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Are We Turning Into A Culture of Picky Readers?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

As a mom of five, I've worked hard to prevent my kids from becoming picky eaters. I decided early on that I couldn't be a short order cook, that whatever meal I made was what we were having and that's all there was to it.

And for the most part, my kids adjusted and learned to eat anything I served (except for an occasional banana aversion). I have to admit, my kids are less picky than I am.

However, I've noticed that I haven't been as successful in training my kids with their pickiness in reading. My junior high twins are in a girls' literature club this year, and they've had to delve into some longer classics—like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.

When I asked one of the twins (the avid-reader) how she liked the books, she replied, "They're just not my style. I like action, adventure, and a faster pace."

As I've tried to help feed her voracious reading appetite, we run into trouble because she wants to read "modern" books and mostly suspense, mystery, or fantasy.

If I suggest a historical she'll say, "Mom, you know I don't like books that happen back then." In fact, she put down a book that was about fifteen years old because the author said "cellular phones" instead of "cell phones." Apparently the outdated lingo just didn't cut it.

Lest I convey that this pickiness in reading belongs only to my daughter, I confess—I'm picky too. I can't tell you the number of books I've NOT finished for one reason or another. In fact, I've skipped over books altogether because I didn't like the cover, a review, the blurb on the back, or an online sample.

I know I'm not the only critical reader. One only has to read GoodReads reviews to realize how finicky modern readers are. Readers are quick to share their opinions about what they liked and what they didn't.

I can't help thinking that we're turning into a culture of picky readers.

On the one hand, it seems inevitable. With the millions of books flooding virtual shelves and with the explosion of genres, subgenres, and even self-published e-books, we don't have the time and energy to devote to every book.

We also have less free time (see this post: Reading For Pleasure? Who Has Time for That Anymore?). And when we do finally have time, other things compete for our attention (movies, TV, video games, etc.).

Yes, invariably readers have to narrow down their choices, their favorite genres, and authors. We can't possibly keep up with everything that's out there.

But on the other hand, are we doing ourselves a disservice by making our choices too narrow? Are we losing something when we fill our plates with the same brain-food week after week, when we don't add variety, when we don't push ourselves to expand our taste buds?

Yes, sometimes we need our comfort food, those books we always enjoy, the books that make us feel good.

But other times we need a smorgasbord. We need to try new flavors, feast on the unknown, and enliven our taste palates. Sometimes we need books that move us slightly out of our comfort zones, books that broaden our horizons, and books that take us to new places and introduce us to different ways of viewing the world and life.

I normally gravitate toward historical romances. But I've tried several new genres over the past year, and was pleasantly surprised by not only how much I enjoyed them, but also how much I learned, particularly as it relates to my writing.

I'm also constantly challenging myself to new books through what I read with my children. This school year I've read books like James and the Giant Peach, Homer Price, Stuart Little, and the Tale of Despereaux (see my Reading With My Kids board on Pinterest). They're not books I would normally pick out on my own. But I'm richer, stronger, and more well-rounded for having broadened my reading tastes.

What do you think, dear reader? Do you think we're becoming a culture of picky readers? What is your genre of choice? Do you ever push yourself to try new authors and genres?

45 comments:

  1. I think most readers have a strong sense of taste, opposed to just being picky. I usually read mainstream or women's fiction now because that's what I write. Every so often I need to read an exiting international spy novel, a historical mystery, or a medical thriller, because I've always enjoyed those books (often considered books).

    However, I've tried many times to read science fiction and fantasy, and I just can't get into them. I suppose the key word is "tried." Just as with food, I believe we don't have to enjoy every taste, but we should keep trying them just in case.

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    1. It's hard to find a good book these days, I mean a book that you personally like. Sometimes it's about the preferred genre, sometimes about a writer. Mostly, people go back to the classics or books that they friends or reliable readers adviced to read. I start reading and if I don't like it, then I don't read it further.
      I think the most interesting point by reading the books compared to watching TV or looking movies at cinema is the fact that we have to use our own imagination. The better we can follow and imagine what the writer tries to convey or communicate us, the better we find the book. MAybe that's the reason why we find some books better than others: we simply can better understand them or something caught our memories, attention, darkest or hidden thoughts. It's all about the reader, and if the story (s)he finds suits it's like feeling comfortable or addictive.
      Being picking is not a bad habit. We simply understand how precious our time is and therefore, we try not to lose it in a way that we don't like.
      What I can advise is a story by Amalia Angellinni, and it's cool to see that I'm not the only one, who admires her storytelling catching and her killer concept. When you look at the feedback to the last campaign around Angellinni's books, you'll see how different the perception of her books is.

