Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Genre Problem (and I'm running two bookish giveaways!)

Good day, everybody. A quick reminder: I'm running two giveaways at the moment, so click here to enter! Oh, and if you tried to watch my vlogs and found that they were private, have another look, because I fixed that. (It was a fail and a half on my part, but it's sorted now, so go and have a gander.)

Now. Proper book discussion posts were rather rare in these parts throughout August due to lack of inspiration but I've got my bloggy mojo back (I have a massive list of post ideas). Presenting:



I've been thinking.

This is a dangerous thing to do, I know. Don't worry. I'll stop soon.

There are a lot of teenagers who say they don't like classics. OK, hold up. There are lot of teenagers who say they don't like books, but that's another issue. I mean, out of us readers -- and specifically, us bloggers -- there are many who say they dislike the classics.

This, of course, makes me ruffle my feathers like a disgruntled chicken. "How dare they?!" I cry (inwardly. I'm not that awful). "What of Austen? What of George Eliot? It's a scandal!" I then make evil plans to force classic novels into their protesting hands and stand over them with a cleaver, making sure they're taking in every word. (I mean, I don't. This is hyperbole. Come on now.)

This is my gut reaction -- but recently, I had a thought. Classic fiction is a genre, like any other.

We all have favourite genres. Along with a smattering of other genres, I read classics and fantasy (high or urban, or paranormal, I'm not fussed). You might like YA contemporaries, or historical romance, or dystopia, or sci-fi. Whatever. The point is, everyone likes different things because everyone is different. 

There is a flip-side to this: we all have genres we don't really like. Personally, I barely read any sci-fi or any crime thrillers. I don't much care for them. And if someone is trying to make me, I feel that it's fully within my rights to say "Nah, I'm not mad keen on crime."

But if classics are just another genre, why can't people say they don't like them?

That is the heart of the issue. I hardly read sci-fi. You hardly read classics. Isn't that OK?

I'm going to say no. Not because I'm a book snob. But because I genuinely believe that no one should condemn a book just because of its genre. I am convinced that there are some wonderful books that fall into "classic fiction", and I really, really think you should read them.

I know what the converse of this is. If you're a sci-fi or crime fan, you're going to tell me that there are marvellous books of that genre, and I need to read them. And I'm willing to do so!

But does that mean that we shouldn't have favourite genres? Or that we shouldn't use genres at all? I don't think so. Whether it's male and female, summer and winter, red and blue, twenty-seven sub-species of mollusk, we as a race love to categorise. There's nothing wrong with that! In the Garden of Eden, didn't God tell Adam to name all the species of animal to differentiate them? (The answer to that is yes. Read Genesis, gee.) Categories are great for maintaining good boundaries, and letting us know what things are. And if books didn't have genres we'd never know what was going on. Reading would be an extreme sport. (I mean, it is anyway, due to the damaging nature of feels, but you get me.)

So, what? We should keep genres but pay no attention to them? That's not what I'm saying, either. It's perfectly fine to have favourite genres, to read more from them than from others. It's great to form opinions on any subject, books most of all. But I don't think we should close our minds. I don't think anyone should be monopolised by one genre. Don't write off a book because of what it is. Just because something falls into your favourite genre, doesn't mean you'll love it; and just because it's from a genre you don't normally read, doesn't mean it's not brilliant. The point is that the genre shouldn't define the book; it should exist outside of that genre's tropes. 

My challenge to you, therefore, is to pick something up from a genre you don't normally read. You might surprise yourself.

I'd love some recommendations in crime and sci-fi. I've done pretty well with crime this year, actually, reading and loving Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling (though let's face it, I'd marry anything that woman wrote), but I want more crime recs! As for sci-fi, I've read zero this year, so, uh, yeah ... give me some ideas?

What are your feelings on the Genre Problem? How can it be rectified? And please tell me your favourite and least favourite genres, and why. Maybe I can help you out in recommending something you wouldn't normally pick it up. 

(And don't forget, go one post back for giveaways!)


25 comments:

  1. So I don't REALLY consider classics to be a genre. There are sci-fi classics and fantasy classics, and hist fic classics and adventure classics. Basically what classics means to me is that they are
    1. Written by someone who is now dead.
    2. Have withstood the test of time and are now known by people even though they were written long ago.

    Because they have been read and reread and reread by generation after generation, this is probable proof of their literary merit. The hot bestsellers today might be classics years down the road. (Ahem, Elizabeth Wein.) So really, I don't consider classics to be a genre.

