What Genres Do You Refuse to Read? (And Why You Shouldn’t Refuse to Read Them)

by Mike Duran · 34 comments

I have never quite understood readers who refuse to read different genres.

Yes, I understand the issue of taste. I understand that you prefer one genre over another. I understand that you may not like what certain genres have become. I understand that you may not like what certain genres attempt to do (i.e., scare, titillate, provoke, arouse, etc.). I understand that you may have had bad experiences reading in a genre. I understand that, after a bad experience, you may have made rash vows to never go there again. I understand all those things.

What I don’t understand is how you can call yourself a reader and just categorically refuse to never ever read certain genres.

My recent “genre challenges” have done me good. A while back, I read and reviewed a classic Christian Romance novel (Redeeming Love). It’s not a genre I normally read, a genre I generally like, or a genre I will read much in the future. But REFUSE to ever read Romance? Then, a couple weeks ago, I read and reviewed a Middle Grade novel.Β It’s not a genre I normally read, and it’s probably not a genre I will read much in the future. But REFUSE to ever read Middle Grade? In both these cases, I’m glad I took the challenge and would definitely do so again.

I dunno, people who categorically refuse to ever touch a certain genre of film or book remind me of the child who curls his nose up at anything green. Hopefully, as he grows, he will come to appreciate the joy of spinach, sprouts, asparagus and broccoli.

If not, he will become a very “small” human being.

How is a reader who refuses to read anything sci-fi, fantasy, historical, or romance any different than the child who refuses to eat cabbage or cauliflower?

So here’s what I’m thinking:

You should read in other genres because:

  • Good writing is good writing, no matter what genre it is.
  • Good stories can be found in every genre.
  • Thematic elements overlap genres (for instance, Romance or Horror or Suspense can occur in ANY genre).
  • Reading different genres expands your worldview (There’s other types of stuff out there!).
  • Reading different genres sharpens and broadens your range of opinions (so you can comment intelligently on more things).
  • Reading different genres breaks up the potential monotony of reading the same things; it makes reading more enjoyable.
  • Reading different genres keeps you from living in an echo chamber.
  • Reading different genres reinforces genres you DO prefer.
  • Reading different genres makes it possible to discover authors and styles you would have never encountered.
  • Reading different genres helps you mature as a reader.

Now, before you get all nervy and prepare to defend your refusal to read Horror or Historicals, let me clarify: Just because you WILL read a genre does not mean you have to LIKE it or always read it. So what’s the big deal?

I hate chick flicks. My wife, not so much. We exchange ongoing, often snarky, mostly playful, repartee regarding the issue. So a while back I promised her I’d watch “The Notebook.” Rented it. Watched it. HATED the end. Just wanted to scream. Was that the final nail in my chick flick coffin? Hardly. You see, I LOVED “500 Days of Summer.” And “Midnight in Paris.” OK. So they aren’t your typically sappy chick flick stuff. But those entire movies were about a guy, a girl, and finding love.

Point is: As much as I HATE chick flicks, I LOVE movies. Thrillers, art house, sci-fi,Β  drama, war, westerns, comedies, silent films, foreign films, animated, fantasy, horror — I’ll watch them all. Including, once in a while, periodically, when the mood is just right… romances.

The same is true about reading in other genres.

So as it stands…

I WILL read: Science Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Magical Realism, Crime, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Horror, Westerns, Historicals, Graphic Novels, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Religious / Inspirational, Short Stories, Novellas, Paranormal Romance, YA, MG, Suspense, Fantasy, Commercial Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Action, and Espionage.

I WON’T read: Um… Erotica.

And I won’t read erotica for moral reasons, not literary taste.

So, yeah, I don’t understand readers who refuse to read in certain genres. I can’t help but feel their literary world, like the seven year-old’s taste in food, is very, very small.

* * *

Question: What do you think are the best reasons for readers to read in different genres? Is there a genre that you absolutely, categorically, unequivocally refuse to read? And if so, why?

