Circles

hour of dragon 1It was a long (4 hour) drive north to drop my first born off at college yesterday and then a long (4 hour) drive back home. I had neglected to swing by the library to grab some books on tape, and with the kid driving separately that left me with no one to talk with. I called a few friends, of course, and I listened to the radio now and then, and I did a lot of plot thinking about three separate projects. Much as I hate long car rides, that kind of time to just sit and think about plot is a real luxury.

I happened to catch the end of a Fresh Air episode where a writer/actor/producer was being interviewed and she mentioned that she had no interest in Game of Thrones; that she drew the line right there at dragons. Apparently if something had dragons it was immediately off the list, and I recall thinking that was a peculair reason to exclude GoT, because for most of its running time there really aren’t many dragons… I remember smirking. What about even the hint of dragons, I wondered, made you immediately turn up your nose? Is it that you think you’re BETTER than that?

ashes2And then I ate some humble pie, because I recalled only a few years ago that I’d never have bothered reading a western, or a private eye novel, and lately I’ve found some of the best books I’ve ever read reside in both genres.

Maybe most of us start out in a narrow circle of familiarity and comfort. I know my own enjoyment and my writing skill has grown since I left that initial starting circle, and I only wish I’d dared to depart it sooner.

Do any of you have circles you’ve left only recently? Is there anything you still instantly turn your nose up to?

10 Comments on “Circles

  1. I’ve become more interested in westerns in recent years. I avoided them growing up because my brother liked them, and as everyone knows, anything your brother likes can’t possibly be any good.

    I’ve always read sf, fantasy, mystery/crime/noir, horror, thrillers, historical adventure, and general fiction. My various attempts at writing fiction have involved elements of all of these.

    There are only two types writing I don’t care for. The first is the one with the largest sales figures, romance. I’ve read some, and while I can appreciate it, it isn’t for me. I don’t mind romantic aspects or subplots. Rather enjoy them, in fact, because they can add depth to the characters. I just don’t want that to be the main focus of the story. When the emphasis is on feelings and the inner emotional life woth little or no external conflict, I get bored.

    The same is true about slice of life realism, where little to nothing happens. I like stories that have plot and action, although the action doesn’t have to be violent.

    I’m writing this on my phone, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

    • Hey Keith,

      That was on your phone?! I don’t recall ever composing something have so eloquent and error free on my phone, ever.

      I started out as an SF reader, then moved over to fantasy, then to historicals. I never completely abandoned SF, but I don’t read much in that field anymore. I’ve kept my fondness for certain flavors of fantasy, obviously.

      But I didn’t read much beyond those three, unless you count comic books with modern superheroes (which is a little fantasy and a little sci-fi and a whole lot its own thing) and a brief dip into espionage books, starting with the Fleming James Bond novels.

      I concur with you on romance, and I while I do enjoy the character depth added from sub-plots involving them, I too grow bored. Slice-of-life never did much for me, either, and I’ve felt strangely disconnected from modern lit novels, where boring and terrible people have boring and selfish and terrible lives. At least from what I’ve seen. Maybe, like all other genres, I need a good guide to show me the way.

      • “I don’t recall ever composing something have so eloquent and error free on my phone, ever.”

        Thanks. There was lots of retyping.

        “I started out as an SF reader, then moved over to fantasy, then to historicals. I never completely abandoned SF, but I don’t read much in that field anymore.”

        Same here, although I’m reading more sf than I did a few years ago and expect that to continue.

  2. This is an interesting question. I grew up reading almost everything, from Louis L’Amour to Edgar Rice Burroughs, even the Hardy Boys. I’m not known as a purist in any sense. I read stories that entertain me across multiple genres. To be honest, my time is so limited these days, I don’t have time to experiment with other “circles,” and that’s a pity (especially as a writer because you learn so much from other authors).

    I remember back when I studied law, I went through this faux intelectual phase where I only read “real” literature. That only lasted until I discovered Rober B. Parker and then I reverted back to my old self. Nowadays I stick to authors like Gemmell, Gaiman, and Cornwell, and it’s mostly because they’re my comfort zone.

    Oh, and like Keith I once tried to read a romance. I chose one of Nicholas Sparks’ books so I could test his voice and understand why people love his stories and so learn from him. He is not a bad writer, but I couldn’t finish the book. I got bored and even the “for science” bit could not force me to finish it. So, I suppose this episode qualifies as me leaving my circle for a bit.

