Claire and Nikki Talk “Genre”

Hello everyone! Today Nikki and I are going to look at genres and discuss what they mean to us and why- as well as make any recommendations that might be good to get started with.

[I (Nikki) am super tempted to just leave Claire’s message to me in this post, but I won’t… It’ll be our little secret but it has to do with Claire being a blogging slacker :p haha]

ANYWAY, I think everyone has their genre “go-to”s whether they realise it or not. I would never have said fantasy was one of mind, but since keeping track of my reading stats, I see now that it definitely is! Other genres we love might not always be the ones we read the most. There are genres we wish we loved and genres (we think!) we know we despise! So…let’s talk about that! 🙂

Claire and Nikki Talk “Genre”

Romance

Nikki
Here’s a genre that seems to get a lot of flack. I think it’s often written off as a “chick genre” or as frivolous (totally sexist opinions, by the way!). It’s also one I have very little experience with. It fits the stereotype to say that I’ve gotten along with books in this genre most when I was a teen (though even then I didn’t read many romance novels), but I’ve definitely come to realise that I generally find romance storylines work best, for me(!), when they’re not the main component of a story. I am definitely not opposed to a perfect pairing! I love how it comes together when it feels natural and more realistic…that is to say, amidst real life. Otherwise, I think this leads to a tunnel vision for writers whereby only thinking about ways to get the two parts of the pair together and put them through a series of ‘tests of their love’ loses track of practicality and often gets into creepy or downright unsafe behaviour territory. I also find that this is a genre rife with cliché and halfassedness. It’s not just the cheesy word and phrase choices, but situations and characters too. Furthermore, a novel that is pretty much just a love story needs to jump to its main point (the romance) pretty fast because everything else is essentially just filler and mood-setting which leads to a lot of instalove and nobody likes that when they really think about it because it’s just not believable and it totally kills your suspension of disbelief.

Obviously this isn’t always the case. I have yet to read any Jane Austen, but I’m told that’s pretty good stuff—hence why it is an often referenced classic. And I feel like it’s really cheeky of me to mention all these negatives about a genre I so rarely visit…But I calls ’em like I sees ’em. Some romance novels I’ve read and really enjoyed include: All My Friends Are Superheroes; The Birth of Venus; Fangirl; South of the Border, West of the Sun; Norwegian Wood. Each of those is primarily a romance, but they all have a lot of other non-filler ideas happening concurrently and each of them is stylistically quite different (barring the last two which are by the same author who rather likes his familiar symbols).

Claire
I’m not terribly fond of romance, I will be very honest. I can’t read just a straight up-romance novel, I’ve tried and I became incredibly fed up. I think it’s because I’m not a terribly romantic person in real life? I like to the idea of romance, but skeptical as to its actual feasibility. Please don’t roll your eyes at me, I recognize the ridiculousness of what I’ve just written. That being said I know that I do enjoy a decent romance when it’s built into other genre’s like Fantasy, Mystery or Historical Fiction. Indeed one of my favorite HF novels of all time is due to the slow build romance that it featured- it is ultimately what made me curl into a ball and cry my bookish heart out (no, legit, I actually cried and called my BFF blubbering, to which she had a good laugh at me.) What novel is this? I give you the best romance I’ve ever read: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller!

Mystery

Nikki
love mystery, but more specifically I love Golden Age Detective Novels (so Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, not Stieg Larsson and Jø Nesbø). To me, this genre is just oodles of fun! I always guess the perp wrong and, if it were me, I’d likely arrest the whole village for a few days (read: weeks) while I figure things out but, by gum!, I’ll get there in the end! I’ve actually found that I seem to prefer the less famous Christies which leads me to believe I’m appreciating something different in these books than many others. For example, two fan favourites are And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express. Both of these I found really fun journeys with disappointingly far-fetched (read: cop out/deus ex machina) endings. More interesting stories, to me, were Murder Is Easy, The Secret Adversary and Toward Zero.

In general, though, what I love about these old mysteries is precisely what I’m not so keen on in contemporary mysteries: they’re no gritty, people aren’t quite so deranged, everything is quaintly ‘proper’, and the detectives are plucky and endearing. Most importantly, they’re just so fun. On the other side of that, I haven’t actually finished reading any contemporary mysteries (though I’ve watched adaptations) and, while they are engaging stories, I sometimes find there just seems to be such an influx of shock value content, dislikable but brilliant main characters tormented by tragic backstories. This isn’t inherently bad, but it’s very rare I’ll make the choice to be stressed out by an intense heinous, gritty crime drama…

