Book Suggestions for Reluctant Adult Readers

A couple weeks ago, my friend Ashley tweeted this:

We got into a short discussion trying to come up with suggestions for her friend. I wondered what other books she’d liked, to try to get a feel for her taste, and she said her friend didn’t know. Her impression was that her friend thought she should read, but had no idea what she actually liked to read.

Now, I just want to get this out there first — I agree with this. Reading is, of course, a good skill to have, and I don’t think that never reading at all is a great idea, but the idea that everyone should enjoy recreational reading is, in my opinion, flawed. Reading for pleasure is a hobby, and just like watching movies or building model airplanes or running cross-country, it’s not for everyone.

However! I would encourage adults who have never enjoyed reading a book to give it another shot. Lots of us got our first exposure to books in school, and for many of us, the books our teachers picked out were not exactly what we would have picked for ourselves. Not everyone enjoys the classics or literary fiction (I know Teen Me sure didn’t), which is what I know made up most of my high school English curriculum. And while some of us decided to venture outside of our assigned reading lists to find books we did love, others, understandably, gave up.

Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe they kept trying, but the books they picked up didn’t resonate. Or maybe something else (poor eyesight, short attention span, dyslexia, or any number of other reasons) made the act of reading itself unappealing.

And maybe they’re fine with that. Which is okay. This post is not intended to shame anyone. Some people just don’t enjoy reading. I don’t enjoy sports or crafts, and no amount of attending football games or covering things in Mod Podge is going to change that. There is no single perfect fit for everyone when it comes to hobbies.

But according to this 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, 3 out of 10 of adults have not read a single book in the past 12 months. And while it’s very possible/likely that a good number of those are people who will never like to read, no matter what, this post is not for those people. Go, non-reading people. Live your lives. Be content and fulfilled.

But I have to believe that some of them would enjoy reading, if they could only find the right book. Just a few days ago, best-selling author James Patterson announced he was launching BookShots, aiming to publish short, catchy novels that can be read in one sitting, designed to ensnare non-readers. There is definitely a contingent of adults who would like to read, but don’t, for whatever reason. I know I see these sorts of requests pop up on Facebook all the time: I don’t read much, but would like to change that. 

So if this is you — or, more likely given the readership of this blog, if this is your friend — this post is for you.

For those who have never really found a book they loved with their whole heart, but still think it could be out there, I wanted to put together a list of book suggestions. James Patterson’s bite-size books will be great for people who find the length of the typical novel daunting, but there are lots of reasons people don’t read that have nothing to do with page count. So I took to social media, asking for help, and the Bookish Internet turned out in force!

I think any book could be the book for someone, but this is a list of titles people thought would be most likely to pull in someone who’s never really understood how a book can make a person cry, or laugh out loud, or stay up all night. A list of books submitted by my social media followers isn’t very scientific, but it’s a start. Much as it might seem simple to tell someone just read about what interests you, turning your interests into a list of books can be overwhelming, even for a seasoned reader. This list may not be comprehensive, but hopefully it’ll at least give you a good jumping off point.

There are plenty of lists of books for reluctant teen readers (and those lists are GREAT), but not so many for reluctant adults. This list contains adult, YA, and even a couple MG, across all genres. I’m not separating out the YA/MG from the adult, since this entire list is already intended for adults. If I have something under the wrong heading, please let me know – I haven’t read all of these, so this categorization is my best educated guess.

I struggled with how detailed to get in this list. Some people’s suggestions came with caveats (this book is really long, but anyone with even the remotest interest in the Civil War will gobble it up) or really specific audience recommendations (this is great for people who are really into WWII stories and espionage). Ultimately, I decided to stick with just a basic genre differentiation, as writing a paragraph’s worth of description for each title would’ve made the list really hard to browse. The Amazon links provide all the extra detail you need.

Titles in red were suggested by multiple people (I could break it down further — how many suggested each — but my social media following really isn’t extensive enough for further detail to be all that meaningful).

