13 July 2010


All a Matter of Form
(Linked up to the meme at Lost in Books)

This week's question:
What are your favourite genres?

Well, this will actually be easy. The reason I don't do as many list memes as I'd like to do--being a natural list lover--is that I can never do them on time. So although I love to read those of others, like Top Ten Tuesday and Top Ten Picks, and of course, The Book List . . . I can't always come up with entries on time. My own Top 5 Lists take me weeks of pondering.

But it just so happens that I think about genre a lot. And I have a beautifully arranged collection of books in my bedroom that lets me know, at a glance, which genres are the ones I spend the most money on.

3 Genres
I Pay Good Money to Read


As much as I wish I could mean the Classics when I write of "Classics," I really can't. There was a time when I had a fighting chance of reading Virgil's Aeneid in the original Latin . . . but until I have more time to resume my study of the most beautiful language of all ages, that chance is gone.

So by "Classics," I mean merely (!!!) books that have stayed in print long after their respective authors left us for that big reading room in the sky.

It stands to reason that the longer the books have been with us, the better they actually are--and the more worthwhile, compared to contemporary reads. In other words, good value for one's time and money. No small thing, even when one buys books first and food with what is left. ;-)

I confess to being rather stodgy when it comes to the classics canon, sticking to the big names of Western writing (particularly the English names, because I'm queasy about reading anything in translation) and seeming to forget that the rest of the world exists. "World literature" is still a very new concept with no proper canon and no classics I can name--but it is certain that a future version of me at the end of the next millennium will write the word "classics" and see an unbroken literary tradition spanning all seven continents.


Well, this is no shocker, is it? =P I really should do a Top 5 Romance Authors one day. I already have my five candidates and have nothing to worry about but what to say about them.

Now, please note that a Romance is not the same as a Love Story. It is really more of a Love Puzzle. Each one presents the problem of how an implausible yet compatible couple is ever going to manage its happy ending, and invites the reader to sit back, relax and watch as the novelist first throws a thousand tropes in the couple's way and then guides them around their custom-designed obstacle course to that promised happily ever after.

So, yes, it's the same thing over and and over again . . . but it's also a little different each time.

And speaking of "custom designs," I find I like the "design kits" of Historical Romance the most--and as Paranormal Romance edges closer and closer to "Urban Fantasy," I find I like it less and less.

Anyway, this is the most serious I've ever got when it comes to what is labeled as "genre fiction." I'm not crazy about Thrillers, Mysteries, SF/F, or even Horror (unless I get it in a movie), but Romance will always rule.

Young Adult

I recently wondered to a friend whether "Young Adult" is still a literary form in its own right when it is a big enough umbrella for Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, Redwall, several decades worth of Newbery Award winners, and all sorts of "Children's Classics" written long before the "Young Adult" label entered the world of publishing. (All of which, incidentally, are in my own YA collection.)

Of course, there is one thing every YA novel will have in common, no matter what--and that is a main character a young reader can identify with.

Now, I would have just written "a young main character"--and pointed out (yet again) that although YA's first readers have grown up, its characters are forever young--but then I remembered the talking animals. (Mice are my favourite.)

Who was it who said that when children read a book written for adults, they first look for children to identify with; and if there are no children, then they look for animals; and if there are neither children nor animals, only then do they try to make do with the adults? Well, YA is filled with children and animals, and yes, the occasional adult as well. Young readers can't lose. And older readers who still find themselves "making do" with adults in Contemporary Fiction find that it's all Win-Win.

Image Sources: a) Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, b) It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas, c) Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell


Avid Reader said...

I almost had YA as one of my categories. Some of my favorite books are in that genre. It's almost like the story is purer without all the adult mess in it.

Enbrethiliel said...


I know what you mean. =) When I read some of the fiction written for adults these days, it is no wonder to me that many grown up readers still prefer the literary quality that can only be found in YA.

Thanks for stopping by, Avid Reader!

Stephanie said...

Good list!!! I couldn't quite narrow mine down as it depends on my mood.

Dauvit Balfour said...

Your description of the way romance novels work is interesting. I'm a huge fan of westerns (well, Louis L'Amour, anyway, and the occasional Max Brand) and have found they have similar patterns, yes (main villain, gunslick villain, fistfighting villain, girl who hangs around but rarely is the plot hinge (and the better books are the ones where she is)), against all odds, you're really just watching to see how the protagonist gets to that happy ending, but they differ just enough to make them worth it.

Don't feel guilty about your stodgy selection of classics, I'm no better, but do please overcome your skepticism of translations enough to read some Dostoevsky (especially Brothers Karamazov) if you haven't already.

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

funny-- I just addressed part of a comment to you over at the Top Ten Tuesday regarding Vanity Fair-- when I returned here and opened up the rest of your post-- there was Vanity Fair! I've always liked the films and am now gungho to read it after you said it was the thing to read after Austen.

