The Genres that Scare Me

I spend a fair amount of time talking about the importance of diversity in our stories and reading culture. I fully support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. I’ve made a commitment to increase the diversity of my own reading, both in terms of authors and characters.

I read two posts over the past couple of weeks which spin the idea of diverse reading in a slightly different direction:

I Can’t Even with Librarians Who Don’t Read Diversely by Molly Wetta (posted on Bookriot, August 12, 2016)

Call to Action: Get Out There and Read Something You Are “Afraid” Of by Becky Spratford (posted on RA for All, August 22, 2016)

Normally, we talk about diverse books in terms of the ethnicity and cultures of characters, authors, and story traditions. What speaks to me about the two articles linked above is the call to increase the diversity of the genres I read. The call to “read outside [my] own taste and interest” (from Bookriot), to read things I dislike or that scare me to try (as per the RA for All post).

I considered my lifetime reading history, looked through the books on my shelves at home, reviewed my Goodreads account, etc., and discovered something that makes me proud:

My reading is already very diverse. There’s very little out there that doesn’t interest me enough for me to have spent time looking into it, both fiction and nonfiction.

Nonetheless, I identified four fiction genres that I rarely, or never, read:

  • Romance
  • Urban Fiction
  • Inspirational / Christian / Faith Fiction (for Pete’s sake, I don’t even know what the preferred nomenclature is for this one!)
  • Westerns (I’ve read True Grit by Charles Portis, a title or two by Joe Lansdale, and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt)

So I’ve decided to start reading these genres. Ms. Wetta recommends dedicating at least 25% of my reading time to “books outside your comfort zone.”

I asked the Director of Readers’ Services at my library for recommendations in these genres. I also mentioned my plan to my wife. Between the two of them, I got a good list to get me started:


  • When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
  • A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux
  • The Prize by Julie Garwood
  • Wizard of Seattle by Kay Hooper
  • Blue Smoke and Murder by Elizabeth Lowell

Urban Fiction

  • Daddy Cool by Donald Goines
  • Iceberg Slim and Gangsta by K’wan
  • Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah
  • Anything by Zane and Teri Woods

Inspirational / Christian / Faith Fiction

  • At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
  • The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado
  • Thrush Green series by Miss Read
  • The Notebook and A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks
  • Whatever Tomorrow Brings and The Princess by Lori Wick


  • The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas
  • St. Agnes’ Stand by Thomas Eidson
  • The Day the Cowboys Quit by Elmer Kelton
  • Louis L’Amour’s bibliography
  • Hellfire Canyon by Max McCoy

At first, I thought I wanted definitive “Best of” lists—maybe the Top Ten books which define each genre. But the ideal of readers’ advisory is to personalize the materials we recommend to people. You want to do your best to make sure the reader will actually like what you give them.

It wouldn’t work for me to be dropped directly into bodice rippers, for example. That strategy is unlikely to win me over to romance. However, I love mystery novels and there’s a prolific subgenre of mystery-romance crossovers (a la Elizabeth Lowell). Kay Hooper writes mystery-romance but also blends fantasy elements into her stories, which brings in a familiar SF milieu. Their work embeds my first encounters with romance elements in settings where I’m already comfortable. If I like it, I can expand my horizons from there and work my way to the bodice rippers eventually.

(Julie Garwood is on the list because she’s a local Kansas City author and I went to school with her son-in-law.)

I don’t anticipate starting these lists until next year. My current “To Read” pile right now is too tall for me to get through before then.

But next year, for at least a few months, I plan to read only genres that I normally avoid.

Plus whatever titles Booklist sends me to review. And I’ll never stop reading SF and I want to continue to expand the diversity of the stories I read in that genre.

I’m excited! And yes, just a little bit scared.

4 thoughts on “The Genres that Scare Me

  1. You would do well to stop calling them bodice rippers – that’s really an insulting term and one reserved for the genre of the 1970s and 1980s (and yet these still deserve respect as a reflection of the time they were written). You’ll find that modern romance – from the 1990s on is really a much more feminist genre. I suggest you check out Sarah Maclean’s website. She herself is a best selling romance author (who is amazing) as well as a graduate of Smith College and writes the romance recommendation column for the Washington Post. She’s got a list of over 100 romance books on her website – I’m sure at least one of which is a SF romance (they do exist). I haven’t read one, but Linnea Sinclair is a name I hear a lot. If you like fantasy, that subgenre is growing and I would recommend Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series that starts with The Mark of the Tala.

    Mainly, please stop calling them bodice rippers.


    1. See, I don’t even know the genre well enough to know what the insulting terms are! Unfortunately, I think I’m pretty typical of people who tend to eschew romance—”bodice ripper” is a term I still hear a lot. But, now that I think of it, not usually from fans of the genre.

      My apologies, and thank you for the correction. Thank you, as well, for the suggestions! They’re on the list.


      1. John,
        I think your referring to romance novels as Bodice Rippers is hilarious!!! 🙂 While the women in modern romances aren’t wearing bodices and are generally strong, smart characters, the bodice ripper is really funny and still sometimes appropriate, especially if you’re reading historical romance.


  2. Hi John, you are invited to participate in my Bookish Time Travel Tag, if you so choose. Check my blog post for more details. Thanks, EnglishLitGeek


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