    However, what MOST people think of as classics, and what I think you are referencing here in the post, are literary fiction classics. But hey, the people I've talked to who don't like the literary fiction classics seem to not like literary fiction in general, classic or not.

    Personally, I think there is a classic for everyone. Want something short, adventury, to the point? Try Sherlock Holmes short stories. In for more sci fi stuff? Isaac Asimov. These are only classics because they fall into the two categories I pointed out above. The genre issue is separate, imo.

    This is an EXCELLENT discussion post, btw. Loved reading it!

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    1. Yes! I half-drafted a section discussing how classics should especially be read because they've stood the test of time, but decided that was a topic for another post! But yes, I am referring more specifically to "literary fiction"; Austen, Eliot, Du Maurier, the Brontes, Dickens, for example, whose work really falls into romance or thriller, mostly, but is generally branded just as "classic".

      Unfortunately, because some people assume they don't like classics, they discount all books that are in your two categories. For example they say they're a fantasy fan but when you suggest LotR their face clouds; "no, I don't like classics!"

      I am totally of the opinion that everyone can enjoy classics, of lots of genres; so, agreed! :)

      Thank you, I'm glad you did! :D

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  2. Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park are the two Austen books left I need read! Tell me how Northanger goes and I might pick it up :D

    As for genre's, I love classics, and I love YA. I don't typically block out genre's but I have a preferred reading, you know? I won't say no to a book because it's sci-fi, or some book written in the 80's about crime. I don't say no to genre's. What I DO say no too is certain aspects of a book. If I pick up a story and see that there is NO romance at all in it, not even a subplot barely mentioned love interest thing going on, I won't read it. I like the romance. I like to see two characters get together over the course of the book. If I see that a story is completely void of any love interests, I'll likely pass it up.

    So! If you know of any wonderful books with NO love interests that i should read, could you recommend them to me? (message me on twitter @sjbouquet if you do)

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    1. Same! I will :)

      Classics and YA are my two favourites, too, though specifically I love fantasy, and will read adult fantasy also (hello, Game of Thrones!). When romance is done well I absolutely love it, and admittedly the vast majority of my favourite books have at least some in them -- if not lots! -- but I can also think of some great books without love interests. I'll Tweet you! :D

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  3. Genres do tend to put things in boxes (I don't like boxes much. . .). But I think they are there more to kind of let us know what to expect when we pick up a book. To expect if we're going to be set in our own present world, if we're going to traverse through some unknown world, or get thrown into the Civil War. If your in the mood for funny, or escapism, or deep, genre can help you with that (sometimes).

    I like fantasy, dystopian, some sci-fi, classics from time to time, anything speculative. I usually do not like contemporaries, or historical fiction. But there are times there's an exception. I loved The Book Thief! I'll try anything really. I never know what I might like against the norm. :D

    If, if you want to try anything crime related, I would recommend anything by Patrick James. I can't guarantee you'll like it. But I know you would definitely like Sherlock Holmes! Because Sherlock (who doesn't love?). Also, it can fall under the category of classic fiction (I think?). And I think you would love comparing the books and the BBC Sherlock. I love doing that, and I can still hold a love for both individually.

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    1. Exactly. I do not like to go on "blind dates" with books ... but I hate to see books cast aside on account of their genre! Especially because cover trends tend to scream a particular genre very clearly, and this has a massive impact on the books. Romance? Let's stick a girl's face on the front, thus alienating a bunch of readers who, seeing the cover, assume they know the genre and walk away. I feel so bad for authors, being at the publishers' mercy in terms of covers and blurbs! D: (Actually so many fears about cover models. Like, I know I need to actually write a good book before I have these worries, but still!)

      Exceptions are the best! Oh, The Book Thief. Such a marvellous book :') Historical fiction's normally not the genre for me, either, but if you want another great rec, try Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier. I LOVE that book!

      Patrick James? Never heard of him! But I'll be on the look-out -- thanks, Ashley! :)
      And yes, I definitely must read Conan Doyle's original Sherlock. I need to, like, soon.

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    2. YES! Sometimes I think books get held back even more by bad cover art than genre. I don't know why people don't put effort into a cover. It's a person's first impression of a book; it ought to be unique, not the cliched "let's stick a face on it." Honestly, sometimes I feel little embarrassed to be caught with a book that has terrible cover art like a random face.

      Heh, actually it's Steven James, not Patrick James. I totally got confused there! The author is Steven James, his main character is Patrick Bowers. In my defense, I heard the author speak at a writers conference (he was so good!), and this will sound weird but I confuse him and his character together. When I read the book, I was like, "This Patrick guy, sounds a lot like the author. Not completely, but in many ways, yes."