Ten years ago, historical romance would have been in my top 3 genres too. Now my main genres are science/history/X-files type thrillers, sci/fi fantasy, and classics. I read tons of YA too-- mostly from the above genres.

Belfry Bat said...

One eminently forgettable feature of things oft labelled "adult" is how childish they really are. I will confess to having, in more childish years, derived unwaranted (perhaps even illicit) delight from the silly interruptions in a Leon Uris novel that today (thank God) seem terribly dull.

oh look! the captcha seems to say "distrac"

Jillian said...

These are mine too, minus the Romance. I read it, but it's not a favorite of mine. Mine would be YA, Classics, and General Fiction :) Well, I think you already know that!

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Stephanie: I've read your own post and I know what you mean. =) I think my three choices would be a little different if I hadn't decided to be "objective" and find evidence for my favourite genres.

@ Dauvit: I read a few of L'Amour's short stories and they made me think a little of Ray Bradbury's. There are also Western Romances (because Romance is as versatile as love is universal), so I can see what you mean about stock characters and other tropes.

During my last year of teaching, I designed a unit on genre; my teaching partner and I started the discussion with the conventions of Westerns, knowing it was the one our students would be least familiar with. (We left them to work out SF, Mystery, Horror, and even ChickLit on their own.) I still remember her wry reminder not to forget "the saloon girl with a heart of gold." LOL! That was a happy moment in our partnership.

And I'm afraid I'll have to give you the same answer I've been giving another Dostoyevsky lover for years: "Yes, yes, next Lent!"

@ Lesa: Perhaps I did have Vanity Fair in the back of my head because of that comment, but there's another reason it is here. =P

It was kind of hard to pick which books would represent such big genres for this list. I went with Vanity Fair because an Austen or Bronte novel wouldn't let the three "legs" of this list balance; I needed something a little more cynical, you know? ;-)

I'm not half the Romance reader I used to be, when I saw the genre taking directions I didn't really care for; but I started up again a few months ago, going through the backlists and not-so-new releases of the authors I still trust.

@ Bat: Someone just commented on an earlier post on YA that books written for teenagers are often more "pure" in the literary sense because they don't have adult issues mucking up the story. YA doesn't tend to tolerate silly interruptions.

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Jillian: Yes, I guessed that. ;-)

Well, two out of three in common is pretty good, aye? =D

Jillian said...

Pretty good indeed!

Oh off topic, and I could totally just e-mail you, but I'll do it here anyway.. still interested for Show&Tell? :D

gautami tripathy said...

I can't get into YA at all!

Read mine here!

Librarian Who said...

I also love YA, but didn't add it as a genre since I'm super picky about what I read within it, and most of those books fit into other genres as well, like fantasy.

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Jillian: YES! Yes, I'm still interested! I'll make Camera Man take my picture tomorrow, I promise!!!

@ Gautami: Well, going by your favourite genres, we do seem to be on opposite sides of the reader spectrum. =) Thanks for visiting, anyway.

@ Librarian Who: I can be picky about YA, too. In fact, I kind of worry that I've been too picky lately and missing out on one of its emerging subgenres. Yet I think the YA character of all books which fall under this umbrella is so strong that even, for instance, High Fantasy YA is more YA than High Fantasy.

Rebecca :) said...

"The big reading room in the sky"- I love that. That would be heavenly, wouldn't it?

Great list. I am impressed you know Latin well enough to be able to attempt the classics in it. I only know enough Spanish to read picture books (which I read a lot of in Spanish as a teacher) and even then sometimes I have to look up words- haha!

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, I knew Latin well enough to attempt the Classics, but even then my grasp of it was kind of shaky. But at least I can say I have a decent foundation for the time when I decide I'd like to make another epic try! =)

Mrs. DeRaps said...

I love reading a good classic. I keep a mental list of all the classics I'd like to read and chip away every year. It's awesome.

Enbrethiliel said...


There's certainly more satisfaction to be had after finishing a good "old" book than after finishing a good "new" one, isn't there? Reading at once has its pleasures, but I prefer reading at last. =)

Thanks for the visit, Mrs. DeRaps!

Bibliophile said...

I almost put Romance as my third choice but finally decided that to put fantasy down as my third since my favourite fantasy writer is a bigger favourite than my favourite romance writer.

Enbrethiliel said...


Yes, it seems to be the third choice and the reason for including it that gives each list its true character. Everyone just knows what the first two will be, but waffles a bit on the third. =)

Thanks for following, Bibliophile!

carolsnotebook said...

I never really think of YA as a genre, since it still breaks down into the same categories as "adult" books.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'd almost agree with you there, if it weren't for all the readers of "adult" fiction who will not read YA, and vice-versa. I really think the "form" the main characters take is the main reason we still make a distinction between the two genres, whether we are writing the stories or reading them.

Thanks for your comment, Carol.