* marks a book that is part of a series.

Fantasy

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

*The Cainsville series by Kelley Armstrong

*The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

*A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

*The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker

*The Farseer series by Robin Hobb

*Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

*The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

*The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

*Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Science Fiction

*Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The Humans by Matt Haig

*The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

The Martian by Andy Weir

*Red Rising by Pierce Brown

*The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Realistic Fiction and Romance

The Cordina’s Royal Family series by Nora Roberts

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

The Husband’s Secret by Laura Moriarty

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Winger by Andrew Smith

Historical Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

*Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

*Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Wish You Well by David Baldacci

Thriller/Horror/Mystery 

11-22-63 by Stephen King 

*The Alex Delaware series by Jonathan Kellerman

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

*The Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

*The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

*I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

*Kiss the Girls by James Patterson

Misery by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

*The Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben

*The Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn 

The Stand by Stephen King

*The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

World War Z by Max Brooks

Non-Fiction/Memoir

1491 by Charles C. Mann

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

And the Dead Shall Rise by Steve Oney

The Color of Water by James McBride

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

Devil in the White City by Erik Lawson 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

The Order of the Death’s Head by Heinz Zollin Hohne

Stiff by Mary Roach

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Humor

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling

Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Other authors mentioned with no specific works referenced: A.J. JacobsCraig Johnson, Dan Brown, David McCulloughJ.A. JanceJ Maarten TroostJohn Elder RobisonNeil GaimanRainbow RowellSteve Berry, Terry Pratchett, Tracie PetersonJennifer WeinerHaruki Murakami, Karen Kingsbury.

When people just gave me authors without specific titles, they tended to have fairly extensive bodies of work, so take a look at their author pages and see if any write on subjects that interest you. This list includes writers of non-fiction, inspirational fiction, mysteries, fantasy, romance, and everything in between. I’d be really shocked if all of the authors listed above were your cup of tea — but I’d be equally shocked if none of them were.

A few interesting things I’ve noticed while compiling this list:

  • Length seemed to have very little to do with how much reluctant adult readers liked a book. While I think a big component of kids being reluctant readers is actual reading ability, with adults (according to my very unscientific study) it seems to have far more to do with enjoyment. The overwhelming consensus seemed to be that if an adult was interested in the subject matter and the pacing was good, the actual page count was not a turn-off. (That said, not everyone is into reading doorstoppers, and that is totally okay. There are plenty of titles on this list that have lower page counts).
  • The three most-recommended titles by a wide margin: The Martian by Andy Weir, Vicious by V.E. Schwab, and Devil in the White City by Erik Lawson. A sci-fi, an urban fantasy, and a historical non-fiction. Interesting genre spread.
  • Most-recommended genres were thrillers and non-fiction. Thrillers I could’ve guessed — the pacing tends to be quick, without a good place to set a book down — but non-fiction was a surprise, at least to me.
  • That said, there is a lot of crossover fiction above. I put each book in the category it most closely resembles, but a lot of these titles defy simple categorization. There are several books featuring time travel that read like historicals. Tons of the books outside the Thriller category have the pacing of thrillers. And so on and so forth.
  • Lots of these books are what are considered “gateway” titles. Books such as Twilight and Harry Potter are widely known for sucking in people who previously wouldn’t have considered themselves readers, but there are also genre gateway books. Don’t think you like fantasy? Try A Darker Shade of Magic. Not into sci-fi? Try The Martian. Think non-fiction is boring? Maybe pick up Devil in the White City. Maybe it still won’t be your jam…or maybe that genre you didn’t think you liked is better than you think.
  • I wrestled with whether to curate the suggestions I was getting according to what I consider objectionable or problematic, but ultimately I decided not to, for two reasons. 1) I’m not familiar with every author/book on this list, and I certainly don’t want to narrow the list to only books I’ve read, so even if I did curate, it wouldn’t be consistent; and 2) I don’t feel it’s my place to define what’s objectionable or problematic for someone else. What bothers me about a book or an author, you may be totally fine with. Or you may agree with me, but still want to read the book anyway for any number of reasons. So I’m including every suggestion I’ve received, even the ones that made me go hmmm. This is a list for adults, and as such, I’m trusting that anyone using it is capable of using the links provided to determine what they are comfortable reading.
  • Many of these books begin a series, which tend to be great for reluctant readers, as you can stick with something you know you like for multiple books. (There are some books not marked as a series that actually do have sequels or companions, but the first book was originally written as a standalone.) I know series aren’t for everyone, though, so I’ve tried to mark them all, so you don’t accidentally wind up reading the first book of a twelve-book saga when you wanted a standalone.

