Do you ever find yourself looking at a quote on the cover of a bestselling book you’ve just read wondering why you don’t feel the same way about it?
Have you ever read a book in a genre that you normally enjoy but suddenly found it a little formulaic or disappointing?
Does being able to work out the plot structure spoil your reading pleasure?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of the above this post is for you.
Basically if you’re experiencing any of the above it’s time for you to forge a truly independent path as a reader. If you’re feeling frustrated or bored by what you are reading it may mean that you’re going through a period of growth, or that what you’ve read has unsettled you, or that you’re projecting your previous reading experiences on to your current book only to find it lacking in some way, or that it is just not the right book for you at this point in your life. Here are my top tips to finding the books that may improve your reading experience.
1) If you choose a book based purely on someone else’s opinion, the cover or the cover quote or the back cover blurb you may experience disappointment when you finally start to read it. All those things are a guide to what you might like, not a guarantee. If a sample or a physical copy is available I strongly advise reading the first few pages because the only thing that really matters is the voice telling the story. Does the voice appeal to you? Does the writing flow without jarring you out of the story? Do you feel compelled to read on? If yes invest in the book, if no leave it and try another one. If you ever see me near books you’ll spot me opening cover after cover and reading a page or two. I’m listening for a certain rhythm in the writing, if it’s present I know I’m in the hands of an author who has good control over their voice and great writing skills. This is why my blog features positive book reviews and why I rarely have a negative reading experience.
2) Are you put off by unappealing covers? If yes you may want to rethink that tactic for finding a good read. When I ran a book club we had a publisher visit and ask our opinion about the cover of a book. It was a Noir thriller featuring a young woman on the cover. Most of the women in my group preferred the original self-published cover which featured an atmospheric street scene, while the men in my group liked the cover featuring the woman. We learned that the vast majority of crime fiction readers are women which made this an interesting exercise, as the majority of members in the group that night were female. It’s a tough job to design a cover that will appeal to all types of reader, which is why I recommend diving beneath the cover to find out what the writing is like before you buy. This book was a great read regardless of the cover.
3) Be aware that your appreciation of the writing will be subjective. It will depend on many factors including your reading education, how widely read you are, how open you are to different writing styles and what your preferred reading comfort zone is. Some people hate swearing in books while others see it as an essential part of the authenticity of the story. Some people will only read romance, some love crime writing, some prefer sci-fi, historical, dystopian, fantasy, erotica, graphic novels or literature. The beauty of reading is that there are books to suit every reading skill level and preference. However, the more you read the more your reading skill level will rise. This is when you may suddenly start to think that some of your favourite reads have become formulaic and a little disappointing. When this happens it generally means that your reading skills have developed to the point that you have outgrown that style of writing, which brings me nicely to my next point.
4) When you’ve outgrown the style of writing that you’re used to it’s time to be brave and experiment. Try reading a book from a different genre or by an author that you would have previously found challenging. You may find that your reading skills have developed to the point that books you once found hard to read are now easier (yes, even those Classics that you dreaded during your English Literature classes in school) and a whole new world of books will open up. The Pleasures of Reading by Antonia Fraser features over 40 leading writers who’ve been on a similar reading journey to you. Each one describes how their reading has evolved from childhood to the present, and how it has influenced them to become the writers they are today. It’s absolutely fascinating and a great source of books that may stretch you as a reader, as each writer has listed their favourite books at the end of their chapter.
5) Another way to experiment is to champion debut authors and those who haven’t hit the bestseller lists yet. When you champion a relatively unknown author before they gain wider industry recognition for their work, you will gain confidence in your ability to recognise a good read and trust your own judgement. Plus, you will get a lovely warm buzz from watching the author you’ve championed achieve greater success and recognition, knowing that you’ve had a small part to play in their achievements simply by sharing your passion for their work.
6) How you interpret what you read can be affected by your life experience. What is believable and authentic to one person may feel the opposite to another. This does not mean that either of you are right or wrong, you simply have different perspectives. The best fiction features uncomfortable truths and it’s okay to find them unsettling. Sometimes they are shared through creating dislikable characters or challenging environments and situations. Try to accept those feelings for what they are, as they are the side effect of a truly great writer who is opening you up to another experience or perspective. These writers are the ones who have a powerful ability to develop empathy and compassion in others. The world needs more compassion not less and these writers are an essential part of developing that skill in humanity, and you can find them in every genre.
7) Finally, however and whatever you choose to read, the benefits of reading are vast and can improve your quality of life in many ways. If anyone questions why you choose to spend time with your nose in a book show them this story from Psychology Today: Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function.
Here ends my seven top tips to improve your reading experience. If you find them useful, or they trigger any thoughts, I’d love to hear from you in comments.