Was I a “Big Ass” Reader?

mike-hammer-collection1 Heroes making big assumptions… They’re so common in romance. So much so that they were labeled “Big Ass” heroes” in an ATBF column several years ago. Readers often use shortcut terms like “the Big Miss.”

But what about readers making big assumptions? Whoops. Guilty as charged. I finally figured out something I hadn’t wanted to face. I have been a Big Ass reader.

The book that shook me up wasn’t a romance. Far from it. It was a collection of Mickey Spillane’s first three Mike Hammer books. Sure I was familiar with Spillane. I had enjoyed his beer commercials. I had fun watching him get interviewed on TV. I watched the Mike Hammer show on TV.

So why had I never read one of the books? Why had I never even cracked one open? Because I had read about what a terrible writer Spillane was. Essays called him one of the worst private eye writers. Ever. I had read some bad PI books, so boy, Spillane’s books must be awful. Sure, people like mystery author Lawrence Block loved him. But Spillane wrote books with titles like The Erection Set. Ouch. The 1970s cover was even worse than the title. On top of all that, critics said that Spillane’s his most famous hero, Mike Hammer, was sexist, racist, and homophobic, not to mention an alcoholic. There was the sex and violence, often on the same page! Hammer wasn’t a real detective, they claimed — he was a vigilante. Even worse, “they” said, his writing was terrible, just terrible. To me, that’s almost as bad as the “ists” and “ics.”

Then I actually opened one of his books, a classy new omnibus edition put out by NAL Trade.

Oh my. The original critics can go pound sand. Or pray for my soul. Or whatever. Just leave me alone as I read this stuff and regret not reading this sucker sooner. Like while the author was still alive. Mike Hammer is far from a PC character. Right on the first word of his first Mike Hammer novel, he uses the “J” word to refer to the Japanese. Yikes. So the naysayers were right about that. But bad prose? I don’t think so. Spare prose, yes, and fast-paced. Powerful, even. Oh my, save me from the horror of concise, fast-paced writing. Since when did that become “bad” writing? Maybe it was bad only because the critics were offended by the book. Whatever you think of Spillane and his writing, he knew what he was doing. (“I don’t care what the editor likes or dislikes, I care what the people like..”)

What about romance? Some people avoid romances because of the covers, the titles, mistaken impressions, so forth. Not me. I started in high school and saw nothing wrong with picking up romances. I bought romances, mysteries (except Spillane, so sue me), adventure books and thrillers, science fiction and fantasy… So I used to think I was ready to read anything. Was I, really? If so, why do I usually ignore the Western romances? Why do I usually put romantic suspense novels back on the shelf if it turns out the mob is involved? Or why do I avoid some types of paranormal romances, some types of small town contemps, etc.? Sometimes it’s because of taste, but when does my taste become prejudice? It’s a thin line, and I’m not always aware of the difference.

Luckily sometimes I can break through the barriers. All it takes is experience. Actually giving a book a try instead of letting it linger. Like the first time I so much as touched a Regency trad. I was aware of Regencies. Sort of. My favorite used bookstore had a whole section of them, after all. I knew because I used to pass it on the way to the Silhouette Intimate Moments. Although I read lots of historicals, the Regencies didn’t seem that interesting to me. Maybe it was the covers or the way most of the books looked… older, even when they were brand new. Then the store had a book signing. A local author was signing her latest Regency trad, and it came highly recommended. The author? Mary Jo Putney, just publishing her first Regencies for Signet. That was how I read my first Regency. After that, I was hooked, especially as MJP recommended other books during the signing. Now, I still miss the trads, and I feel sorry for all the people who never picked them up because of their covers or because the books looked … old.

Then there was the time I saw a debut romantic suspense novel by an author unknown to me. I read the back of the book. My first thought was, “Oh cool! It takes place in the near future!” My second thought was, “Noooo! The last futuristics I read were horrible.” So I put it down, certain it would suck as much as those books. Imagine my surprise a few years later when it turned out the mysterious “J. D. Robb” was really Nora Roberts. Boy did I feel silly.