Katherine Coble February 27, 2012 at 6:46 AM

When I was a lot younger I bought into the whole “my genre is better than yours” thing and was all “Mystery is Great, Romance is Trash!” for a few years. Then I grew up a little bit and realised that I was being stupid.

Except that I still refused to read fantasy. Everything in epic fantasy seemed to be a laborious and trite Tolkein homage (i.e. ripoff). Then a few friends practically forced me to read George R.R. Martin at knife point and I then became a crazed fantasy-reading maniac. The only problem being, of course, that so much of it is now comprised of laborious and trite Martin homages. πŸ™‚ Nevertheless, I’ve sworn off the swearting-off of genres.

Except Erotica. But then that’s maybe it’s own blog entry. I accidentally read part of an erotic novel about a year ago. (On Kindle it was difficult to tell the difference for awhile there. The book I downloaded looked like a romance. It wasn’t.) I have a lot of friends who write erotica, one of whom makes bags and bags of money writing weirdly specific fetish erotica. She claims that if she can think it up there’s a market for it. Thank God my mind isn’t focused on that. Anyway, based on the bit of it I’ve read and the conversations I’ve had with friends I think it’s safe to say that the avoidance of Erotica is a fine thing for a practicing Christian.

Mike Duran February 27, 2012 at 7:02 AM

Katherine — I refused to read Fantasy for a while for the same reason: It all seemed like Tolkien rip-offs. Reading Rothfuss’s “Name of the Wind” has really re-opened the epic fantasy genre for me. I suppose it was my willingness to at least TRY the genre again that did it.

Katherine Coble February 27, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Epic fantasy is really in a good place right now. Most genres hit a wall where they get tired and same-y which is when good writers come and blow the lid of the joint. Like Rothfuss. (I cannot praise his work enough. One of the best writers working, IMHO.) Fantasy has been surprising me for 2 years now with great genre-busting stuff. The best pure story (which used to be in the Mystery-thriller genre) is now in Fantasy, it seems. Epic fantasy. Urban fantasy is getting to be stuck in the My Sexy Vampire Boyfriend ghetto and looks to be that way for awhile yet.

Richard Mabry February 27, 2012 at 6:57 AM

Mike, I won’t argue your point. You’re entitled to read what you wish, just as I’m entitled to read what I wish…or refuse to eat liver, or decline to attend a Metallica concert. My main reasons for what I choose to do are two-fold: there are plenty of good books out there in the genres I enjoy reading (more than enough to fill up my days), and “life’s too short.” By the way, at my age, that saying has become a lot more meaningful.
As always, thanks for making us think.

Mike Duran February 27, 2012 at 7:41 AM

Richard, of course people are “entitled to read what [they] wish.” What I’m suggesting is that broadening one’s art appreciation is better than narrowing it. Wouldn’t you agree? The older I get (I’m 53), I want to see MORE of the world, not visit the same old destinations. I feel the same about reading. Life’s too short to only read MY genres. Thanks for commenting!

Mehmet Arat February 27, 2012 at 7:16 AM

The world needs diversity in reading for a better global village with less intolerance.
People are not all from the same origin.
They may have different looks, views, ideas, preferences, life styles.
One may not be able to know all people on the world and all genres to read.
But all must have a tolerance and interest in other ways of looking at life.
I think “You shouldn’t refuse to read other genres” is a very good approach.
Thank you for sharing.

Jessica Thomas February 27, 2012 at 7:22 AM

Oy vey. Right now I’m trying to wrap my brain around how you work full time, write novels under contract, and write interesting blog articles every week. Now you’re telling me you have time to not only read, but to read outside your genre? Are you a robot? A cyborg? Do you sleep? *sigh*

Mike Duran February 27, 2012 at 7:33 AM

Ha! Don’t forget, I taught at a church last weekend, I’m teaching at a church next month, and will be teaching two workshops and doing consultations at a writers conference in May. It’s probably why I started taking stress medication last year.

Seriously, Jessica, Know thyself. Don’t try to be me.

