Tag Archives: genre

Favoured Genres

The other day I asked my fb friends these questions: What is your preferred genre of books? Why do you like that genre? What is your favourite example of the genre?

I was rather surprised that fantasy came back as the number one answer. I knew some of my fb friends were fantasy readers, but was interested at how many people came back with that as their number one. Some people blended sci fi with fantasy (I don’t, reasons previously posted) and some people had sci fi coming a close second to fantasy. One person said mysteries were a guilty pleasure. I’m not sure why my dog-loving friend finds mysteries a guilty pleasure unless she has murdered someone?

While Fantasy was the overwhelming winner of my completely unscientific online poll, there were other genres mentioned — survival stories (non-fiction), travel, biography/memoir, and historical fiction.

Me? I am having a hard time with the question. I am prone to purchase/borrow and read mysteries by the ton because these have a predictable shape that I enjoy, and they make good brain candy reads. I am much more inclined to try a new mystery author than a new sci-fi or fantasy author without recommendation. BUT I do like sci-fi a lot. And I do like fantasy a lot. Those kinds of books tend to stick in my mind longer than formulaic mysteries. I am more likely to be completely blown away by a sci-fi or fantasy work than by a mystery novel. So what is my favourite genre? It depends what I’m looking for.

Some favourite examples of the genres I like? All these are 21st Century books, and they are pretty sweet examples of things that I like in each genre.

Mystery, Val McDermid, Killing the Shadows

Fantasy, Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion

Sci-Fi, Walter Jon Williams, Implied Spaces

 

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How J.K. Rowling Changed the World

I have been pondering the world-changing nature of the Harry Potter books, thus the way their author has changed the world. Fifteen years ago none of us had ever heard of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Quidditch, Potter, or Voldemort. Now these are a part of our culture in a way which is rare for things that come from a children’s book series. Three pieces of evidence for the way all things Potter are embedded in our culture:

1. I have seen a bumper sticker in my neighbourhood on a car with South Carolina plates that says “Republicans for Voldemort.”

2. Yesterday afternoon I saw a Quidditch practice outside Trinity College on the University of Toronto campus. Yes, university students were running around holding broomsticks between their legs.

3. The Thursday Next novel I am reading is set in Bookworld where everyone is a fictional character, so it isn’t too surprising that Potter is mentioned. It made me laugh though, so I will share. Thursday describes the way reader feedback shapes the way characters look in Bookworld. Harry Potter was annoyed that he had to spend the rest of his life looking like Daniel Radcliffe. Out here in the Real World, I am pretty sure the reverse is also true!

I can’t think of another set of fiction books which is so influential over a variety of aspects of our current culture. Can you?

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Re-reading Science Fiction?

In a previous post I linked to an essay about re-reading books in a reliable Canadian newspaper. The author of the essay claimed never to have re-read any science fiction, and was quite content that this should continue to be the case. In the list of authors he thought were unworthy of re-reading he included William Gibson. Today as I read Count Zero by William Gibson, I came across this passage which follows the description of a nightmare:

“She woke in the coffee-scented morning and saw the squares of sunlight spread across the books on Andrea’s table, heard Andrea’s comfortingly familiar morning cough as she lit a first cigarette from the stove’s front burner. She shook off the dark colors of the dream and sat up on Andrea’s couch, hugging the dark red quilt around her knees.”

What’s wrong with that? Who wouldn’t call those two sentences literature? Anyone who can set a scene so clearly ought to be re-read. I say this as one who has only recently come to the works of Mr. Gibson, and therefore have not re-read any of them. I am thoroughly enjoying my first reads, and several of Gibson’s works have survived the Great Library Cut before the Great Move of 2012.

I’ve re-read other works of science fiction, and don’t find that they suffer on re-reading. Some of the works gain on re-reading, much as you would expect from any good book. Others don’t stand up to the scrutiny of a re-read, particularly books I was fond of in my much younger days and now re-read out of nostalgia. I think science fiction as a genre is like any other genre of writing. Some authors do it very well and their works cry out to be re-read. Others churn out the pot-boilers, and we see the books at a thousand garage sales.