Claire
My love affair which a good mystery or thriller was started by Nancy Drew, so I have real affection for this genre. However, like most people I have a thin-line drawn into what kind of mystery I like. Actually- let me start there, Mystery has so many sub-genres that it is hard to quantify this genre as a whole: there are regional mystery styles, time based (HF mystery, noir, etc) and then there are good old fashioned Detective stories which a quick WHODUNNIT?! and then those that are built around a protagonists life. Indeed, what is appealing about this genre is that protagonists or the saviors digging into the often violent mysteries are flawed characters themselves and I think this is terribly interesting, that you don’t have to be good to bring about good (like the deadbeat cop with a drinking problem and massive PTSD but so darn good at their job they need to be tolerated). This genre is rarely clean and rarely “good” or “moral” but isn’t that what makes it terribly interesting? Like any other genre though it is flawed, I’ve seen some novelists get away with some serious sexism and racism for the sake of the story and I’m never comfortable reading that sort of thing- plus some of those Noir genres cuss a whole lot which I’m fine with but I do like other adjectives.

If you’re into this genre I’d recommend The Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch.

Fantasy

Nikki
Like I said, I was surprised to learn (since recording my reading) that this is one of my most read genres. However, my genre classification stats are very broad so I don’t think the kind of ‘fantasy’ I usually read is the kind of fantasy that is usually associated with the SFF genre. I also sometimes chuck literary fiction with heavy magic realism and paranormal reads in this category alongside classic…magic-type(?) fantasy and fairytales… In fact(!), checking my stats now, it looks like I have (passive-aggressively?)* put Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon into the “fantasy” section instead of “sci-fi” and I only vaguely remember why… Point being this is a tricky genre for me which isn’t really that clear cut. Where do superheroes like Ms Marvel fit in? Is it incorrect for me to say I read a lot of fantasy? I don’t know.. If “yes” maybe that just speaks to the unfair(?) dominance of elf magic type fantasy. *Because the science was so ridonc, not because fantasy is somehow less legitimate than sci-fi.

My labelling confusion aside, I found it interesting to realise when starting Name of the Wind (I never got past the first chapter sadly) that I don’t really care for the minute details of some of the more epic tomes. It’s why I haven’t bothered to read the Lord of the Rings. I love the films, I loved The Hobbit (the book!), but I’m scared some of the magic and love of that world will be lost for me if I start the book and can’t get into it… I think a world can be made super believable without having to explain the intricacies of its financial system, for example. JK Rowling doesn’t need to explain galleons and squillions (or whatever) for me to get the picture that galleons seem to be worth more than the other stuff (though I think she does briefly at some point…). I can see that value system based on small mentions of how much things (like brooms or books or candy) costs and the way characters talk about losing bets for X amount of squillions. Anyway, other people like all that gumph so I’ll just have to deal with it…or not. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Claire
POTIONS, MAGIC RINGS AND CRUMPLE-HORNED SNORCACKS!

I’m leaving the above message to me from Nikki in because it is so beautiful and true.

I fell into this genre as a teenager and I blame my father for it whole heartedly. I love fantasy- I love the potential it holds in that you can make worlds and characters that are completely your own and fantastic and completely different and alien to what we know. It’s why I enjoy reading it so much: I live a relatively corporate life but when I read fantasy I can have magic eek out of my fingers and bones, I can ride dragons and can lift something heavier than a 5 gallon water bottle. It’s the potential for anything that makes this genre so great.

It does have some problems though: it is notoriously known for being lacking in diversity, racist and sexist. Some authors claim that they’ve modeled their fantasy on medieval Europe so the racism was natural then and of course women couldn’t do much back then because of laws and culture and such. I say hogwash of that, it’s lazy writing: you can do anything in fantasy, you can literally rewrite history and make it your own. When it comes to recommendations, oh man there are so many to make! Besides Harry Potter I’d recommend the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix or A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.

Dystopia

Nikki
Apparently I can’t get enough of this genre. I did a roundup last year of the dystopian stories I just happened to have read without actually setting out to read dystopia and I’ve got a few more on my TBR. What do I love about this genre? I guess I love that the purpose of dystopia is to highlight problems in our current society. While I don’t dislike YA dystopia across the board, I do find YA dystopian authors sometimes (often?) miss the point and don’t always seem to understand what they’re adopting when they choose to make their setting a dystopian one. Dystopias are a didactic tool. Their purpose is not to be a backdrop to showcase how cool your character is or to spice up your cheesy love story *cough* Legend by Marie Lu *cough*.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, as far as dystopia goes, I’m a sucker for it…but my experience with many different types has led me to be a little biased against YA dystopia. I don’t blame the author (or publishers). You want to cash that cow and/or dispense that knowledge to the youth, and it’s probably hard to balance how much heavy content you can really fit into a YA book. It’s not because ‘young adults’ are stupid necessarily, but they’re young. What does that have to do with anything? It means the average reader these books are being marketed to is less likely to have as much passively gained context as someone older so you’re straddling the line between over-explaining and breaking suspension of disbelief and being a superficial dystopian intro. There’s obviously a lot else at play here too (not least of all that YA publishing is a super lucrative business so it can throw a lot more money on mediocre, superficial dystopias so that market will have a lot of good and junk than some other publishing groups that have to be a bit more discerning with their budgets). OK, I shut up now.