As always when it comes to matters of taste, YMMV. You may see some titles here that you really struggled with, and I’m positive there are many great books I haven’t included. (If you can think of any you feel should be included, please suggest them in the comments and I’ll add them!) My best suggestion is to follow the links, read the descriptions of the books you’re considering (including the page count – some reluctant readers might devour Pillars of the Earth, while others might find its extensive page count prohibitive), and make an informed decision based on the taste, ability, and comfort level of your intended audience, whether that’s you or someone else. Keep in mind that this is a list for adults, so many of these titles (though certainly not all) will contain mature content.

And lastly, while I’ve focused on novels in this post, remember there are many other ways to read. If novels aren’t your thing, maybe try short story collections or graphic novels or comics; there’s lots of excellent storytelling going on in all formats today. Or if the physical act of reading isn’t a good option for you, try audiobooks. I know lots of people who do most of their reading via audiobooks, while driving or exercising or folding laundry (or just staring at the wall — NO SHAME if that is you). Most of the above listed titles also have an audio version, which should be available through the same link.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a reader, but just haven’t figured out how to make reading work for you yet, it’s never too late to try again.

Have you read any of these? See one you’d like to try? Know an adult reluctant reader who might be willing to give one of these books a shot? Let me know in the comments, and happy reading!

Guest Post: Social Media Faux Pas: Stop It. Just Stop It. (@LizCLong)

So I had this idea a couple weeks ago. I wanted to do a post on social media faux pas. All those things that authors and bloggers think they’re doing right, but is actually annoying and baaaaad. I’ve had a lot of items come across my Twitter dash and Facebook wall in the name of self-promotion that were, in a word,

So I wanted to help. I’m no expert, but I wanted to let people know when they were shooting themselves in the foot. That’s good information to have, right? I did some polls. I asked some friends. I got LOTS of suggestions.

And I wound up with way too much information for one post. So much so that it was overwhelming. So I asked the fabulous Liz Long to help me out.

If you don’t know Liz, she is the author of Gifted (read my review here), and by day she works as a social media editor, which means she is an expert on this very subject. (She laughed when I called her an expert, but it’s in her job description, so I’m pretty sure I win). Plus, she is an indie author who has a great book out in the world, and who is being smart and savvy about her own Internet marketing. So I could think of no better person than Liz to delve into this subject.

To be clear, I still intend on posting more about social media in the future, and how to harness its powers for good and not the Dark Side. Also, make sure to check out Liz’s blog, where she has several other super-informative posts on the subject. And check out Gifted, because it’s about superheroes in the circus and that is awesome.

Without further ado, here’s Liz!

Hi everyone! Huge thanks to Lauren for hosting me today – if you’re reading her blog, you’ve come to the right place because she is SO awesome and a terrific book blogger. Make sure to check out her reviews and fun posts – she’s a fellow nerd like me, so if you love superhero talk and good books, boy oh boy, you’re gonna have some fun browsing.

Anywho, today we’re discussing social media no-nos. As the social media editor of a magazine publishing company and an indie author who does all her own marketing, I see a lot of businesses and authors doing things online that are hurting their marketing more than helping – the problem is, you might not even realize you’re doing it. Here are 5 things you should cut out of your marketing plan.

