Just like I don’t like strawberries dipped in chocolate, apples mixed in with chicken salad, or pineapple coupled with shrimp from the grill, there are certain types of books that I find more palatable than others. No longer am I the college coed or secondary school student struggling through the rigid cannon-esque syllabus of my professors and teachers. Similar to being forced to sample a fixed menu of foods at a dinner party because it’s impolite to offend the cook. Now I am in control of my own book choice and choose to eat my fruit in its natural form, thank you very much.
Fantasy, horror, and mystery. Memoirs. British romantic comedies, read while drinking cups of Earl Grey so I can pretend I’m British. Satire. Modern fiction in general. These have been my go-to staples for my reading appetite for years. Not only did I want to read more of my comfort “food” but pledging myself to reading this year has allowed me to sample a wider variety of books, the culinary equivalent of taste testing a more culturally relevant cuisine.
It’s also allowed me to figure out which ingredients I’d rather 86 from a preferred book recipe. Here are the ones that aren’t my jams.
- A male author trying to write from a woman’s point of view. Although, it can be done. Take George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The POV chapters alternate among male and female perspectives. His female leads are strong, complex characters, and although they aren’t all likable, their voices are engaging and more importantly believable. Arya is one of my favorite female characters ever written. I’ve read several books recently that attempt the female voice much in the way Martin does, and those characters aren’t nearly as authentic and often come off silly. As a reader, it leaves me confused. Was silly the male author’s intention? Or is that simply how he views women in general?
- Third person omniscient that weaves its way among the minds of many within a chapter. Why make your reader struggle to figure whose head you’re supposed to be in? Make it easy for me, dammit. It’s your job!
- Detailed rape/torture/murder scenes of women. Why? Why? Why? Who wants to read that? I recently read a book written by a woman where one of the main characters is unknowingly married to the man who did all three of those things to her sister and other women as well. THEN FILMED IT AND DISTRIBUTED IT AS PORNOGRAPHY. The imagery was so graphic that I almost threw up at one point. Why? Why? Why?
- Pretentious description. I get it. You’re observant. You’re talented. You’re published. I don’t need two pages of complicated prose dedicated to fleshing out the layout of the land every time scenes shift or a dog walks by. Show off!
- World War II novels. I just can’t anymore. They are so sad. There are so many of them. If I grab one off the shelf (virtual or tangible), I place it back immediately once the jacket is read. I now read book jackets every time I pick one up for this reason. But thank you Markus Zusak, John Boyne, and Anthony Doerr for The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and All the Light We Cannot See.
- Long chapters. My perfect chapter length is 12 pages or less. If it’s any longer, I’m not as likely to read a successive chapter after finishing one. When I start a chapter, I want to finish it in one sitting. If only I could commit myself to flowerbed maintenance with the same zeal as finishing a chapter, my garden would be the envy of the subdivision. I avoid stopping in the middle of a chapter like I avoid driving during known traffic hours. I have a hard time jumping back in when I stop in the middle, spending time trying to reorient myself with where I am in the narrative. When I’m reading and Little Thing interrupts, I like to be able to tell her just let me finish this chapter and then we can bake a cake, go for a bike ride, play Yeti in my Spaghetti, or whatever–but this only works with books of the short chapter variety. Long chapters do not lend themselves to interruptions by Little Things. Give me an achievable stopping point, please.
Are these end all be alls? Of course not. Am I still reading male authors? Yes. Do I read books with long chapters? Yes. I’m not allergic to them, not even intolerant. I’d be writing off oodles of literature by using this directory as a no fly list for my reading. I’ve read great books that hit two or even three of those criteria. Like a desperate mother blending spinach into her four-year-old’s meatballs, a great author masks the less desirable flavors with other layers of book crafting.