Wednesday, May 30, 2018

My Reading Tastes Over Time

I think that most people would say that their reading tastes have changed over time. I am no different. When I think about this subject, it turns out that I appreciate a lot of books now that I did not appreciate when younger.

Some aspects of my tastes have stayed consistent. I still tend to like the types of books that I liked when I was younger. I read a lot of history, science fiction, and I enjoyed much of the Classic Literature that I was assigned at school. I think that these early, high school and college reading assignments whetted tastes that would develop over time. 

Here I wrote about my science fiction reading when I was young. Here I wrote about my lifelong reading of history books. Here I wrote specifically about reading books centering on The American Revolution.

What has changed the most for me is that many books that I like or love now, are books that I would not have enjoyed when I was younger. 

One category of books that I have come to love are works that deeply delve into human relationships and personality.  When it comes to Classic novels of this type I was exposed to authors like Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky in school. I liked these books more than most of my peers liked them.  With all that, I did not move on to reading this type of book on my own until I was older. However, there are other books in this general category that I would just not have liked when younger. Jane Austen novels are a good example of this

I was never assigned Austen in school and did not try her books until I was in my 40s. Since then she has become one of my favorite writers. However, I would have felt differently when younger.  I would have found her works too feminine and too romantic in my youth.  Her stories center around establishing of romantic relationships. There was a time when this would not have been for me. Though I prided myself on bucking trends and expectations when I was younger, I would not have read or enjoyed these books. I also would not have appreciated Austen’s keen insights on life. Perhaps one can say that I was a little shallow.  Like many people, as I have gotten older I came to appreciate different kinds of stories about different kinds of people. Compared to what I exposed myself to when I was younger, Austen’s books are very different. I would not have accepted them. Austen is just one example of how I came to appreciate this kind of story over time. Other examples of this would be Anthony Trollope, E.M Foster, George Elliot, The Bronte sisters and others. 

 In a similar vein, there were books that I thought had potentially great plots, but that developed them in ways that I did not appreciate. A good example of this is Heart of Darknessby Joseph Conrad. I had heard the plot description from many sources. Many things about this book sounded appealing: A journey down an African River to remote places; A man at a isolated outpost who is behaving out of control, but who had developed a dangerous, cult – like  following; this all sounded like something that I would love. However, when I first tried to read this story as a teen, I was put off by Conrad’s very dense descriptions and what seemed like the slow pace of the plot. I had not developed an appreciation of innovative and artistic prose or character development. I was also an impatient reader. I have since come to love Conrad’s style. Writers like James Joyce and Victor Hugo also fit into this category. 

Other books seem to be naturally written for older people. Philip Roth’s Zuckerman series centers upon a man over the course of his life. Those that take place in his middle age would have flown over my head if I read them when younger. 

I think that many people develop an appreciation of different and varied books as they get older.  I do not want to claim this as universal as some folks seem to show very mature reading tastes when young. However, as per above, I am one of those who experienced an expansion in my tastes as time went by. In the end I am happy that I have come to appreciate so many more types of books. The only downside is that now, there are even more books that I do not have time to get to. 




51 comments:

Tracy Terry said...

I so agree with you Brian though I would say I think I have gone more the other way in that I'm finding its books that my younger self enjoyed that my older self doesn't .. or at least not as much - rather than my now appreciating books that my younger self wouldn't have. Perhaps the biggest change being I used to love horror books by authors such as Seven King and James Herbert and now find them both meh! and yet oddly disturbing in a way I never used to.

Mudpuddle said...

it's informative in some ways to reflect on one's past literary inclinations, but i am a bit hesitant about assigning any results of the process an overwhelming significance or expansion of understanding... i read different books now than i used to, but in many ways, i think i'm less curious and more interested in works that bolster my own pov... this is probably a failing, but it's suits my present state of retired somnolence... i think i must be adjusting to the end of life thingie: reviewing what i've discovered instead of searching for new fields of interest... still, in the books that i do read, the rare surprising idea is often a lot of fun, so i keep on keeping on, looking for that...

