A Reader Challenge

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 04 2007

I was thinking recently what creatures of habit we all are. If we’re romance readers we read romance, and SF fans tend to stick to SF, but how often have you ever ventured outside of your comfort zone when it comes to reading? I tell my authors all the time that to truly be successful you need to learn to push yourself. You need to write better, scarier, sexier, more mysterious and more suspenseful books. You need to be willing to push yourself beyond your own comfort zone. While we strive to do that in our writing, do we do that in our reading?

Have you been avoiding erotica because it’s not for you or feel that you’d hate cozy mysteries because they’re too tame? Have you even read one? I never read a fantasy until I worked in publishing (okay I never read a romance either). And I’ve only read a few SF novels. And yes, gulp, I’ve never read horror. And that’s embarrassing. As members of the writing/publishing community we all need to be willing and able to push our own limits with what we read. So here’s my challenge to you. Pick up something you’ve never read before, in a genre you have yet to truly explore, and see what you think.

I was thinking I’d try some SF and I was thinking Jim Butcher might be my author of choice. Looking for suggestions? If you think you might need to read a cozy mystery, erotica, a western, or even a business book, try this terrific Web site: www.bookends-inc.com/

Otherwise I ask you, dear readers, to share some of your favorite books in various genres. If someone wants https://www.bookends-inc.com to explore your favorite bookshelf, what would you recommend?

On another note, check out Romance Bandits (https://romancebandits.blogspot.com/), where I’m guest blogging today.


37 responses to “A Reader Challenge”

  1. Avatar AmyB says:

    I’ve always read at least a little from all genres. The one genre I couldn’t get into until recently was romance, and it was not for lack of trying. I just couldn’t find an author that was a good fit for me. Then I picked up your recommendation, and one other, for Elizabeth Hoyt’s Leopard Prince. I read the book and really liked it. I liked her Raven Prince even better. Yay! I’ve finally found a romance author I like.

    Another favorite author of mine, from a different genre, is David Rosenfelt. I love his legal thrillers; they are so well-written and so funny.

    SFF is my primary genre, and my favorite author there is Ellen Kushner, especially for Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword. They’re beautifully written, very sexy, and have some of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever seen in a novel.

  2. Avatar John says:

    I read mostly Speculative Fiction, so here’s a few recommendations based on what I’ve been reading recently.

    Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council by China Mieville – dark, richly detailed, full of real people with flaws exposed.

    A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt – a future archaeological mystery that shows us the human side of heroes.

    Anything by Neal Asher.

    Anything by Neil Stephenson – The Diamond Age is magnificent, and the Baroque Cycle is wonderful historical science fiction, three huge novels set at the end of the 17th century around the founding of the Royal Society.

    And moving further out of genre – anything by GK Chesterton. But don’t start with the Father Brown Stories. Try something like The Man Who Was Thursday or The Napoleon of Notting Hill, or better yet read his essays.

    pax et bonum

  3. Avatar Angelle says:

    Dear Jessica,

    I highly recommend Butcher. He’s a fantastic storyteller.

    For SFF — Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and C. S. Friedman’s IN CONQUEST BORN.

    For mystery, J. A. Konrath and Lawrence Block.

  4. I’ve just been lamenting my own genre-blindness lately, so I’m going to watch this thread anxiously to see some non-fantasy recommendations.

    You should read Jim Butcher. Every day, if possible. I love him.

    I might also suggest Anne Bishop’s duology, Sebastian and Belladonna

  5. Avatar Kate says:

    If you want to read Fantasy then DONT start with Lord of the Rings.

    Its long and at times difficult to keep interested in reading. I love fantasy, but I didn’t even finish the third book of Lord of the Rings.

    Instead, try Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. The first book is called ‘Wizards First Rule’. Its absolutely sensational!

    Another marvel is Raymond E. Feists ‘Magician’.

