Don’t feel guilty about your guilty pleasures
Confession: I used to be kind of a book snob.
It started in high school, when I developed an interest in philosophy (my first dog was named Rawls, after John Rawls, author of “A Theory of Justice”). I had a subscription to the “The Economist.”
Luckily for me, I had an existential (reading) crisis halfway through grad school and discovered vampires (in fiction). And after years of reading academic texts and dense journal articles, I discovered that reading could be fun when I randomly picked up a mass market paperback of the first Sookie Stackhouse book, and I’ve never looked back. Now, I read a balanced diet of all genres, try new formats, and sample the flavors of diverse writers.
Some might characterize the genre fiction I love as guilty-pleasure reading, but I don’t feel guilty about it at all. I’ve read enough urban fantasy to know what kind I like (humor! action! romantic tension!), so when I’m in the mood for what I characterize as “junk food reading” I know what to look for in a book (strong heroine, unique world-building, a dash of snark).
Just like my favorite food is broccoli, my typical reading diet is heavy on thoughtful, literary fiction, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally indulge my reading sweet tooth with a little urban fantasy and a side of ice cream.
Reading can be inspiring and moving, or entertaining and enjoyable, and there’s no reason to feel guilty if it’s just the latter. Genre fiction can get a bad rap for being heavy on plot and lacking in lyrical prose. But each genre — even urban fantasy novels full of supernatural creatures and unbelievable phenomenon — is full of books that fall all over the literary spectrum.
If you’ve been reluctant to try a genre because the covers are so tacky you can’t bear to be seen in public holding one or because you assume you’ll be rolling your eyes at the unrealistic scenarios, I challenge you to give it a try just to see if it’s to your taste. In addition to the collection development librarians who ensure Lawrencians have a wide selection of reading choices, we have dedicated staff who want to help you find a book you’ll love and are willing to help you find the perfect book for your taste.
Like a good sommelier will help you develop your palate for wine, our Book Squad can help you push your reading boundaries and experiment with new flavors of story. You can even join our conversation on a different genre at our new kind of book club. Think of it as a tasting menu; it’s a way to sample all the variety on a certain theme. Truly, urban fantasy has something for almost every kind of reader.
Love Victorian era history? Trust me, it’s even more fun when you throw vampires and werewolves into the mix and add a steampunk twist in “Soulless” by Gail Carriger. Think Jane Austen meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Love a good Southern Gothic mystery? Try Natalie Parker’s “Beware the Wild,” where a swamp is much more than it seems. Love characters as fierce as they are vulnerable? Explore a futuristic Atlanta where magic and technology battle for dominance in “Magic Bites” by Ilona Andrews (if you make it to the eighth installment in the series, I promise a cameo appearance by a weredolphin pirate).
In the mood for an epic road trip that gets to the heart of the American dream? Try “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. Want something with a story as philosophical as it is gory? Try “Dreams and Shadows” by C. Robert Cargill.
Interested in fast cars, psychics, lost Welsh kings and an ill-fated kiss? Try “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater. Urban fantasy often draws readers in with action-driven plots or snarky characters, but it can ultimately lead us to question what it means to be human and inspire us to find the myth and magic in our own lives. And if those are stories you can enjoy, it’s nothing to feel guilty about. If you’re an avid fan or interested in giving it a taste, check out our urban fantasy genre guide or join our discussion at 2 p.m. Sept. 13.
— Molly Wetta is a collection development librarian at Lawrence Public Library where she ensures Lawrence has a great selection of DVDs, CDs, graphic novels, and young-adult literature. Her reading interests are eclectic and range from feminist picture books to existential Russian novels, but she has a particular fondness for queer YA fiction. If she's not reading, she's probably on Tumblr or re-watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Library’s Genre Book Club: All gushing, no shushing!
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: we library folk want to talk about books with you. We absolutely do. But research shows that when people are looking for something new to read, librarians are your go-to only 19 percent of the time. Que pasa, y’all?
Perhaps you see us out shelving books in the stacks and you, considerate souls that you are, don’t want to bother us. Or maybe (I’ve been told) you’re concerned that we’ll judge what you’re reading (or not reading) and would rather poke around on your own, rather than risk getting librarian side-eye.
Let me assure you: we don’t judge. Truly. We are “imperfect” readers, too, who just want to have a bookish conversation with other readers. We like to laugh about truly awful romance covers that hide quite good content. We love hearing about that unusual book that changed your life. We are curious about why you don’t like the award-winning book everyone else seems to love. If you’re interested, we want to give you reading suggestions, too — in person and online.
At LPL, our mission in the Readers’ Services department, home of The Book Squad, is to connect people with the stories that enrich their lives. In order to do that, we review books and create reading lists in the LPL catalog.
We chat with you in the stacks, offer you a few books, and hope you’ll come back and let us know what you thought. We create personalized reading suggestions for you. We can even help your book club find their next read and supply the books in one handy bag.
One program we’ve started to encourage community conversations about reading is the Genre Book Club, which meets once a month. Our staff puts together a list of highly rated and representative books in a genre, and you call or email to request one or two of those books to try out. Then, on the second Sunday of the month, we sit around snacking and talking about what we read, what we thought, and learn more about the genre in general. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.
Genre Book Club is a way to discover something new, without making a huge time commitment. It can also be a great way to meet people who share your reading loves and swap suggestions for fresh reads. (Next month’s talk is on urban fantasy, an up-and-coming genre, at 2 p.m. Sept. 13.)
Genres can be a tidy way of understanding what you might expect overall from a story, a shorthand that there will be elements in this tale that speak to you as a reader. Genres, however, can sometimes draw artificial lines that people don’t cross. I will admit there are genres I thought I didn’t read… until I did.
Reading “The Martian” and “Ready Player One” taught me that I can find a compelling story in sci-fi, even though it wasn’t a place I spent much time. I’ve converted people who thought they didn’t like romance with authors Courtney Milan, Julia Quinn and Eloisa James.
If you haven’t read all the classics, we don’t care. (We probably haven’t, either.) If you haven’t read anything but cereal boxes or Facebook statuses for a while, that’s cool. We’ve been there. We’d love to help you.
Genre Book Club is a great way to meet authors and stories, and a nice way to meet your neighbor. Let your friendly LPL Book Squad member get you connected to a story that might enrich your life, a story that just might come from a section of the library you haven’t yet met.
— Polli Kenn is the Readers’ Services Coordinator at LPL. She likes being transported by story, historical romance, urban farming, women’s health, sociology, books about how or why, wit and wordplay, and twisty plots.