I’m A Fussy Reader

I mentioned this briefly in another post, and I thought it warranted one of its own because, if I’m to share my opinions and tell you all who I am as a writer, the kind of reader I am is important too. I’ve said it before, and I’ll definitely say it plenty of times in the future, but as writer, you are never simply a writer, there is so much more that goes into writing, and reading is one of them.

Being a fussy reader when you intend to be a writer is not ideal. It’s certainly not that I’m not open to reading other books that don’t immediately contain the things I love or know that I will love, but it would also be fair to say that I don’t always go out of my way to engage with new books that have different content to what I know I like. This is going to be one of those instances where I ask you to do as I say and not as I do. To improve your writing, you should read, that’s a magnificent tip because exposure is an incredible way to learn and improve.

I love to read. I’ve always loved reading. I’m not someone who has a preference for eBooks over physical. I do love physical books, but I certainly love the ease in reading something digitally as well, and that accessibility is so important. Reading is such a right, and if people find reading eBooks more facile, that’s wonderful, and I would never discourage anyone. I’m not a traditionalist in that sense either. In fact, I often read an eBook first and, if I love it enough, that’s when I’ll attain a physical copy because there are perks to both.

Perhaps I’m delaying, however, and thus I should I explain to you my fussy requirements for a book or story. I couldn’t even tell you exactly when it began, just that I now have a set of aspects that I adore and if they aren’t met, I don’t always engage fully. That’s not to say I never venture further from the typical content I love, but it’s to say more so that I don’t actively search for different books. I will take recommendations, but I can usually tell, within the first few pages, if it’s something I’m going to enjoy. If I know I won’t enjoy it, I won’t continue. I know some people probably tell you to stick it out, but reading is a pastime I adore, and I see no reason to force myself to read something I’m not enjoying.

So, what are the books I love? There is an element of hierarchy to my fussy requirements, and fiction sits near the top. Whilst I will research, and that research comes in, more often than not, a nonfiction format, I love fiction. Fiction can be research too, if you’re reading genres you want to entertain in your own work, or you want to read other depictions of faeries or werewolves, there are ways to make fiction research but, in terms of reading for pleasure, fiction is where I go.

So, fiction sits near the top, and, at the bottom, it’s the fantasy genre. High fantasy or low fantasy, these are typically the kinds of books I find most interesting. I read to escape, as I’m sure so many others do, and there are elements of escape when reading about non-fantastical characters in non-fantastical settings, but the quickest and easiest way for me to escape is to read about Shadowhunters, magic, ancient kings and queens, Middle Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I love Earth, she’s wonderful and we should all be doing what we can to repay her for giving us life, but different worlds, or an Earth that has just a little something extra, those are the genres I adore more. I certainly can read books that aren’t fantasy, and it isn’t always something I’m looking for, but it is an element of my fussy readership.

Above fantasy, so more important though I am still able to get by without it, is the YA/NA genre. Now, I do think labels and genres have the ability to divide rather than bring together. I think there are times where people look down on YA/NA, but I often find the content consumable, and the distinctions between YA and Adult can be minute. I have no issue with Adult books, I prefer more mature content in the NA genre, but I think I have so often found that the content I enjoy is within YA/NA that this is now almost something I actively seek. When I go into bookstores, I don’t look at the sections with all the different genres that are meant for adults, I go straight to the YA section because I guarantee I will find something I’m looking for. This isn’t because there is anything strictly different about YA books compared to Adult books, some of the language might be different and some of the topics may be explored in differing ways and sometimes even the structure of a YA book is different to that of an Adult one, but the differences between the target audiences aren’t always enormous. The reason I think I look there so often is because of my number one priority. My pyramid sits with fantasy at the bottom, above that is YA/NA, then we have fiction.

My top priority is queer content.

If you’ve read my short story, you’ll know that I write queer content. I think, as a writer, my fussy readership comes, in part, from knowing what I want to write. In some ways, I would argue, perhaps, a lot of writers do this; you write what you want to read.

What I want to read is queer stories. I can promise everyone reading this now, I will never write a story that doesn’t feature, prominently, queer characters. That’s not to say I won’t write straight characters because diversity is important. What I’m saying instead is that, when I was growing up, straight characters and straight relationships were all I really saw. There might be the occasional queer background character or a minor subplot, but they never stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a straight protagonist, it was usually subtext, sometimes so subtextual, the readers were adding it themselves. And I don’t find that interesting, engaging, or even truthful.