Lory said...

Hahaha, your last sentence is so true ... so many books!

My interests have definitely changed and broadened, though some old interests have faded too. And I think there are many books I read in school that I was just too young and inexperienced to appreciate at all. I'm trying to reread some of them now and it's quite illuminating.

CyberKitten said...

It's interesting to look back and see how your reading tastes have changed over time. Back in my teens I read pretty much SF exclusively. I then started reading military history and slowly branched out into other things - crime, fantasy, science/technology books and even the occasional classic. These days I hardly read any SF (though still love it), my history reading is all over the place and I'll read just about anything that I might find interesting.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - I think that I can enjoy the same genres I did when younger, I just do not read them as much since there is so much more to read.

Brian Joseph said...

I also should have mentioned that I do find some books more disturbing now. I have gotten more squeamish so I stay away from some books.

Brian Joseph said...

Really good points Muddpuddle. The only thing is that when I was young, I do not think that I was trying to expand my point of view. The shallow thing again.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lory - A few years ago I went back and tried to reread Everything that I was assigned at school. It took a few years but I got a lot out of it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi CyberKitten - I also read s lot of science fiction and military history. I still love both. But of course, there is so much more to read.

Suko said...

One nice thing about getting older is that our perspective changes, and may broaden and deepen. Perhaps we do grow wiser in some ways, and understand more. Like you, I experienced an expansion in my reading tastes also. Wonderful, thoughtful post, Brian Joseph!

Sharon Wilfong said...

It's interesting how our tastes change. I think some of it has to do with acquiring more life experiences. These allow us to appreciate some stories or authors that did not make sense to us when where had not certain experiences.

Conversely, there are other books that I know longer like because being older and wiser, I "see through" the intentional message of the author and disagree with it.

Have a good week!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Sorry, I don't know what I meant by "where". I was trying to say "when we had not yet had certain experiences."

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - Indeed, our experiences change our tastes. I also am better able to put myself into other people's shoes.

Marian H said...

Interesting that you've become more squeamish over time... the same thing's happened to me, though on a somewhat rapid schedule. I used to read mysteries or "light" horror any time of day. Now I mostly avoid unsettling books, and I take care to read them in broad daylight.

Apart from that, my reading tastes have also become broader as I get older. Very few books delight me like they did when I was a kid, so I hope by diversifying my reading list, more good ones will appear.

Whispering Gums said...

Haha, I love your downside of broadening your reading interests Brian.

I enjoyed your post, and particularly your "discovery" of Austen and that she's more than just a writer of romance.

This is an interesting post really because I can't really say that I have changed or expanded my reading interests. I loved reading from a child, and loved studying literature at high school and university and soaked it all up. There are types of books that I "say" I don't read - crime, speculative fiction, are two - but that in fact I do when they are recommended, so I read John Wyndham when I was still a school student, and I later read one book by Vonnegut, and various dystopian novels. The one area which I really still resist strongly are what I'd call the more adventure novels, including the classics. I've never read RL Stevenson or Jules Verne, etc, though I suspect that if I did I'd get some of the universals I love to read for from them!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Marian - Books that you involve really bad things happening to people, that seem realistic, bother me a lot these days.

You raise a good point, I feel the same way, I would say that there are less “wow” books now. On the other hand, I appreciate the subtler nuances more.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Whispering Gums - It is interesting that your tastes have not changed that much. While I loved some Classics when young, I was much more selective.

I think that reading certainl genres only when recamend makes sense. We have genres that we are not naturally drawn to. But in the end, I think that there are good books in almost every genre.

James said...

My own reading experience has been similar to yours in many ways. I have "lifetime" books that I have read and reread from an early age. My reading selections have expanded over the years. Certainly my perspective has changed since I was a neophyte reader, thus I enjoy fiction by Austen, Woolf, Eliot, and others more today than I did when I was a teenager.
I find new authors and interests through book store and reading group recommendations; while I have participated in continuing education classes for almost thirty years that have led me to expand my reading in the classics of literature, history, philosophy, and other areas. I have tried to read most of the works of my favorite authors and often reread works by them, including Hardy, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Mann, Faulkner, and others. In spite of all this reading I never seem to run out of new books to read.