  1. Automated Direct Messages

Twitter is my second favorite tool for business, but my number one tool for indie author marketing. I love connecting and meeting readers, authors, and nice, fun people who are potential new pals (note: I did not say networking and here’s why). You know that nice feeling you get when you log in to see you’ve got a few new followers? Don’t ruin it with an automated direct message. I’m not the only one who feels spammed when people do this – and you definitely should not send a message saying “Hi there, thanks – here’s a link to my book!” The honest truth? That sale tactic is rude and the quickest way to lose your new follower. Would you want someone jumping in your face, talking only about themselves and their products? No? Then don’t do it to others.

  1. Complaining/Airing of the Grievances

This should be pretty straightforward, but I’m always surprised to see how many people constantly complain online. It’s my experience that people gravitate towards happy people – they like enthusiasm and a helpful, fun person. It’s one thing to tweet about how your silly husband burned dinner or your car broke down. But if you’re marketing yourself, unless your crowd is into the emo-scene, I recommend knocking off the woe-is-me play. Why would I want to go to someone’s website/social media if all they do is bitch about how they can’t get a traditional publishing deal or turn green with envy over other authors whose own hard work turned into a success? And remember the hoopla when authors turn crazy over a poor book blogger review? Take a deep breath, put on your big girl panties, and move on. Reacting to any of those things, constantly bitching about how things are SO unfair – it’s a turn-off! You want to focus on YOUR hard work and give readers great things see/watch/think about. If you’re constantly airing your junk, you’re going to eventually lose readers who grow tired of your complaining. They came to you to lose themselves in a story from their own real world problems. You don’t always have to be Susie Sunshine, but it’s in our best marketing interests to keep your focus on the readers.

  1. Selling, Selling, Selling (Or Me, Me, Me!)

This ties in with the automated messages thing, but I can’t stress enough how authors should not take this route. People despise the car salesman routine and if there is a person on my newsfeeds who constantly touts their work, but doesn’t support anyone or anything else, they get unfollowed. When in doubt, use the 80/20 rule: 20% can be about your work, while 80% of your status updates should be about something else – random musings, supporting other people, great links that benefit others. Sure, I’m interested in hearing about your books, but I also don’t want that to be the ONLY thing I know about you. Don’t be selfish or overly aggressive. You’ll lose readers, guaranteed.

  1. Taking on too many social sites

This is more for your own sanity than anything else. For my writing, I stick with four social media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads. I’m comfortable with all four sites, am reaching my target demographics, and can tie in a positive marketing campaign that links up easily with each other (for example, I’ve tied up my blog with these sites – one new post automatically goes up on all those sites at once to save me time; then I can spend any free time promoting that link on Twitter throughout the day – in between my random musings and helpful tips or retweets, of course). If you bite off more than you can chew by joining too many social sites because you feel you have to, you’re going to spend more time marketing or continuously updating your links and pages, which can get exhausting. Plus, you’re supposed to be putting out books. 99% of the time, authors gain more readers with more materials – if you spend all your time playing with your profile page instead of writing, you won’t have much to show off on said social pages, now will you?

  1. Ignoring the Fans

You know when you tweet someone and you’re all excited that you might hear back and then later you’re all disappointed that they never replied? (Keep in mind, I’m talking about one normal person, not a celebrity/TV show/major publisher.) Now flip it – what if you’re the one ignoring the tweets? If you’ve got thousands of fans, you might balk at this, but I say you need to take the time to do it – add an extra 20 minutes to the time you put into your schedule for marketing. “Oh no, too many people like me and want my opinion on something!” Dude. That’s a great problem to have! They took the time to think of you and (assuming it wasn’t a jerk comment) probably would be thrilled to hear back from someone they admire. It makes my day when someone I respect and like gets back to me with a reply – it makes me feel like they really value ME as their fan. Bottom line: Don’t forget your fans.  You’ve gotten as far as you have because of them and probably want them to hang around for as long as you’re putting books on the market.

