Sunday, February 14, 2010

Question Sunday: What do you look for in a book? Do you prefer one genre over another?

Are you a classics fanatic?  A sci-fi junkie?  A romance addict?  Do you love to read page-turners brimming with action and adventure, or are you partial to tragic love stories?  My friend Jenni Elyse recently blogged about 'Prose vs. Story', asking whether her readers prefer fast, easy reads or books with superior prose.  Her question intrigued me & made me want to ask the following questions: What do you look for in a book?  Is there a specific genre or a character archetype that you find most appealing?  Do you love a book with a captivating setting?  Is it all about the plot for you?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

My personal tastes are fairly eclectic, but I find that memorable characters tend to be the common thread uniting all of my favorite books.  I'd say that compelling characters are key to my overall enjoyment of a book, so the story, genre, and style often take a backseat to characters for me.  This does not mean that the characters always have to be likable, but they do need to have their own unique voices & something that sets them apart from the seven million generic characters I've read about before.  It definitely helps if they are at least somewhat relatable, and it helps even more if they remain consistent to themselves throughout the story (i.e., don't suddenly begin making totally illogical choices that seem way out of line with their individual personalities & back-stories halfway through the book or series).  Great, believable dialogue can also go a long way toward building awesome characters.  If the characters and their relationships with one another are compelling and interesting, I will follow them through virtually any type of story, setting, or genre.

I'm a fan of the 'classics' and nothing makes me happier than immersing myself in another time and place within the beautiful, absorbing prose of a classic novel.  Classics tend to provide memorable reading experiences because immersing myself in something challenging & unfamiliar is more of a multi-sensory experience than reading simple or straightforward text.  If I have to think critically in order to understand each passage, that experience tends to leave a distinctive mark on my memory long after I've placed the book back upon its shelf.   And there is nothing quite like diving into heavily stylized prose when you have the time to get lost within a book's atmosphere and era.

That being said, the classics do not make up the bulk of my reading material these days, and I am perfectly happy with that.  Recently, I've been reading a ton of young adult (YA) literature.  As a mom with two young children, YA novels suit my reading needs particularly well by giving me a fantastic sampling of all the genres I love in a very accessible format.  If you are not already a fan of YA literature, I would strongly encourage you to venture into your local bookstore's YA section sometime soon.  There you will find a delicious dash of romance, a tantalizing taste of high fantasy, a seductive selection of clever mysteries, an intense dose of urban fantasy, a intriguing spin into sci-fi & steampunk territory, an impressive variety of contemporary coming-of-age stories, and a wonderful assortment of historical fiction.  The online community of YA authors is filled with friendly and accessible individuals, and the genre is truly overflowing with original voices and stories.  Seriously, what is not to love about YA?

So, what genre do you read most?  What makes or breaks a book for you?  If you are a YA fanatic like I am, what do you love most about YA?


Jenni Elyse said...

You are so eloquent. I love your post and your blog! :)

I also read YA fiction the most. I love how clean it is and like you said, there's so much to choose from in such an accessible format.

I have been venturing out of YA fiction lately because I want to become more well-read. I've only been reading for the last three years, so I have a lot to catch up on. I avoided reading at all costs until three years ago, so I haven't had a lot of experience with classics and I've decided that I'm going to read at least 3/per if not more. I want to be well-rounded. ;)

With the above being said, the books I'm drawn to are also those with memorable characters. I also like to read books where the two main characters have a tension, angst, and romance to them similar to Bella and Edward in Twilight. I just love how much tension there was in the first book and I crave that tension and angst in the other books I read.

wdebo said...

I am defidently a YA lover :) Why YA? Why not! YA just has that spark in it, the cuteness, or intensness that doesn't have that depth that Adult fiction has but still is wonderful, and it is a quick read which is nice.

I like reading stories that are cute and have good romance. But I also pick up books because of the author or because of the plot or even because (I feel embarassed for saying this) the cover (I know the whole, don't judge a book by its cover...but when the cover is just gorgeous how can you not??!!)

Violet said...

Jenni - Thanks! :) I totally agree regarding swoon-worthy romance & sizzling relationship tension. When an author manages to combine those elements with well-developed characters & an intriguing plot, I become a lifelong fan. *cough*Cassandra Clare*cough*

I think it's awesome that you are exploring the classics! I bet you will discover some new favorites along the way!

wdebo - I am totally a sucker for a beautiful cover too! Some covers are way too lovely to resist! Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty and Anna Godbersen's The Luxe both came home with me because I simply could not leave their gorgeous covers sitting on the bookstore shelves. :)

Debbie / Cranberry Fries said...

When I did my last 50 book challenge I'd say 85% of it was romance books. Now this time around I'm mostly reading YA. To be honest I haven't really read a lot of the classics. I'd love to get into them but I'm having too much fun with the light quick reads instead. My goal this year is to finally read P&P, seriously I've read and watched so many adaptions I'm sure I'll love it. I think I've just scared myself off.

Ivana said...

Great post! I too have a very eclectic taste, I will try any genre, any age group or era. What first catches my eye is writing. The style, how poetic it sounds. I'm currently reading G. Greene and his writing is beautiful. For that reason, I love classics. I also pay a lot attention to how edited it is. Sometimes it destroys the pleasure, but it just bothers me if it's not done properly. Also, strong characters. I hate exagerations. Unfortunately, there were few YA that were just plain gross. really got me thinking :) Thanks!

Violet said...

Debbie - You will love P&P! There are quite a few classics that have been lurking on my "To Read" list for so many years that I am completely intimidated by them now. I've even bought copies of some of them & still let them sit on my shelf scaring me off. Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers, and Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina are a few examples of books that I've totally psyched myself out over. Someday I hope to get up the courage to tackle more of those intimidating classics. In the meantime, the ease and fun of light, quick reads is a blast! :)

Ivana - Thank you for your thoughtful response. :) An author's style can definitely make a book memorable. Certain styles are so distracting to me that I inadvertently find myself paying more attention to the awkwardness of the format than to the story and characters. That is not usually a good thing. On the other hand, if an author uses exceptionally beautiful or poetic imagery, I find myself wanting to read everything they have ever written! Edith Wharton & Thomas Hardy both had that effect on me, and Frances Hardinge recently captured my interest for that same reason. I have not read anything by Graham Greene yet. Do you have a favorite Graham Greene novel that you would recommend as a good introduction to his books? I definitely need to add him to my "To Read" list.

Ivana said...

Violet-Edith Wharton is one of my favorites as well! As for Greene, I'm reading End of the Affair. It's beautiful, and I can't wait to read some more books!

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