on switching genres: the benefits of being a reviewer

Look, it’s not a glamorous life, that of a reviewer. Sure, I get a lot of free books, and people at work think I am the Wise Old Elf of crime (it’s all a ruse), and some people even buy books that I say nice things about (augh! It makes me feel like I’m saying “Do you want fries with that?”), and I get paid an amount that doesn’t really reflect the amount of time spent, but frankly that’s because I spend way too long trying to figure out how to stick a stupid joke in five lines. Of course – and any reviewer knows this – you get really burnt out after a while, only being able to read books you have to read rather than want to read, even if you kind of do want to read them. Between these reviews, MWF, and my book club, the last time I read a book that I chose myself was six months ago when I went out for a long lunch on my own and took The Old Man and the Sea with me, because I knew I could finish it over my sandwich (and I did.) I’m not really complaining, of course – better too many books than not enough! – and the one thing I’m extra grateful for is that this job of reviewing around ten books a month for the Readings Monthly means that I have to go outside my comfort zone. Since I don’t want to just review ten books that fit into my specific criteria (well, of course I WANT to, but I probably should not), I need to make sure I cover a lot of ground, so almost every reader gets to hear about their favourite style of crime. So instead of just huddling up with my own favourites (which currently applies to southern USAmerican crime and, obviously, Australian crime, though preferably written by ladies) I have to taste all of it.

Sometimes, I still don’t like a certain genre, but I can distance myself enough to know that I can’t just push in my own preferences, and can objectively appreciate parts of it. I really stretch to enjoy historical military crime, even as I understand that military books have a huge following, but I did recently get swept up in Alan Furst’s A Hero in France (though that could’ve been because it was very short, which always makes me feel kindly towards a book in advance.) I’m not always partial to cosy styles unless I am in a particularly cranky mood and need to be soothed, but I still smashed the first third of Kate Saunders’ upcoming The Secrets of Wishtide without wanting to put it down. I am just about at the very end of my enjoyment of Scandinavian crime after reading approx 5,000 of them, but I’ll still give them a try. I didn’t think that I liked Lee-Childlike action thrillers, but every time I pick one up I genuinely enjoy them, so I’m glad I kept trying.

One style that I really struggle with at the moment is the British psychological thriller. There’s something about this current influx of books with twentysomething British women who are terribly normal and drink a lot and get caught up in some kind of giant murder case that I can’t wholly enjoy. It’s not really the plotting, which is always tight, but some kind of across-the-board sameness that means many of them feel like they’re written by the same author. Here’s where I confess  never read The Girl on the Train, because I picked it up, started it, and felt it had that samey writing style. If you like that style, which around one hundred million people do, then this is your time to swim happily in the sea of that style – and do that! I’m not the boss of what makes you enjoy literature. But when I pick up a book, and think, “Is this the new Paula Hawkins or Sabine Durrant or…?” then I’ve already lost interest – though I will gamely try, for my readers. I am nothing if not generous, and also humble.


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