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  2. I'll be commenting on this in my weekly round-up.

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    1. Will look forward to it! Perhaps you can come back and share the link.

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  3. I think there have always been people who will read anything, and there have always been those that will only read certain things. Perhaps all of the distractions in our world today have caused there to more of the latter than the former. It's an interesting conversation to have. I, for instance, will confess that I am a picky eater, and there is definitely a pattern with the books I read. I'm an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, and I enjoy historical novels of almost all kinds (nonfiction and fiction). I like contemporary fiction for the most part. However, I have not picked up a western that I truly have liked, and I don't really read memoirs. So while I've never thought of myself as a picky reader, I guess I am a little more choosy than I thought. Maybe after I've finished my current novel, I will try to branch out and read something different.

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  4. Several (though not all) of my students are picky readers; they're not shy about saying whether or not they like a book. It's good when they can explain why they don't like a book. But sometimes it can be frustrating when some of them are willing to spend hours reading their friends' text messages and Facebook updates, yet they'll come to class saying that they didn't have time to finish the reading assignment.

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    1. Oh I can imagine how frustrating that would be! FB and texts are definitely a different kind of reading, require much less attention, energy, and work than reading a novel.

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  5. I mostly read contemporary Christian romance because that's what I write, but I'm drawn to historical romance as well. Though within the past year or so I realized that I haven't read a lot of the children's classics so my family (Mom, sister, and I) started a book club where we are reading some of the old classics. We will be starting "To Kill a Mockingbird" within the next week or two. I do think it's important to broaden our horizons and read beyond our favorites. It's a great way to learn and grow.

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  6. There are some people who are gonna read only what they like -- and you can't pry their favorite genre out of their hand with a crowbar. (Sorry, weak word picture. It's early in the morning still. No caffeine yet.)
    And then, as Brittany pointed out, there are people who will read anything.
    One of the ways I exposed my kiddos to different types of books was to read aloud to them when they were younger -- and this tradition lasted longer than I ever thought. Once they got older, they all settled into preferred genres. But, between the early years smorgasbord
    and school required reading, I think they are well-rounded readers.

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    1. Beth, Great to hear what you did with your kids to help make them well-rounded readers. I've done that with my kids too. Over the years, we've likely read dozens upon dozens of children's classics. I'll cross my fingers that in the long run I see them bearing the fruit of that exposure.

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  7. You're correct, limited time to read plays a factor in what I choose, but as a writer, I try to keep variety in mind with my book selections. I try to balance craft books, reading for pleasure (for me primarily non-fiction) and fiction books outside my usual choice. But there area few genres I just can't bring myself to venture into.

    As for my daughter, a voracious reader, I let her appetite guide her. I'm just glad she loves to read!

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  8. I think there needs to be a balance between being just picky (which I admit I tend to be) and being time-conscious. I mean, there are only so many hours in a day, and why waste precious time on a book that I hate? I usually get a sense of "this is a tough read, but it's going to be worth it" versus "wow, this book is crap" or "I just don't want to read this" within the first 50 pages.

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  9. Time is definitely the limiting factor for me, and this year I have dedicated myself to balancing my time a little better between reading, writing, and other interests. But I do agree that we are becoming more and more picky, to say nothing of critical and opinionated. Many times (myself included) I can be harsher with a novel that is outside my particular taste (at the moment), another habit I am trying to tone down.

    Great post. :) Thanks for bringing it up.

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  10. Thanks, Jody. I have just spent 42 minutes reading the jokes on the Pinterest board that you mentioned! What a delightful 42 minutes. My husband was very patient and listened as I loudly read some of the punch lines from across the house! :-)

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    1. So glad the board could give you a delightful 42 minutes! :-) I LOVE reading through the board on occasion. It's a great pick-me-up!

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  11. PS. the Pinterest board you mentioned led me to your humor board.

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  12. I remember in elementary and middle school, I read so voraciously -- I finished books in one sitting, several hours of reading at a time until my head hurt. Now that I'm in high school, though, and I have AP classes and a pile of homework and my own laptop, I find myself taking 3, 4, even 5 days to finish a book that at one point may have taken me 2.