Links:

Blog: http://lizclong.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Gifted-Donovan-Circus-Novel-ebook/dp/B007VT34J2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1336675611&sr=8-2

Twitter: (Handle: @LizCLong) https://twitter.com/#!/LizCLong

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/lizclongauthor

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13601567-gifted

Discussion: Dragging yourself out of a slump.

Confession: Sometimes I get in a slump where I don’t want to do…anything. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to blog. I don’t want to write. I definitely don’t want to work, but I have to because things like food and heat are “important.”

It’s not necessarily because anything is wrong; my brain has just hit this point where it doesn’t want to engage anymore. Its capacity gets maxed out and all it is capable of is flopping on the couch and watching old episodes of Friday Night Lights while surfing Tumblr. Books require concentration, and I just don’t have that superpower in my wheelhouse anymore.

The problem is that without me doing something about it, it’ll take for-freakin’-ever for me to snap out of it. I need to jump-start my brain or it will just sit sputter weakly in my living room until the end of time.

So what do I do to snap myself out of an intellectual slump?

  • Engage with the humans. I’m an introvert who can be perfectly happy without leaving my house for weeks at a time, but when I get like this, it’s important to get out and interact with other humans. Other bookish types are the best, and fortunately we have a lot of events here where I can interact with people who get really excited about books and writing. It’s rare that I leave a book/writer event without wanting to immediately read half a dozen books and write fifty pages. But in the absence of bookish folk, just hanging out with friends and changing up my discussion habits can get my mind re-engaged.
  • Read something I likeThis can be either something I’ve already read that I know I love, or something I’ve really been looking forward to. But if I’m not feeling it within the first few pages, I switch to something else that I can really become immersed in. And just because a book is “good” doesn’t mean it’s the right one to pull me out of a slump. I love The Book Thief, but if I’m slumpy, I probably won’t be able to wrap my brain around it. I need something more like Anna and the French Kiss, which is delightful and keeps me engaged, but doesn’t require herculean amounts of effort from my brain. Which brings me to…
  • Change up genres. Maybe I’m just burnt out on sci-fi and I need to go read a contemporary romance, or I’m feeling bleak from dystopians so I need an action-packed fantasy. Maybe I’ve read one paranormal romance too many and need an imaginative fairy tale retelling. The name of the game is trial and error. If I’ve been bingeing in the same genre, I just have to mix things up until I find one that sticks.
  • Set aside time for reading. You know what the prior two suggestions have in common? I actually have to force myself to sit down and do it. I don’t get all ambitious and set aside three hours. Just about 30 minutes, where I say, “now is reading time.” I have to walk away from the computer (and the iPad. Darn you, siren song of mobile technology) and go sit in my recliner with my snuggie* and a mug of hot chocolate. I’m not allowed to check my email or channel surf. I need to read. If I force myself to do this for a few days, with a book I really like, I can generally recharge my brain batteries.
  • Talk about what I’m reading. Whether this is online on blogs or Twitter, or in person with my friends or my husband, I can get a lot more engaged in what I’m reading if I have someone to discuss it with. It’s why I started this blog in the first place.
So how about you? Ever get a terrible case of the reading doldrums? Any inventive tips to snap yourself out of it? Anyone currently in a slump and need a pep talk? Let me know in the comments!

 
*Don’t knock the snuggie, snuggies are awesome.

Discussion: Name that genre! And…does it matter?

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get genre-burned. I’ll pick up a book, thinking it’s one thing, and then be disappointed when it turns out to be something else. It’s not that the something else isn’t good, or even that I didn’t like the book. It’s that it wasn’t what I was expecting. And while I sometimes welcome the unexpected, like with a juicy plot twist, I find myself wishing sometimes that the book world as a whole — bookstores, bloggers, even authors sometimes — would try to be a tad more accurate with genre labeling.