Do you re-read science fiction? Is there any genre which cannot be re-read?

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Hunger Games

I read The Hunger Games. I enjoyed the book a lot. On a first read, I don’t catch every little thing I totally love or hate about a book, but here are some overall impressions.

The point-of-view character was interesting, and the story stayed with her all the way. This is a strength of the book, I think. Lots of writers get sloppy with their p.o.v. decisions (in my humble opinion) and Collins didn’t. (J.K. Rowling is another who doesn’t get sloppy with p.o.v. — everything except the first chapter of all but the second book, Harry sees and experiences.) Collins gives us the world of the story through Katniss’s eyes and understanding.

The setting was interesting. It was different enough from now, yet with enough connection to current North America that you could mostly get the setting. I didn’t feel like the setting information or descriptions felt forced. It helped that Katniss was experiencing and seeing some of the setting for the first time.

The plot line kept me reading, even though it was basically “Survivor” ramped up to the nth degree. I haven’t read the second and third book yet, so I don’t know where the whole thing goes, but there are some interesting possibilities with the love-interests and the political line. I’m intrigued and will keep on reading.

It is a pretty quick read. I’d recommend it. I’m not yet sure whether it deserves all the hype, but it is worth a look, and I plan to give it a second reading at some point in the future.

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Ain’t no hearts and flowers here.

Lookit that scary skeleton frightening the guy on the horse. V could be for Violence. I don’t usually go for Violent books, though I do read murder mysteries, spy stories, and war books. Instead of Violence we’ll go with Variety.

V is for Variety.

I like variety in my reading. Sometimes I go on an author binge, but then I can’t read the person for some time after that. It’s like having the same thing for dinner all the time. A little variety goes a long way. I also don’t read the same genre all the time. Some Science Fiction should be mixed with some Mystery or Historical Fiction or some other kind of book. Variety is the spice of life, to use a cliche.

In the Various books I read, I have read a little about Vampires. The Constant Reader hoped I didn’t read Vampire books when she suggested that V could stand for Vampire. But I’ve read some. Recently. I read the first five Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. “True Blood,” the HBO Vampire series, is based on the Sookie Stackhouse books. While Harris’s books tend to the comic, they have a bit too much of the gruesome in them for me to continue to read them. I found the first five in a local used book shop (big surprise to all of you I realize) and they were ok, but not good enough for me to look for more. I’ve never watched the show, so I can’t comment on that. Sookie and Vampire mysteries with a surreal comic edge have added to the Variety of books I’ve read over the last six months.

My Neighbour suggested that V could stand for Victorious, as in Oh Sweet Victory, I’ve finished this book which was a real slog to get through. In the Various books I read, I do encounter books that require a battle to finish, and, at times, I feel Victorious when they are finished. Most often when I finish a tough read, though, I don’t feel Victorious, rather I feel Vindicated. Possibly Valourous. Maybe Vindictive. Even Virtuous. Such a Variety of V-feelings to choose from after Valiantly battling through to the end of a difficult book. A lot of the theology I read has a Valiant battle aspect to it. Some of the non-fiction I read is poorly written and edited. I’ve complained about that before (Vindictive). Other times, the book may be reasonably well written, but the ideas are dense on the page and one must creep slowly through the tangle of thoughts and try to grasp the pattern of the whole. It can be rewarding to do so and the end result is positive (Victory! Virtue! Valour!).

What Various Virtuous Volumes are you reading these days? Oh, that reminds me. It seems that The Great Divorce should climb to the top of my TBR pile. It comes next, after Started Early, Took My Dog, which, so far, is Atkinson at her edgy and odd best.

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Letter G, Letter G, Letter G, Letter G – there will be an answer…

The letter

brings you today’s post. G is for Genre.