I wonder what else I have missed because I remembered that “they” said the author was bad or because the last book I read from that publisher wasn’t very good or whatever. Sometimes I make big assumptions about an entire subgenre because one or two duds. After all, I found it easy to avoid funny paranormals after reading some that I found painfully silly. Yet I should know better because I have read some great funny paranormals.

So what about you? Were you ever held back from reading a certain book or author because of what other people said? Or did you avoid some genres because of the covers, only to become a fan once you tried one? Are there still some genres you’re holding out on?

Or are you braver than the rest of us, shoving those doubts to the side and trying anything?

– Anne Marble

21 thoughts on “Was I a “Big Ass” Reader?

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  3. Enjoyed reading the comments. i grew up reading the classics (had to for school), the fairy-tales (my grandparents insisted), westerns by Louis L’Amour (my dad’s favorite), college textbooks (my instructors insisted) and James Joyce, Lloyd C Douglas, and Mickey Spillane’s books becauseI thought they were cool and more interesting to read.
    Isn’t a “bad ass” reader defined by what books they read?
    I am an avid reader and read anything I can get my hands on and have the time to devour. I read what I want and don’t pay much attention to reviews.

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  5. And we’ve all Big Ass’ed in reverse: began reading an assumed excellent work by an author of previous best sellers/much loved stories only to find out this particular tome is a dog.

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  10. I love reading about how so many people became voracious readers because of their childhoods. While my father sticks mainly to audibook thrillers now, he read a lot of historical adventure when he was growing up, so his conversations about those stories probably influenced me. Now, he will look at something like the old Spillane covers and say “Oh God.” But he’ll generally pick up the book anyway.

    I’ve also corrupted my nephew. When he was quite young, he made me read Conan comics to him. When he was older, he want from there to Drizzt and Tolkien and Robert Jordan and Raymond Feist and others. I used to get in trouble with him if I didn’t give him a fantasy or SF novel for his birthday. ;) At least now I can give him ebook gift cards.

  11. It seems to be an ingrained part of my nature to swim against the current, so my personal prejudice (of which I am very aware) is rejecting most books that are currently trendy, heavily hyped or popular (not including certain themes or authors that are on my radar or auto-buy list). I usually have more faith in my own instincts than popular opinion, so I really have to trust the opinion of the referrer to pick up those heavily hyped books. However, I can go back and read popular books after the trend has worn itself out. It appears that even in my reading I don’t like crowds, which is perhaps more the issue with me than popularity.

    JFT, interesting story. I started reading romance in my teens and stopped by my mid-20s. I really didn’t pay much attention to the genre again until my 40-something years (just a few years ago). The author that reinvigorated my interest in the genre was Kinsale. I had tried Loretta Chase prior to that, and while I found “Lord of Scoundrels” entertaining as a page turner, it was not the book to win me back to the genre. After returning to romance, though, I realize that it is like any other category (including the heavily touted literary novels) with its share of good, mediocre and bad. In the hands of a good-to-me storyteller I can read just about any kind of story. I must admit, though, that cheesy covers put me off. Now that I read mostly ebooks, it’s not an issue. I’m also much more open to trying new authors with the advent of ebooks and bargain prices.

  12. My reading was influenced by my older sister and brother.
    Some of the authors were Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Georgette Heyer, Emilie Loring, Erle Stanley Gardner, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Isaac Asimovand Ray Bradbury. In high school, we read mostly classical literature.

    I will try reading most anything at least once. Yes, some covers do make me cringe, but it’s the story inside that matters.

  13. bungluna and dick: I think there’s a difference between tastes and reader “prejudice.” In my case, take those captive Indian bride stories — please. ;) I read a couple of those, and even in the days when I read everything, I got frustrated with the stories — the captivity, the Stockholm syndrome, the silly Big Mis, etc. Argh! On the other hand, if I never picked up a historical because “they” said they were silly and I should only read contemps, that would be a silly Big Mis on my part.

    I once saw a bumper sticker that said “THEY are wrong.” Wish I had bought one for myself.

  14. I’ve always been an eclectic reader, so I’m not sure I’m “above” anyone by reading all over the board. Mostly I’ve read what sounds good and what keeps my interest.

