Category Archives: influences

Discriminating Taste

In yesterday’s post about not being a literary snob, I made the comment that I’ve become more discriminating as I’ve gotten older.  I said I would explain what I meant by that today, and I will.

When I was in school, I was one of those students who would finish early and use the extra class time to read.  I discovered many of the major sf writers through the anthologies of Robert Silverberg.  The library at the junior high I attended in 7th grade had a number of them.  These were the reprint anthologies he edited in the 60s, not the New Dimensions series.  I doubt those would have been deemed acceptable, or as we would say today, age appropriate.

On the weekends (provided I could talk my father into taking me) I would also go to the mall, where there was a Waldenbooks, or the flea market, which had a couple of used book stalls.  One of them sold paperbacks with the covers torn off for a quarter.  I didn’t realize at the time that these were stolen books, reported to the publisher as having been pulped.

It was through these venues that I discovered the works of Jack Williamson, James H. Schmitz, L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, Isaac Asimov, Eric Frank Russell, Poul Anderson, and Silverberg himself, not to mention the juveniles of Robert Heinlein. Fantasy was just entering a boom phase, and before long I was reading that as well.  When I joined the Science Fiction Book Club in 9th grade, I first encountered the writers who made the greatest impression on me:  C. L. Moore, Edmond Hamilton, Fredric Brown, Frederik Pohl, C. M. Kornbluth, Leigh Brackett, and the writer who had the greatest impact on me, Henry Kuttner.  (I’d been reading Ray Bradbury since 5th grade, and Robert E. Howard was still a few years in my future.)  Outside the genre, some of the biggest influences I encountered during high school were Raymond Chandler, Rafael Sabatini, and Humphrey Bogart.

As I got into college and then graduate school, I continued to read widely in the field.  Until I got married, there was usually plenty of time to read a book or two a week plus a variety of short stories and comics.

It was during this phase that I developed some of the attitudes I discussed in yesterday’s post.  I began taking my reading seriously, at times too seriously.  I followed the award nominations and tried to read the titles that got the most buzz. 

After marriage and then parenthood came along, time began to be more and more at a premium.  Books began to pile up faster than previously.  And I realized something.  Reading wasn’t as fun as it used to be.  Or rather, make that what I was reading wasn’t as fun as what I had read when I was younger.

Over the last decade, I’ve reached a decision.  It is very likely I’ve passed the halfway point in my life.  If I haven’t I’m approaching it.  My father’s side of the family tends to live into their 90s and beyond on a regular basis if they take care of themselves.  I may not be at the halfway point yet, but time is slipping away.

Life is too short to read things because You Should or Everyone Is Reading This or It’s Going to be on All the Award Ballots or This Book Has Something Important to Say.  Especially that last one.  There are more good books out there that I haven’t read than I’ll ever be able to.  Unless I get locked into solitary confinement for twenty years with access to the world’s libraries, I’ve come to see the need to be more discriminating.

Not discriminating on  the basis of prejudiced against because of the publisher or the franchise, but discriminating on the basis of is this something I’m going to enjoy as much as I would that pulp over there?  In other words, more selective.  I’m trying to read more to my established tastes than to what certain voices in the field say I need to read.

So what am I trying to focus on?  Well, if you’ve read much of this blog, you know sword and sorcery is a major part of that.  So is epic fantasy, at least during periods when I have plenty of time to block out for reading, i.e., when classes aren’t in session.  As far as science fiction goes, space opera, especially space opera with a hard science bent, but also hard science in general, followed by time travel.  Historical adventure has been growing as a percentage of my reading over the last few years.  Horror is still there, but I’m pretty discriminating about it.  In the mystery field, PIs tend to be what I gravitate to, with police procedurals coming in second.  Cozies I can do without.  I consider noir and crime to be different from mystery, but they also get a lot of my attention.  And of course, I love short fiction of almost any genre. 

You can see the trend here, can’t you?  Adventure in some form.  Sense of wonder.  An exhilaration at being alive.  Optimism coupled with a thread of darkness.  Anyway, those are the things I look for in fiction.  You can keep the books written to promote your agenda or expand my consciousness.  I’ve got a villain to fight, a princess to save, and a monster to slay.