Also, let me just throw this out there: Young Adult is not a genre. Nor is Middle Grade, Adult, or New Adult. Those are audiences. They encompass the age demographic a book is targeting. But they don’t tell you a thing about what the book is about, other than the relative age of the characters (give or take a few decades, in the case of Adult).

So let’s talk just a minute about genres, what defines them, and which ones tend to have an identity crisis.

These are highlights from the Goodreads definitions. Sometimes it’s just easier than trying to type it all out myself.

FantasyFantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is generally distinguished from science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of technological and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three.

Science FictionScience fiction is a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations based on current or future science or technology. Science fiction differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).

DystopianDystopia is a form of literature that explores social and political structures. It is a creation of a nightmare world – unlike its opposite, Utopia, which is an ideal world. Dystopia is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. It often features different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions, and a state of constant warfare or violence. Many novels combine both Dystopia and Utopia, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending up with one of the two possible futures.

RomanceAccording to the Romance Writers of America, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.” Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love.

Historical FictionHistorical fiction presents a story set in the past, often during a significant time period. In historical fiction, the time period is an important part of the setting and often of the story itself. Historical fiction may include fictional characters, well-known historical figures or a mixture of the two.

HorrorHorror fiction is fiction in any medium intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the audience. Historically, the cause of the “horror” experience has often been the intrusion of a supernatural element into everyday human experience. Since the 1960s, any work of fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, or exceptionally suspenseful or frightening theme has come to be called “horror”.

ContemporaryContemporary literature is literature with its setting generally after World War II.

ParanormalParanormal books involve unusual experiences that lack a scientific explanation. Some popular subjects in paranormal books are supernatural creatures, ESP, clairvoyance, ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, and psychics.

SteampunkSteampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.

These are just some of the biggies. There’s tons of genres and subgenres out there, and often authors like to mash them up. For example, romance can be incorporated into nearly all of these genres, which gives you Historical Romance, Paranormal Romance, etc. I think one of the reasons that genres get so muddled is that they’re not mutually exclusive at all. Contemporary is anything that takes place after World War II? Well, that could encompass pretty much everything (except Historical), couldn’t it? And obviously there’s tons of crossover between Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror/Paranormal.

I think the problem happens when we get these main categories confused.  I think the problem is twofold:

1) Certain genres are really popular, and everyone wants their book (or their client’s book, or their friend’s book) to be the next Big Thing. So they say it fits the genre, when in reality, it doesn’t. (I’m looking at you, Dystopian Fiction.)

2) Lots of books are really hard to classify, because the authors have mixed a bunch of genres together in a delicious cocktail of imagination. It’s a bit more understandable how these get confused.

So what’s the trick in figuring out how to classify what you’re reading? Just ask yourself a few questions:

1) What’s the setting? Is it past, present, future, or a made-up world? Is it based in reality, or could it plausibly happen in our reality, or is it in no way related to our reality? Does magic factor into it? Science? Is it based on a historical event that actually happened, or a historical event that might have happened if things were different?

2) If it is the future, what shaped the world? Was it a cataclysmic event? Government conspiracy? Aliens? Magic? Technological advancement? Just because it’s the future doesn’t automatically make it sci-fi or dystopian or post-apocalyptic. Look at why the world is the way it is, and that’s a big clue.

3) What’s the conflict? Is it about whether or not Jim and Sally will get together, or is it about whether or not Jim will save Sally’s a ghost, or is it about whether or not Jim will discover that he’s really a prince and the only one who can free Sally from the dragon? Granted, Jim and Sally may get together in all of these scenarios, but it’s only the main conflict in one of them.

Am I alone in caring about this? I’m not sure. Maybe you don’t care how something’s labeled; a good book is a good book. So what if you were expecting dystopian and got sci-fi instead? Or you wanted steampunk but wound up reading historical fiction? What’s the big deal?

