A Little Bit of Genre

Today I'm going to go all academic on you and talk about genres. 

Why? School's out. It's vacation, pool-side reading time. Nobody should have to put up with bookish (all puns intended), scholarly stuff this time of year, right? I took a look at my stack of books-in-progress, my Kindle books, my ebooks, a book I'm editing and a book I'm writing and it dawned on me: they're all different genres! I just thought I'd share the wealth.

Actually, what did occur to me is that each genre requires a specific mindset, which is why I think certain people are drawn to certain genres, and are inclined to choose a type of favorite literature. Some of us have our "guilty pleasures," too, in which we feel as though we are slumming a bit if we read a certain brand of fiction, but we do it when we really want to relax and not think too hard. And both my sister and I have noted that, as avid books-on-tape listeners, we listen to a very different brand of book than what we will read on paper - and I am now discovering that I will also read a very different ebook than I might in print form.

So, what are these different genres? I couldn't possibly name them all, but just a few that are popular these days:

The always best-selling thriller. This usually involves a hero or heroine, or, thanks to Dan Brown, both a hero and a(n) (interchangeable) heroine, who is up against a force of evil and must use wits, cunning, and sometimes force to subdue said force. The baddies tend to change with the times. The Soviet Union was popular for a while. The Vatican had a run (or churches in general). Terrorists of un-named affiliation. Bankers. You get the idea.

A variation on this theme is the supernatural thriller. This involves a character or plot twist that isn't quite normal. A ghost; a beast; a thing resurrected from the ice or brought back from an expedition.

And of course, the adventure thriller, in which the intrepid hero and/or heroine is pitted against a mountain, ocean, arctic, cave, or some other such setting that makes for page turning.

Historic thrillers differ from historic novels in that the historic novel tends to simply tell a story about or around historic events, often incorporating a real character or two, or perhaps having the hero or heroine at a real event in history. The thriller might have us chasing Jack the Ripper through the streets of London.

Then there is the new genre of the supernatural hero - the vampire, the werewolf, even the zombie! (Yes, I read a book in which the hero was a lovable zombie!) These seem to fall midway between romances and thrillers, sometimes murder mysteries, but whatever other form they take, the hero is always a "supe." I would never have suspected when Anne Rice first resurrected (yeah, yeah, puns...) the vampire as a book's main character that all these years later (that book was published in 1976, if you can believe that) that the supernatural hero would still be going strong. But where Rice's hero was not all that nice, the Zombie lover of Dearly, Departed, was a downright sweetie.

Sword and sorcery or fantasy books also seem to go in and out of vogue: Tolkien is discovered again and again by kids anywhere from 11-22, and Harry Potter will probably remain fashionable for pre-teens for years to come. The whole premise of these books is that magic is real. All other bets are off. There may be demons and dragons or there may not; the events may take place in a parallel world or right here on earth; the hero may be a child or a swashbuckling knight or a little hobbit. What matters is that that magic is possible, and the laws of physics do not rule.

This is not true in real science fiction, though aficionados will argue over what is and what is not sci-fi. Some say that the science must be plausible to qualify, others merely that it conjecture other worlds and possibilities. I have to admit that I'm not a purist, and I opt for a strong imagination, such as Dan Simmons, over absolute science, any day.

Scientific thrillers seem to come and go, perhaps depending upon how nervous we're feeling about the world around us - are we fearful of a coming super-plague? Do we wonder about the merging of humans and computers?

Romance is another perennial favorite, but what my mama read as romance and what is sold today - well, let's just say my mama would have fainted dead away like one of her heroines. Whether historic or modern, romances of days gone by usually involved an unlikely but plucky heroine who was torn between at least a couple of interesting men, one of whom typically turned out to be a very bad man. Often these were mysteries of some kind, sometimes with a gothic or ghostly twist, perhaps set on a lonely moor or isolated island. But these days, even the books set in Victorian times go far beyond ripping bodices and into the very graphic details of the, er, love life of the heroine. Perhaps with more than one boyfriend. What hasn't changed is that the heroine's outfits and hairstyles must be described in loving detail, as must her lover's physique and (preferably) longish, curling hair.

Cozies are fun little mysteries that usually take place in a quaint small town, and typically involve a cast of eccentric characters. The heroine - occasionally hero - is again, unlikely, and might even be older. The story is also most often a murder mystery, and because the genre springs from the British murder mystery, they don't lack for gory details. The murderer is never the person you suspect from the beginning, as the art of the red herring must be well-developed in this type of book, as must details of food, clothing, setting, and conversation.

Now let's turn from fiction to the "I Hate So and So with a Deep, Abiding Hatred Because He's Fat: A Book About Hatred" genre, a relatively recent style of political writing that lives simply to excoriate individuals of "the other side." Readers either read these books to agree and laugh and underline portions before passing the book along to dissenting relatives, or to disagree, shout, and throw the book across the room before grabbing it up again to re-engage in the anger-fest. Needless to say, there is always one or two on the best seller list.

Then there is the pop-science book. This one will make you feel valiant as  you plow through it, believing that you are learning something - just look at all those footnotes! - but all of these books should pass the "what kind of scientist is he?" test before you get too full of yourself. When a psychologist writes a book on climate science, you can be fairly sure the book is politically driven, and not scientifically sound. But go ahead and enjoy, anyway!

These are just a little better than the pop psychology books which said psychologist made his first fortune writing. They don't enjoy the pop(ha!)ularity they once did, but I'm sure they'll rebound eventually. The idea was that if you simply read this book and follow the prescription herein, all your problems will be solved and life will be grand. Never mind that the writer is a thrice-divorced alcoholic anger-freak. What matter is if it makes you feel better as you read it.

That brings me to the relationship book. Yes, guys, there are such books, entirely devoted to things like "Make Him Adore You in 3 Easy Steps," or "Get Him Back for Good," or even "Get Him to Marry You on the Second Date." They're often written by very handsome men, and these days, frequently are sold via the Internet following a long, long, long, long page of drivel asking you questions about "Why doesn't he talk to you the way he used to? I can tell you why on page 73. Order now and start reading in minutes!" Naturally, I have never read such a book myself, but I understand they exist.

There are also political  and/or historical non-fiction books that purport to tell us the truth. These aren't the "I Hate" books, but it is pretty easy to discover that they are either far left or far right leaning in viewpoint. However, they can be interesting, and some of them even display real scholarship in the research and history (such as a book by Thomas DeLorenzo on Lincoln that I recently reviewed). 

Well, I could go on - as I said, there are many, many genres, and I have only scratched the surface. But at least I have covered the bases for what I find littered about my house and on my iPad, either being read, editing, written, or reviewed.

The challenge, as I noted earlier, is being in the right mental state for each book, particularly when you put one down and pick another up without pause. Just as I'm in the middle of a children's adventure about a boy who is whisked away to another world in which dragons do exist, and mothers are loving and do feed you all the cookies you want, I have to put it down and resume editing a book about a manufactured virus with a remote trigger that can be destroyed only in a true weightless environment, and then I wind up the day in a cozy about an antiques dealer in Toronto that reminds me I have to get back to work on my own cozy about a writer involved in a triple homicide whose dead husband is leaving her notes. Ah, the life of books.

It would be so much duller without them!


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