    My point is, I think you're right. We're forced to be picky, with so many books and so many distractions out there. I'm forced to skip over books because I have homework to do, or because the internet is calling out to me. And I fall back on my favorite genre, fantasy.

    I didn't mean for this comment to ramble on so long, but what I really wanted to say is: awesome post. I agree, 100%. :)

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Danielle! I've found that the busier I get, the less time I have for reading too. But I'm learning to find ways to squeeze in more reading, especially with audible books. I also am carrying around my ipod wherever I go, and if I have a few minutes crack open the book through my Kindle app or listen to it.

      Nevertheless, you're at a life stage (and so am I!) where we don't always have the luxury of reading broadly. When we're on limited time,we just want our comfort food/genre of choice! :-)

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  13. I think I go through stages in my reading. When I was a little younger I only wanted to read modern Christian fiction, and wouldn't even consider historical. But as I got older I branched out more and now I can't get enough of historical fiction. You have to try everything once at least...just in case it's a hidden gold mine.

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    1. LOVE this, Emily! "You have to try everything once at least...just in case it's a hidden gold mine." That about sums it up! :-) Thanks for sharing. And it's great to hear that you've branched out from what you read when you were younger. That gives me hope that maybe someday my daughter might actually read my books! ;-)

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  14. Thank you for this thought provoking post because I think I needed a jolt. I have health books, books for Christian growth, cookbooks, Christian novels, and some self help books downloaded on my e-reader. However, I naturally gravitate to the Christian novels. One thing I have noticed recently is that after having read your historical novels I'm preferring the historical novel now over just the regular boy meets girl type Christian novel. Interesting how that worked...I feel as if I gain more knowledge and gain some depth now. Thanks...I needed this post! :-)

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  15. By nature I like Christian romance - but I'm a bit picky at even that. I prefer something either historical or based on a horse ranch... But I don't really care for suspense or Amish settings. I had to step out of my comfort zone for a while because I had read everything in my old library that I would normally read (and my budget didn't allow me to read my fill with fresh new books from Amazon). But I have a new library now so I'm back where I want to be... for the time being.

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  16. I'm willing to try a new genre, if I'm relatively certain it will be worth my time. So, I need a recommendation from a trusted source. I once read a lot of Amish fiction, then gave that up when I felt like I was reading the same story over and over again, but I've been pleasantly surprised by a few new releases and have gone back to that area, selectively. I also told myself I wasn't interested in suspense, romantic or otherwise, but over the summer, I read one for Tyndale's Summer Reading Program and loved it! And I've recently enjoyed Dani Pettrey's books set in Alaska. Maybe the deal with the classics (not necessarily for your kids) is they're harder to digest and understand and pick apart. I know I have to take more slowly books that were written in a different age because my mind isn't trained to read that style (unfortunately). I think patient persistance is one answer. All I read when I was a teenager was Stephen King and my tastes have definitely broadened si nce then! Good topic!

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    1. Good point, Lisa! When we hear others talking about a book that isn't in our normal book-reading palate, we're perhaps more willing to give the book a try. Word of mouth can definitely influence me to try new books that I wouldn't usually think about reading.

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  17. "Cellular" instead of "cell"---that cracked me up! :-)
    My favorite genre is Christian historical romance like the kind you write, Jody. In non-CBA books, I would say I prefer contemporary fiction over historical. But for me that has to be CLEAN and that's almost impossible to find. It takes a lot of research and digging to come up with good titles to try. When I've had enough of fiction, I immerse Bible studies, Christian living, biographies, classics, and women's history. But I don't have enough time or money to give many unknown titles and authors a chance.

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  18. My childhood public library was quite small, I now realize. Now, with on-line sites, the choice is overwhelming. I've read that when the latter is the situation, some people end up choosing nothing.

    I wonder if preference for certain genres arises early, based upon an encounter with a meaningful book.

    As I recently blogged, I will stop reading a book with excessive swearing or graphic violence. Not for me.

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  19. Hi everyone!! I'm really loving all of the discussion on this topic today! Thanks for sharing and for getting me thinking! :-)

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  20. I never really thought about this! I will say that my sons are picky readers, because they like shorter books with lots of action. And they definitely don't like assigned books from school. I love all sorts of genres, and I'm open to trying new things. Just today I borrowed a book from a friend...a book I normally wouldn't have picked out on my own.

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  21. I'm not a parent, but I'll this, Jody, since you don't negotiate on food, pick your battles with books carefully. That said, in general, parents, accept that not all kids can or will like EVERY vegetable known to man, and that's OKAY.

