By Jeff Salter
We’re doing a two-part set about the aspects of books which draw our attention and/or compel us to purchase / read. Last week, we focused on book COVERS. This week we’ll address how or why a book’s THEME entices us. [For the sake of my column, I’m assuming THEME and SUBJECT can be used almost interchangeably.]
I’m picky in many areas, including books. Though some aspects of a book’s theme/subject may span both types, for the sake of clarity, I’ll split my comments between NON-Fiction books and Novels.
I’m a history and biography buff, so those typically interest me more than general non-fiction.
In history, I enjoy reading about a variety of time periods, from “prehistory” (e.g., dinosaurs) to “early mankind” (e.g., Neanderthals), to the development of western civilization, to the emergence of America. Also military history… especially WW2 and WW1 — both the larger issues and individual battles.
In biography, I enjoy knowing more about all sorts of individuals, whether they were inventors, explorers, entertainers, leaders (government, civic, political, and social), military folks (all ranks), as well as other categories I can’t think of at the moment. I began reading biographies in fourth grade, starting with the Bobbs-Merrill Childhood of Famous Americans series. Years later, I learned most dialog and many incidents were highly fictionalized, though they supposedly depicted the “spirit” of those famous Americans as kids. I also learned something else: when I’ve found a biographical “hero” I don’t want to later read something which tarnishes that image. One example of this was Will Rogers. My mom found an adult bio of that individual and I began reading it only to realize it showed the man with typical human frailties. Didn’t like that. I preferred to think of Rogers as I’d pictured him from that Bobbs-Merrill juvenile bio. A more recent example of this is a bio of the actor Jimmie Stewart, which seemed to glory in detailing his dalliances with a long list of starlets (before he was married). Not that I imagined Stewart was a 40-year-old virgin, but somehow it bothered me to read the names of everyone who supposedly bedded him. If you’re wondering why I’m explaining this, it relates directly to the APPROACH of the biographer. If that author has set out to do a Kitty Kelley “tell-all” of someone I presently admire, it’s possible I won’t be interested in reading it. Conversely, if I see a K. K. “tell-all” of someone I presently DISLIKE, it’s possible that I WILL read it! LOL.
Specific topics in non-fiction books which I enjoy are UFOs (yes, both sides of the issue) and other unexplained phenomena (like Loch Nessie and Bigfoot, as merely two examples). Does that mean I’m a wild-eyed conspiracy nut? No, it simply means I have a lot of curiosity about some things that have not yet been adequately explained (to my satisfaction). To have a group of scientists or “experts” say XYZ does not exist, while a different group of equally educated and experienced folks say XYZ DOES exist — makes me stay curious.
Since I’ve written a lot of poetry (over 1000, with some 120 poems published), I also read poetry — but mainly in anthologies. Except for a few poets in particular (like Frost, Dickinson, and Eliot), whose collections I may read, I’m not likely to pick up a book of poems by Joe Schmoo.
That’s the kind of non-fiction books that I DO read, but what about the ones I do NOT enjoy? Well, while I’ll read articles on these topics, I’m generally not interested in books about science, mathematics, politics, or governmental stuff. I don’t read about flowers, or chickens, or cooking, and I don’t read seed catalogs.
With fiction, it’s harder to pin down, because if I like the characters and situation, I might not care WHERE they are, or what TIME period, or which GENRE. Generally, I don’t read novels in the broader genres of Westerns or Mysteries or Sci-Fi (though I have read a few of each to sample them). Nothing against them and I know people who devour titles in those genres — they just don’t appeal to me.
I do, however, enjoy an occasional novel which blends two or more genres (e.g., a western mystery). Can’t explain why a combination would grab me when the individual genre typically does not.
I guess it’s accurate to say that I prefer reading fiction about more modern periods, as opposed to (for instance) Medieval times.
I’m not inclined to read a novel by a celebrity unless I really like that celebrity. For example, if Kim Kardasian were to toss together enough words to be considered a novel, I would NOT read it — not under any circumstances. But if Harrison Ford wrote a novel, I’d probably give it a try.
I enjoy reading comedies and nearly any other genre if a particular story is also funny. I’m especially fond of screwball comedies, no matter what timeframe or setting.
I like reading adventure stories. I used to say I mainly read “international intrigue” but that’s no longer the case. I’m still attracted to spy novels, but I’ll read fiction set during WW2, whether it has intrigue or is just straightforward combat and strategy.
Prior to my own efforts writing in a blend of genres (which includes the Romance genre), I confess I had not paid much attention to romances. But in these past eight years or so, I’ve read quite a few. Some have not particularly appealed to my taste, even though they’re well done… but several have been quite good and would likely be enjoyed by any reader who likes great characters and storylines. In Hollywood’s golden years almost every feature film also had a romantic element, but nobody would have called all those movies “romances.” I’ve seen a quote by a famous author (though I can’t recall whom) which said, in effect, that nearly every good novel is also a romance… or could be with a slight twist of emphasis. My own favorite “blends” are romantic comedies and romantic thrillers.
If you desperately wanted or needed a non-fiction book on such-and-such subject, is it possible you’d pick one up even if the theme/subject had little or no appeal?
Furthermore, if you just HAD TO READ something because you’d jump out of your skin if you didn’t get a novel in your hands, would you pick up a book in a genre you normally don’t read?