Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Your Gateway Drug*

According to Wikipedia, a gateway drug is “using one "soft" non- or only slightly addictive drug will lead to the use of other "harder" drugs and the associated criminal and social consequences – the first drug used is thus described as a gateway to further abuse.” The term, however, can be applied to anything that introduces you to a taste, sensation, or idea which you will gradually follow up to higher levels. Pinot Noir could be the gateway drug to darker, deeper reds. Hershey’s could lead you into Godiva and then to Moonstruck.

With books, it is often the big-name, popular types that act as the gateway to get people to read. Dan Brown—for all the flack he gets—got a lot of people voluntarily reading again, and not just his books. People who picked up the Da Vinci Code moved on to read Angels and Demons, sure, but they also might have branched out to Holy Blood, Holy Grail or other fictional conspiracies like The Eight by Katherine Neville. These same people might now be reading Atlantis by David Gibbons, Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George, or A History of God by Karen Armstrong. Although it was only a work of fiction, the Da Vinci Code opened up many avenues of reading to those who may have been hesitant before.

Author as gateway drug can also work in a different fashion when a well established author jumps genres or from fiction to nonfiction. The loyal audience follows (sometimes knowingly, sometimes not) and a certain number of those might like what the find. Suddenly they might be open to trying other things in this genre or area of reading that they wouldn’t have thought of before. I have to wonder how many of John Grisham’s readers who like An Innocent Man will turn to other true crime writers now that they’ve been introduced. Will Ann Rule, Gregg Olsen and others benefit from their need to read other real life tales?

Perhaps too often, though, we turn to these big name authors to act as the gateway drugs to our friends when a more subtle approach would do. Haven’t we all dealt with the friend that we know would just love books X, Y, and Z if they would give them a try, but they won’t because name recognition tells them that they belong in genre S?

“Ewww, I’d never read fiction/mystery/romance/scifi/fantasy/true crime/fill in the blank,” they cry. “Don’t you have something good?”

Now you can either explain that X, Y, and Z are good until you run out of air, or you take a step back and regroup. Days later you dig out a nondescript paperback with a kickass story line; something subtle enough that it won’t tip your friend off until they’re fully drawn into the characters and situations. You then gush to said friend, leaving out any tip-off words or phrases and emphasize how crazy, wonderful this book is.

It must be crazy, wonderful in some way, otherwise it won’t work.

And once they are truly sucked in and have devoured the author’s whole backlist, you move them up, feed them the books that have a little “more” of whatever defines that genre until you’ve got them hooked on a three book a day habit and they’ve destroyed their library card with over-use.

At which point, if you were me, you would sit back and cackle, but I’m evil, so you might just get a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Or you might not have experienced this sensation at all.

What books, famous, infamous or other have used to hook others on your genre drug of choice? Do the famous types or those still building their fan base work better? What was your gateway drug?

*Hey, there’s a reason I call booksellers knowledge dealers.


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels is mine. Opened up many many avenues - Egyptology, mysteries, historical fiction, action-adventure, archeology.... I was learning all about Egypt and the Valley of Kings but because it wasn't a textbook format, I wasn't bored out of my mind.

That lead me on to books by Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, Dan Brown, Iris Johanson's Eve Duncan series, James Rollins, etc... I pick up other books that have some type of info that I'm familiar with or interested in - Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse mysteries, Victoria Laurie's Abby Cooper series, Margaret George's books.

I've always found it interesting that I learn more from reading my books and watching documentaries on TV then I ever learned in the classroom. (Well, at least I seem to have retained more knowledge - probably because I was having fun)

I don't use some of the big names (Dan Brown for example) because that can backfire. I take cues from what the person normally reads, and plot my sneak attack accordingly. There's been many a day that I've gleefully rubbed my hands together while cackling away (maybe it has something to do with being a former bookseller?).


Robin L. said...

Man - I came in to comment the exact same thing!!! I'm still in shock.

OK, regrouping to say... I never cracked a book that could be shelved in "genre fiction" till I picked up The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters a few years ago. Now I'm a mystery *fiend*!! I head straight to the mystery section of a bookstore now and it takes a lot to convince me to read a book if there's nothing to *solve* in it. ;)

So, Elizabeth Peters - definitely my gateway drug of choice.

Lisa Hunter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lisa Hunter said...

Speaking as a formerly reluctant reader of genre:

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold rates as serious post-war literature in my book. After I read it, I re-thought my undergraduate aversion to spy lit and started reading his whole backlist.

The Hound of the Baskervilles got me reading mysteries. The Holmes stories are a mixed bag, but the best of them are great.

And when a work colleague pushed a tangerine-colored Carl Hiaissen novel towards me and said, "Really, it's actually good," I found yet another door opened.

Bernita said...

It might have been Elizabeth Moon or Mercedes Lackey or Modessit...
No, it was Andre Norton and Witch World who opened the door to fantasy again.

May said...

Anne Bishop was my gateway drug to fantasy, and Nora Roberts was my gateway out of bodice-ripper romances to contemps (when I first started reading romance, I refused to read contemps for some reason).

Bethany K. Warner said...

Janet Evanovich was my gateway drug to reading chick lit. I never would have picked up any other chick lit if a friend hadn't first recommended that I read the Stephanie Plum books.

