When I think back over the books I have read to date, they do tend to stick to a small range of genres. As a child and teenager, I could often be found lost in a non-fiction book, the Horrible Histories series being particular favourites, while my fictional choices included Harry Potter (of course), as well as less well known but equally enjoyable selections such as the Animorph and Goosebumps series. This love of fantasy has followed me into adulthood, with Terry Pratchett being a firm favourite, as well as a selection of science fiction writers such as Issac Asimov. (Strangely, when it came to writing my first book Free City, I avoided both genres entirely and wrote a mystery thriller.)
I should say that I have not stuck entirely to fantasy, sci-fi and historical non-fiction entirely. I of course read a varied selection of books as part of my education, and I once recently found myself spending a day without phone or the internet and only a copy of Rachel’s Holiday by Marion Keys to keep me entertained (definitely not my cup of tea, but it at least kept the boredom away for what could have otherwise been a long day). I will from time to time read outside my comfort zone, but given the choice I will return to fantasy and the like time and again.
That is until a few weeks ago when I had a little epiphany.
My wife and I have an extensive selection of books, both read and unread. It is too small to call a library (just yet), but it is more than just your average bookshelf (currently it is six bookshelves spread over four rooms). Our books have mixed fairly well over the time we have lived together, but we can still determine who brought which book with little effort, and we tend to stick to our own selections when choosing a book to read. My wife has read a couple of the books I have bought, but these have predominantly been non-fiction choices. Until a few weeks ago I had not read any of my wife’s books.
One morning while we were getting ready for the day, I noticed a book on the shelf which caught my eye; Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. It was the title more than anything which caught my eye, and I asked my wife about it. She immediately said I should read it and would find it interesting, but gave me little more. I was intrigued enough to add the book to my seemingly never shrinking pile by the bed and left it for a week or so.
Eventually, I decided to give the book a go. Burial Rites is a historical novel, set in Iceland in 1829. It follows a woman who has been sentenced to death for murder as she awaits execution, during which time we discover more about her life and the crime she committed. Initially, I found it hard to get into, needing to read the first chapter two or three times, but I persevered, and once I was a couple of chapters in I could barely put it down. Kent produces a wonderful picture of a bleak and desolate world, and the hardships endured by most of the Icelanders at the time just to survive. While some aspects of the novel grated (the constant switching between first and third person seemed unnecessary) overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read.
Kent’s second book The Good People has naturally made it towards the top of my to read list, but it has also made me think more about the books I choose to read, or more often those I choose to pass up on.
People read books for many reasons, none more so than for pleasure and entertainment, and this is certainly the main driver for me. With this in mind, it is reasonable to choose books in genres which interest you, for me fantasy and sci-fi. But as Burial Rites has shown me, this runs the risk of missing out on the smorgasbord of other books available which may well be as entertaining and enjoyable. And of course there is no reason why books within the fantasy or sci-fi genre will be entertaining. I have certainly read a couple I will not mention here which I found hard going and tedious. Being the correct genre does not guarantee a good book, and as I have seen you can find a very good book in a genre never previously considered.
This is not to say I have just discovered the idea of reading broadly for maximum enjoyment and pleasure, but rather this is possibly the first time I have made a conscious choice to do so and it was definitely the right (rite?!) decision to make. With only limited time in the day to read, it can be tempting to stick to what we know, but as Burial Rites has shown me, a little bit of adventurousness can go a long way. Why not challenge yourself today, choose a book you would never have considered before and give it a read. Fantasy and sci-fi will remain top of my list of book choices, but I will make sure to choose more widely from time to time as well.