‘What kinds of stories do you normally like?” That’s my go-to question when a reading friend doesn’t know what to read next, or a non-romance reader admits to some curiosity about the genre. In short, any situation where reading recommendations would come into play, that’s a good place to start. Even, and maybe especially, when the asker and answerer are the same person. Am I speaking from personal experience? Signs point to yes.
Lately, I’ve found that I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary Young Adult novels. Usually, but not always, romance, though historical romance s still my first and greatest reading love. Only recently, I’ve thought about logging certain elements in the YA books I read (creative protagonists, identity issues, grief, mental health, classification of author voice, etc) and seeing if there are any patterns to the books I choose.
Immediately after that, the next thought was that I could do that for my historical romance reading as well, which would probably shed light on why it’s been less, in recent times, than I would like, while, at the same time, I’m gobbling other books like oxygen. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m fascinated by studies that break down what’s currently selling, what people are reading, what people would like to read, but can’t find, as well as learn what stories writers would most like to write, but may not be suitable for the current market. I also like to take long, romantic walks through my keeper shelves (even if they are in storage) and note the similarities in the books that I re-read the most.
This is where things get interesting, and not only for me. We all have our favorites, and that’s a good thing. Makes picking out new books a lot easier. If, for example, a reader knows that heroes or heroines in uniform are their thing, it’s a pretty sure bet that any cover with at least one figure in camo or dress blues is going to get at least a second look, and, most likely, end up joining its fellows on Mount TBR, if the reader doesn’t dive into it five seconds after leaving the store/downloading the ebook.
What stories do you like to read? I ask myself that question a lot, when browsing bookshelves, be they my own, the library’s, or a brick and mortar bookstore. Electronic bookshelves count, too, as a friend showed me how to use Overdrive last week, and I am now a convert. Pop in search terms, and the app will show me all the books our library system will let me have, that fit that criteria, right now, for free? Sign. Me. Up. In real life, it’s not that easy, but that’s not the point.
I love recommending books to interested readers. Do they like books that are funny? Sexy? Spiritual? All of the above? What historical periods do they prefer to read about, including present and future? Preferred themes? Settings? Character names? There are a million criteria, and each one of them are perfectly valid reasons to pick up a book. Always fall hard for a Jake, but run fast from a Simon? Think Barbara is the most romantic name ever, but Stella can go kick rocks? Love a cowboy, billionaire, vampire, duke? Or cowboy billionaire vampire duke? (I’m sure someone has at least thought of combining those four.) Knowing what an individual reader’s personal booknip (is that a word? It should be a word.) is can make the reading process, or at least the book selection process, a lot smoother.
Personally, I am always going to prick my ears at the mention of a headstrong, confident heroine. Bring on the alpha females, in any era. Mention Bedlam Asylum or Newgate Prison, and I am making grabby hands at that book. Hero or heroine is an actor? Give. Historical settings anytime between the end of the Wars of the Roses and end of the American Revolution? Yes, please. There are more criteria, of course, character types, and author voices, the tone of a book, and a special, indefinable something that I can only describe as being something I recognize when I encounter it, usually when I least expect it.
One friend will pick up pretty much anything with a werewolf involved, while another goes straight for historical fiction with a touch of romance, on either side of the American Revolution. Other readers can get even more specific. I’ve read forum posts from readers who refuse to read a heroine with a particular hair color, and/or heroes must fit one very specific physical description, and, y’know what? You do you. Those are perfectly valid reasons to read or pass on a book, too. It’s pleasure reading, so the only “should” in my book (pun intended) is that we should be reading the books that bring us pleasure. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of reading material out there, and, if we know what we’re looking for, we can hone in on our favoirtes, time and time again.
Now that I am conscious of elements that occur frequently in books I love to read, I’m noticing things more. If the YAs I like best are often based around grief, can I find romances that do the same? Here’s a hint: yes. When I was but a wee little princess, I have a vivid memory of my father expressing his opinion of the countless fairy tale books I insisted on amassing. “You have more Cinderellas than Cinderella,” he said, vexed, and that stuck with me. I didn’t see that as a bad thing then, and I don’t, now. Sure, I may have had, let’s say a dozen, retellings of that one fairy tale, but the differences in those retellings, well, that’s where the magic lived. It still does. Where does yours?
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What variations on favorite themes do you notice in your own reading? If you could read only one character type or setting, or any other element of your favorite stories, for the rest of your life, what would it be? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.