Monday 1 February 2010

Breaking Out of Your Reading Comfort Zone

funny pictures of cats with captions

So last week I reviewed Almost Like Being in Love, which is an epistolary novel. And I kind of mentioned I had had a prejudice against the format (until I read The Color Purple for my English Lit. course last year and discovered it wasn't so scary after all). It made me think a little about the reading prejudices I've broken and those I've left to break.

I'm not talking about genre here, more about technique, style and presentation.. Whether or not there are things that put you off a book, whereby all you do is open the book, look at the first page and put it back on the shelf.

First up is a biggie - the first person protagonist.

For the longest time I wouldn't read a book if it were written in the first person - a case of open, scan, see the word 'I', and shelf return. Then one day the book I picked up from the shelf started...
"There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever."*
And suddenly I didn't care that this was first person I just wanted MORE, and because of that a whole new world of stories opened up to me.

Funny how it often just takes one book or author to expand your horizons.

At the risk of sounding odd (lol), another shelf returner for me was the character list. Opening a book and finding a five page list of characters - Yeesh!. I think this is partly to do with the anticipation that you aren't going to be able to keep all these characters straight in your head, that you'll get halfway through and have to give up through sheer confusion so why waste the time in the first place?

Then one day I started reading the Falco series by Lindsey Davis, broadly speaking a detective series set in Ancient Rome. Actually the first book of the series I picked up was The Accusers (14th in the series, but that's another story). And there was a list of dramatis personae.
M. Didius Falco - a principled informer (who needs the money)
Helena Justina - the guardian of his ethics
Julia Junilla & Sosia Favonia - their children (never ill; never naughty; never loud)
Now the reason I've come to love them in the Falco series is because they're usually quite witty and actually tell you something about the characters so they're well worth reading before you start the book proper. Suddenly it was amusing and actually part of the book - rather than being intimidating.

I admit I haven't lost all of my prejudices. I still shelf return books written in the present tense because it makes my brain hurt when I read it. (Though I am giving serious consideration to picking up The Strongest Shape and giving it another go.)

What about you? Any reading prejudices or am I alone in my quirks and foibles? There's a copy of Grimspace by Ann Aguirre up for grabs. It will be given away to one of the commenters on this post, commenter to be chosen at random by random numbers at Hopefully on Friday if I don't have a migraine again! If not, then on Saturday.

* - One for the Money by Janet Evanovich


Christine said...

Please don't enter me. I've already won something from you (thank you!) and I've already read Grimspace.

Mmm.. sometimes I judge a book by its cover--meaning I often don't want to read a book with a crappy cover-- even though I know that that's wrong. I have to remind myself not to be so judgmental.

Also, I like books with a lot of dialogue. If I flip through a book and see blocks and blocks of narration. Ugh.

LesleyW said...

Christine - I hate to admit I do that with covers too. I try so hard not to because I know what's on the outside can have very little to do with the content. But sometimes if a cover is really bad I just hate the thought of it being on my bookshelf, plus I find those are the books that tend to sink further and further down your TBR pile.

Usually it takes a Why haven't you read this yet!! From whoever recommended it for me to find it out and brave the horror. :)

Li said...

Pass on the giveaway (exact same reasons as Christine :-), but good post - I have actually been meaning to blog about something similar, but ummm never got around to it! I have a wonderful post written up in my head though ;-)

I used to be exactly the same as you on first-person narrative, really prejudiced against it, but now it doesn't even register! I unfortunately don't remember the book that changed my mind.

And present tense - heh, I noticed you are giving away the Aguirre book ;-) I thought I would mind, but it didn't actually bother me at all. I still have Doubleblind in my TBR pile though, and am wondering if part of the reason I've left it for so long is because of the present tense.

I have not yet picked up "Girl in the Arena" despite glowing recs from The Book Smugglers and Angie, because it uses -- instead of quotation marks. I remember reading err Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes", I think it was, and it didn't have quotation marks either. Annoyed me for the first few chapters, but then I got used to it, though I have to say that didn't make a convert out of me.

LesleyW said...

Li - lol, I wondered if anyone would realise about Grimspace being present tense. I enjoyed the story but it's not one I can see me re-reading. I'm trying to prune my bookshelves back a little.

And I have lots of blog posts written in my head too. :)

Sarai said...

I usually will give any book a try except the classics. LOL I have no idea why but anything that might be on a highschool reading list is a no go for me. Sad but true.

The dective stories taking place in Rome sound interesting I might have to try it out... thanks for the suggestion

LesleyW said...

Sarai - hope you like the Falco series if you decide to give it a whirl. And I've also avoided the classics though I was converted to Jane Austen last year when I read P&P.

~ames~ said...

I had a prejudice against first person POV as well. But the majority of the series I love are from that POV. So what can you do? LOL

I don't like ghosts - I stay far away from books that feature ghosts. :P

LesleyW said...

Ames - I think a lot of readers have this bias against first person POV. I think you need to luck out on your choice of books, because written well it completely pulls you into the story.

And I am with you on the ghost thing too.