What’s in a wheelhouse?

Jeff and Rebecca, hosts of the Book Riot Podcast, so often mention their “wheelhouses” in conversations about books that the term has slowly weaseled its way into my own vocabulary when it comes to reading. Like “oh my god, I can’t wait to read the new Emma Straub book—it sounds like it’ll be 100% in my wheelhouse” (true sentence).

But what actually is a wheelhouse? You know I had to look it up.

Apparently a literal wheelhouse is the pilot’s area of a ship, where the steering wheel is located, but the meaning has expanded to include any center of control or leadership, real or metaphorical. We also use the word in the United States to refer specifically to “the section of the strike zone where it is easiest for the batter to hit the ball well,” or more generally to “an area that matches a person’s skills or expertise.” (Thanks, Merriam-Webster.)

Side note: WOW, America, be more dependent on baseball analogies. In my wheelhouse! A home run! Out of left field!

Anyway, so if we extend that a little further, a reader’s “wheelhouse” is that sweet spot made up of all the elements they love in a book. Picture a Venn diagram with, for example, “female authors,” “family dynamics,” “science fiction,” and “set in space.” Books with any of those qualities might fall “in your wheelhouse,” but where some (or, omg, ALL) of those circles overlap? Whew. That female-authored sci-fi novel exploring the relationships between members of a family aboard a spaceship is probably going to be “right in the white-hot center” (another Jeff and Rebecca phrase) of said wheelhouse.

Another bookish podcast I love, Reading Glasses, also includes a lot of discussion about this. In one of their earliest episodes, hosts Mallory and Brea tried to figure out what was in their personal wheelhouses and then challenged listeners to do the same. I’ve been mulling over the question ever since I heard that episode. If I had to verbalize exactly what I seek out and tend to enjoy in my reading life, what would that look like??

Obviously it’s time for a list!

My reading wheelhouse:

  • Family or relationship dynamics, especially found families
  • Literary fiction, literary sci-fi, and literary mystery
  • Female authors
  • Fantastical elements within real-world settings
  • Intricately-woven plots
  • A diverse and inclusive cast of well-rounded characters
  • Memoirs about people working through grief
  • Sarah mother-forking Waters
  • Lyrical prose that isn’t overdone to the point of becoming a distraction
  • Trade paperback format
  • A well-designed cover with stylish font choices
  • Multi-generational family dramas
  • Dark humor and wit
  • A protagonist (preferably non-male) on a literal or figurative journey to Get Their Shit Together
  • Essays that are smart, funny, perceptive, and poignant all at once

This is not all, by any means, but there you have it for now. Maybe I’ll keep updating this list as I think of more—my wheelhouse is ever-evolving.

What about you? Do we share any commonalities? (Capital One commercial voice): What’s in your wheelhouse?

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