With the end of the year approaching I am starting to consider which books to include in my annual round-up of recommended reads. As I do this I have, in the back of my mind, a second reason to think about the year’s books. My sister’s birthday falls in January and we have a tradition of sending each other a few works of fiction on these occasions. Careful selection is required as our reading tastes do not always overlap.
When we were at school, while I was thinking about maths and computers, my sister was studying Chaucer, Shakespeare and the modern classics. She is a qualified teacher and has worked in a bookshop. She has a particular type of book that she prefers to read.
Whereas I would claim to read eclectically, seeking out the quirky and unusual alongside the literary masterpieces, thrillers, crime fiction, gothic horror and character driven stories of life, love and loss; my sister has more focused interests. She is conservative in her views and likes to be able to relate to her reading matter. She has an interest in modern history, tales of family, and prefers not to be disturbed. As an example of this, she did not wish to read ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks, which is one of my all time favourites, after she was told it contained some gruesome scenes.
In my review of ‘A Little Life’, by Hanya Yanagihara, I stated that it was, quite possibly, the best book I have ever read. I will not, however, be buying it for my sister. Although the study of the characters is one of its strengths, and she likes this in a story, I am unsure how she would react to the detail of Jude’s childhood abuse and his subsequent sexual experiences.
Reviews contain personal opinions. I can enjoy a book immensely but still see that it would not appeal to everyone. What I look for when I am choosing a book for someone else is a tale that I hope will be right for them.
For this reason I do not select an overall book of the year in my annual round-up. Instead, I will set out categories and include favourites in each of these. It is my hope that this will prove more useful for future readers. Hyped books can be disappointing when tastes do not match.
Although I claim to read eclectically there are certain types of books which I will choose to avoid. Unlike many, I do not enjoy romances, erotica or books that linger over sex scenes. I prefer suggestion to explicit detail. I struggle to empathise with a character who is attracted to body over mind.
My sister has opined that I must find her preferences shallow but I refute this. We both read for pleasure and should be free to make choices for ourselves. I like to be challenged by a book’s arc yet sometimes look for a title that I expect to be entertaining more than thought provoking, because that is what I need at that time. I do not wish to judge any reader whose life I have not lived.
A good book needs to be well written and put together, but beyond that the definition depends on the reader. I will not be a literary critic who looks down on any book that encourages reading and provides pleasure, even if I would not choose it for myself.