In Which I Ponder Genre-Bending

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Like many readers, I love to look back at what I’ve read over the course of a month, a year, or even more.  (There are other readers who do this, right?  Please tell me I’m not the only one.)  I make lists in my email and on my blog, I track my reads on Goodreads, I assign book superlatives, and I make pie charts

When I sat down to look over my 2012 books and make my pie charts, I spent a lot of time agonizing over what genres to assign to certain books.  (Yes, I said agonizing.  I realize that’s melodramatic, and I don’t care.)  Here’s the chart I ended up with for my fiction books:

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It’s likely no one would notice or remark upon this next fact except for me, but: the chart shows that I only read one historical fiction book in 2012.  That would be Elizabeth I, by Margaret George (which was fabulous, by the way).  But Elizabeth I is not the only hi-fi I read in 2012.  I’ve always been one to read books set in other time periods, and 2012 was no exception.  So why does my pie chart say I only read one hi-fi book last year?  Well, because the chart only shows what I considered the “primary” genre of each book, and poor hi-fi got stripped as those books dropped more neatly into other genres.  Like what, for instance?  Well, there were the Maisie Dobbs books, which were set in the late 1920s in London and which relied heavily on historical detail to inform their storylines.  They’re mysteries, so they slotted into the mystery genre, but I could easily make a case for them as historical fiction.  Then there were books like The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, and Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which were certainly historical fiction (The Snow Child is about early Alaskan settlers, and the Wolf Hall novels are set during the reign of Henry VIII) but their strong prose pushed them into the literary fiction category.  (Hmmm, now that I’m thinking about it, Elizabeth I was very well-written, too.  Should I have called that lit-fic and completely raided the hi-fi category?  And what makes something lit-fic instead of general fiction or hi-fi, anyway, and who decides?  These are the things that keep me up at night.)  Then there were books like The Hobbit, which could have been considered children’s lit (or fantasy, a genre which didn’t even make it onto my chart) but instead landed in classics, a genre that tends to be whatever people say it is.  Or the Fairacre books, which could have populated a genre of gentle fiction, but instead got plopped into classics, too – because I say so.

I realize that this pie chart is not important to anyone but me.  But it’s fun for me to look back and see what I read the previous year, and I like my reads to be neatly organized.  Cross-referencing genres, or thinking about how I should have cross-referenced genres, really drives home the point that I read a lot of genre-benders.  And this past month has been a perfect example of that.  While I was flying through The Midwife’s Tale – for example – I stopped to scratch my head and wonder whether I would categorize it as a mystery (since it is a murder mystery with a classic whodunit plot) or historical fiction (since the setting of York in 1644 is so important to the plot, and so richly detailed too).  I’ll probably call it a mystery, but then, there’s an argument the other way too.  And there was The Song of Achilles – hi-fi, clearly, since it’s set during the Trojan War, but the beautiful, alluring, almost poetic prose is certainly going to tip the scales in favor of this one going in the lit-fic bucket.  And poor hi-fi gets raided again.  Then there’s the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I’m working my way through (I’ve already read the first two this year) – fantasy?  Or classic?  On balance, I think classic.  But again, a case could be made in the opposite direction.

When I’m not lying awake at night debating these things because my life is apparently too easy, I’m pretty happy to be reading all of these genre-benders.  A mystery with strong historical fiction elements?  A lit-fic offering that nods to an age-old classic?  A classic fantasy?  How could I go wrong with any of these?  I’m not going to stop reading genre-benders anytime soon.  I’m having too much fun with these books that pick and choose from among different genres and refuse to be pigeonholed.  And at the end of the year… well, I guess I’ll have to come up with some system for cross-referencing.

This may call for more pie charts.  Oh, darn.

4 thoughts on “In Which I Ponder Genre-Bending

  1. Pingback: Happy 2014! (And a Look Back at 2013) | Covered In Flour

  2. Pingback: 2014: Bookish Year In Review, Part I | Covered In Flour

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