Brenda Anderson February 27, 2012 at 8:18 AM

A story told well transcends genre, so I’m willing to try most anything. I have my preferences, but reading from the same genre all the time would become boring. Why limit myself?

Heather Day Gilbert February 27, 2012 at 8:26 AM

Yes, I recently threw aside my issues with Christian romance (when I won a book!) and found it alarmingly engaging. I have respect for those authors who write it well. Now, I still won’t read Amish romance…the two words are completely incongruous to me, b/c when I imagine working as hard as the Amish really work, it makes me tired. Tired and romance just don’t jibe in my mind.

And horror or zombies…I watched so many horror movies as a teen, I’m completely nauseated by the thought of willingly imbibing in horror at this point in my life. It just offends me, bringing up images that can’t be erased (just like erotica). So I don’t want to waste my time that way. But paranormal? I’m there. Fantasy or sci-fi? Yes.

I love to read widely. A good book is a good book, no matter what genre (as long as the genre itself isn’t offensive).

Mike Duran February 27, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Heather, I consider my next novel, “The Telling,” horror. Yes, it has faith elements, even romance elements. But it gets pretty dark at times. If I send you a copy when it releases, would you promise to give it a try?

Heather Day Gilbert February 27, 2012 at 10:55 AM

OKEEEY dokey…I understand “dark”, but just tell me–are there zombies? Freddie Krueger? B/c I just can’t handle those guys…otherwise I’ll be glad to give it a whirl and review it on Goodreads and my blog, too!

Mike Duran February 27, 2012 at 2:35 PM

No zombies or serial slashers. Only dark angels who eat human souls and replicate their DNA. And prophets, there’s prophets.

Heather Day Gilbert February 27, 2012 at 3:20 PM

definitely edgy…and i do like prophets, a LOT. okay, will do.

Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) February 27, 2012 at 10:50 AM

I’m with Heather on putting uneraseble images in my mind. I don’t form memories so well anymore, but I still remember and shudder at every horror I accidentally read as a child and into my twenties. The first horror I read and liked was The Oath by Peretti. I was older and the story was so obviously metaphorical that I was able to cope with the images. Oh, wait, before that was Poe, which was so stylized, that again I could cope. And I have accidentally read erotica that was labelled with other genre names. Oops. And although most romance makes me gag, I have run across pleasant and even great romances.
Heather: have you tried In Plain Sight: a hilarious story about extraterrestrials hiding on an Amish farm? It also had gag-worthy romance with a satisfying ending. It also reminded me why I don’t want to live like the Amish. I would have perished of exhaustion decades ago.
I think that reading in other genres, especially in classics and literary, is good advice.

Heather Day Gilbert February 27, 2012 at 10:59 AM

HA! Nope, but that book sounds like something I’ve WANTED to write (werewolf amish! alien amish! um…why does it always have to be amish? what about mennonite? and why is amish considered Christian fiction, when all Amish are definitely not Christians in the first place?). OKAY, enough Amish ranting. Yes, I have a high respect for the Amish work ethic, but know their life is no Amish wonderland.

And I totally love Poe, as well. Ligeia was one of my fave of his stories (though quite possibly written in an opium-induced state).

Abigail D. February 29, 2012 at 2:09 AM

“why does it always have to be amish? what about mennonite?”

Kim Vogel Sawyer has several books about Mennonites, including her Sommerfeld Trilogy about Old Order Mennonites, and Ann H. Gabhart has several books about Shakers.

Also, P. L. Gaus has a series of mysteries set in Amish country. I’m not sure of his personal beliefs, but from what I have read about the books, they are respectful of religious belief but not faith-based (secular publisher), and are actually mysteries, not romance + mystery.

(I haven’t read any of these–am just aware that they exist and sharing the info. ? )

Abigail D. February 29, 2012 at 2:11 AM

(That question mark at the end was supposed to be a smiley face.)

Iola February 27, 2012 at 1:48 PM

Interesting question… I read pretty much anything, although I do have a strong preference for Christian fiction, especially romantic suspense.

