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What’s your literary taste?

Do you ever find yourself craving a certain kind of story, like the way you simply must have that molten chocolate cake for dessert? Do you find yourself taking a break from a book because you just aren’t in the right mind frame for it? I tend to think of my books in gustatory terms—each genre has its own flavor, relative to the five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory), and I crave different flavors of book in exactly the same way I’m dying for a mango smoothie one day and dark chocolate the next.

Sweet: For me, the books that fall into this category are usually fantasy novels. “Sweet” stories are reminiscent of rich, dark chocolate cake; raspberry cordial and berries with spiced whipped cream; delicately spun sugar and pastry so flaky it practically melts in your mouth. Fantasy, like the best desserts, should evoke experiences beyond the normal scope of life. It should be so sumptuous that you don’t even think about whether or not you ought to be indulging in it, or whether it is “good” for you.

For a sweet treat, I recommend The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, or Robin McKinley’s Beauty.

Salty: Salt is an essential nutrient for the body, and (much as we might contest this during elementary school) just as a little salt is necessary for the body, a little history is indispensable to the mind of a reader; so I like to think of historical works as the salty side of literature.

For a healthy helping of history, try The Needle-watcher by Richard Blaker or Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir.

Sour: Mystery novels and science fiction—because I always think that sourness is a tricky flavor to pin down. It’s sometimes very good and sometimes very bad, on a broader scale than the other four. Sour things are usually tempered with another taste—sweet (grapefruit with honey drizzled over it) or salty (lime tortilla chips)—and are often disdained for their pucker-inducing acidity. Sci-fi and thrillers are two genres that tend to get a lot of criticism for being “not serious literature,” so I think they have a lot in common with, say, lemons. A good writer in these two categories is one who knows how to make great lemonade.

Anything by Ursula Le Guin is a must-read. And, of course, Agatha Christie is classic, though I recommend reading her in broad daylight, with your back pressed to a wall and a good view of any doors, to minimize fright risk.

Bitter: Possibly my favorite of all five flavors—because it’s the one that encompasses very strong cups of coffee! When I think of a book as being bitter, I don’t mean the bitterness that holds grudges, but a pleasant bitterness—the sharpness of unsweetened cocoa or the rich, melancholy dark taste of black coffee. These bitter tasting books have the closest ties to the world we experience every day, with characters and situations we can recognize as ones from our own lives. I’d call this literary fiction; not old enough to be classic literature (yet) but still able to evoke our deepest feelings and thoughts about life, death, spirituality, etc.

Currently reading (and loving) Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Another favorite is Ahab’s Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund, and J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.

Savory: Anything that makes you want to curl up with a nice cup of tea qualifies as a savory read. This can actually be a very broad category, but I consider most classic literature to be savory literature. Reading the classics feels wholesome and comforting, like eating a hearty bowl of soup or drinking hot chocolate on a winter evening.

Some of my favorites are: anything by Jane Austen, Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, and Little Women by Lousia May Alcott.

{Lara Roche´- Sudar is a Summer Intern here at InkWell Management. She is a rising Senior at Williams College.}

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