Kathy's Corner said...


Hi Brian, I did a great deal of reading when I was young: Of Mice and Men, Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice but then starting maybe in my 30's I started this bad habit of reading books up to page 70 or 80 and then abandoning the book so I could be on to the next thing. Now in my 50's thanks to blogging I finish each book I start and I am finally reading the novels (Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, The Stranger,There Eyes Were Watching God etc) that I should have been reading all along and its exciting. My favorite period I have found is 19th century British literature.

Stefanie said...

Oh yes! In my younger days I hated stream-of-consciousness and any book that was stylistically challenging. Now those sorts of books get me so very excited and Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite authors and the James Joyce I hated in high school I now like very much. Same with poetry. I didn't like it much but now I am a regular reader of it.

Laurie Welch said...

Brian, I love this post! It's nice to learn more about one of my favorite book bloggers and as well, you gave me a lot to think about.

I know my reading has changed in that all through undergrad and grad school I stopped reading fiction of any kind. That's a lot of years to catch up. And the fact that I never will is kind of freeing :)

HKatz said...

Excellent post - it's great that you've broadened your reading and understanding of different authors.

Some of the ways I've changed as a reader is that I've come to appreciate short stories so much more, I read more from authors not from the English-speaking world, and I'm also more likely to put down a book if I can't get into it (I'll make a sincere effort to get into it, but I don't force myself to finish it - same for movies).

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - It seems impossible to run out of new books to read. I almost do not want recommendations as the add to my massive pile of things that I want to read :) I am glad that you mentioned rereading, it is so fruitful but I do not do enough of it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kathy - I also went through a long period where left s lot of books unfinished. I also finish almost everything that I start now. I think it is s combination of being very selective as to what I read combined with discipline.

We have a lot in common. I also read so much more when I was younger. There was so much more time to do so.

I also love 19th Century British literature. The books you named are great ones. I think that it is impossible to get to all the great ones though.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - I also found stream of consciousness impossible when I was younger and I also like it now.

I need to read more Virginia Wolfe.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Laurie. I also went through periods where I read almost no fiction. It is not a good place to be.

I agree, all the books that I want to read but do not have time for, it is like an undiscovered country.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Hila. I do read short stories, but I neglect thaf form.

Though I tend to finish most books these days. Life is too short to waste on books that we do not like.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

Your post and the comments are so thought provoking. I shudder when I think about my reading choices (tastes) 50 years ago. Thank God for education, experience, maturity, and — drum roll, please — book bloggers. What wonderful catalysts for improved reading. BTW, I’m pondering an excursion through BritLit with Austen, Dickens, and others on my list. Do you have a handful of BritLit favorites? I ask you, Brian, and all your visitors. Well?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi RT - We do change so much!

As for 19th century British Literature. I would say - Any of Jane Austen’s novels, Charles Dickens - Bleak House, David Coperfield, Anthony Trollope - Can You Forgive Her? , George Eliot - Middlemarch, Thomas Hardy - Tess of the d’Ubervilles, H.Well’s novels (split between centuries). There are so many more!

BTW - I have not been getting post notifications from you. I might not have your latest blog address. Is there a new one?

Sheree Strange said...

Oooh, what an interesting topic/thought, Brian!! My tastes have definitely changed over time as well, and I think in large part it's due to what I have read - each new book I pick up prepares me or positions me for the one to come. There are many books I'm reading now that, had I read them five or ten years ago (without the books I've read in the intervening years), I'm sure I would not enjoy or understand half as well.

Whispering Gums said...

Yes, that's it Brian - in the end, it's not about genre but about good books - and being open to that possibility.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharee - You raise a good point. Reading books has also made me a better reader who is open to a wider variety of books. For instance, I think that reading some long Dickens novels made me a more patient reader and helped me tackle some long complex works.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

Brian, here’s an answer to your question about my blog...
https://moreinformalinquiries.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-expeditions-2008.html

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks RT. I have added you to my blog reader.