Claire
DARK DARK DARK GLOOM GOOM GLOOM DOOM DOOM DOOM. End of the world.

I’m leaving the above by Nikki as well. She’s so great at encouraging me to get off my butt and keep blogging!

I discovered this genre with The Hunger Games and while I initially loved it and dove headfirst into the genre, I quickly realized that not all Dystopia was created equal. As a genre it crosses many others, especially YA. It also, I think, scores pretty well on the diversity score, especially more so than Fantasy and there are many novels that give women a shining and leading voice, something I greatly appreciate (that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more than can be done for diversity here and giving women real positions of power/voices rather than as love interests or stuck in a love triangle).

However, there are many novels that it a “script” with love triangles abound. This is something I found incredibly frustrating- not every dystopia has to (1) have a relatively happy or solved ending or (2) a character stuck between two romantic choices (typically bad-but-sexy or good-but-boring). For recommendations in this genre, The Hunger Games is always a great bet, as is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Pop-Economics

Nikki
So I haven’t read a lot in this area so I’m gonna try not to ramble like I do. Freakonomics stands out to me (out of the maybe three pop-economics books I’ve read…) as a book that I not only find applicable to loads of everyday situations, but also something than validated and further informed my way of analysing information. The basic principle is simply not to take any information for granted. Always be sceptical. Super! That’s, like, my natural state anyway.

I’m actually really interested in this genre and looking at ways we can apply smarter thinking to our current systems and why we aren’t doing that already when the information is all readily available and has been for a long time. Next on my pop-economics list is 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (I know, I know. It’s been on my list for a long time #slowreader #easilydistractedreader #IAmCurrentlyReadingSevenBooksSoBackOffMan!). The other end of this genre is those skeezy get-rich-quick and why-I’m-rich-and-you’re-not type books. So icky. I just want to know how the economy works so I can be more informed in my election voting and consumer voting and so on… (But if someone legit knows how to get me rich quick, I would also totally consider reading their book).

Claire
BITCH BETTA HAVE MA MONEY! PAY ME WHAT YOU OWE ME!

A Nikki special above as well. So when it comes to Pop-Economics I’ve started many books but completed… none. This isn’t out of choice, there are tons of great and informative and engaging books in this genre but I find it hard to keep motivated and engaged with a NF. I think it’s great if authors are able to explain complicated concepts of our reality-complicated for some, which isn’t a bad thing!

I have great trouble with numbers and the abstract concept of economics- so if someone can break it down into actionable ways, that shows how these abstract things create real change and events in life, I say power to the authors and power to the readers! I’d recommend Freakonomics to begin with. As a useless aside I will say that I think people should read NF because they want to to and not because they think it (1) makes them look smarter (there is nothing “dumb” about fiction, that rep needs to stop) and (2) feel obligated to.

Politics

Nikki
I freaking love this genre. It’s so insightful and just super fascinating. This is probably also part of why I seem to constantly pick up dystopia… I want to know how society works, I want to know who’s really in charge (fyi; it’s the people even in places where capitalism is clawing away at the government but they never seem to realise it…Voting dollars, people!).
And, since history is cyclical, it’s not just contemporary politics that interests me. Ancient politics is fascinating too. Plato’s Apology was such a great, heartbreaking read…though not heartbreaking in the normal sense.. It’s more like that feeling if you’re watching someone walk from London to Edinburgh to meet up with their sweetie who they’ve only ever talked to online and the whole time they’re psyching themselves up to propose but they get there and it turns out she never existed and was actually just a chat bot program?? Yeah, I knew you’d get it.

(OK back on track now!) I’ve already mentioned Rick Edwards’ None of the Above as a really great, simple and concise (but not condescending) intro to UK politics, but I’m also interested in world politics. Books like Without You, There Is No Us and The Fat Years were interesting peeks at some asian politics and that is an area I’d like to know even more about.

I guess I can sort of see why people think politics is boring…but only insofar as I can see why people think all YA is total garbage. My internal response: it’s simply not true that politics is dry and I humbly suggest you probably haven’t come across any political books that strike your fancy stylistically or content-wise yet but that doesn’t make you justified in writing off a genre…especially one so relevant to each of our lives. My external response: OK. That’s a shame but I’m not going to push anything on you.

Claire
THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING! EQUALITY, FREEDOM, SORORITY!

So, my thoughts here are brief: it’s a popular genre so therefore it must be a good genre. I am not particularly interested in politics… at… all. However, being friends with Nikki (well one of the many reasons she is great) is good because she is great at giving recommendations for this genre and encouraging my openness to it. She hasn’t exactly succeeded but I am one day she will. I am very sure.

NameNikkixClaire

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About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
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