Professionally, my training is in medicine and behavioural science, but writing and books have always been passions. I serve on the board of Newcastle Writers Festival (Australia).
A enjoy a wide variety of books, fiction and non-fiction.
Favourite fiction categories and genres are:
- science fiction, fantasy, and all things speculative
- young adult fiction
- older kids fiction (which blurs into YA)
- adult/literary – if it has a discernible plot
- historical fiction
I should quality the ‘speculative’ to exclude the grosser end of horror, and those stories in subgenres described as ‘dark’ and ‘grim’ which take dark and grim to extremes. There are enough horrible things in the real world to burden my soul without suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from books. Watching Game of Thrones has done enough damage.
Favourite fiction authors are Anne McCaffrey and Jane Austen, though I love too many others to really say ‘favourite’.
Growing up reading
I discovered The Hobbit in primary school, just as I moved past Enid Blyton, and then got my hands on Lord of the Rings as soon as I could. Ever since I’ve been just a little disappointed with firework displays because they couldn’t produce anything like Gandalf’s firework dragon.
After that, my school library reading was overshadowed by books I borrowed from my older brother: Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Dick, Harrison, Silverberg, Clarke and, of course, McCaffrey, along with a host of others. My lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy was cemented throughout my teen years.
In between my brother’s books I found a lot of books at second-hand bookshops and fetes. A lot of them were classics, like the Brontes’ books, and I discovered why so many of them stood the test of time. Book vouchers for prizes at school were great for buying classics, too, and I still have them so many years later.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed a lot of different types of books. I think it’s a good idea to branch out and try new things every now and again, or we can get stuck in a rut and miss out on some really great writing.
What books should we read?
I’ve heard a lot of people dismiss ‘genre’ writing, like science fiction or romance or crime, as though it isn’t worthy to be called ‘literature’. I’ve also heard others dismiss ‘literary’ fiction as too pretentious. I read all sorts of books, and have read excellent ‘genre’ books of all types and excellent ‘literary’ books. I’ve also given up on books of all categories because I was bored with them.
A book isn’t good because it’s in one category or genre or another. It’s good because it’s well written, and you like it. End of story (pun intended).
There are some external measures of writing that are reasonably objective. These are about the technicalities of writing, such as the way sentences are constructed, paragraphs put together, the arc of the plot and pacing of the story. If the basics of the writing aren’t up to a professional level, it’s difficult to give a book a good recommendation.
However, if the basics are there, a great deal of the rest depends on taste. Whether I like a book or the person down the street likes it will largely be determined by our own preferences. I sometimes wonder how much preferences are influenced by external factors, such as if the reader has heard good things about it, if it’s by a well-known author, or conversely if the reader wants to prove others wrong. It’s very difficult to read in a vacuum.
But it’s still a good idea to try new things. Ask other people for recommendations. What’s good in a genre you haven’t tried? Don’t pick long examples, but every once in a while branch out. You might be glad you did.