Violet said...

I think that one of the big problems with teaching Lit in schools is that many students are just not ready for classic novels, and having to slog through them when young and not understanding or appreciating them, really puts people off trying them again when they're older, when they have more life experience and a more developed intellectual framework. I think that maybe schools are doing a disservice to Lit and to students by not choosing books that are more suitable for readers in today's world. There are so many great books out there to choose from, and I've found that forcing kids to read stuff they don't like tends to put them off reading anything at all, and that's really sad.

I know that my reading tastes have widened a lot since the internet became part of my life. I used to read classics, historical fiction, and non-fiction. But, there are just so many books out there that I never knew about before! I think I still like the same sorts of books as I always have, but I'm more likely to give other genres a go these days. I might even get into sci fi one day! :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Violet- I must say that at least for me, the education system assigned me books that were aimed at younger folks. I remember mostly being assigned books like Great Expections and Catcher in the Rye. Now some might say that even those books might bore young folks but I think that people have to start somewhere. With that, I think that not everyone had the same books assigned as me.

The internet is perhaps unfairly degraded, it has it introduced me to so many more books and genres myself.

thecuecard said...

You make many good points about changes in your reading over time. In some ways, I liked more creative stories (fantasy / sci fi etc) when I was younger and now I seem more patient a reader perhaps but like more dramas, middle age characters, and coming of age stories, families etc. I would probably still think Henry James is too dense & slow, ha.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Susan - I have really come to like all the kinds of stories that you have mentioned as I have gotten older. I still need to try Henry James!

Maria Behar said...

OUTSTANDING commentary as usual, Brian!! :)

I greatly enjoyed reading this post! You've mentioned so many interesting points about a reader's developing tastes! You've also been very honest about sharing your developing appreciation for books that did not appeal to you when you were younger. I think that most readers go through a similar process.

Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky happen to be two of my favorite Classics authors! The two novels by these writers that really stand out for me are "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Crime and Punishment". They both blew me away!

I was assigned "Pride and Prejudice" in high school, and didn't like it at all when I first read it. In fact, I never finished it. It was only years later that I was able to appreciate it to some extent, although I must admit that I will never like this novel as much as my all-time favorite Classic, "Jane Eyre". I LOVE this novel, as you know. I much prefer Bronte's passionate story, her vivid prose and unforgettable characterizations. Austen, in contrast, seems much too TAME. In fact, this novel totally bored me when I first started reading it in high school. Lol. I realize that each of these writers had different aims. Besides, they had different personalities. Austen was interested in the subtleties involved in human relationships, how society's hidden rules serve to hinder romantic relationships. Bronte, in contrast, was interested in the drama of human relationships -- how strong personalities can clash, and yet, feel a strong bond. "Jane Eyre" is a veritable "sturm und drang". This was much more appealing to me because I've always been the type of person who feels things VERY intensely. I cannot say that I LOVE "Pride and Prejudice", which I CAN say about "Jane Eyre". I can appreciate Austen's subtle digs at society's mores in her time. She is, in fact, a bit snarky. But I'll take the drama of "Jane Eyre" anytime! Lol.

One Classic novel I passionately DETEST just as much as I LOVE "Jane Eyre" is "Wuthering Heights". I just can't stomach it. Yes, the writing is brilliant. But reading about Heathcliff made me wince, and even shift around uncomfortably in my chair as I read it. OMG..... This novel actually DEPRESSED me SO much.... And I had this feeling of OPPRESSION as I read it....

I will have to come back with another comment. This post has just got my mind going! Lol. :) :) :)

(TO BE CONTINUED....)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria. Despite my mentioning Dostoyevsky, I need to read more of his books. I have only read The Devils and The Bothers Karamazov

I also like Jane Eyre better then any of Austen’s books or Wuthering Heights. You hit it on the head, Austen was a genius when it came to everyday life and subtlety. Jane Eyre was a giant story about giant people. I think that Emily Bronte also told a big story in Wuthering Heights but it not reach the grandeur of Jane Eyre.

