Reading Evolution, from then to now

I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember being able to read. I can clearly recall being in the hospital when I was 10 or so and reading a book avidly and reading it out loud to the girl in the other bed because she was blind. I believe it was also a book I re-read several times though I can’t remember now what it was.

My all time favourite book, read in my early teens the first time, was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I read it many times well into adulthood though I confess I haven’t read it since I was in my 30s at least. That’s a long time though I won’t go into how long! I may just reread that some time soon.

The first “grown up” type books I remember reading were my aunt’s Harlequin Romances. They were thin, easy to read, and, back in the early 70s, pretty tame on the romantic “details” so my mother allowed it. I read Harlequins through my teens but lost interest after that. They were too tame for me by then, not very challenging, and were becoming pretty formulaic and “samey”. What I did like about them in particular was that many of them took place in an foreign locale, Paris, Australia, Brazil etc. I was an armchair traveler even then.

I had advanced to popular fiction when I was in my 20s, what we might call “chick lit” these days though I guess that’s not very politically correct. I notice some book companies are calling it “women’s fiction” which basically means the same thing. They are sexier, filled with (usually) strong women who overcome adversity, have wildly romantic lives with interesting careers but who often get their heart broken and sometimes even take delicious revenge on someone that did them wrong/stole their company/killed their father etc. I did have to spend a couple of years sanitizing my reading material. Due to an ex who had very little in the way of self esteem, I had to keep the peace by reading non threatening books like Agatha Christie mysteries. Suffice it to say that didn’t last more than a couple of years and when he did *me* wrong, he lost any right to dictate to me what I could read and well he knew it.

But somewhere along the way I started becoming drawn to books about crime, detectives and serial killers. I’m not sure when that started. I’d like to blame Steig Larsson and the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but I think I was reading them a few years before that series came out. I surprised myself. It never was my sort of book. Nor my sort of tv show or movie. I still find that I’m ambivalent about most cop/detective/crime tv series and movies though if it’s something really well put together, I might like it.

The HBO series, Dexter, was a favourite of mine though I wasn’t as keen on the books on which the series was based. The British detective series Life on Mars (not the awful American version) was superb but it had an element of time travel in it. Come to think of it, over the years I’ve quite enjoyed some of the British crime dramas. The stories always seem grittier and are so well cast. Recently, I’ve started reading books by Val McDermid. There was a good series called Wire in the Blood that was based on her detectives and a criminal psychologist.

Steig Larsson’s Millenium trilogy was excellent. The Swedish movies made from the books were equally superb, though the one American version made from the first book was a bit less so. It wasn’t bad, however, but didn’t have quite that dark edge the Swedish ones did. Another series of great crime books, also written by a Scandinavian author, Norwegian Jo Nesbo, has Detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hol-ay) chasing down serial killers in Oslo. In fact, I’ve picked up similar books by other Scandinavian authors and they’re quite good. They are all translated into English and I have to admire the translators for doing such a stellar job. It must be very difficult to do that, to convey the same thing in the same way that the author intended. You would have to be a good writer in your own right to be able to rephrase something in a different language that makes the same point in the same way.

I still enjoy “women’s fiction”, general fiction,  and sometimes “literary” fiction. I would have to say my all time top genre is historical fiction though I never did get into what is loosely termed as “bodice rippers”. I do like historical fiction with a bit of romance in it but the historical fiction “bodice rippers” are not that different from the Harlequin Romances I read when I was a teenager. The plots and dialogue are predictable and repetitive with a cookie cutter romantic formula and every euphemism for all things sex-related thrown in. I’ve read *good* historical fiction with romance involved and there’s a wide gap between the two. (points to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series)

I’ve been reading more fiction by Canadian authors, still with my favourite genres, and enjoying them as well. I don’t think I’ll ever stick to just one type of book and there are some sorts that really don’t interest me at all such as westerns. When it comes to horror and suspense, I would choose sparingly. I like Stephen King but on the whole, tend not to read that genre, nor do I usually enjoy hard core Science Fiction though I don’t mind it on the light side and some fantasy will do me well now and then also. I’ve been enjoying some of the futuristic dystopian type novels as well which are a bit scifi and fantasy. I also like to dip into the classics (published before 1950, even in the 19th and 18th centuries). I’ve been wanting to read Don Quixote for ages. Maybe this will be its year.

What about non-fiction?  I do like non-fiction history, and autobiographies/biographies of historical figures. I don’t care for politics, self-help, spiritual, or business/financial non-fiction. I like a travelogue type book and the occasional humourous book, preferably about travel (Bill Bryson, anyone?) but I always drift back to history. I think that’s why I enjoy historical fiction so much. I know that the facts are sometimes bent and molded a bit for the fiction but unless it’s really, *really* wrong (like giving Henry VIII four wives instead of six and the book isn’t speculative fiction) then I can forgive a bit of “fast and loose” that the author plays to fit their plot.

So there you have it, the evolution of my (mostly) fiction reading life. I have a few hard-core favourite genres and then another group of “now and then” types of books. A good story is a good story and I’d certainly take any recommendations on board for consideration.