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Let’s see if I can answer this question without writing a whole book on the topic. Ha!
I prefer shorter works, so short stories and novellas rise to the top of my queue faster than books that are 200+ pages long. If something is more than 300 pages, I probably won’t read it unless it’s otherwise irresistible to me.
I like standalone stories. It’s been my experience that they tend to have more concise writing, faster plots, and better character development because the author knows that he or she has limited time with which to get these things accomplished. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and I love finding series that offer steady character and plot development from their first instalment to their last one.
I enjoy moderate amounts of descriptive passages. That is to say, give me a couple of pages describing what a setting looks like, but I’d prefer not to read Tolkien-esque descriptions that go on for a dozen pages unless there’s some rare, pressing need for that much detail. For example, some fantasy novels genuinely do need many pages to describe how things work in their world, but a contemporary romance or mystery almost certainly will not.
I love to be surprised. Authors who are intimately familiar with the tropes of their genre and have some indication that those tropes will be gently poked fun at, turned upside down, or otherwise subverted will grab my attention immediately. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is an excellent example of this, but I’ll happily read authors from any genre who pull this off. It’s much harder than it might look, but it’s so rewarding when it happens.
Here are some of the topics that will immediately make me read at least the first page of a book if they’re mentioned in the title or blurb:
- (Non-romance) paranormal stories
- Adoption, foster care, chosen families, etc. I have several adopted or chosen relatives and find these topics quite interesting.
- Prehistory (hunter-gatherers, Neanderthals, mammoths, dinosaurs, etc.)
- Hopeful speculative fiction
- Alternate history books that aren’t about Hitler or World War II
- Sapphic main characters (if they get to live happily ever after)
- Stories about wild or domesticated animals (if they get to live happily ever after)
- Non-fiction about the lives of ordinary people or historical events that usually aren’t taught in school. Learning new things is amazing.
- Soothing fiction in general. Give me happy endings instead of heartbreaking ones.
I used to adore psychological horror, too, but have cut way back on that during this pandemic. Maybe someday I can handle being scared more often again.
I’ve also been making an effort to diversify my reading, so any books about people who are not Caucasian and/or who don’t live in North America float to the top of the list. Authors and characters who have medical conditions, disabilities, religious beliefs, etc. that I don’t have personal experience with are being prioritized, too.
You can learn so much about the world by seeing it through other people’s perspectives.
Anyway, that is a brief overview of my taste in books. I can’t wait to read what all of you had to say on this topic.