I think of myself as an eclectic reader. In the last few months I’ve read fiction, historical fiction, classics, children’s books, YA, fantasy, mysteries, memoirs, diaries, romance, science fiction, nonfiction about history, science, and social issues, biographies, and more.
What I have NOT read, though, is contemporary fiction — by which I mean realistic fiction written in the last two decades or so, and set more or less contemporaneous with its writing; it should also spend most of the story in the “present” and not in the past of its characters or their relatives. The most recent example that I can find is The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, which I read last October (and found rather ho-hum). Yet this is a genre that many people seem most excited about, including several bloggers I follow. I respect their enthusiasm, and in theory have nothing against the books they’re reading, but for some reason everything else seems to take priority on my TBR list.
Why is this? Do I prefer worlds of fantasy, or imaginative ventures into the past, to novels that explore the present day and time? Do I have something against contemporary life?
There’s something in that, actually — ever since my obsessive early reading of the Oz and Narnia books, books have been for me a gateway into another world, one that seems richer, more colorful, more exciting than my own. Even though I grew up to love realistic fiction just as much, I still gravitated to nineteenth century novels, historical fiction, and other books that took me to a place or time removed from my daily life.
Now, I know that there are excellent contemporary writers who use the magic of words to illuminate the depth and richness that does lurk hidden in our everyday world. I’m not intentionally an escapist reader. But for me, it takes a bit more effort to seek out those authors and books, and I’m not one to read the latest bestseller just because it’s on everyone’s lips. Sometimes I like to give a bit of time for things to settle, for worth to prove itself beyond the momentary hype. But then, all too often, I forget about those books and never get around to them.
I’m not looking to change my reading habits in any extreme way; I don’t feel apologetic about preferring the books I generally tend to enjoy. However, I think I would do well to push myself a little bit, to try out some titles that otherwise I might overlook or set aside. I might just discover something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
To that end, I’d love some help from you. What contemporary fiction would you advise me to put at the top of my list? I shall undertake to try at least three or four of your suggestions.