    I myself have only just read Robin Hobb’s books. They are also well worth picking up! There are so many more… I just dont know where to start…

  6. I read legal thrillers, horror, and murder mystery. However, in the past few years with kids out of the house in college and husband traveling for business I find these too scary to read when I’m home alone. (Don’t read about J.A.Konrath’s serial killers when you’re home alone!) So I turn to romance then but I need a strong plot that moves quick. I love Caridad Pinero’s Vampire novels (by Harliquin no less!) and just discovered Lois Winston who wrote Talk Gerty To Me. I guess this is chick lit if we’re still allowed to use that term? A nice surprize was Mark Terry’s The Devil’s Pitchfork. He’s actually a bio chemist so he writes about chemical terrorism which I never thought I’d read but I love his books!
    Now what if a man like Terry, who knows chemicals and writes books on bioterrorism became a serial killer like in the Konrath books? What if this killer had no real target other then to create caos? Would anyone be safe? Since the protag is a writer he’s studied police proceedure and ways to escape detection….
    Sorry, sometimes this stuff just falls out of my head. I’ll stop now.

  7. As a crime fiction writer, I tend toward horror, some SFF, and dark literary… though reviewing books for MotherTalk is starting to put some mommy lit on my shelf that I otherwise wouldn’t have read. (I live it. Why would I want to read it? LOL Well, now I do!) I really enjoyed The Other Mother (Gwendolen Gross), for instance.

    Otherwise, I love Neil Gaiman and Madeleine L’Engle (yes, she’s YA, but her ideas formed many of my own when I was a kid – so her books are like a comfortable pair of jeans when I reread them). I loved The Road before it became an Oprah “in” book and I read Monster Island while it was still a blog. And I love Paul Auster.

    I’d also argue that reading “outside” includes foreign authors, whether or not they’re in your genre. I’m interested in Natsuo Kirino’s crime fiction, for instance.

  8. Avatar Kimber An says:

    My interests are as varied as the human race itself. The only genres I don’t read are Erotica and Horror, because they gross me out.

    If you usually read Romance, but are looking to expand into Science Fiction I suggest anything by Linnea Sinclair or Susan Grant. These two are my favorite Science Fiction Romance authors.

    Why have just a brownie when you can have a brownie WITH ice cream?


  9. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    I’m trying to branch out. I recently read an erotic novel that got sent to me by a publisher. I found it titillating, but sort of boring. I’ve read some SF lately, primarily Tobias S. Buckell’s novels, “Crystal Rain” and “Ragamuffin” and really want to read John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War.”

    I’ve also read a fair amount of YA novels this year and can highly recommend Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels.

    I’ve also read some nonfiction (am currently reading “Insider’s Guide to Beijing”) but otherwise am mostly reading thrillers and mysteries. I’ve got some of Chandler McGrew’s horror novels on my shelf, but haven’t gotten to them yet.

  10. Avatar bran fan says:

    I thought that Jim Butcher–great as he is–wrote fantasy, not SF. Not the same thing. Want to try some SF that will really please you? Try The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, or Jennifer Government by Max Barry. Connie Willis is sort of slipstream, but soooo wonderful.

  11. Avatar beverley says:

    At one point, I was reading everything–Stephen King, Anne Rice, I still love Agatha Christie, contemporary ST and series but my heart is really with historicals. I can read old stuff from other genres but I’ve tried the new stuff and it’s not hooking me. Can I say I’ve ventured outside my comfort zone?

  12. Everybody’s making some pretty good suggestions here. For SF, I’d suggest trying a little Asimov (Foundation is said to be his best) and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game). If you’re looking for humorous SF, Harry Harrison is the go-to guy (Stainless Steel Rat series or Bill the Galactic Hero series). Serious fantasy try Terry Brooks (Shannara series) or Marian Zimmer Bradley. Humorous fantasy try Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony, Robert Aspirin.

    Or step way out of the comfort zone and try a Western. Either L’Amour or Grey are excellent.

  13. Avatar Alli says:

    If you want to try something different, I’d suggest authors with an Indian heritage – such as Vikram Seth (A SUITABLE BOY) and Salman Rushdie (MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN). Midnight’s Children takes a while to get into, but it is well and truly worth perservering. Probably one of the best reads I’ve ever had. Also, THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy. There’s something about the storytelling of Indian authors (layering, character arc, etc) that to me, is so appealing and very different to authors of other nationalities I’ve read. Perhaps it’s all that wonderful rich culture and history that shines through. Whatever it is, I’d suggest giving it a try.

