Every now and then, I mention books here on Being Anne that could have a sticker on the cover saying “Anne – you’ll love the one”. You might even have heard the occasional muffled fanfare of trumpets. Such books have often been discovered quite by accident, and sometimes – more frequently these days, and I’m very lucky that way – the books have found me.
As age has caught up with me, I often find the chick lit books I used to love too insubstantial, their characters now often the age of any children or (heaven help us) grandchildren that I might have had, their concerns increasingly irrelevant to my life. But I really don’t want to read about quirky old codgers either – the likes of Harold Fry and Hendrik Groen don’t attract me at all, although I know others have loved them. So what is it that makes me decide that a book is one for me?
Likely themes within the books are second chances, late life career changes, adjusting to retirement, bereavement, love in later life, divorce, relationships with adult offspring and aging parents, and stories with older characters whose age is in some way central to the plot.
When I first heard about Claire’s initiative, I wanted to hug her – at last, someone who understood what I was looking for and who felt as I did. It’s early days yet, and both the website and the Facebook page will take time to grow and establish themselves, but I’m really looking forward to being able to share my own finds – to be able to say “I’m 62 and I loved this one because…” And I’m also excited by the possibilities of finding books that I can be confident will meet my criteria but that might have by-passed my radar, whether they’ve been put forward by their authors or recommended by others.
I’m not entirely sure that books for older readers should be a recognised genre – but that’s more because I have a natural antipathy to the whole question of “genres” and pigeon holes. When people ask me – in conversation – what kind of books I enjoy, I often struggle a little. If pushed, I say contemporary fiction – actually, I’ll often say “women’s contemporary fiction” but that somehow makes it sound like something less serious, less relevant, less good, when nothing could be further from the truth. But I do enjoy books with a historical setting too – with a particular liking for what I think of as “a good story”, and I do enjoy books with more than a single time thread.
Following her recent article for Random Things Through My Letterbox, the reaction to Claire’s initiative has been – to put it mildly – “interesting”. Some even felt that if a book were classified as “for older readers” it might limit their audience – in a way that being identified as “romance” or “chick lit” presumably doesn’t. I can’t really see there being a section in Waterstones any time soon emblazoned “Books for Older Readers” – and I’m not sure I’d want there to be – but a tasteful sticker on a cover with “enjoyed by older readers” surely wouldn’t do anyone’s sales too much damage.
Although her argument for a genre perhaps went a little further than mine would, Claire makes a really valid point:
The daft thing about this gap in genres is that people in mid life and beyond often have more time to read and more money to spend on books. It makes commercial sense to market books towards ‘my’ age group.
But bookshop shelves perhaps aren’t the major issue – many of the books I’ve enjoyed aren’t found there anyway, often self-published or from smaller independent publishers, while major publishers (and there are exceptions) continue to focus on cake shops, cafes and the next “jaw-dropping twist”. And that, I think, is the bigger issue. If these books can’t be found while browsing the book shop shelves, how on earth do they find their readers? And that’s where my personal enthusiasm for Books for Older Readers comes from – as a virtual bookshelf where these books can, at long last, be discovered and celebrated. To quote Claire again:
It is intended to be a resource for readers in mid-life and beyond who are looking for novels which they might enjoy.
And do you know, for now, that’s enough for me. I’ll be a regular visitor to the website – where you’ll find a number of books and authors that are already my personal favourites, along with a number of others that I plan to read, review and enjoy – and I’m really looking forward to seeing the Facebook community grow and flourish. You might just like to join us.
Books for Older Readers is on Twitter too – you can follow at @older_readers.
Claire Baldry is a retired primary headteacher who lives on the East Sussex coast. Her debut novel Different Genes about love in later life was published in October 2017 – one I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing before the end of the month. Find out more at www.clairebaldry.co.uk.