The area I’m living in at the moment has an older and mainly retired population, younger families are around but they’re not the majority. As my current social life connects to my parents who are retired and active in this small town, I’ve been having conversations that I haven’t expected. Most of the media that I consume is young adult, fantasy or variation or combination of these two, among my friends we might not all like the same works but share a common vocabulary. So its surprising for me to be talking about books I recently read and have someone say, “Why would you read that?” in terms of fantasy, because the characters aren’t human or real enough. My explanation is that I will read anything if I find the characters compelling. This has led to some good discussions in terms of what attracts someone to want to read a book.
It seems like every few months, an article will appear about why adults read YA or how guilty pleasure books can be okay, which starts the conversation up again. A lot of it seems stuck on the idea of what has value and who gets to decide the value for various works. I think this lies at the heart of it and is an important aspect of consuming books to discuss. There are books that jump out from others in terms of their quality across the genres but due to there being all these genres, what matters most is personal preference. In another conversation I have, we talked about the idea of genres and its key to remember that the genres as divined by a literature professor won’t be the same as those picked by a publishing executive and that genres shift over time. As a librarian, part of my job is to find how best to get these books to those who will like them and people who might not think of trying them. In this way genres can be unhelpful when someone says, “Oh, I don’t read fantasy or science fiction or young adult.” The next step is to talk to them for me is to find out what makes them not want to read those books. I find the idea isn’t to convince them to try something, that comes later. Its best to begin by understanding was there a book they didn’t like, why didn’t they like it and was there another they did like. Our personal preferences are built from our experiences and when looking into unfamiliar genre, a difficult but enlightening step is to try. If you’re thinking about wanting something new to read outside your comfort zone, ask someone who prefers a genre you normally don’t read for advice to where to begin. That’s how I got started reading Romance, I read two great book blogs, and and one day I won a book and discovered I actually quite enjoyed Historical Romance.
All these thoughts have been going through my head as I move back and forth from a world where book clubs tend to read the bestsellers, a children’s section of the library and my online world that focuses on fantasy and young adult literature. As a librarian, I feel part of what I do is to help patrons find books they’ll enjoy and a few that will surprise them.