As a bookseller, if there’s one phrase I’ve come to hate it’s “I don’t like”. Ironically, this is a phrase I used to use myself quite often, and catch myself still using on occasion. I have eaten bananas. I know I don’t like bananas. Maybe it’s a texture thing or a taste thing, but either way, I know I don’t like them and will politely refuse one if offered to me. I know I am not a fan of certain writers and certain styles of writing. I found the works of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding boring. I love Jane Austen though, so I can’t sweepingly say that I don’t like 18th-century authors. Once upon a time, I would have said unequivocally that I don’t like country music, but some country artists cross over into pop, and they’ve produced songs I like. I’ve learned that applying “I don’t like” as a general term to a particular genre of anything isn’t fair because unless I can say that I’ve read every single book ever written in that genre or by that author, I don’t really have the right to make an all-encompassing statement. (This must be why my boyfriend keeps making me sample so many kinds of beer even though I have yet to find a single beer I like.)
Going back to my own personal experience, I wrongly used to assume that all sci-fi was about alien invasions and thus decided that I wasn’t interested in sci-fi. Imagine my surprise when I learned that sci-fi has many sub-genres (including dystopia) and titles that I really liked fell into that category. I’m fascinated by future tech and artificial intelligence, and I can’t get enough of those kinds of books. I even loved Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave which completely changed my opinion on first contact stories. I didn’t especially like The Lord of the Rings series, and thus assumed that I didn’t like fantasy either. Guess what? Like most of you, I devoured the Harry Potter books, and I’ve realized that not liking one series or style of writing doesn’t mean I don’t like fantasy. I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones, and I really appreciate the complex world building that goes into these novels.
Because of this experience, when a customer begins a preference statement with “I don’t like”, what I really want to say is how do you know. In publishing today, as in music and television and movies, genre-blending (and bending) has become increasingly popular, which makes it even more unreasonable to say that you don’t like something without at least reading the synopsis or even a few pages of the book. I think it’s also important to keep in mind that with all of this genre crossover, how certain authors are classified muddies the waters even more. Stephen King is widely known as a horror writer, and people are often shocked to discover that he wrote Stand By Me. I would dearly love for all of us to get to a place where genre and even author are the least important factors in hiw we decide we don’t like something. Maybe then, we can learn to stop using “I don’t like” as liberally as we do, and instead judge each individual book on its own merits.