Not much progress to report on the Mel vs Shelf front; we had beautiful almost-spring weather this week, so I emerged like a bear from a long hibernation and stumbled around outside while it lasted, doing very little reading but quite a lot of yard work. Now it’s raining buckets and I’m back in
my cave the office.
1. Atmospheric/psychological horror. I’m not a fan of gore or jump scares, but a creepy setting? I’m there. The dawning sense that something is off in an otherwise normal place? So there. Is it real or a reflection of the narrator’s mental state? I’m definitely going to read and find out.
2. Ridiculously terrible covers. Beautiful covers naturally draw the eye, but on the flip side, there’s something compelling about a book whose cover is so bad and inexplicable that you have to pick it up and find out more. Like this cover for Dave Duncan’s West of January. Why is there a naked man riding an orca? The summary seems at odds with the cover? Isn’t this supposed to be science fiction? Obviously this approach backfires – a lot – but it has led me to pick up books I otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
3. Authors with a background in fandom. I’ve followed several authors from fanfiction to original and published fiction with good results. Fanfiction is a taste of what to expect from their writing style and interests, and an established fan presence can make it easier to share new works with an interested audience.
4. Based on mythology, folklore, urban legends, etc. Retellings and deconstructions are always an easy sell.
5. Unreliable narrator. Especially an unreliable narrator who believably sells their own worldview, so that you, as the reader, have to take a step back and reevaluate everything you’re told. I also love narratives where a small piece of new information, or an outside perspective, can change your perception of events entirely.
6. Recommended by a friend. I have a few friends with overlapping interests; we read a lot of the same books, but I can also count on their recommendations from genres we don’t share.
7. Written by a trusted author. I will follow Kurt Vonnegut into the weird world of humans evolving into happy seal people*, trusting all the while that the writing will be great and the story will stick with me in some way. There are a few authors whose new books – or the rest of their works – are instant reads, full stop.
8. Time loops. Think Groundhog Day, where events or time periods repeat until something changes – a conflict revisited, two characters meet properly, a discovery made, a grim fate avoided – before time goes forward as usual.
9. Diverse ensemble cast. I love ensemble casts where every character brings a different perspective and their own mix of insights and biases. I love love love ensemble casts where this causes tension and disagreements, but everyone works through their differences and appreciates their companions, making the group stronger overall.
10. Positive and realistic depictions of mental illness. To end this list on a personal note, I make grabby hands at depictions of characters who struggle with mental illness, who do extraordinary things despite their illness, and autobiographies that are honest about the reality of living with mental illness. It was so much easier to find depictions that were negative, bleak, or downright horrific when I was younger, which really affected my self-perception.
Bonus. Someone I love loved the book. There are several books that belonged to my mom and grandma that have a place of honour on my shelves. I’ve also read books that my husband (who is not much of a reader) has enjoyed solely because he enjoyed them and I wanted to share that enjoyment.
* Galápagos isn’t even his strangest novel, but it sounds bonkers in summary