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    3. Same! I got a copy of Forever by Maggie Stiefvater off Amazon, it was NOT the edition they said they'd send and it is foul! Awful, awful cover model! So upsetting D:

      Haha, OK! (Don't worry, we all do it.) Steven James. I'll look him up!

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  4. I definitely agree with you on this one. I think it's okay to have preferred genres, but that shouldn't stop you from reading books from genres you don't normally read. I personally am I big YA Contemporary fan, and I also like some dystopian every now and then. I don't read too much fantasy but every once in a while I do and I don't let the fact that the book is fantasy stop me from giving it a try. Yes, I don't have as big a chance of liking the book as it would if it was contemporary, but I don't judge it by its genre.

    I like a classic from time to time (but they're pretty time-consuming so I don't read them as often), but I hardly read sci-fi. The only series I really liked that was sci-fi was The Lunar Chronicles, although those are arguably also dystopian.

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    1. Glad to hear you agree! Classics are pretty time-consuming, agreed -- although there are some quite short ones, for example right now I'm reading Northanger Abbey which (though not Austen's best, in my opinion) is her shortest! I started it on Sunday and plan to finish it tonight -- it is pretty tiny. But, agreed, it still takes longer to read than other books because the language can be harder to just barrel through.

      I didn't realise the Lunar Chronicles was sci-fi! But that's pretty exciting because I really want to read them, so that would tie in with my trying-to-read-more-sci-fi! :D

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  5. Fabulous post! I agree that this can be a problem - trying to shove books into a specific box of requirements, especially when so many books span several genres or have elements of many different categories.

    I myself tend to work by the rule of 'read absolutely ANYTHING I can get my hands on'. That said, I don't read an awful lot of non-fiction, and very little crime (not that I am averse to it, I just wouldn’t, y’know, seek it out in a bookshop).

    However, if I had to pick some favourites they would be fantasy (high fantasy, urban, paranormal, any kind of fantasy possible!), YA and classic fiction.

    I totally agree that it’s ok to have preferred genres, but not to discount books straight off just because of their category.

    I can’t really recommend you any crime, but on the sci-fi front, you should read “The Space Trilogy’ by C.S. Lewis. A top-class trilogy that makes you wonder how one man could be so incredibly talented in such a wide range of different genres! Also, the second book, Perelandra, is BEAUTIFUL, stunning, breathtaking and a mesmerizing story that will stir the heart with it’s Eden-like setting and joyous theme. Basically – PUT IT ON YOUR READING LIST!

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    1. EXACTLY?? What is LotR, fantasy or classic? What is TRC, paranormal or fantasy or romance? MY HEAD EXPLODES!

      Second that. But, uh, you should read The Cuckoo's Calling .... I'm just sayin'.

      My three favourites also! Gosh it's like we're best friends or something .......

      OH yes, the Space Trilogy! How could I have overlooked it?? I will put it on my reading list MOMENTARILY! Thanks J :D

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  6. I think one of the most incriminating factors for the classics is their age. The writing techniques used are so archaic that they don't always work along with our modern sensibilities. Some of the writers were great and some periods of writing sync up with modern standards better than others. As a spec fic writer, I prefer to stay away from non-spec fic classics because I don't want to lose my modern style's edge. Even the old spec fic is dangerous, but I read some of it out of appreciation for the history of the genres.

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    1. It can be an issue when you find that your writing style is picking up that from the books you're reading ... but that's exactly why I like to read a huge range of books, so as never to get stuck in reading just one style! I worry that if I did that, I'd start reproducing that style because I wouldn't know how to do anything else, whereas reading heaps of different styles -- for example, in the past 24 hours I've gone from Jane Austen to Sarah J Maas -- allows me to take the "best bits" from everything to create my own style. :)

      PS Thanks for the follow, Patrick! :)

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  7. I won't say I don't like classics, but I don't gravitate towards them. And for a while I probably was the person saying, "I don't like classics". I think a lot of classics lovers (not all but some) get a little snotty about it, like books that aren't classics are lesser and that attitude influenced my opinion of the genre. Add in forced classics reading in High School for a not good combination. I rarely enjoy things I'm "forced" to read (or do).

    Now I try to read 1 "classic" a year. This year I read "Jane Eyre" which I LOVED. Two years I read "Pride and Prejudice" and didn't like it much. I like the story of P&P, but I find Austen's writing style tiresome. I'm really glad I've read both of them though but it never would have happened if I'd had pressure on me to read them. Jane Eyre took me 8 months.