But if you’re like me, it’s kind of like ice cream flavors. If I’m in the mood for chocolate and I get strawberry, I’m going to be disappointed. I like strawberry. Sometimes, all I want in the whole world is strawberry. But if I’m in the mood for chocolate, strawberry won’t cut it.

Here’s some examples of books I’ve seen miscategorized (a lot):

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron. I’ve heard this book described as Steampunk and Paranormal, but really it’s just Historical Fiction. The automatons in the story are things that actually existed during that time period (you can ask Sharon. It’s fascinating), and there’s no supernatural elements that defy scientific explanation.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang. This one always gets called Dystopian or Sci-Fi. But really, if you look close, it’s neither. It’s a modern alternate reality. So really, it doesn’t fit into any of the above categories. Broadly, it can go under the Speculative Fiction umbrella, but none of the other terms really fit. So there’s really little wonder why bookstores want to label it as something else.

Defiance by C.J. Redwine. This book is a cornucopia of so many genres, it’s easy to see why people can’t seem to label it. I’ve actually had a few discussions with C.J. about what to call this book, and even she is at a bit of a loss. I’ve heard it called Steampunk, Dystopian, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi. It’s marketed as Fantasy Adventure, but there’s no magic (although there is a blind wingless subterranean dragon). What it actually is, I believe, is a Post-Apocalyptic Adventure. I think.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I always see this book on the Horror shelf, and it’s just not. It’s not designed to scare or horrify. It’s about magical powers and adventure. It’s Fantasy.

How about you? Do you long to sneak into bookstores and reshelve the books to more accurately reflect what’s in them? Or do you figure, hey, I don’t care why someone picked up the book, as long as they’re reading it? What books do you see commonly misclassified, and do you care? 

Discussion: What’s so fun about hanging from a cliff?

Ah, cliffhangers. It seems they are all the rage nowadays, except for the part where most readers* claim to hate them, yet most authors** keep using them to end all their books. Why is that? I doubt it’s because authors hate us. I mean, they need us. And we need them. It’s a symbiotic relationship. So it’s probably unlikely that all our favorite authors are sitting at their laptops, writing the ends of their books, and cackling maniacally, “Take THAT, readers!”

So really, what’s the deal? What is up with all the cliffhanger endings?

Well, first of all, let’s address what a cliffhanger actually is. Because maybe the reason it seems so pervasive is because we’re defining it wrong. So allow me to consult Wikipedia. [Wikipedia wasn’t a thing when I was in high school and college, and therefore I never got to count it as “research” and then get smacked down by my teacher because Wikipedia never counts as research. So I’ll do it now. Feel free to smack me down.]

“A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction.”

Okay. Going by the Wikipedia definition, a true cliff hanger contains two elements:

1. Must feature the main character.

2. Contains either a precarious dilemma, a difficult dilemma, or a shocking revelation.

Huh. I have a couple problems with that definition. First, “precarious,” “difficult,” and “shocking” are all in the eye of the beholder. What is shocking to one person may be totally predictable to another. For example, I have heard a lot of people talk about the shocking twist at the end of Lauren Oliver’s Pandemonium, whereas I thought that ending was pretty obvious (for the record, I still loved the book). But then others talked about the predictability of the end of Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, while I kept guessing.

Second, just because a book ends on a shocking revelation doesn’t, in my opinion, make it a cliffhanger. A great example would be The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, which ends with a huge revelation. But, although the book is the start of a trilogy, it actually resolves its plot arcs pretty neatly. As a matter of fact, the big reveal helps resolve the plot arcs. Yes, there is definitely room for a sequel, but not because of a cliffhanger ending. There’s just more story to be explored.

So, thanks for nothing, Wikipedia. I guess that’s why I’m not supposed to cite you as research.

