Bookworms often embrace a single beloved genre. The only one I’d read before thirty was science fiction. Looking back, I wish I had been more diverse in my reading (in all of its dimensions). I now know I should have branched out, starting in childhood. According to Theodore Sturgeon, 90% of science fiction is crud. He’s right, but that’s true of everything.
If I had read the best 10% of science fiction along with the best 10% of nine of other genres, my reading life today would be remarkably better. I’ve been trying to correct my narrow-mindedness for years. The trouble is finding the best books in each genre.
When a friend recommends a favorite genre novel it often fails for me if I don’t know the genre. Every good work of fiction share certain common elements like characterization, plot, setting, etc. Genres have their own unique elements that are an acquired taste. Sometimes genre writers assume readers already understand conventions of the genre. Thus certain books are better gateway stories into a genre. Often the best intro books are YA novels, which have their own unique appeal. How many readers got hooked on science fiction because of The Hunger Games?
There are books about every category of reading tastes. Libraries Unlimited publishes Genreflecting Advisory Series that cover the top level genres. Each title gives a history of the field, describes what’s unique and best about the genre, and then describes the popular books to read. The series is aimed at librarians who want to advise their patrons or who work in collection development. These books are also used in library science courses.
The flagship volume of the series, now in its 7th edition, is Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests edited by Cynthia Orr and Diana Tixier Herald. It’s $65 new (ouch!). But if you search Abebooks for “Genreflecting” you can find old editions much cheaper. Classics don’t change that quickly.
The free way to read these books is to go to your local library and ask the reference librarian. They’re usually shelved in the reserved book section. I buy them used for as little as $3.48 including shipping at Abebooks.com. That’s because libraries dump old editions when new ones come out.
Here are just some of the genres the series cover with the year they were last updated. Most are easily found at Abebooks.com. I found several there for $3.48 which start at $55 used at Amazon, even though Amazon owns Abebooks. (If you’re a used book buyer, always check both places.)