What I find interesting is the actual spectrum of human nature. Every writer finds different aspects of reality interesting, finds different ways to funnel what they think is engaging into their writing. My interests are in turmoil and the self and relationships, and sexuality and gender. It’s not even so much the exploration of sexuality that interests me, though I will sometimes explore that. I just want more queer characters as protagonists, exploring the same things their straight counterparts do. Sometimes, I don’t mind when their sexuality becomes a plot element, so long as the straight characters are getting the same treatment. More often, I just kind of want queer characters to exist, be in relationships, function as their true selves, and have it not be a point at all.

A few years ago, finding queer content was difficult. Think of all the great classic pieces of literature out there, and how many of them hold canonical, confirmed, queer characters? There aren’t many. In fact, there aren’t many that are that diverse in the first place, there is a severe lack of POC representation alongside rounded, well-written female representation in Canon literature. Obviously, there are the works of Wilde and Forster, and The Color Purple has some important expressions of queer femininity, and this isn’t me claiming it’s such a shame we didn’t have queer canon characters when these sorts of things weren’t exactly allowed when all this classic pieces of literature were being written. What I want to highlight, however, is that these books we call classic are obviously chosen for a reason, and their lack of queer content, or the fact it remains as subtext when we argue Nick might just have romantic feelings for Gatsby, are decidedly the reason they are classic, where other books that might showcase a canonically queer character will not be able to attain that title.

I’m not here, however, to argue about the lack of diverse content in Canon. Instead, I’m trying to highlight a positive change in how finding queer books is much easier nowadays. Titles like Captive Prince, The Shadowhunter Chronicles, All for the Game, The Raven Cycle, The Song of Achilles, Circe, all of these and more are so, arguably, quintessential when it comes to a young reader seeing themselves represented. These are some of my favourite titles, ones I have read countless times. Magnus Bane was the first ever character, from literature to television to film and further, that I saw use the word ‘bisexual’, his relationship with Alec Lightwood is paramount for so many, seeing an interracial queer couple, one of which whom expresses his gender in such a free way, it’s vital. Representation is a lot of the reason having queer characters in books is crucial for me. If I can’t find that representation, I want to write it myself. When you’re reading a book and you don’t feel represented, you lose your passion for and engagement with it. This is obviously not to say that every book needs to feature a person from every walk of life, but that is more to say, when you get to a point where you’re represented by a character in one of every fifty books and you just come to expect to never feel represented, I think that’s a real tragedy.

This argument of representation has often become discarded as SJW fallacy. I don’t particularly feel educated enough to get into these debates, and I don’t particularly want to become a blog that centres on these problems. But it is important to highlight these issues. We still live in an age where it’s political to be feminist, or queer, or a POC, it’s still political just existing as yourself, and I am wholeheartedly against that. That’s why I think representation is important to me. Those who claim they don’t believe in the importance of representation are likely those who have been represented for the past millennia, and so they might not understand why people are so excited when they see a bisexual, Southeast Asian man in an interracial relationship. That’s because they’ve never had the tragedy of not being represented before, never resigned themself to knowing, yet again, they won’t be seen on page or screen. I’m a fussy reader, and that’s because I have resigned myself, countless times, to picking up a book and not seeing myself represented in the pages, again, and again, and again.

I wouldn’t even have to call myself fussy if more books represented the true nature of human diversity. It’s safe to say we still have some ways to go, and I would love to be able to, one day, go to the fantasy genre in the Adult section of a bookshop and expect, freely, for there to be queer representation in these books. At the moment, we’re not quite there, and this is why I head to the YA section because, whilst perhaps only a few feature a queer character, I’d argue those odds are less favourable in another section of the store. I do not doubt that I should open myself up to more books, that I should be a better reader. But one of the reasons I want to write is to create further representation, to create the things I want to read because, at the moment, not enough is out there that contains these aspects. I can go without fantasy, I can go without Young Adult or New Adult genres, but I refuse to go without queer representation, and that really isn’t asking too much.

Robyn x

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