I’ve discussed genre before a couple of times and noted that part of what makes a book great is the subversion of genre, or blending genres (example: Joss Whedon’s Firefly series). That being said, booksellers and publishers classify books by genre because then people have some idea what they are getting. People decide they like or dislike various genres, thus saving themselves the bother of perusing those shelves at the local library or bookshop. I, for example, don’t bother looking at the Romance or Horror sections of any bookshop. My friend the Restless Teacher avoids the Science Fiction section along with the Fantasy section (should they be separate items). I like the genre sections of bookshops and libraries because sometimes, I just want a straightforward crime story, and if I look in the mystery section, I’ll find one. Problem solved. Well what to read next solved, the mystery itself may take a little longer.

I also read science fiction, but this is less of a fall-back category for me as I find that this genre has a significant range in it and I don’t like all aspects of its range. Some SciFi books feel like poorly disguised romance novels with a little space travel thrown in to fit the genre. You may recall that I’m a rocket scientist — I find some SciFi books are just not interesting because of the lack of science/technology or the poor science/technology in them. SciFi books are idea books. Crummy concept = crummy book. Thus I am more cautious about the SciFi genre, though I’ve been getting back into it in the last year or two.

Mysteries are my fall-back, a comfortable genre that I can usually count on for brain candy. I like finding new authors and reading through their backlist. Over the last couple of years I’ve worked through Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott books, Stephen Booth’s Cooper & Fry set, and David Hewson’s Nic Costa series. I don’t always read everything an author has written — sometimes I stop after one or two. I’m not a fan of Martha Grimes, for example, I couldn’t get past the first few of her books that I read.

I also like speculative fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. Historical fiction is seldom separated out from the general fiction or literature section in libraries and bookshops. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with its own spot on the shelves. I’m not sure why that is. Of course you can have mysteries with an historical setting (Ellis Peters pops to mind), and thrillers set in the past, and romances with history as a backdrop, so maybe a setting in the past isn’t enough for a separate section. Fantasy and speculative fiction often get blended in with SciFi as SFF. I’ve ranted in other places about why this should not be so. I can see speculative fiction and science fiction getting along better than SciFi and Fantasy. I’m not sure at all why fantasy get’s put in that category. If someone has an explanation, I’d be happy to hear it.

All that to say, genre sometimes determines what I’m going to read next. I look for books that are similar to others that I’ve liked. At the same time I recognize that genre blending or genre twisting can make a book great — so classifications as issued by publishers or booksellers or librarians don’t always reflect the potential a book has.

What genres do you like? Why?

[The title of this entry probably means you’ve all got Mother Mary running through your head. Sorry about the earworm, I’m just passing it on.]

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Day 5 of Christmastide: How Many Books?

The big question for me as I get down to the last few days of the year is how many books will be on my list of Read in 2011? Will I make it through one or two more in the next few days? Which ones should I focus on finishing? At this point I’ve got a few books on the go, and (checks book) 106 already on the list for the year. I should tell you that this is down from 2010 (134) but up from 2009 (91). I don’t think I’ll make 110, but might do 108 or 109. 107 seems probable.

It surprised me to see that people online were pleased with a count of 50 or 55 books for the year. I’ve never read so few. I do devour a lot of junque books, so maybe I’m bulking up on those, but my count has been at least 70 since I started keeping track. To be fair, I do live alone, have no children, and don’t watch a lot of television. I’ve got friends who think my numbers are laughably low. Are we crazy? Possibly we’re reading so we aren’t online telling other people how many books we’ve read. How many do you read in a year? Do you keep track? Why or why not??

I keep track of all books I read from cover to cover. If I start a book but do not finish it, it doesn’t make my list. If I read a chapter of a book for research, not on the list, an article, not on the list. If I read a complete book for research, it is on the list. This means that my list doesn’t completely reflect my reading for the year. There may be years when my complete book count is low, but my article count is high. I don’t keep track of articles I read, though I’ve been meaning to find a way to do that. It is handy to have notes and bibliographic information on record for future writing. (I’m a geek.)

