DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jul 22 2011

ShareReads: Stretching the Boundaries

by Dea Anne M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

One of my favorite literary characters is Maisie Dobbs, the entrancing sleuth/heroine of the eponymous series by Jacqueline Winspear. I recently finished the eighth book in the series A Lesson in Secrets and found it nearly impossible to put down. This has been my experience with every book in this wonderful series and part of the reason is that the books transcend their “genre niche.” A reader can experience the Maisie Dobbs books as satisfying mysteries, of course, but these books also work on a more “literary” level. Winspear’s depth of characterization along with her evocation of place and a subtly nuanced emotional tone elevate these books (in my opinion) to a different category of writing.

Are you interested in reading some “genre busting” fiction? Many readers regard China Miéville as an author whose writing provides a consistently high level of quality as well as a unique approach to a variety of genres. In particular, check out The City & the City, Mieville’s take on the hard-boiled detective story, and Perdido Street Station, an urban fantasy (although that capsule description doesn’t do this intricate book justice).

Another genre stretching novel that I have enjoyed and highly recommend is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which skillfully blends the traditions of the British social comedy with folklore and fairy tales. I also found Michael Chabon’s interpretation of the noir detective novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, very interesting although maybe a bit over the top with the tough guy flourishes.

Some other authors widely considered genre-stretchers:

Do you like exploring fiction that stretches genre? What books have you particularly enjoyed?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Phoenix P. July 22, 2011 at 6:55 PM

I’d definitely say Philip K. Dick is up there. He’s often made me question my own reality.

I had a college writing teacher once tell me that any given book is the blending of two genres. The members of the class then told him the title of the book he or she was currently reading and one-by-one, he named the two genres of each book.

One of my personal favorites is the deliciously spicy “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel, which blends a cultural romance with a fantastic cookbook. (Please forgive the terrible puns!) Reading the book for either genre is enjoyable and together it’s definitely a winner.

W.E.W. July 26, 2011 at 5:11 PM

I love, Phoenix, that you mentioned “Like Water for Chocolate.” Similarly, I was going to mention Maya Angelou’s “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table.” This is primarily a cookbook, but each recipe is accompanied by an essay about the role that the dish played in her life. Of course, it’s beautifully written, the pictures are gorgeous, and you just feel like you’re sitting in Ms. Angelou’s kitchen with her. I checked it out a long time ago at the Fayetteville Public Library in Fayetteville, AR (which is an AWESOME library system, by the way). As much as I love borrowing books, I decided that was one I needed to own!

W.E.W. July 26, 2011 at 5:14 PM

Oh, I also enjoy the “Maisie Dobbs” series. They have a real “Agatha Christie” feel to them. Does anyone else feel that MD is like a young Miss Marple?

JLT July 28, 2011 at 4:26 PM

I was fascinated by this description and headed off to the library to get a Maisie Dobbs book. I found 2– on the “5 for a dollar” cart at Northlake library’s ongoing booksale. One of them (An Incomplete Revenge) was a nice, new, hardback book. I looked in the catalog and there is currently a “hold” list for that book. If I were the person who donated the book, I would be frustrated that the library would sell the book for twenty cents when it was in hardback and there were patrons waiting to read it! At least, I would hope the library would make better use of my donation and sell it for a little more.

On the other hand, I was excited to get the books and I can’t wait to try this author!

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