When I was in college, I was so confused about what I truly wanted to read that not even Paul Ingram, legendary bookseller at Prairie Lights, could steer me in the right direction. Poor Paul couldn’t have known that I was making reading choices based on what I thought I should like (literary fiction) instead of books that I would actually enjoy reading (straight-up horror and dark fantasy). Back then, the closest I got to reading genre fiction was by an experimental writer like Angela Carter, whose revisionist fairy tales and fantastical novels—populated by circus performers, vampires, werewolves and evil scientists—played with many elements of the horror and fantasy genres. At that point, I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that a truly satisfying reading experience, at least for me, could only be found in books that were more concerned with good, old-fashioned storytelling than stylistic brilliance and clever conceits—stories that appealed to emotion rather than intellect.
I’d like to think that I would have recognized a book soulmate when I saw one, though I’m honestly not sure how my 22-year-old self might have reacted if Paul from Prairie Lights had handed me “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman, which is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. Would I have been insulted that this guy had the gall to suggest that I read a book written for children? Would I have looked at him like he was crazy, or would I have kept an open mind and given it a chance? I can’t be sure, but I think I just needed to do some growing up—and get over my own pretensions—before I could start reading for pleasure instead of edification.
Over the years, my reading habits and tastes have evolved, and I now primarily read horror and fantasy fiction that happens to be marketed toward children and teens—books my younger self would’ve deemed a waste of time. While these books might be written for a younger audience, they’re actually books for anyone and everyone who loves a good story with great emotional appeal.
Writers such as Marcus Sedgwick, author of the Printz Award-winning novel “Midwinterblood,” have discovered that writing in the young adult genre affords them greater artistic freedom than writing for adult readers whose fascination with style and genre potentially limits a writer's ability to write the story they truly want to tell. Following the 2010 publication of “White Crow," Sedgwick’s atmospheric Gothic horror novel that explores religion, belief and the possibility of life after death, he told The Guardian that “there is almost nothing you can’t tackle in a teenage novel—it’s just how you do it. That to me is the important thing.” I believe that to be absolutely true.
Discovering the books that you truly want to read can sometimes prove difficult, but if your reading choices are leaving you cold, bored and dissatisfied, maybe it’s time to think about what kinds of books most appeal to you. My mistake in high school and college was to read only books that appealed to the intellect (genres such as literary fiction, science fiction, psychological suspense and mysteries), when what I really wanted were books that appealed to emotions (horror, romance, gentle reads and women’s fiction). Maybe you’re after books that get your adrenaline going (suspense, romantic suspense, thrillers and adventure) or books that have a sense of place (fantasy, historical fiction and romance). Go with whatever appeals to you most despite whatever you think you should like—because seriously, life’s too short to read unsatisfying books.