I haven’t been categorizing books by anything other than fiction/non-fiction and religious/not religious. I’m realizing my rough categories are not very helpful. I need to find a finer set of categories to use, but not so fine that one is always making up a new category for each book. I’ve occasionally also used children’s fiction or classic fiction, but those are not always helpful either. This is a project for the new year — come up with a set of categories for the books I read. Yet another reason to think about genre.

Keeping track of the books I’ve read in a year and over time means I know when I last read a book. I try not to read a book in the same year, though I’ve done it before. I find if I re-read too quickly I’m not quite ready to be fully absorbed by the book again. I used to read a book, then re-read it immediately if I liked it a lot. I’d often read books from the library at least twice before returning them. I don’t do that anymore. I’m tempted to do it most with non-fiction books of the dense theological variety. I think that I’ve missed something and I need to re-read right now — but I don’t. I need to go back to non-fiction like I do fiction. I’m quite sure I’d get more out of the book the second time through. Do you re-read non-fiction?

For the fifth day of Christmas, a little song:

Drive the Lotus

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Current Reading or A Little Electricity for the Weekend Before Christmas

It isn’t quite time for the end-of-year lists from me, as the end of the year is still two weeks hence. Today I’m going to talk about current trends in my reading, and take a glance at my to-be-read piles. Really it is more like my to-be-read bookshelves as I’m a bit obsessive about collecting books and I don’t read them nearly as quickly as I collect them.

This past year has been one of new/different/odd mental space as I’ve been in contact with 1Mom since 2 January and we met for the first time in (mumble mumble) years on 9 January. I know my reading has been influenced by (a) my distracted state, and (b) the books she’s passed me. (Yes, she is also a constant reader.) Some things I’ve noticed:

A. I’ve read a lot of science fiction this year. This picked up in the second half of 2010, and I’ve been reading more in that direction than I have for years. It’s been kind of fun.

B. My concentration on non-fiction has dropped. I also think my selection of non-fiction was not as great this year. More of that in a moment.

C. I’ve not re-read as much this year as I have in previous years.

For the past year and a half I’ve been attempting to be disciplined about reading theology for an hour a day. I’ve not totally given up on this, but my distracted state means that the daily thing is not happening as much. I’ve got a lot of theological books in my to-be-read piles that I bought thinking I’d read them someday. Then I decided that someday had come and I needed to act like a theologian and read the books. So I started. I made a short list in four broad categories (biblical studies, theology, history, pastoral theology) and I read a book in one category, then move to the next. Since I started this scheme I’ve read 6 books in each category and I’m on the seventh cycle through. I hope this picks up speed again in the year ahead. Just finished: Figured Out by Christopher Seitz. It was a bit spotty. Some interesting things, enough for me to pass it on immediately. Current theological reading: Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology ed. Stanley Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones. Next up: The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Geoffrey Moorhouse.

In fiction-land I most recently read The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card. It was interesting, very Mormon theology influenced. I’m currently re-reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Very nice, it has pulled me right back in. I love the way a child’s reading experience is described near the beginning of the book.

“(I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.)”

Oh yeah. Reading can be dangerous. Next up, I’m not sure. I’ve got wobbly stacks of books everywhere that have loads of possibilities for next reads in fiction-lands. I’ve picked up a few potentials over the past few days while Christmas shopping. Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card, House of Shards by Walter Jon Williams, Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, Sovreign by C.J. Sansom. Any of these, it depends how the mood strikes. Maybe something that’s been on the shelf for a longer time. We’ll see. Any suggestions?

In other news, a Blog interview of me was published yesterday. Check it out.

