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broodings from the burrow

May 29, 2013

armchair bea: genre fiction
posted by soe 11:59 pm
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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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