  14. Avatar Caren Crane says:

    I mainly read romance, since that’s what I enjoy and what I write. I’m quite aware of “genre blindness” though, so I try to diversify.

    For mysteries, I love the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters.

    For edgier mystery, I adore Harlan Coben, both his single titles and his Myron Bolitar books. He has the most wonderful narrative voice.

    My mother steers me toward some more mainstream fiction that I have enjoy, like Sarah Dunant’s “Birth of Venus”. It usually doesn’t find me on its own, though. *g*

    Have not seriously read sf/f since I was a teenager, though my husband gives me extensive oral book reports on what he reads.

  15. I slither from one genre to the next, blissfully happy with the variety. Since July and August are the months for my children’s summer reading assignments, I usually dip my toe into YA stories. So far I’ve never been disappointed, and this summer was no exception. ‘Bloomability’ and ‘The Ransom of Mercy Carter’ are topnotch books on the ways and means of surviving life. Both were darn good reads!

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m going to give my “hear hear,” to reading Susan Grant. Love her!

    I’ve read YA, horror though not much because it gives me nightmares I can’t shake, suspense, fantasy (in my youth) and of course romance.


  17. Avatar Amie Stuart says:

    I write erotica/erotic romance and I think I’ve read pretty much everything….I can’t think of anything I *don’t* care for.

    I LOVE Vicki Pettersson for Urban Fantasy, Terry Brooks for fantasy, old Anne McCaffrey for Sci-fi (please don’t kill me. I remember her most fondly though I could never read any of her dragonrider books), Marsha Moyer (women’s fic? Literary women’s fic?) because her writing is STUNNING *sigh*, Lisa Gardner for suspense (that woman keeps me up all night!) and Jami Alden for erotic romance =)

  18. Avatar Amie Stuart says:

    Angelle…my son LOVES those Percy Jackson books! And Amyb I have Elizabeth Hoyt sitting in my TBR pile.

  19. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Outside of romance… my new favorites are Neil Gaiman, Laurie R. King and I’ve always been a big Nelson Demille fan.

    And ditto to amyb… who said Raven Prince was even better than Leopard Prince (which I did enjoy.)

    Serpent Prince is good too. Elizabeth Hoyt has become an autobuy for me now!

  20. Avatar Tammie says:

    Great idea!

    I read a little of everything or so I thought. Then I realized last year that I never caught the bug for all the vampire stories (or Buffy on tv for that matter) so last year I picked up Mary Janice Davidsons Undead and Unwed which then had me going and picking up the rest of her Undead series – I was very surprised how much I enjoyed them.

    But reading your post I realize I continually pass the “cozy mystery”

    I’ve read stuff that was more Thriller than Mystery so I guess I should branh out and give it a try.

    So any Cozy Mystery recommendations would be appreciated.

    Again, what a great idea!

  21. Avatar Tammie says:

    uh that should be “branch” out.


  22. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I love “The Cat Who” books. They are fun cozy mysteries. I’m pretty good at solving the mysteries, but the cat who ones always throw me for a loop.


  23. Avatar JDuncan says:

    I wish I had time to read more than I do. That’s the biggest limitation on reading across genres for me. I love suspense/mystery/thriller stuff, epic fantasy (really wish George Martin would hurry up and finish his next Fire and Ice book), most anything with paranormal elements, strong romantic elements, stories set in medieval times, and the list goes on. Actually, it’s the element parts that pull me the most. I’ll read a good story teller in any genre if it has some particular element that I like. It’s the compelling characters, intriguing worlds/settings, and sense of adventure and travelling beyond our everyday world that gets me.

    That said, there have been some great suggestions here, and I’m not so well read to include many others, but…

    Joan D. Vinge’s Snow/Summer Queen books are probably my favorites SF reads of all time. It has a fascinating world, compelling premise, and really wonderful characters involved in an epic storyline. Fantastic books.