    I'm all for healthy eating, but just like with books, forcing one specific thing above all else is setting up meal time, and reading books, to be a punishment, rather than a pleasurable experience, and between books and beets, you should try to have an easier time with books, I'm just saying...

    Speaking solely for myself now, I am still a picky reader in some respects, but I don't loathe vegetables I once did, and I do have my preferences regarding books, but I'm admittedly more open about food these days(Loving to cook admittedly helps) than books.

    I do break out of my usual diet of animal fantasy, and children's books in general, to historical novels, and while I'm not ready to write nonfiction right now, I enjoy it more than I did in school.

    The most "Fish out of Water" book I read (But didn't finish) was the first Dark Hunter book by Sherilyn Kenyon, and let me just say, as a MAN who's still a virgin, no longer in high school and NEVER been on a real date in my life (Yet...that word is starting to become painful to type as much as speak)this kind of book is not my normal
    thing, but at a time I kept being surrounding by Kenyon's books, I caved a bought a few over a period of years.

    I started with the first Dark Hunter, but I didn't finish it, not because I didn't want to, but I was too flushed to be as G-PG as I can about the experience and be honest.

    Never before had a book given my heart palpitations, or make me blush so much. Just to clarify, I loved the thrill, but perhaps too much...

    It's like going from 0 to 720 in the sex department, and that's all I can say without getting more graphic, or embarrassing myself.

    (Took a cold shower...)

    I also read comics, but I was not interested in them as a kid, when it was all about DC/Marvel superheroes, I was more into Peanuts strips and comics from japan that were adventure stories that weren't in the confines of superheroes of the DC or Marvel tradition. They had depth and range in their art and storytelling, good guys made bad choices sometimes, but not always BEYOND redemption later, bad guys could turn good if they wanted to, and all the fallout drama from former enemies and allies that choice comes with.

    I think the best thing we can do for readers today is

    Even if you or you kids (Like Jody's) prefer a certain type of book, at least let them know of the variety, even if they don't seem interested now, later they might, but for me, this variety was all it took to get me to try new things.

    That said, I think this issue is harder for writers in some ways, because we have to read in our genre, yet we sometimes neglect other books because of that need, especially when we're fitting writing in tight confines of other stuff, and I think a post about this reading challenge that's more writer-specific is something to consider, Jody.

    Good post today,
    Taurean

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    1. Great thoughts, Taureen! I like your point about our reading tastes broadening as we get older, the same way that perhaps our food tastes broaden as we mature. It certainly makes it easier if we've learned not to be picky as children. But it's never too late to expand our tastes for both books and food!

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  22. I'm very much an avid reader. My school years consisted of me reading things like Little House on the Prarie, Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, Newberry books, etc. I remember reading Witch in Blackbird Pond in 6th grade.

    My reading tastes today are primarily Christian fiction. I adore historical fiction (both secular and Christian). I will also read mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, and most things in the Fiction category. I struggle with the Classics though I have read several.

    I'm not afraid to try new genres or new authors. I started blogging/reviewing because my favorite authors weren't publishing any new books. I will admit that Amish fiction isn't my favorite. I think that's because I read one author and she soured me on the genre. I have read other authors and have enjoyed them. So while it's not my favorite, I will on occassion read it. Nonfiction, though is another story entirely. I have spent so much time in college and graduate school, that I don't like reading books that make me think. And a lot of the nonfiction books have an almost textbook feel to them. I will on the very RARE occassion read a nonficiton book. But it needs to either be by an author whom I've read before or be a subject matter that interests me. My really only exception to that rule is books on Ireland/Scotland. I will read pretty much anything about those two countries.

    Of course the time I planned a trip to Seattle to visit my sister, I remember sitting in the Travel section at Barnes and Noble for hours pouring over the Seattle travel books. Had a few friends working there too and they got a kick out of seeing the "fiction" reader engrossed in travel books. :)

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    1. Non-fiction is an entirely different subject! LOL :-) My husband and I have shelves and shelves of non-fiction books that we've read over the years. But you're right. Usually the subjects are matters that are important to us. And I've noticed that over the past five years, our non-fiction book buying has gone way down. Life has gotten really busy and I think we read more stuff online.

