As a weed, the common dandelion – Taraxacum officinale – is the bane of most gardeners’ existence. We yank it out, dig it up, spray it, and grumble. But still it persists. The cheery yellow flower is pretty, but its puffball of flyaway fruit allows seed to be transported on the wind, and it multiplies in places where it isn’t wanted, because, after all, it’s an ordinary weed.
The regal and fragrant lily, on the other hand – Lilium longiflorum – with its creamy white trumpet-shaped flowers, has become a symbol of Easter and graces many churches at this special season. As flowers go, it’s decidedly extraordinary.
But the thing is… both flowers are beautiful, aren’t they? Just in different ways and for different reasons.
That’s also true of fiction. I read in different genres, but I wouldn’t normally choose to read science fiction or paranormal novels, for instance, even if they’re acclaimed as best sellers. I know from their reputations many of them are as well written as any of my usual choices, but what I pick up from libraries and bookstores is determined by my personal preferences.
As a young girl I started reading The Bobbsey Twins series, and later it was Albert Payson Terhune’s dog stories. Through passing years I’ve gone on kicks of reading a favourite author or a favourite theme, reading everything available before moving on to another. I’m still a little like that today. I’m passionate about some authors and topics, and will read those books to the exclusion of all else.
I realize I miss a lot of good books that way, but there’s a limit to the amount of time I have for pleasure reading. My TBR* pile keeps getting taller and when I have to make choices, I reach for what I know from experience will be a guaranteed good read. I choose what for me will be an extraordinary reading experience, rather than risk an ordinary one.
Excluding books on the craft of writing or what you read for research, what genres do you read for pleasure? Do you read in multiple genres? What governs your reading choices? Do you think by limiting the choice of genres a reader is being deprived of a valuable reading experience? I’d love to hear your opinion.
(* to be read)
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10 thoughts on “Ordinary or Extraordinary — what’s the difference?”
Thanks for another thoughtful post, Carol. To answer your question, I will return to the dandelions. In the sping my uncle in Poughkeepsie biked ten miles to the outskirts of town where a farmer kept an open field for corn. If he got there at just the right time the field was covered with them. He loved to pluck them out, cart them back and Oh yes, make dandelion wine.
Walking in the fields and speaking to me in his broken English he pointed to other fields along the road … some were a profusion of color and a mix of flowers most considered weeds. Wild flowers are often called weeds by the purist gardener.
Me? I’m like those wild flowers, a weed that is strong and stubborn and defies gravity. I listen to all types of music and I read everything including cereal boxes. I explore voice and style and marvel at the choices I have and like the dandelions my uncle turned into wine and the wild flowers in the fields, I love them all 🙂
I’m a big fan of inspirational historical romance. However, I read some contemporary romances on occasion, and I recently read a great women’s fiction with romantic elements: Wildflowers from Winter by my friend and agency mate Katie Ganshert.
I like thrillers, but nothing too out there. I enjoy literary works like Martha Engber’s The Wind Thief. I don’t get to read for pleasure as much as I like. But sometimes I luck out and get assigned to a ms that is outstanding. Just critiqued Meg Westley’s memoirs of living in Paris when she was a child. Outstanding book. I lived every moment.
We used to pick dandelions as kids on the farm and give them to Mom as a bouquet. She was always so pleased, put them in water and displayed them on the kitchen table. We didn’t realize they were considered weeds until we grew up and moved to the city. I also grew up reading The Bobbsey Twins. I try to vary my reading but I still enjoy the classics, read childrens’ books as that is what I write, and contemporary fiction. I agree Carol, our reading time is limited and the TBR pile grows higher and higher so I have to choose wisely how I spend my reading time. “so many books, so little time”
I really liked your use of flower metaphor to describe the differences in taste in books, I thought it was quite imaginative whilst still being very true. I like to think I can be somewhat experimental with my taste in books. I’ll always have a soft spot for dystopia – it never fails to please me! – but generally, I think I’ll try most things. An example would be a few years ago, I thought that I’d never read fantasy – it simply didn’t seem like my taste. Then I stumbled upon this amazing fantasy series, and I can’t believe I ever rejected it on the premise that I might not like it! The only things which I really wouldn’t touch would be horror or erotica. I don’t see the appeal in either. So to answer your final question, I do believe limiting your tastes can be a bad thing, but I can understand why it might pay to limit taste. Great, thoughtful post nethertheless!
I read pretty widely–YA and middle-grade fiction, adult fiction, nonfiction of all sorts including biography, memoir, essay; books about history, travel. I once read a book about the perfume business just because it seemed interesting. Even the genres I don’t read much (like science fiction, horror, category romance), I’ve at least read a little of.
But I do believe in reading what we want. I think we will develop a natural curiosity about different genres as we read more and more, but even if we don’t read everything, there’s something for everyone.
I love mystery. However, just like these two “flowers” I can’t just select “mystery”. I don’t like authors who describe in detail the horrific things that can happen. Just a subtle mention of someone “falling off a bridge” is enough for me. Also I love Christian writers who lace scripture into someone’s unfortunate “accident”. This is a great post, and a great analogy….it all depends on how you look at the dandelion or the lily…….
Hi Carol –
I was a huge Bobbsey Twins fan way back when. 🙂
While I love mystery/suspense, I’ve broadened my reading to include Historical Romances and issues-related novels. I do draw the line at occult material or extremely violent material. Anything that causes nightmares is banished from my bookshelves.
Great analogy, Carol. You are so clever!
For pleasure I read inspirational romance, and on occasion I read a secular book like The Glass Castle or The Help. I also like devotionals, since they have short chapters I can read in a couple of minutes.
When I was a kid, we had an eccentric neighbor who dug out every dandelion she found. And she would insist we do it, too. If we didn’t, she’d come over and do it for us.
I used to love to read medical suspense, but now I like to read more historical fiction, especially based on real people. That’s fiction. Right now I have a stack of nonfiction, too. I also like classics. And the Bobbsey Twins? Yep, I remember them!