    George Martin’s Fire and Ice series is hands down my favorite fantasy story ever. It defines what epic fantasy is for me, though Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books are a close second.

    Can’t really go wrong with Stephen King for horror. The Dark Tower, while not strictly horror (it’s part western, SF, and half a dozen other things) is simply grand in it’s scale, and has some of the best written characters I’ve had the joy to adventure with.

    Nora Roberts/JD Robb. She’s just plain enjoyable to read no matter what she writes.

    There’s a bazillion others of course, and so little time to read most of them.


  24. Avatar Josh says:

    I read mostly science fiction and fantasy. I would recommend anything by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Douglas Adams.

    That said, I try to branch out with various biographies, mysteries, thrillers, and certain nonfiction titles that touch on topics like the global kidnapping rings, corrupt politics, spirituality and psychology. Examples of those would be Ransom, Talking Hands, Big Fat Liars, and Sleep Demons.

  25. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I stick closely to the traditional mystery/suspense genre, but in the past year, have broadened my horizons with these terrific books:

    AMAZON ROSE by Daisy Miller (e-book)–an extremely well-written and darn funny erotic mystery.

    HELL’S BELLES by Jackie Kessler–a humorous paranormal romance about a succubus.

    DIE A LITTLE by Megan Abbott–a lyrical noir tale set in 50s Hollywood.

  26. Avatar Jennifer McK says:

    Funny, I don’t stick to one genre.

    Sci Fi–Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Ann McCaffery, Andre Norton,
    Terry Brooks,

    Non-fiction–Barbara Tuchman, Jared Diamond, Desmond Morris

    Mysteries–Elizabeth Peters, Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy L. Sayers, Carol O’Connors, Julie Smith, Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Reinhart and many more.

  27. I HIGHLY recommend Neil Gaiman! I don’t know how to classify his stuff–fantasy, I guess? I recently bought NEVERWHERE to give him a try and, WOW! I was blown away. I’m now glomming his backlist!

  28. Avatar Anonymous says:

    For a dark, disturbing SF read that isn’t “hard” SF, I recommend Stephen Donaldson’s Gap series. You can even just read the first one, THE REAL STORY, by itself and not bother with the rest. The focus is largely on the characters and the changes they go through. Plus, the book is on the shorter side.

    Frederik Pohl’s GATEWAY is great, too, although dated in some ways now.

  29. Avatar Linda says:

    Thriller and mystery are my primary writing genres, but I’ve read all over the place. These are some of my own recommendations:

    Cozy Mysteries:

    Donna Andrews. She has a new book just about to come out, I think. Her last one was Owls Well That Ends Well. If you want a fun read and lots of a laughs, she’s a good author to check out.

    Haily Lind’s Brush With Death, an art lover’s mystery. The main character is an art forger. Isn’t that cool?


    The Ellah Clah series by Aimee and David Thurlo. A new book just came out.


    The First Cut. I heard the writer speak at a conference and got the book based on that. It’s really pretty good.

    African Ice by Jeff Buick. Chasing the ultimate diamond mine.

    Anything by Lee Child.

    And there’s a really good one by Tom Grace called The Secret Cardinal coming out this month (I was able to get an ARC at a conference).

    Young Adult:

    Anything by Tamara Pierce. She’s really good. I have most of her books, and I go back to revisit them like old friends.

    Poison Study. Found this one at the grocery store, and it was a wonderful story that drew me in.


    The Bride Finder. I got this on a recommendation from someone else, and it turned out to be a really good book.


    Morbid Curiosity, by Deborah LeBlanc. This wouldn’t have been a book I would have gotten–I actually won it in a drawing.


    The Green Rider by Kristen Brittain. This is one of my favorite books. I’m looking forward to third one to come out, whenever that will be.

    Urban Fantasy:

    Second anything by Jim Butcher.

    Science Fiction:

    Powers That Be. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but the cover caught my eye. It’s a really good book, though the ones that follow don’t have the same magic.

