Why I Read Genre Fiction

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Photo: Marina Shemesh

My appetite for reading can best be described as voracious. I love to read, and I read eclectically. For example, I recently finished reading the following: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, the May/June 2015 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, Doctor Dead: A Percy & Quincey Adventure by Tyler Tork, Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card, and The Bat by Jo Nesbo. I prefer to read print books, but I’ve begun also reading digital books on my computer.

My two favorite genres in fiction are science fiction and mystery.  I’ve read both since I began reading on my own in elementary school.  Sometimes programs I see on TV will steer me toward a specific author or book, or a movie may do the same thing. I love reading these two genres because I know that I’ll get a good story and a plot.  That’s not always the case with literary fiction.  I tend to read literary fiction for character exploration and use of language.  For example, Mrs. Dalloway riveted me because of Woolf’s use of language and her amazingly fluid points of view throughout.  The reader learns about the characters not only from what each character thinks about a situation (from that character’s point of view) but also from how other characters think and respond to that character (from other characters’ points of view).

If I want intelligent stories that address human problems and challenges, I read science fiction.  Like Gene Roddenberry demonstrated in his Star Trek TV shows, writers of science fiction often address controversial issues in their stories that they couldn’t address directly in general or literary fiction.  By setting the story on another planet or in another time, these writers make the issues more palatable to read and think about, and they can suggest solutions or not.  Science fiction explores the future, also, or the past with alternative history.  How do these writers imagine the human future to be?  How do they imagine other sentient beings to be?  How do they reflect humanity’s insecurities and strengths?  At the moment, I have no “favorite” science fiction writers.  I’ve been reading a lot of classic science fiction as well as contemporary.  I especially love it when a sci fi writer’s work is also literary, giving me double the pleasure in reading it.

book cover speaker_for_dead

Some sci fi novels I won’t soon forget: Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks, Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement, and Grass by Sheri S. Tepper.

An important aspect of my personality focuses on solving mysteries or problems.  I love a good, complicated puzzle.  A mystery is a puzzle to solve.  Writers of mysteries explore the human condition and behavior focused on motivations and psychology.  I love that.  Why do people behave the way they do? One of my favorite mystery authors, P. D. James, also writes literary mysteries that deeply explore character.  Her use of language continues to astonish me, too.  I’ve really enjoyed Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels also, imagining my grandmother living on the Navajo reservation which she did as a young teacher before marriage while I read them.  Otherwise, I read whatever mystery novels I can, especially those recommended to me by other writers and/or friends.  It’s especially fun to find mysteries embedded in novels of other genres.

P. D. James

P. D. James

Another genre I’ve developed a special love for in the last few years is the espionage thriller.  I love spy novels, and especially those of John le Carre, Daniel Silva, and Alan Furst. Each of these writers approaches the genre in a different way, and I’ve found their writing to be completely engrossing and satisfying.  Le Carre especially peels the layers of the human psyche back to reveal the psychology of deception and the moral ambiguities that can lead to moral and psychological breakdown.  Oddly, though, my favorite Le Carre novel isn’t about spies directly — The Constant Gardener.  ConstantGardenerbookcover

Genres that hold little appeal for me include horror, westerns, and romance. I’ve read some novels and short stories in these genres at times, but haven’t been compelled to read more.

Reading is an important job duty for a writer.  It’s important not only to stay current on contemporary trends but to see how other writers are writing, how the language evolves, and to have fun.  I find myself noticing things as I read now that I didn’t notice years ago before I began writing seriously.  I love reading a novel and seeing a writer masterfully demonstrating his or her craft.  There’s something there to celebrate and admire, as well as to enjoy.



2 responses to “Why I Read Genre Fiction

  1. Joseph V DeMartino

    Very good post. It’s always great to see that other people love these genres and see what they contribute to the literary landscape.

    • Thanks for the comment, Joseph! I love finding out what other people love to read. Genre fiction is just as important as general and literary fiction, I think.

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