I don’t want to read erotica or slash (which apparently is the ‘cool’ term for male/male or female/female romance – from the /). I especially don’t want to read menage (threesomes), again, for morality reasons. I also don’t like excessive or graphic violence – like other commenters, I find it sticks in the mind, and I need a sickly sweet romance to get over it.

Since I started my reviewing blog, I have been trying to expand my Christian literary horizons. I have discovered…
– I still don’t like Christian self-help
– I still haven’t found a decent Christian author of Regency Romance (Julie Klassen is great but light on the romance)
– there are some very good Amish/Mennonite mysteries out there, which I like much more than the Amish romance (which always feature teenagers, because every good Amish girl has married and popped out an entire family before the rest of us even think about it)
– I tried a Christian vampire novel (Thirsty), but just couldn’t like the ‘heroine’
– I haven’t read a Christian horror in ages…

Katherine Coble February 27, 2012 at 4:00 PM

slash isn’t really the “cool” term as much as a the technical differentiator for those who write fan-fiction or pastiches.

As far as I know the term has been around for 40 years or so–since the Kirk/Spock fan fiction days of yore.

Another term you may find useful for the purposes of avoidance is “Chan”. Now, I’m not sure _why_ it means what it means (I’ve heard several theories) but a “chan” is a fanfiction or pastiche that includes sexual relationships between adults and children. And the world is a very very sad place.

As to your discoveries I too do not like Christian self- help. I don’t think I’ll ever care for an Amish romance because as a Mennonite I loathe the way those books–the ones I’ve read–make the Amish into colourful quasi-angelic beings whose only struggle is not being awesome enough. Amish are people too. And I know too many ex-Amish who are shunned to view their practices as all wonderness. I don’t care for many Regency romances, period, so I can’t help you there.

Kessie February 27, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Gosh, I never thought about it before. I’ll read anything if I’m in the mood for it, but I do prefer old books to new books just because the language was so much richer five or so decades ago. I don’t like reading sex, so I avoid romance novels that seem to just do romance for romance’s sake. I do like reading a good boy-meets-girl story as long as there’s more to the plot than just that. And I don’t like blood-and-guts horror, but the psychological stuff is all right now and then.

I don’t know. Really the only genre I dislike reading is Christian, because it’s often so poorly-written. Isn’t that sad? :-p

Jill February 27, 2012 at 3:55 PM

I will and always have read from every genre. I actually read a lot of nonfiction, too, especially travel books. My least favorite is suspense, but I still read it. My only rule is that I don’t have to finish a book I don’t like. Oh, p.s., I hated The Notebook, both the movie and the book.

Katherine Coble February 27, 2012 at 4:07 PM

This is kind of a response to two people so I’m sticking it down here instead of directly below those folks.

Richard, I take your point about knowing what you like and not having enough time to read everything out there, etc. However I think it is very important for writers to read outside their favourite genre–as important as it is for other professionals to take continuing education courses. I can always tell when I read a writer who doesn’t do a lot of reading. It shows in her work, because she doesn’t bring outside influences to enrich her craft.

Reading Iola’s comment I thought of an example of my own. I have a real dislike for Regency romances. Poor Jill has had to guide me to a gentler understanding of the animal (as have some other friends of mine.) But in my effort to read broadly for craft enrichment I read Georgette Heyer’s _The Grand Sophy_ last winter. It had a lot of what I don’t care for in Regencys but the ending of the book was itself a masterclass in the crafting of farce. Reading the last 25% of that book shamed me into bettering my own plotting. That’s what I think is so crucial for writers about reading the unexpected. Sometimes your prejudices are confirmed but sometimes you come upon a new and wonderful tool with which to better craft your own work.

Katherine Coble February 27, 2012 at 4:09 PM

*also, is it “regencys” or “regencies”? I think “Regencys” because the plural isnt the number of time periods of Regency but rather the novels themselves. But it looks ungodly, ungainly and awful that way. Hence why I normally go with “Regency Romances”.

