My reading habits have changed quite a bit over the last thirty years. Looking back, I can see a definite trend away from high-brow literary classics to more genre-based fiction. Here’s a rundown of what stands out for me.
I studied French and German at Oxford which basically meant French and German literature. The reading lists were so demanding that for years I didn’t read anything that wasn’t part of the syllabus.
By the time I graduated I was well versed in the dramas of Schiller, Kleist and Goethe; I had devoured door-stopper novels by Balzac, Stendhal and Flaubert; I had battled my way through enormous tomes by Thomas Mann and even deconstructed the medieval texts of Walther von der Vogelweide and Gottfried von Strassburg.
But I’d never read anything by Dickens.
It was time to put that right.
Commuting with the Classics
When I started my job in London I commuted to work by train. Well, actually it was two trains and two tube journeys. It took one hour fifteen minutes to get to work and one and a half hours to get home, and that’s when there were no delays 🙂
I developed the ability to read standing on windswept platforms and holding on with one hand on overcrowded underground trains. This was pre-Kindle days and I always had a book tucked under my arm.
It was a brilliant opportunity to catch up on some English classics and a couple of Russian ones too. I worked my way through the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens and George Eliot to name a few. I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and even succeeded in getting through War and Peace.
I was sitting on a bench at Vauxhall train station one evening with my massive volume of War and Peace when I realised that the woman sitting next to me was also reading the same book. That was an interesting conversation opener.
I did read some more modern fiction as a commuter, but it was very high-brow stuff. For a time I was really into Iris Murdoch. I tried re-reading The Philosopher’s Pupil recently and wondered how I ever got past the first chapter.
Contemporary Literary Fiction
I clearly remember one summer feeling that I wanted something different to read. I think it must have been 1997. I went to the book shop and came home with paperback copies of Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson and Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.
What a breath of fresh air!
For the next ten years or so my reading habits featured mainly contemporary literary authors such as Kate Atkinson, Tracy Chevalier, Ian McEwan and Sarah Waters who is my absolute favourite.
Reading the Kids’ Books
Having two boys introduced me to a whole new world of exciting books that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about.
I’ve read, and recommend, the entire Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz and also his Power of Five series.
There have been some absolute gems amongst the Carnegie medal shortlist, such as Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace.
It was also great to be able to introduce my eldest son to Robert Cormier whom I had enjoyed as a teenager. We both think After the First Death is one of the best books we’ve ever read.
I’ve also read quite a bit of fiction aimed primarily at teenage girls. My favourites here are Helen Grant and Emma Haughton who write terrific suspense thrillers. And not to forget The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
And of course I read and loved Harry Potter.
Genre Fiction and Indie Fiction
I was very late to the party where genre fiction was concerned but now I’m a convert.
It was only three years ago when I read my first Stephen King novel. Now I’ve read loads by him and count him as one of my new top authors, particular favourites being Misery, Cujo, 11/22/63, and the Bill Hodges trilogy.
I’ve recently taken to reading crime novels and have become a big fan of Val McDermid and Ian Rankin. I also love J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. Her private detective, Cormoran Strike, is a creation of pure genius.
I still read literary fiction, but it has to really grab me in the way that good genre fiction does. Best of the bunch in recent years have been The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber.
Indie fiction is helping to bring out distinct new voices that otherwise might not have been published. Indie titles that have really stood out for me include Anhedonia by Nico Reznick, The Fifth Voice by Paul Connolly, Blood Dragons by Rosemary A Johns and I Stopped Time by Jane Davis.
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Have your reading habits changed over the years? Please share in the comments below.