Gregg Olsen said...

Patricia Cornwell was my gateway to thrillers. I loved her first five or so, then when I tired of Scarpetta I tried the other "big" names.

Wendy said...

Marian Keyes was my gateway drug to romance. I had preconceived notions on the genre, so reading something like Watermelon (which is more chick lit) paved the way.

You also failed to mention one of the biggest gateway drugs off all - Harry Potter. What state would the YA and adult fantasy genre be in right now if not for the wizard?

none said...

I think the book that made me a committed reader of Science Fiction was Telepathist by John Brunner. As a child, I used to pick up the books my dad left lying around, if they had interesting enough covers. Many of his books were the original style Penguins with very similar and extremely dull covers. Those didn't interest me. They looked boring. SF books had exciting covers, so I gravitated towards those. It took me a little while to realise that no matter how fantastic the spaceships on the covers of those black Pan SF editions, there were rarely if ever any spaceships inside the covers.

I know Telepathist wasn't the first SF I ever read, but it was the one that left the strongest impression.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh what a fun post. Now I just added (again) to my reading list.

quiche said...

I used Sherman Alexie's poems to get my son interested in poetry and that led to Momaday, Eliot and Pound. He even asked me to take him to see Ted Kooser when he was in town.

Anonymous said...

A big box of freebie books introduced me to science fiction and fantasy. "I really think you'll like these," he said. I had my doubts, but I did read them. If it weren't for that box, I doubt I ever would have understood the "speculative" aspect of speculative fiction. Believe me, I would have never picked those books for myself!

That led to my first science fiction convention where they had, of all things, regency dancing. Regency? Huh? I discovered that Georgette Heyer is quite popular with the SF crowd so *of course* I had to read Heyer and thus took my first tentative steps into the romance section. Heyer led to Jane Austin, George Elliot, etc. (Not to mention Signets!)

My only claim to gateway fame is getting unsuspecting mom-types hooked on paranormal porn via Laurell K. Hamiton's Anita Blake series. Anita isn't bad "before the fall" but, wow, those later books... Then these upstanding women start reading about Carpathians and Dark Hunters and talking to me about things like erotic ebooks. Yes, I am ashamed.

kaolin fire said...

I'll drink to linguistic gateway drugs, most definitely. =)

Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine is attempting to be a cross-over drug--to grab folks who stick to Literary fiction, and folks who stick to Genre fiction, and swirl them together, with a dash of art and a heavy dose of varying sorts of poetry.

Here's to hoping we can contribute to a greater literacy.

Anonymous said...

I have been a literary snob for so long - I was so into classics, it was only a few years ago I bothered to read anything written after WWII, when I went onto the likes of Anita Brookner, Pat Barker and so forth. I love reading and always have, but I never went beyond literature.
Now I am in a literary drugfest of sexy monster books (paranormal romance, more or less) My gateway book was BITTEN by Kelley Armstrong, which a friend lent me- a crossover, really, all about werewolves! I then read STOLEN, the sequel, and have now gone to the hard stuff: Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire hunter series. Wow, I'm in heaven. I can't get ENOUGH. Luckily, she's written around 13 of them. They have taken over my mind!

Here's what's interesting: I usually read for an hour before bed, but if I read the sexy monster books then, I can't sleep - too much of a confection, I think, ro the world not quite round enough, I don't know why. So I have to read literature before bed, and the paranormal romances elsewhere.

Aprilynne Pike said...

Okay, those Moonstruck Chocolates look heavenly!! I bookmarked the page so I could drool over it later. . . probably not the reaction you were expecting from this post, but hey.:)


none said...

Ah, a big free box of SF. I have one of those; my father purged his library for Reasons I Do Not Understand. All mine now! And yes, I read Georgette Heyer, and Jane Austen.

*waves to kaolin*

Anonymous said...

My father is really into spy/conspiracy/espianage type books. He likes a lot of fast paced action.

I'm a big fan of fantasy novels, which he thinks of elves and trolls and sword and sorcery, and how sill. I got him to read Artemis Fowl by hyping up how much its about this kid genius who concocts all these ingenius crimes. I conceded that yes there were elves, dwarves, and trolls, but that this element of crime and this kid's genius to outsmart others overshadows that.

Now my dad is on the third book of the series, and I can totally bring him other fantasy books I've read and loved (like Neil Gaiman or Charles DeLint), because if he can stand the dwarves, elves, and trolls in Artemis Fowl, then he'll definitely be able to handle some grown up fantasy novels.

Me said...

Great insight.

Anonymous said...

sorry, my gate way was Dr. Suess at three. Anyone seeing my home would think it WAS a library, SF to romance, via classics, fantasy, mystery and thriller. Hardest thing is actually having to give up some old favorites to clear shelf space for new books. I'm dangerous with a credit card in ANY book store.

kaolin fire said...

Come on, let Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine be your gateway--your second gateway--I'm sure there's _something_ we can open you to, or at least remind you of said opening. Hmm. We need people dangerous with credit cards! Hey, you can get the issue as a PDF for only $3.50, or print for $10.00 -- 200 pages of literary + genre fiction, poetry, art...

Thanks. :)