In thinking about this, I think it's fair to say that non-readers fall into two categories:
- Literary Readers
Folks who primarily read literary fiction or have particularly sophisticated tastes as far as literature is concerned. This group tends to hold general disdain for literature that focuses on plot rather than characters or style (and specifically all genre fiction and popular literary forms).
- Popular Fiction Readers
Think anyone who reads the stuff on the best seller's list, but who have avoided science fiction or fantasy for whatever reason. Sometimes these sorts of readers have little book clubs and what not where they discuss Dan Brown and other such authors.
The first group, however, is the hard one. How do we get people who literally believe that science fiction is trash to read it? Do we point them to Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke? This is the problem. When we start making suggestions for non-readers, we often point to classic SF or even popular SF as if the popularity of the title will actually matter. But most of the titles we automatically suggest are not going to get these folks to read SF. Period. It will only serve to reinforce the idea that SF is trash. This isn't because SF is actually trash; it's because this particular group of readers considers considers SF to be so.
So what do we do? How do we get these folks to even consider SF? Do we point to 1984 and Margaret Atwood? What other books are there other than those in the canon (which isn't that many books anyway)? I don't know. I don't think there is an easy way through to this group; there are only a handful of books that they'd willingly read (and probably already have), and SF is not exactly rich with stylistically aware prose (in the sense that popular-styles are replaced with more complicated ones).
Do any of you have suggestions? How would you get through to this group? Can we get through to this group, or is it hopeless?