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Seasonal Books 3: Bridget Jones’s Diary

Ah Bridget, what would New Year’s Resolutions be without you and your fine example? How could we think of ringing in another year without revisiting the Turkey Curry Buffet? Bridget Jones’s Diary, either the movie version or the book (in my opinion they are equally good) is quintessential holiday fare, especially for the single female.

BJD is a great read and re-read partially because of Helen Fielding’s adept use of language. I’m always in slight awe of the consistent tone of the diary — Fielding does not break cover. I’ve read all of Fielding’s books — there are only four — and I think BJD is the best of them. Part of this is the consistent tone and the interesting family plots, but there are also interesting literary references throughout the book. The most obvious references are to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. The casting of the movie with Colin Firth as Mark Darcy is beyond brilliant. (Also note that the writer for the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice is also on the writing team for the movie version of BJD.) There is another literary reference that I wonder about. I wonder where Fielding got the name Bridget Jones to begin with. Henry Fielding (1707-1758) wrote a novel called Tom Jones, which has a key character called Bridget. H. Fielding – X Jones. Hmm. No one has commented on this in print as far as I can see. Most people just ooh and ah at the layers of meta-fiction between Bridget and P&P both print and movie versions.

Apparently Helen Fielding spawned the “Chick Lit” genre single-handedly with the publication of BJD. I’d have to do a bit more research to find out whether that assessment is actually true. It is interesting that no-one has a genre category for books like About A Boy when it is (in my mind anyway) very much like BJD but with a male lead instead of a female lead. I’ve been trying to think of a gender-neutral genre label that has the same sort of snap that “Chick Lit” has, but have been thus far unsuccessful. Still thinking. Any suggestions?

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Further reflections on Genre, or What makes Rowling, Whedon, and Shakespeare Great

The title of this post may seem strange to you. Why would I link J.K. Rowling, Joss Whedon, and William Shakespeare? It is all the Playwright’s fault. Once I asked her (because someone asked me) what makes Shakespeare great? I wasn’t disputing the greatness, I just wondered at the universal acclaim surrounding the name. She gave me a long disquisition on the topic. I’ll summarize it for you:

Reasons Shakespeare is Great:

  1. Timing – the renaissance was a very fruitful time for all the arts in Western Europe.
  2. Number of works and Scope of work: Shakespeare wrote a lot about all kinds of things, both comedy and tragedy, history plays and  fantasy plays, and also poetry.
  3. He was Joss Whedon, that is, he took familiar stories/genres, and  gave them a little twist so that they became something different. That is, both Shakespeare and Whedon play with the boundaries between categories.
  4. He wrote fractals, that is the words, lines, stories, symbols all were interconnected and reflected each other very well so you can take a word or a line and begin to see the whole.

You’ll see that the Playwright put Whedon and Shakespeare together for me. She claimed that their works do similar things — blur category boundaries. Example for Whedon: Firefly. This completely awesome series blurs the boundaries between a Western (y’know with cowboys and gunfights and things) and Science Fiction. The stock characters from Westerns are present – the doc, the courtesan, the loner-fighter-for-justice, the minister, the hired gun, and etc. But they all live in a space ship. The best comedy moment of the series plays with the genre bending. (Wash: That sounds like something out of science fiction. Zoe: We live on a spaceship, dear.)

The other day when discussing genre, I acknowledged that Rowling flies pretty close to the edge of the way I define Fantasy. I posted my thoughts on genre and then went away and thought more about the Potter books. In an aha moment I made a connection between the genre boundaries Rowling negotiates and the genre boundaries that Whedon and Shakespeare also play with. Possibly this is part of why Potter is such a huge success. Rowling has given us something new — in between familiar categories she found and carved out a new space all for herself.

It seems that simple genre categories never work for really good books. Possibly this is the reason — really good writers find a niche between categories all their own and write it up. Then the rest of us sit back and admire what they’ve done, what they’ve seen that we hadn’t been able to see before. We are amazed we didn’t notice this between-space before because it now seems so obvious and familiar. Now we should all go read Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams.

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