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  23. I remember reading anything and everything I could get my hands on when my parents were going through their divorce. I was 12. I still am willing to try anything -except horror and erotica - but without promising to finish it if it doesn't hold my interest. I like mystery, suspense, inspirational romance and fantasy the best. I've been readin more young adult the last few years to have informed discussions with my middle school students. I read every book that either of my sons picked up for pleasure and most of those they read for school so I could prepare myself for questions. I love to read more than I love to do anything else (except maybe write).

    That said, I do think that the entertainment industry has pumped kids up to expect a wild ride from every game, movie and book. If they aren't sucked in right away, they aren't interested in reading it. This puts a burden on writers to start in the middle. The classic writers didn't have to do that. Their appeal comes from the style and structure of their writing. Many kids today aren't interested in those literary aspects. I think as parents and teachers, we are obligated to help them expand their reading palate. I might suggest ear plugs at the outset.

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  24. I have to laugh because my son rejected a book because it had one 'd*#n' in it so because it had swearing, it became unacceptable. As gotten older, my interests have become more eclectic and I've become more open to different genres and styles. During last teenager and early 20 years, all I would read was science fiction and fantasy. I was quite the picky reader. No longer. In my 50's I'm willing to give most anything a chance as long as it is well written. Picky when it comes to how a story is written. Maybe branching out comes with age and wisdom.

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    1. Robin, I could see my younger son doing the same thing. He's very conscious of what he reads. I've tried to teach my children how to be thoughtful readers, thinking through world view differences, discussing issues that come up in books that we may not agree with or values that differ from ours. I think you're right in that as we get older and wiser we learn how to digest and process those differences a little better.

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  25. I'm a much pickier reader now that I'm a writer, but I think all of us tend to get in a comfort zone with certain genres. I've been trying, like you, to expand my choices a bit. Right now I'm going back and reading old school romances (from the 80s and 90s that are considered classics by most romance readers.) And they have head hopping and some out of date stylistic things (and most of what I'm reading is historical, which is not my typical choice) but I'm really enjoying them. I also just got my stack of books to judge for the RITA contest and a number of them are in subgenres I normally don't read, but I'm looking forward to giving them a try. We can always learn something from outside of our sandbox. :)

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    1. I'm judging this year for the RITA too and am having to read subgenres I don't normally read. And you're right, we can always learn so much!

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  26. I'm late to the party here (I always forget to check my Blogger Dashboard reader), but wanted to say I have seen the same tendencies toward pickiness in myself. For me it's partly because of the ease of getting my hands on books with the Kindle. I download free books by authors I've heard of, but then find I don't relate to their style or genre, and end up not finishing. In a way I'm broadening my reading, and in that discovering what I like and what I don't. And, like you say, life is too short to spend reading what you just don't care for. (That's how I first read you--but I finished the book)

    (By the way, I enjoyed your Preacher's Wife book, all the more because years ago, I made a stab at fictionalizing an incident in Elizabeth Bunyan's life. I did it after writing an assigned piece on John Bunyan and in my research discovering his plucky wife. Of course your book was way beyond what I ever attempted. But as soon as I began reading it, I recognized the characters, even though the names were different. I've linked Part 1 of my story in my signature.)

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    1. Violet, I love hearing that you fictionalized an incident in Elizabeth Bunyan's life! After I study real life heroes, my imagination usually goes wild and starts asking "what was the real story?" It's always fun to imagine how it could have happened! Thank you for sharing! :-)

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  27. When my children were young our trips to the library resulted in a mishmash of books they picked, based mostly on the covers. It meant they tried a lot of different authors without realizing it. As they got older and found particular authors and genres they preferred, I didn't push them towards others mainly because I had my favourites so it seemed reasonable that they would, too. I was just happy if they kept reading.

    Now I'm a gramma and I regularly buy books for my grandchildren who read voraciously. It's one way to expose them to a variety... although I know what series they like and always include one or two of them, too. I'm so glad to see how their parents encourage their reading, and how much they enjoy it.

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  28. This is why I loved being involved in book clubs in various stages of my life. I always read things I wouldn't pick up on my own and challenged other readers to try new things.

    I find if I spend too much time in one genre -- to extend that food metaphor -- I feel under nourished. It's only in variety I meet all my literary needs. :)

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  29. I love science fiction, but I also read fantasy, classics, mysteries, books about nature, Japanese poetry and sometimes books for kids :) I also read in 3 languages, which allows me to read more authors.

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  30. I think the short attention spans of many people today, partly because of the fast-cut TV era, means they will never bring themselves to enjoy the slow and detailed pacing of a Steinbeck novel, and that's a pity.

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