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

genre-benders

Oct 3 2012

Switching gears

by Dea Anne M

Perhaps the biggest news in publishing lately is the release of J. K. Rowling’s first work of adult fiction The Casual Vacancy. The reviews, thus far, have been mixed, to say the least. Some reviewers hate it (New York Times), some love it (Time), and many more are ambivalent (Washington Post). It’s probably inevitable that the creator of what many believe to be the best series of books ever written for younger readers would come under more than a little critical fire in switching genres. Of course, Rowling isn’t the first author to cross genres and she most certainly won’t be the last. A recent example of an author who has successfully done so is one who has moved from adult fiction to young adult, or, more accurately, has added YA fiction to an already enormous oeuvre. I’m speaking, of course, of James Patterson whose Maximum Ride series enjoys great popularity (and which he apparently writes himself…not being snarky here…Patterson is quite open about working with co-authors). Another example of an author who has enjoyed success in switching genres is the prolific Nora Roberts who has had a long career publishing best selling romance fiction under her own name as well as her “In Death” near-future detective series as J. D. Robb. Roberts and Robb have even “collaborated” on a few novels and pose together on the covers—Roberts usually dressed in an elegant suit and Robb in a black leather jacket.

Other genre-crossing authors include:

John Banville, an acclaimed author of literary fiction who won The Man Booker Prize in 2005 for his novel The Sea, also writes mystery fiction under the name Benjamin Black.

H. G. Wells is best known today for visionary science fiction such as The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. In his own time, Wells was also a well-known author of history, political commentary, and realistic fiction. These titles include A Short History of the World.

In 1948, Dodie Smith published the charming novel I Capture the Castle—the story of a quirky British family which retains to this day many devoted fans (I count myself as one). Smith also enjoyed success as a playwright, but in 1956 she published a novel for children that would bring her the most widespread recognition adapted as it was, by Disney,  into a beloved movie. That book is The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Today, we remember the Victorian writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton chiefly for the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night.” It appears at the beginning of Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel Paul Clifford and and is used as a tag for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest which celebrates the purplest of prose. Bulwer-Lytton wrote in a variety of genres including romance, horror, mystery, and historical fiction (The Last Days of Pompeii is probably his best known novel today). His writing might seem overwrought to the modern reader but it was wildly popular at the time and went a long way toward financing Bulwer-Lytton’s extravagant lifestyle. Above all, Bulwer-Lytton seemed to possess a talent for producing phrases so persistently memorable that they have since become cliches. “The pen is mightier than the sword” is from his play Richelieu and “the almighty dollar” appears in the novel The Coming Race.

Do you plan to read J. K. Rowling’s latest? Do you have a favorite genre-crossing author?

{ 1 comment }

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 }

Jun 17 2011

ShareReads: Between Fact and Fiction

by Jimmy L

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.

We here at the library love to categorize things, but some books work hard (and admirably) to resist them.  More specifically, I’ve been drawn recently to books that live between the spaces of fact and fiction, between the forms and norms of novel, essay, and poetry. I find these books captivating, precisely because their amoebic form eschews all readerly expectations. Like organic matter, they build their own structures as they go along and play by their own rules.

The first of these books is Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald.  Sebald has written four major “novels”, and the reason I put the word in quotes is because they feel more like long essays (with photographs).  In this book, the narrator walks along the coast of England.

That’s it.  Were you expecting more? But as he walks, he takes you on a tour inside his mind.  What he sees on his walk and the people he meets along the way inspires him to tell you stories both personal and historical—from a meditation on Thomas Browne’s writings to the history of the silk trade.  This meditative wandering is also surprisingly focused through the psyche of the narrator, who somehow ties these ideas together not with a neat bow (for there are no easy conclusions here) but with a fog of melancholy that barely hangs over what goes unsaid.

David Markson’s Vanishing Point takes a different route.  This “novel” is a fiction made out of facts… it reads like a mosaic composed of many bite-sized aphorisms, facts and figures, tid-bits about famous people, and well chosen quotes organized one after the other.  But order matters! And what arises from this collage-like approach is not what you would traditionally call a “novel” (noun), but perhaps you might call it “novel” (adjective).

Last but not least, a book by Geoff Dyer called Out of Sheer Rage.  This book is like a cross between a literary biography (about D.H. Lawrence), a memoir (with many creative liberties), and a travel book, all rolled into one.  The common element that ties it all together is Dyer’s voice which is  incredibly funny and self deprecatory.  Geoff Dyer’s other books, But Beautiful about jazz and The Ongoing Moment about photography, are also equally exciting genre-bending works.

Have you read any hard to categorize books lately?

 

{ 4 comments }