sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 29, 2013

armchair bea: genre fiction
posted by soe 11:59 pm
Armchair BEA logo design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room
Designed by Emily of
Emily’s Reading Room

Today’s genre focus was on genre fiction, such as mystery, historical fiction, horror, romance, science fiction, and fantasy:

Though often dismissed or ridiculed by the more “literary” minded, these novels often deal with complex themes and issues and some of the world’s most beloved authors write in these categories. . . . If you’re a reader of genre fiction do you have a favourite author or series? And what keeps bringing you back for more . . .? And if you don’t read one (or more) of these genres what is it that deters you from those sections of the bookstore? I’m also curious to hear why you think these genres often don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Let’s start with the baseline: I like a well-written story. And while it seems like poor storytelling should be spread equally across BookWorld (™Jasper Fforde), it doesn’t seem to be. Or, maybe it is, but bad genre fiction gets more shelf space and press than other poorly written books. I suspect that’s due in part to genre fiction’s predilection for series. Many of those series start out strong, with well-developed characters and plots. But by the time an author has churned out their 15th or 50th book dealing with the same folks and settings, they often feel stale and tired. (This is not a new problem; Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes over Reichenbach Falls and Hugh Lofting had to resort to flying Dr. Doolittle to the moon in an attempt to free themselves from their popular characters.)

But that complaint aside, there are plenty of imaginative and fresh genre writers out there who can go pen-to-pen with those whose work is considered more serious.

Let’s start with fantasy. Yes, J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings has a lot of lineage and a lot of walking. But it also set out many of the ideas that fantasy authors still adhere to today in terms of structure and magical creature races. Anne McCaffrey’s early works in the Pern series took dragons to new and more beloved heights, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s feminist version of King Arthur’s tale, The Mists of Avalon, took an old tale and gave it fresh legs. Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter series made reading cool all around the world. And I dare you to find me an author writing today more clever than Jasper Fforde, particularly with his Thursday Next series.

I will concede that fewer mystery authors earn my top shelf placement, but the aforementioned Arthur Conan Doyle is certainly one of them. And Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series nicely blends historical fiction with mystery to give us an ex-battlefield nurse eager to solve cases thanks to a combination of psychology and keen observation.

There are plenty of other cosy mystery series I enjoy devouring, but I prefer to take them out from the library or buy second-hand, due to less well-rounded characters and plots (these are more like potato chips and less like a baked potato). These include Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsey books, M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series, and Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evans books. Oh, and who can forget the middle grade mystery series that started the addiction for so many of us — Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden?

Anyway, those tend to be the two genres I like best. Romance, crime, and horror tend to be too graphic for my tastes. I don’t mind science fiction (and have a genuine fondness for Douglas Adams), but only as long as it doesn’t get too bleak. (Dystopian fiction is right out.) And historical fiction is okay, but I prefer it filled with spunky heroines who shrug off the societal constraints of their time, which limits my choices.

How about you? Do you enjoy genre fiction? And do you have any books or authors you particularly recommend?

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armchair bea: introduction
posted by soe 12:53 am
Armchair BEA logo design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room
Designed by Emily of
Emily’s Reading Room

There’s nothing that helps you jump back into blogging like participating in an event, and there’s nothing I’d like more than to start writing about books again. As such, I’ve decided to join the Armchair BEA. (The Book Expo of America is the publishing event of the year, reputedly filled with publishers handing booksellers as many free books as they’re willing to carry. Clearly this would be a dream event to attend in real life.) I’ll write here all week about books, possibly sometimes even more than once a day. (!!)

The first task? Answer five of the posed questions as an introduction:


Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I’m sprite, and I’ve been blogging here for eight years, although the last six months have been ridiculously light on posts. This space was a gift from my partner, who was tired of my saying that I was going to start writing and then not doing so. He figured if he created a blog for me I’d have to do a certain amount of writing, and he’s been correct. My blog is not book-specific, so it also includes chats about my community garden plot, knitting, politics, and life in general.

Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures.

I’m blogging from Washington, D.C. While D.C. (those who live here hardly ever call the city “Washington;” it’s either the District or D.C.) is noted as the home of our government, it’s also been home to a number of writers, including Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones, a lifelong resident; mystery writer George Pelecanos; children’s author Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote her first novel while living in D.C.; Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, who wrote his most famous novels from his Dupont Circle home; and poet Ezra Pound, who was institutionalized in St. Elizabeths Hospital after pleading insanity to treason charges following World War II.

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013?

I nearly always have several books going at once. I just finished Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, which was heart-wrenching and should be read by everyone who loves books featuring teen protagonists. I’m also working on My Ideal Bookshelf; Politics & Prose’s new local literary journal, District Lines; and two middle grade novels I chose for a fantasy reading challenge, Bliss and The Blue Shoe.

If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?

My college used to throw “Dinner with 12 Camels,” so my literary feast would be with:

  • James Thurber, Bill Bryson, and Fannie Flagg, because the conversation would always be amusing with one of them present;
  • Meg Murray, Holden Caulfield, Anne Shirley, and Jo March, because what’s the point of having this event if I don’t get to meet some of my favorite teens from growing up?
  • Maisie Dobbs and Thursday Next, because a few resourceful women who can solve mysteries are always an asset;
  • Barbara Kingsolver and Elizabeth Bishop, because their work never grows old; and
  • Death, from The Book Thief, but we’d clearly have to establish some ground rules.

What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?

Jo Rowling’s The Burrow, home of the Weasleys. I christened our subterranean apartment The Burrow in their honor, because when we moved down here I hoped it would be just as full of love as their patchwork home was.

You can read other introductory posts here, and do stop back later in the week for my thoughts on other literary topics.

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