Jill February 28, 2012 at 12:18 PM

Poor Jill. Ha! You crack me up. I’d go with regency romances. I have to admit that, although I’ve read historical fiction/romance, I have avoided regency romances for the most part. I don’t really want to get inside Darcy’s head, for example, to know what he was thinking about Elizabeth’s behind or how their wedding night went. I’ll stick to knowing she has fine eyes. Why there is so much erotica in historical romance is beyond me.

Tony February 27, 2012 at 10:04 PM

Other than erotica, there’s no particular GENRE that I don’t like. I like a little bit of everything. That goes for movies and books. There are some particular books I refuse to read, like the Twilight saga. I read the first book, and it frustrated me, so I’m not interested in the others.

But. . .yeah. . .I’ll read just about anything. I guess I’m not so fond literary stuff. . .but I did LOVE To Kill A Mockingbird. . .hated Pride and Prejudice (WHAT WAS THE POINT!?). . .but clearly, I didn’t refuse to read it.

Anyway, I’m rambling now. haha

Jill February 28, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Conversely, what is the point of any book? I’ll leave that as my tease to you, because you know JA fans can’t stand to hear things like that about P&P. πŸ˜‰

Kate {The Parchment Girl} February 28, 2012 at 12:53 PM

I’ve been trying to branch out a bit more in my reading lately. I also read Redeeming Love which is not the type of book I would normally pick up and I’ve been branching out into YA a bit more. Horror is one genre I don’t like to read, not because I disagree with it, but because I generally read right before bed and I already have enough trouble with insomnia. It’s not that I haven’t ever read it before or that I won’t ever read it again, but I probably average 1 horror book every 5 years.

Regina Richards January 22, 2014 at 8:27 AM

I write Romance, the bedroom door closed variety. I participate in a large critique group that meets once a week, divides into smaller groups, and reads and critiques 5-10 pages. It is sponsored by the public library and welcomes all writers over the age of 17. For years I’ve read a wide variety of genres for critique: fantasy, horror, mystery, YA, NA, fictionalized biblical retelling, fractured fairytales, paranormal, speculative fiction, literary, women’s lit, chick lit, and romance of every variety. No problem. But recently we had two writers of erotic fiction join together. At first the stuff they brought was fairly mild and everyone read and critiqued it. Last night they brought some not so mild stuff and politely warned that things would be getting more shocking in the future. One young church-going man got up and left. I felt very uncomfortable critiquing this work. So last night and this morning I have been wrestling with how to proceed. I hate to quit (I have been a board officer of this group for a couple of years and love the members), but I have little hope the membership or the library will vote to exclude this type of material. I’m still exploring my options. Any suggestions?

Lelia Rose Foreman January 22, 2014 at 9:05 AM

Regina Richards: I wish I had an answer for you, I really do. I’m facing a nearly identical situation here. Last night I critiqued a piece of pornography by one the writers in our group. Whenever she has to critique my work she usually says, “I didn’t get it.” and that’s it. We’ve been on my same science-fiction novel for a year and a half (we only do five pages a week), so I don’t know why she hasn’t figured it out by now. Her stuff I loath, but I try to give some value to the critique and leave out my personal feelings. But last night went from quasipornography to straight up pornography. What am I going to tell her in today’s meeting? We are supposed to address one main writing technique in each piece as determined by the group by the deficiency in a prior piece. So I can tell her she maintained a consistant POV. And here’s a few typos. We are very good at addressing only writing issues and tolerating each other’s spiritual practices and beliefs. Even the people who dislike Christianity or hate conservatives have respected my work, and I have treated their writing with respect. But this…. everything she writes is evil (racist), stupid, or pornographic. But she means well, and works with vulnerable people. She thanked me profusely for giving her the term ‘social capital’ which she intends to start using with her clients to help them understand their lives. I think she intends her writing to help people understand how other people end up where they end up. The piece I read is about Chinese girls trapped in the sex trade in the US west. But. Yuck.

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