I also found Wuthering Heights to be depressing.

Thanks for the great comment!

Maria Behar said...

You're very welcome, Brian! And I'm back, as promised!

What I wanted to add was that I used to read more serious literary works when I was in my teens and early twenties. Then suddenly, several years ago, I got into reading Young Adult Fiction. That happened as a result of coming across the Harry Potter series, sometime around 2003. I fell head over heels!! Then I came across The Twilight Saga, in 2006. Sheer bliss!! As you know, I ADORE both of these series!! So I got hooked on YA, at an age (which I won't mention, ha, ha) that most people wouldn't be reading this kind of thing. Lol.

Interestingly, however, I have found that YA novels can be just as serious as classics and literary fiction. One book in particular that comes to mind is "Future Shock", by Elizabeth Briggs. (Yes, this is the very same title of the Alvin Toffler book, published back in the 70s). Although the plot is certainly exciting, this novel delves into deeper issues (such as the ethics -- or lack thereof -- adhered to by corporations), and is very much intellectually satisfying. Besides, the female protagonist really kicks butt, and is Mexican, so this is a diverse read, as well.

There are several other very interesting YA reads I would recommend to you. Another is "Of Beast and Beauty", by Stacey Jay, which delves into environmental concerns. Then there's the POWERFUL "Dread Nation", by Justina Ireland, which I recently finished. This novel deals brilliantly with racial prejudice and discrimination, and the plot is certainly riveting!

Well, this comment is turning into an essay, lol! But I wanted to point out that the YA genre does deal with issues that are certainly of interest to older readers. Not all YA novels are at this level, but many of them certainly are!

Okay, that's it! Hope you're having a WONDERFUL day!! <3 :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria- I think that it is important to read what you enjoy. It is interesting that your reading patterns shifted as they did. I agree, like many other genres, Young Adult includes great books. Many involve well crafted characters and meaningful themes. I need to read more of it myself. Much of it has much to offer for adults.

Harvee said...

I have branched out into French mystery novels in the original French (for at least one author) and into more contemporary fiction.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee - It is so interesting. We all seem to have found new and interesting directions to branch out into.

The Bookworm said...

I agree Brian, some things change over the years but some things stay the same. Like you mention, as we age and mature we do learn to appreciate different kinds of stories and writing styles, especially in regards to the classics.

I'm a lifelong reader of a few genres like romance, historical fiction and horror, but I find that now I prefer older protagonists to the younger ones. And I am tougher on the characters, as far as the choices they make. Even though it's all fiction, I find I judge them more now for whatever reason. I pick apart their actions.

Great insightful post as always. Enjoy your weekend!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - I am also tougher on characters. I think that when I was younger I did not really think all that much about their actions. I think that it is a good thing, that while our tastes have changed, many of us have stuck with genres for life.

Haddock said...

I would like to read that book - A journey down an African River to remote places.

Caroline said...

Oh my. It happened again. My comment vanished. I seem to have problems with blogger sites.
I just mentioned that my change in taste is quite different. I used to prefer more modernist works, hardly read any traditional novels. I need to go back to that as so many novels bore me easily. My preference for certain genres has not changed however.
It’s an interesting topic.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline- I actually came to like more modernist works as I got older. However, I think that I would get bored if I read too many of them. Thanks for hanging in there and commenting despite the issues. I also occasionally have had the problem with some blogs. I have sometimes taken up saving longer comments to a word file as not to lose them.

Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks said...

So far, I am finding that my being older is actually making me less patient with books than I used to be, as opposed to the popular belief that you will start getting into 'smart' books more as you grow older. I used to be much more patient with them. Although maybe that's cause I have started to blog and am now exposed to so many books?

I wonder how my reading tastes will change with time.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Evelina - That is a really interesting change. I should have added in my post that I am very careful what I read these days as readng time is precious. Therefore I may be Just liking books that I am more predisposed to like.