I have over the years read hundreds of books across multiple genres. But will my reading preferences influence what I write about?
This raises interesting questions and I’m not sure what my answers are. Simply because I haven’t started writing anything of note in the fiction environment.
But first let me share my reading evolution; but it is relevant to point out that until the early 1990s my choice of what I could read was restricted by government censorship—believe it or not.
My early reading preferences
My earliest recollections of reading preferences goes back to the books that were initially read to me, but which I continued to read to myself when I began to master the intricacies of the English language. These included Enid Blyton Noddy and Big Ears and Winnie the Pooh which I found hilarious and still do today. As I matured, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven were my first teenage reads.
During my senior school years, I, like my classmates, was drawn to action; Louis L’Amour westerns, James Bond, Wilbur Smith and the Hornblower series, but when no one was looking, and we could get our hands on “banned” literature, we added to our limited sexual knowledge by indulging our fantasies with horribly dog-eared and somewhat stained copies of Angelique novels. This, to our immature minds was “real dirty stuff” which it probably was considering that any film or book containing a remotely suggestive sexual scene was banned outright or so censored, in the case of films, it got hard to follow the plot.
It was around this time that I started writing my own short stories. As anyone who has been a senior at boarding school knows there are numerous perks and advantages attached to the title “senior”. One of these was the ability to force the juniors to read my stories—no objections or weak excuses tolerated. Failure to read them and provide glowing feedback could result in a rather torrid year for the kids in question. Watch out Wilbur Smith here I come!
Fortunately, for my sanity none of those handwritten manuscripts survived and the assumption that this was partly due to them being used as toilet paper by the indentured readers wouldn’t be far off the mark. Either because of a genuine need (there was always a shortage of toilet paper in our bathrooms for some obscure reason) or pure revenge.
I was also a bit of a history lover and devoured anything on military and political history available in our local library. It was only in later years when I visited bookstores in the UK and US did I realize that my exposure to what was available to read in my home country had been severely curtailed. The South African censorship board on literature was big on ensuring we had access to plenty of one-sided versions of our history but at the exclusion of everything else. In fact, it is only since 1994, after our history books were rewritten, based on the actual historical facts, that I, and many other white South Africans, got to learn the true history of our country. Talk about a travesty.
As I got older my interest remained with nonfiction historical works, but I still enjoyed delving into spy thrillers, second world war novels, political dramas and similar genres. It was also around this time in my life that I began a routine I still follow religiously today; I read or listen to a book every day, be it for 10 minutes, one hour or an entire morning.
My preferences begin to change
More recently, a problem has arisen; exaggerated by the appearance of audio books. The problem is this: I struggle to remember what I’ve read. With our very weak currency exchange rate to the US dollar and the fact that most books are imported, buying a book and spending several hundred rands (our local currency) only to discover I’ve already read it, can be a costly exercise. Second-hand books stores may need to become my primary source of reading material! There is access to ebooks and audio books from sites like Amazon, but as they don’t deliver hard copy to my part of the world, we are deprived both in choice and affordability. Although I listen to podcasts and audio books, I still love the feeling of a hard copy book in my hands.
In my more senior years my taste in reading choices has deviated somewhat, possibly because of video streaming sites. I now find I am bored with the usual 3 act scenario I find in so many books and I am constantly on the lookout for TV series and/or books that explore the unusual in terms of storylines.
It has got so bad I’ve taken to reading the first part of a book, assuming how it will end, and then reading the last few chapters usually to find my predictions were accurate.
My interest has shifted to stories, written or on the screen, which for me are “breaking the norm”. And the curious thing is I am enjoying stories across a wide spectrum of genres, from Science fiction to fantasy to war dramas. I am reading or listening to books I would have scoffed at 20 years ago as not my kind of book.
What I now enjoy reading and watching
In the last few years I find myself attracted to authors (and the TV iterations of the books) such as Stephen King (I read some of his earlier books, but due to lack of access to his later novels missed out) although I have found some endings disappointing, but the TV shows did improve on them, The Mist and The Dome are examples. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett have become firm favorites, and I attribute this to my secret attraction to satire. TV shows such as The 100 which would probably fall into the YA genre were excellent. I’m attracted to what breaks the mold and is “different”.
But to be honest, I am not driven by the name of the author when it comes to my choices. If it’s a good book by an author I have never heard of, it makes no difference. A good story is a good story irrespective of who wrote it.
So now back to the question posed at the beginning of this post. Will my story telling be influenced by what I read considering my rather erratic tastes?
If I look at the list of projects and outlines tucked under my mattress, the answer, to a degree, is yes. The story plots include sci-fi, satire and political history and that’s just a start. Some ideas will prove challenging when attempting to classify the genre, assuming I get to write them.
But first I need to learn how to write and produce completed manuscripts before I start stressing about which genre they fit into.