Tuesday 28 December 2021

Mixing it up: do we need to be so hung up on genre?

 Book, Indoor, Library, Woman, Girl

When I completed my PhD 2003-2007 I found out something very interesting about novels written for young adults: they defied genre.  In fact, what gave them unity was that they were written for young adults. Even that is debatable. Lot of people who are not young adults, myself included - and I had my 70th birthday recently, read books aimed at young adults. These texts, on average have seven different “traits” – a combination of themes they present and “genres” to which they might belong. 


If you wrote books like this for any other demographic they would probably be rejected. “We wouldn’t know where to shelve them in a book shop,” is the publishers’ complaint. 


Is this partly because the reader gets stuck on one genre? “I like mysteries but I don’t like the supernatural.” Why shouldn’t we let ourselves be amazed sometimes? 


It was really surprising when I interviewed some emergent readers (infant school, off the reading scheme but still not all that fluent and tending to use texts that still give them a little help with reading) about which sort of texts they enjoyed and what they would like to read that wasn’t available? Harry Potter often figured. “I don’t like school stories. I like Harry Potter.”  “I don’t like stories about magic.  I like Harry Potter.” “I don’t like quirky stories. I like Harry Potter.” Can there be anything more multi-genre than the Harry Potter books? And doesn’t each reader just see what they want there. 


One of my writing friends has had publishers hesitate because there is a supernatural trait in her novel.  For me this is the most important part of the plot in this one. Another who combines horror with detective stories thinks that neither type of reader will be satisfied.  Another writing friend describes his works as “international thrillers” and many of his books look like “boys’ books” with military figures on the cover.  Yet he often has a female protagonist and his stories are often emotionally charged. 


I am not naturally attracted to horror yet I love Steven King’s work. He writes so well. 


Perhaps that is the key to it all. We enjoy a novel if it is well written and if it tells a good story. This is one of the great advantages of belonging to a reading group. Sometimes you are asked to read something you would not normally choose because you’re not so keen on romance, adventure, mystery etc. You find you’re reading something that doesn’t quite fit into any of those genres and you are pleasantly surprised.                 

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