    I rarely read sci fy. I'm doing a reading challenge and sci fy was one of the categories. I started and gave up on 3 books before reading The Cage by Megan Shepherd which is probably baby sci fy. I enjoyed it, but sci fy really isn't my genre.

    For crime recs try Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar series. The first one is called Deal Breaker. They can be dark, but the characters are a little eccentric which lightens the mood. Plus Myron is just kinda awesome (he's my book boyfriend).

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    1. I totally understand that; book snobs really put you off! Especially because you then feel pressure to love the books because everyone tells you they're great, and if you don't like them people act like your opinion is invalid; like you can't criticise the book, just because it's a classic. And ALSO it's like, hello, a book can't be a classic when it's published! It can't HELP not being a classic!!

      Jane Eyre is a great book .... I love it, though I love P&P more! For me it's the other way around; I adore Austen's style, whilst I found Bronte's a bit *too* gothic/dramatic at times. (At least, I think I did. It was a while ago. But I do remember really enjoying it!)

      Sci-fi isn't my genre either, BUT I am super excited to read Cinder after the recs on this post!

      Ooh! I read a Harlan Coben book a couple of years ago called Shelter .... the MC was called Mickey Bolitar, I think, a teenager, and I remember it said it was Coben's first YA, so, is Mickey Myron's son? Or am I completely misremembering? Maybe his name was Myron and it's the same series and I'm just being dim XD
      But, anyway, I loved Shelter -- it was really, really good! -- so I'd love to reinvestigate Coben!

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    2. YES! Mickey is actually Myron's nephew. Coben has written 7-8 Myron books and I think he hit a wall and introduced Mickey as a YA character.

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    3. Ooh, got it! Well I did really enjoy Shelter so I'll be sure to look out for Deal Breaker! Thanks, Brandy :D

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  8. I tend to say that I dislike classics, but ever since I read Pride and Prejudice, my eyes have been opening. I try really hard not to pigeon hole myself into select genres, but it can be difficult. My biggest goal in broadening my reading horizons is to read more non-fiction (which I am getting better and better at).

    Insightful post; thanks for sharing!

    P.S. As for sci-fi recommendations, I read World War Z for school (I would NEVER have picked it up on my own) and really enjoyed it.

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed P&P! It's a great starting point for classics; I think it was actually one of the first "serious" classics I read :)
      Non-fiction, that didn't even occur to me, but YES! I'm terrible! One of the best books I read last year was Wild Swans by Jung Chang -- absolutely stunning book -- but I should really try and read some more.

      Thanks! :)

      Ooh, OK ... is that the one that got made into a film with Brad Pitt? I'll look it up!

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  9. Read Cinder. Seriously, read Cinder.

    I am a sci-fi fan, but I still like the classics, some more than others just like in any genre. For example, I'm in love with Frankenstien but I can't stand Jane Austen. I think why so many people can't get into the classics is purely because of the language and the time barrier. The stories themselves are ageless, almost, but the often dense language is difficult to get

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    1. I will second the Cinder req. I liked Cinder okay, but I have loved each successive book even more than the previous. Winter may kill me.

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    2. OK! I will read Cinder! I actually have a copy borrowed from a friend currently ... gosh, but I need to finish some of the series I'm reading, first. Yikes. Struggles.

      Victoria: Of course, the language is what makes classics difficult to read, and I guess a lot of people assume they won't enjoy the book for that reason. And, yeah, no one should start of with like War and Peace of something. Maybe some Orwell or something to start! XD
      I've not read Frankenstein, but I've heard it's great. Oh, but I can't believe you don't like Jane, she is my queen! ~heart breaks~

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    3. I agree with Brandy, the books just kept getting better. I wandered around in a daze after Cress and wasn't sure what to do with my life. WHY IS NOVEMBER SO FAR AWAY?!?! I'm seriously needing Winter here.

      I'm sorry! *hangs head in shame* I just don't do romance very well. If there was a murder, I think I could get into Jane Austen, but I struggle with romance as the main plot. I'm too much of a fan of fistfights and explosions. (I realize that makes me sound very shallow. I shall have to rethink my life.)

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    4. It's not that far away! A month and a half. DON'T PANIC! KEEP BREATHING! Gosh but I'm excited to read the books now!

      Ooh, interesting. Not the reason I normally here for being anti-Jane! But I totally see your point. I too am a big fan of explosions. I guess I love Austen's books because, despite the romance (which I do love, but it's not the main thing) the FMCs are still strong and developed and not defined by men, AND the social commentary is hilarious!

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Thanks for commenting! :)