    But then I started young. My father was a fan of Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, and John D. MacDonald, so books by them were always scattered around the house. I think I started reading his books after school while he was at work when I was in my early teens. I remember that I could always count on learning a cool new word in the McBain books and looked forward to doing so.

    Now that I think about it, my father is to blame for my reading habits. When I was growing up, in order to get access to adult books in the library before you turned 16, an adult had to find the books and check them out for you. I’d give my dad a list of the books I wanted to read, and he never once censored me! He would place reserves on the books that weren’t on the shelves or were housed at other libraries even.

    Thanks for the stroll down memory lane, Anne!

  15. I was sixty before I read my first “romance” novel. Thinking myself above such light and frivolous reading with simple junior-high style writing. Then I read Kinsale’s “Flowers From the Storm.” Well, this didn’t fit my preconceived notions at all. Then I read Putney’s “Shattered Rainbows” and Heyer’s “The Devil’s Cub.” I was thrilled and stunned and inwardly embarrassed at myself. I hadn’t thought myself prejudiced but, of course, I certainly had been because these are rich stories with complex characters and wonderful writing. This of course was just the tip of the iceberg to an unplumbed genre of some very very good books. I still don’t find myself drawn to the paranormal and occult much and I think it has more to do with preferences and only “a little” to do with prejudice. But, I’m still growing! My life has certainly been enriched by Putney, Kinsale, Balogh, Heyer, Howatch, Julia Quinn, the Curtis’s, Carla Kelly, Heather Cullman, Alexandra Raife, Linda Howard, Judith James, and Kleypas and so many others that have written characters that stayed with me once I had finished reading and still pop up in the head at odd times.

    As an aside, my husband has traveled this journey with me with the same amazing results.

    • I could have written this response almost word for word other than I was 51 and my first few books/authors had other titles/names. Every day, I discover new romances, in many genres, to add to my TBR pile!

      JFT-Auburn: I was sixty before I read my first “romance” novel. Thinking myself above such light and frivolous reading with simple junior-high style writing. Then I read Kinsale’s “Flowers From the Storm.” Well, this didn’t fit my preconceived notions at all. Then I read Putney’s “Shattered Rainbows” and Heyer’s “The Devil’s Cub.” I was thrilled and stunned and inwardly embarrassed at myself. I hadn’t thought myself prejudiced but, of course, I certainly had been because these are rich stories with complex characters and wonderful writing. This of course was just the tip of the iceberg to an unplumbed genre of some very very good books. I still don’t find myself drawn to the paranormal and occult much and I think it has more to do with preferences and only “a little” to do with prejudice. But, I’m still growing! My life has certainly been enriched by Putney, Kinsale, Balogh, Heyer, Howatch, Julia Quinn, the Curtis’s, Carla Kelly, Heather Cullman, Alexandra Raife, Linda Howard, Judith James, and Kleypas and so many others that have written characters that stayed with me once I had finished reading and still pop up in the head at odd times.As an aside, my husband has traveled this journey with me with the same amazing results.

  16. Nope! I have definite dislikes, among them paranormals. I can accept small elements of the paranormal, but not much beyond small–except for Krentz/Quick maybe, in which it seems to me there’s a strong element of tongue in cheek. I don’t like futuristics much. I don’t like vampires and that ilk.

  17. Not much of a romance in the Spillane books. Mike Hammer knew his secretary loved him from afar, and he refused to touch her. From what I have read, in the last one (posthumously published), they did finally get married. On the other hand, at least she was a tough woman. It would be so annoying if she loved him from afar and was also a frail flower of womahood. ;)

  18. I confess there are types of books I avoid though I don’t know if it’s because of taste or prejudice. I love mysteries set between the wars, but every time I tried to pick up one during or after WWII I disliked it so much that I avoid anything in that time period like the plague. I don’t like “hard” anything either, be it sci-fi, suspence or mystery.

    I’ve consiously tried to widen my male author list with mixed results, but really, my reading time is so limited that I don’t want to waste it on anything but books I might positively love.

    As for what ‘they’ say, I very seldon pay attention, except to look into it if “they” are some of the reviewers I know have opposite tastes from mine!

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