    • Hey Woelf,

      That’s terrific that you grew up reading a variety of genres. You know, I suppose when I was in grade school and junior high my own tastes were a lot wider. I, too, recall reading Hardy Boys — though I was always a little disappointed — and Encyclopedia Brown, and The Mad Scientist Club books were a big favorite. I seem to remember reading a bunch of Richard Peck horror stuff, too.

      But sci-fi was my first love, probably thanks to the original Star Trek, re-runs of which were always on. My mom and one of my sisters happened to have a lot of science fiction on the shelves (including some Leigh Brackett) and a little bit of fantasy, which made accessing the material a little easier. As open as I was then to trying out whatever the shelf had I might have picked up a western or a mystery if it was sitting there, but they weren’t.

      I haven’t tried Sparks — but at the behest of my wife I read the Twilight books. She knew at some level that they were bad but read them like candy anyway. I had a mixed reaction to them. They clearly weren’t aimed at anyone who wasn’t new to fantasy/horror, because you could see all the surprises coming at you a hundred pages or so before the characters had a clue. And, much as I discovered with the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy, I grew SO VERY TIRED of the narrator’s constant whining and self-doubt.

      I did discover some very nice dialogue that worked because the author was so closely tied to the speaking characters’ emotional centers, and it’s something I think about from time to time. That was noteworthy.

      But mostly I was bored enough I’m unlikely to journey forth into more romance-ish territory any time soon.

      • Same here. I think if I had more time I might be more experimental, but until then I’ll stick to what I know and, of course, recommendations from writers like you and bloggers in general.

  3. I started with animal adventure books, then hardy boys, on to ERB (mostly Tarzan, didn’t care for the Barsoom stuff back then) and REH. I read a lot of Wilbur Smith in my late teens/early twenties. I totally missed the 80’s horror boom, but like reading it now for fun. I generally prefer adventure oriented pulp stuff now in various genres; men’s adventure series, western, S&S, historical, horror , ect. This is what I like to try and write, as well. I do not do well with the angst driven, uber PC teen oriented fiction that populates bookshelves today. I want to escape into a world of adventure and thrills, with heroes and heroines I can look up to, not protagonists that have more issues than me.

  4. I’ve had to work hard to not be a snob in regards to genres I don’t read or a reverse snob towards people who don’t like what I read. We all read for different reasons and who am I, really, to look askance and someone else’s book choices?

    I started with a wide array of things, much like you describe to Woelf: Encyclopedia Brown, and adventure stories. Once I started reading sci-fi and fantasy, though, I pretty much just stuck to that. Even growing up with both my parents reading mysteries, I didn’t start reading them until I was in grad school. That was also when I was able to go back to classic literature after several poor teachers made me hate the stuff. Over the past few years, with my interest sparked by blogs like yours or Jim Cornelius’, I’ve started reading more historical adventures and Westerns. I do admit to mostly sticking to books that don’t “challenge” me, or destabilize me in my comfort zone. If I want a lecture, there’s lots of non-fiction I can turn to for that.

  5. For a long while I read nothing but fantasy, SF and weird fiction/horror. It wasn’t so much that I actively drew the line at other genres; they simply didn’t interest me in any way. Since then I’ve branched out into crime, western, magical realism and historical fiction, among others, and discovered some real gems in the process.

    I’m not sure if my outlook has really changed though. I still find myself gravitating towards the familiar; only what constitutes ‘the familiar’ is now wider and deeper. I guess this is the same for most people though I’m not sure I could say why. Partly, I guess, it’s due to the effort needed to familiarise oneself with a new landscape. All genres rely on conventions, and until you learn those conventions you tend to feel like you’re missing something. As well as that it can be pretty daunting entering to a whole new genre, a bit like diving into a deep, dark pool with no bottom. That’s also part of the appeal of course.

    While there are some genres I’ll probably never touch, like paranormal romance, or romance of any kind, I like to think I have the open-mindedness not to wholly dismiss them or criticise those that enjoy works in that vein. Still, life is short and you have to go with your gut more often than not. That tends to mean sticking to what you know.

    • “I’m not sure if my outlook has really changed though. I still find myself gravitating towards the familiar; only what constitutes ‘the familiar’ is now wider and deeper.”

      Stuart, thanks for dropping by. You raise a number of good points. And what you say here feels familiar to my own way of thinking. For instance, while I have branched out into new territory, I still prefer reading about heroes standing up and doing the right thing against the odds. I tried noir, but didn’t end up liking it as much as hard boiled, because hard boiled has more heroes in it.

      I would hope that I’ve gotten more broad minded and less judgmental about what other people read, even if I myself am not much interested in it.

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