    Last one, which I just got and haven’t read. It’s called Nefertiti by Michelle Moran.

  30. I love Anne McCaffrey. Her Dragonriders series is excellent, but I also enjoyed many of her other series too. I love her characterizations.

    Characters are also the hook for me for the Belgariad series by David Eddings. I really enjoyed the way each character was unique and had a deep backstory, but the plot moved along well.

  31. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    Jessica, Jim Butcher is urban fantasy and he’s one of the best at it. UF is my all time favorite genre to read and write, Kim Harrison and Vicki Pettersson being my #1 fave authors in the genre.

    I’ve read a bit of everything, but I’ve been hankering for a vintage story set in the early 1900s, WWI or WWII. Not a war story (eeww), but nostlgic and deep. I’ve heard a few are being published now and i can’t wait to get my hands on a good one.

  32. Over the years, I’ve read just about every genre. I go through phases. These days, I read mostly mystery, suspense/thriller, and romantic suspense. I go through a couple of non-fiction books a year, along with cookbooks galore. Probably the best way to see what I’d suggest would be to look at the 5-star rated books in my LibraryThing catalog: https://www.librarything.com/catalog/adeptmagic

    I think I may have to sort through there and do a blog post on my favorite books, though. Hmm…I really don’t need to do yet one more thing to avoid writing!

    The only thing I haven’t ever really gotten into is erotica. Most of it just seems boring and pointless. A friend lent me a couple she really likes, though, so I am going to give them a shot.

  33. Avatar Michele Lee says:

    I’ll read anything put in front of me, but I do have preferences. I like fantasy, like Anne Bishop and Neil Gaiman. I like socio-political scifi (mostly short stories there) and intense horror (meaning Nancy A. Collins and Poppy Z Brite more than Stephen King or Dean Koontz). I have a weakness for paranormals of any genre. I’ve been testing out some erotic romance lately, both writing and reading. I’m finding I like writing it because in some ways it’s easier. I never thought I admit this, but it’s easier to write sometimes when I know nothing really bad is going to happen to anyone.

    I read some mysteries, though I prefer the harder ones (JA Konrath). I’ve tried suspense, and I admire the writing tools and strength, but in the end I feel too often that it’s too much invoked drama for a “not that big a deal” story.

    I’ll read literary works, but as with suspense in the end I usually end up feeling impatient for something to happen. I like memoirs, but never buy them. I just don’t have enough money to buy everything I’d like and spec fic usually takes my budget.

  34. Avatar Julie Rowe says:

    For SF I reccomend Alan Dean Foster. The man has a fabulous voice that makes his books a pleasure to read. His Flinx & Pip series is awesome!

    For Fantasy try Elizabeth Moon’s the Deed of Paksenarrion.

  35. Avatar Caffey says:

    I took a chance with reading Fantasy romance, late last year I think it was, and so glad I did!! It was my Jerri Ready-Smith, a LUNA book, EYE OF CROW. Wow it was just fab! I’ve been so looking forward to book two which I think comes out next month. I always thought that it would be complicated to read, so would Science Fiction romance, but I was wrong! The author pulls you in just like any genres, and everything explains itself as you read along. I haven’t read much SF/Futuristic romance so that I’m reading more of. But with the Fantasy romance, since I read one, I don’t want to stop and looking for more!

    I don’t read horror becuase I did before and didn’t sit well weith me, so it wasn’t because I didn’t try.. I do otherwise read across the board with romance, historical mysteries, historical fiction. One thing I was thinking about reading is Harry Potter cuz everyone else talked about those and I never read one! I shall challenge myself to that! I know that may be one many read but I haven’t and I’m even proud I thought of challenging myself with this one NOW as i put it off forever already, LOL

  36. Hmm. Now that you mention it, I do tend to gravitate to one or two genres — classics, and women’s fiction. Right now, I’m loving Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. Then I’m planning to read The Notebook just to study the plainest possible prose and learn to imitate it.

  37. Avatar Dave says:

    Jim Butcher’s great, but Fantasy not SF. For SF I’d suggest John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War.”