So here is my post on modern/contemporary fiction and why I read it. To be frank, it has taken me so long to post this because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to talk about. I wasn’t really interested in giving a list of the best new fiction to read and I wasn’t interested in talking up the virtues of new fiction in general. I don’t love new fiction the way I love the classics. So instead, I’d rather talk about how I choose which new books to read.
I mean, you just cannot read everything new that comes out . Dozens of books are released each week and while most of them are not worth your – or anyone else’s – time, how are you supposed to find the good ones in the crowd? I worked for nearly 10 years at Barnes & Noble and thus had a unique vantage point into the buying habits of customers. And one thing I learned is to check out books that everyone is looking for, even if the subject wasn’t particularly interesting to me. I wanted to know what the buzz was about so that I could make better recommendations to customers and because I just wanted to find a good book. I was surprised at how often I found new fiction that I, 1) thoroughly enjoyed and 2) would never have picked up on my own.
So that, for example, is why I picked up the first Harry Potter book years ago in the Summer of 2003. It was the height of the Harry Potter mania and I just had to know why everyone was so crazy about these books! And I enjoyed them. A lot. Had my curiosity not gotten the better of me, I would have missed out on one of the most enjoyable reading experiences in recent memory.
A few years later, I took a chance on another series and read Twilight. Um, less enjoyable. I sort of realized about halfway through that not being a teenage girl was seriously hampering my ability to enjoy anything I was reading. Yet I don’t regret reading the book, because at least I understood what in the world all those teenage girls (and a creepily-high number of middle-aged women) were talking about.
I’ve discovered quite a lot of books this way, including George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori trilogy, The Hunger Games, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, the extraordinary works of Eiji Yoshikawa (his Musashi is one of the most extraordinary books of the 20th century), and many others.
The most recent books I’ve picked up to satisfy my curiosity have been The Hunger Games trilogy. I was a bit hesitant to try another “Teen” series after… you know, that Twilight thing. But I really enjoyed the first book! I’m not sure I believe the author when she claims that her story was not influenced by Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale and writing an entire trilogy was clearly out of her realm of ability (at least for now) but the first book in the trilogy was quite good.
So in other words, I read whatever new fiction I am curious about. I think that really is the best way to choose books in general – read what you want to read. Unless you really enjoy it, don’t waste time trying to find the perfect book. Try new books, try books that you think you might not enjoy but are curious about all the same. You’ll find some duds but you will also find books and authors that you will love and never would have found without taking a chance.
What are some recent books you’ve enjoyed? I’d be interested to read your comments because, hey, I’m always looking for a new book to read.