Having wasted some time down that rabbit hole, let’s get to what consider a cliffhanger. It’s simple really. I would view a cliffhanger ending as one where a big question is left unanswered. A lot of times, the way this is done is the main plot arc of the book will be resolved, but a new arc will be introduced in the last few pages. I find that second books in trilogies do this a lot. Catching Fire, Timepiece, and Crown of Embers all resolve the main conflicts and questions of their stories, then end by asking another. I actually like this kind of cliffhanger. It leaves me satisfied, but still invested in wanting to find out what happens in the next book.

However, some books pose their unanswered question at the beginning. For example, in The Selection by Kiera Cass, the fundamental question that drives the entire book is “Who will America end up with?” And when the last page is turned, we are no closer to  the answer to that question than we were 300 pages before. I’d consider that a cliffhanger, even though there’s no big twisty event at the end that leaves me at the edge of my seatOther books where I felt a big question posed early in the book was left still unanswered by the end were The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and Defiance by C.J. Redwine. (Edit: The more I think about this, the more Defiance falls somewhere between the two kinds of cliffhangers, which makes it a bad illustration.)

Here’s the thing about those sorts of books (which, coincidentally, are all the first books in trilogies. Hmmm…). I actually really enjoyed and highly recommend all of those books, but my main complaint with all three is that the ending left me unsatisfied. I felt like I’d invested a good amount of time in a question that was left open-ended. Now, I think in some cases, it’s the author’s intent to leave the reader frustrated (The Knife of Never Letting Go would be the obvious example here). I think that’s the emotional response we’re supposed to have, and the one we’re supposed to carry into the beginning of the next book. But that doesn’t help the feeling that I just read an incomplete book. That the ending wasn’t an ending; the book just stopped. This kind of cliffhanger doesn’t necessarily introduce a new dilemma or revelation at all; it just lacks resolution to a pre-existing conflict.

Then we get to the non-cliffhangers. The books where there is definitely still more story left to tell, but there aren’t any huge questions or dilemmas left open-ended. These books are, in my opinion, often mislabeled as having a cliffhanger ending, because the series arc is not resolved. However, the thing that sets these books apart from cliffhanger books like Catching Fire is that the conflict of that book is wrapped up and no new conflict is introduced at the end.

For example, the first three Harry Potter books all have room for more story. But if you look at Sorcerer’s Stoneit wraps up all its conflicts neatly and don’t leave you with a burning need to find out what happens after the end. Sure, I still was wondering what would ultimately happen with Voldemort, but Harry defeated the bad guy, we found out what his motivations were, and then he goes back to his aunt and uncle’s house, bringing closure to the internal arcs of that book. Not a cliffhanger, in my opinion, despite Voldemort still being out in the world somewhere.

But honestly, is there any book or series where all the questions are answered at the end? Again, take Harry Potter. At the end of the last book, she resolves the multi-book conflict, deals conclusively with the fate of Harry and Voldemort, and even gives us an epilogue letting us know what happens to the main characters afterwards. And there are still fans saying she didn’t wrap up the story enough. (What happened to Luna? And George?) Or Mockingjay. Same deal — we find out what happens to Katniss, which guy she chooses, and the fallout of the revolution. And again, there’s an epilogue, but people still have questions. (How did they fall in love? What happened to the other guy? What does the political system look like now?)

So what’s the point in all this? I think it’s kind of impossible for an author to wrap up every single character’s story in a detailed way, unless they all die or there is only one character. And really, who wants to read only books where everyone dies or there’s only one character? Not me.

I think cliffhangers can be useful as a storytelling device, but would prefer that they be an introduction of a new conflict after resolving the old ones, as opposed to the failure to resolve existing conflict. And I think they can be helpful to keep you invested in a series, but aren’t necessary.

I also think, much like with love triangles, that cliffhangers are less common than we think they are. And that sometimes questions are okay, because they help immerse you in the story. And getting immersed in a story is a good thing.

So discuss. What are your feelings on cliffhangers? Like them, hate them, think they’re overused? Let me know your thoughts. I’m ready to listen.

*my subjective analysis of the people in my Twitter feed whose updates I actually read.

**my general feeling based on books I’ve read recently.