For several years now, my reading choices have been driven by publication dates. Most of my books come as advanced reader copies via NetGalley and Edelweiss. Consequently, I end up bopping from genre to genre, from thriller to literary fiction to oddball science fiction to historical fiction, etc., etc. The jumps mean that I am always having to recalibrate my brain not unlike I have to when I adjust my register so that I can speak like a professional after hanging around with friends.
It wouldn’t be fair to use the same yardstick to measure different books, even if it were possible. Apples and oranges and spaceships, after all. But swapping one yardstick for another (or switching registers) can be tough. It means changing your expectations about characterization, pacing, and themes in fairly radical ways.
When I read thrillers, science fiction, and mysteries, I can expect fast pacing and not-so-thorough character development. In these genres, the plot is the most important thing. If I read a couple of literary or historical fiction novels, I can wallow in leisurely plots and dive deeply into psychology. Jumping to one of the faster genres can seem like someone suddenly pressed the fast forward button on my reading. Then, when I switch back, I have to deliberately slow down so that I can think more about subtext or I will miss what the book is all about.
If nothing else, I get a good mental workout when I switch genres. The change up means that I have to purposefully think about what I’m reading in a way that I don’t when I get into a groove. Jumping genres means that I don’t take things for granted, even if, at times, it feels like I have mentally run over a speed bump and tripped. I’ve come to love these little moments when I pick my brain up, dust it off, and have a good look around**. I end up thinking about how genre works and how authors play around with expectations as much as I think about what happens, how the characters grow, and whether I liked the ending.
This kind of reading also means that I am less likely to fall into a rut. If I ever got bored of reading, I don’t know what I would do with myself.
* I tried so hard to think of an alliterative word, but failed.
** I have lost count of the number of similes/metaphors I’ve stuffed into this post to keep from using the same words too many times.