So my take on it is this:
- Do you have a preferred genre?
- If so, why? What's good about it?
- If you don't care for genre distinctions, why not?
- If you wanted to convert someone who doesn't read your genre, which titles would you recommend?
- Why did you make those choices?
I'm not much of a genre reader. I read anything that meets the basic criterion of well-written, and I'll read even bad books for the sheer pleasure of reading. Because I read primarily for character, I tend to go for mainstream, where there is nothing else to get in the way.
I also prefer, if I'm to express a preference, mainstream because a lot of genre (any genre) is self-referential. If you haven't read the major influential works, and if you don't know the conventions of the genre, you get a lot less out of it. I'm not saying that mainstream literature is without conventions, but they're conventions that are known to just about anybody who's ever done any reading.
I suppose if I have a preferred sub-genre within mainstream, it's the set of books that fall somewhere in between popular bestsellers and excessively pretentious stuff. I'm not sure if there's a word for semi-intellectual books; I know what I mean by it, they form a distinct group in my mind, but I don't know if they're classified as a group. I like something that challenges me and gives me something to think about, but I like books to have a story and not to be too much effort to read. Reading is something I do to relax, and if I want real intellectual stimulation I'll read scientific papers rather than overblown literary works.
Books I would recommend that seem to me to fall into this sub-genre: AS Byatt, either Possession or Babel Tower. The former I'd recommend to someone who reads romances or bestsellers, who wants to move towards something more high-brow, and the latter to an SF/F reader who wants to try mainstream.
Anne Michaels: Fugitive pieces. Particularly to a reader of poetry or very lush fantasy. It's really gorgeously written, but it's also a story about people and relationships and so on. It's a book I often give to people as a gift, the kind of people I want to give pretty things to more than the kind of people I want to have intense discussions about books with (some of them are the same people, mind you!)
E Annie Proulx: The shipping news. One of those books that's particularly strong on characterization, but the prose is really lovely without ever being florid, and the setting is realist but very unusual, not the kind of thing that's part of my everyday experience.
Zadie Smith: White Teeth. Gloriously readable, but also throws punches and has a hugely tangled and complex structure. In many ways I think Smith is the direct successor to Dickens. She rambles a bit, she does have a bit of a social message, she tends to go in for enormous casts and perhaps too many journalist-like observational sketches as a source of humour, but like Dickens she does all these things very well. I'd recommend it to people who mainly read magazines or popular non-fiction rather than novels.
Today is the 46th day, making 6 complete weeks and 4 days of the Omer.