quality novel in the algorithms assortment of educated guesswork. Go to Amazon or Goodreads, type in the name of a famous book and then flick through the recommendations that are attached to it. The first few entries won’t exactly be off the beaten path, but if you go a little deeper you can dig out some real gems that not a lot of people have heard of, at least according to their spending habits.
4. Discover Influences from Other Media
You can actually discover some great books by the simple act of keeping your eyes open. I found Native Son by Richard Wright when it was mentioned by Edward Norton’s character in American History X, which then led me to read his other book, Black Boy, and that went on to become one of my favourite autobiographies. So anyway, sometimes the most enjoyable way to find a good book is to look for references to literature in other forms of media. Movies directors and musicians have often been inspired by novels you might never have decided to read. And people like David Bowie, Bill Murray, Hayao Mizaki and countless more have all published lists of their favourite novels which can be an incredibly interesting way to find new recommendations as well as a pretty intriguing way to understand the work of creative people you already admire.
5. Make Sure to Read Reviews
Something to keep in mind is that when you’re delving into a new genre you probably won’t have a clear view of the land. You need to look beyond the star rating of a book and actually read both the good and bad reviews to get an idea of what you’re about to get into. Like I said before, genre labels can sometimes be very general, so while a particular book might carry a degree of name recognition, other people who’ve approached it might be able to warn you that it’s a bit too much of a slow burn when what you’re looking for is a fast-paced action adventure.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that finding a book you’ll love is a pretty tall order. Going out of your comfort zone and exploring genres you never thought you’d take an interest in is a great way to start, but the first thing you need to know about searching for great books is that you’re going to come across a lot of duds. Finding a quality work of fiction is a process. You’ll need to accept that there will be some novels that are simply never going to speak to you. That’s okay though as long as you don’t give up on a genre because of a single flop. As you go through the misses you’ll figure out what you don’t like and get closer to tracking down what you do. Reading a bad book doesn’t have to be a waste of time, but if it starts to feel like a trudge, you can always ditch it and move onto the next possibility. Nobody will judge you for throwing the book against the wall. Just don’t forget, whatever you do, don’t expect to find your all-time favourite right away.
Other than that, it really comes down to taking risks. A bad book might put you off reading for a while, but that’s why it’s good to have a comfort zone to return to. Then when you do fall in love with a book outside of your usual scope, you’ll probably start to realise that your field of interests has suddenly expanded. At any rate, if you go through all that and you still haven’t found a new book to love, then as a last-ditch effort at least let me recommend Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. I won’t tell you what it’s about, just go in blind and see what you think. As for me, I’ve never actually read a real crime thriller. if you know any I should check out then let me know in the comments below.