One of the blogs I follow is Literary Soundtrack. It’s written by two sisters who are voracious readers (as well as talented writers). If readers were dinosaurs I’d be a brontosaurus, the big herbivore that probably needed half a dozen stomachs to digest the odd mouthful of wood pulp. They’d be a pair of raptors. Even the T-Rex would know not to enter a reading competition with these two. He wouldn’t have a chance! They love finding music that musically fits favorite books as well as interviewing writers about how music inspires their writing. I love how they mention things that make me think about things I’ve never thought of before. Yesterday they posed a question that set my brain whirling. “Why do you read the genre that you do?” The surface answer would be; because I like it. But that’s not really an answer. Why are we drawn to specific genres? Why don’t I love reading Westerns? Why do I have no desire to read… This is where I fell off the cliff of sanity. How can I know why I read the genres I do unless I know all the genres I don’t? How many genres are there? How many of them have I not read? If I’ve never read a certain genre, how do I know I don’t want to read it? I ogled my computer like a starving piranha and forced myself to go to bed. This morning after seeing the Goblin off I was going to get some more sleep. It’s long gone midnight and my pillow is still waiting. I went onto Wikipedia and found under ‘list of literary genres’ what I was craving. Answers!
The list starts with Absurdist Fiction. Did you know there was such a genre? I didn’t. These are stories that, “focus on characters in a situation where they can find no inherent purpose in life, most often represented by meaningless actions and events.” It sounds pretty dismal. Who’d want to read drivel like that? There on the list was a book I’d read; Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. I didn’t see the movie, but I enjoyed the book, especially the parts that discussed the making of perfume.
The next on the list was Literary Nonsense. I’d never heard of that either, but I’ve read Douglas Adams and Dr Seuss. Then came Adventure Novel (self explanatory). Epic? The shortness of the title is an oxymoron. Epics are always looooooong. Lord of the Rings triology. War and Peace. I’ve never read either. Then comes Imaginary Voyage. This sounds fun, but then I live in my head. Gulliver’s Travel’s by Jonathan Swift was mentioned as an example. I’ve never read it though I’d like to think I have. Have you heard of Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World? Imagine, a woman writing about an imaginary voyage in 1616. How can you not want to look that up? The next genre is Lost World. Has anyone read A Merritt’s The Moon Pool or H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’? I must read them or at least crack them open and see if they’re as magical as they sound. Men’s Adventure is a doozy…this cover is of one of the magazines featuring this genre… The cover of this man’s magazine illustrated one of the stories, ‘Man versus Weasel’. This genre (which appeared in a number of men’s magazines in the 50’s and 60’s) purported to be true, but I think we can assume that the man in the story who was attacked by a pond of blood thirsty weasels was fictional! Most of the stories are about men rescuing scantily clad women from danger which I think it’s rather romantic. I’ve no idea what my husband day dreams about…I’ll have to ask him. (He’ll probably tell me to mind my own fantasies which often do involve him. I like to imagine us meeting in different centuries. As my Anglo Saxon hero, he’s a Smithy and I’m a slave he’s rescued and I help make him rich with my artistic skills in gratitude for his many kindnesses…and I fall in love with him…and we have all sorts of adventures…I occasionally have to save him, but when some unfriendly tribe attack we tend to defend each other…can you tell I spend WAY too much time in my head?)
Milesian Tale is named after a lost book called Milesiaka, where the author Aristides wrote of himself retelling all the hot gossip from Miletus. The Decameron by Boccoccio is apparently a good example of this sort of work. If you knew any of this I’m truly impressed! A Picaresque novel is a realistic satire where the main character (of low social standing) survives by using his wits. This is originally a Spanish genre and to be truly Picaresque the story needs to have a moral happy ending. Have you ever heard of the Robinsade genre? Of course you have! This is the genre of stories spawned from the popularity of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. These are always ‘desert island stories’. I found this interesting as my heroine in Dancing the Maypole writes these about her and Peter and I didn’t even know it was a genre. Robinsade can also be called a subgenre of ‘Survival Fiction’. I prefer Robinsonade. The next one is Sea Story. That’s pretty self explanatory; the story always happens at sea. Children’s Stories…also obvious. The next one on the list was the last one I got to before becoming sidetracked completely…Young Adult Fiction…
Regency Note: Did you know that Young Adult fiction as a genre came about because a woman named Sarah Trimmer (who was a mother/ writer/educationalist) decided it was important enough to be taken seriously and defined the ages of 14 – 21 as Young adulthood? I’d never heard of her! In 1802 she founded a children’s literature periodical called, ‘The Guardian of Education’ where she discussed various books appropriate for the different reading ages. So she ( Wikipedia claims) created the genre of Young Adult fiction! She sounds like she was sort of an annoying person (she thought the poor should be educated so they could read the Bible and be productive moral poor people…because of course (herself being born upper middle class – her father being a tutor for George III) the social status quo was something to maintain. Regardless of what she thought the poor should do with their ability to read and write, she personally saw to it that many of them did learn these skills and encouraged other middle class women to start schools to help more poor children. She opened the doors for a lot of people to better themselves and that’s no small thing!
After reading about Sarah Trimmer, one of the books mentioned as an example of Young Adult section caught my eye; The Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner. Instead of working, sleeping or figuring out why I read the genres I do I read The Moonfleet. Written in 1898 it’s an adventure story set in the early 1700’s on the Southern English coast. If you love that old Regency theme of smugglers you’ll love this. It has a romantic element which is sweet. The main character for most of the story is about 15-16…hence YA! You can read it free on Project Gutenberg.
I’m no closer to figuring out why I read what I read…I shall have to keep thinking about it as I finish the list of genres…who knows what I’ll learn!
Gwen Hernandez says
Cari: How interesting. I had no idea there were so many genres out there. I LOVED Robinson Crusoe and then Swiss Family Robinson as a teen. That led to Lord of the Flies. I used to read mostly thrillers and mysteries. Probably because that’s what my parents read. I thought romance meant Harlequin. I had devoured Mary Stewart in high school, but didn’t realize it was romantic suspense at the time.
I realized only recently that I like romance because I crave the HEA. I enjoy a good thriller or mystery still, but I was always disappointed if the H/H didn’t get together (come on guys, at least a kiss for their troubles!), without even giving it conscious thought. Now it’s much harder to go back to my old favorite authors because even if I really enjoy the story, I’m always a bit bummed at the end. At least Clive Cussler always let Dirk Pitt have the girl, even if they weren’t together in the next book. 😉
Good luck on your quest!
Teresa Thomas Bohannon says
Well you’ve certainly taught me a lot this morning. Cari, this was an absolutely fascinating post! Unfortunately, it’s back to work for me this morning so I’ll have to wait until this evening to do some further exploring. I wonder if Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World is available on Gutenberg or Archive.Org? I’ve always loved lost world and adventure novels–largely because they often featured strong women as primary and secondary characters. They were huge at the turn of the century, and a lot of them were serialized in newspapers.
Thanks for sharing,
I know how you feel! If I read a story and there’s no romantic element it’s like…what is the point? I would even go so far as to say that all the books that have changed my life were romances. I think romance writers must be born romantics. What I do now isn’t that different from what I did as a little girl creating endless soap operas with my dolls and stuffed animals. They suffered in silence as their marriages were arranged and dissolved on my whim. I’ll never know who the Sunshine family man really wanted to be with…his Sunshine wife or Barbie…or the big doll? He never said!
@Teresa Thomas Bohannon
I looked up Cavendish and I can’t believe I haven’t run across her before. She sounds totally and utterly bizarre…my favorite! Samuel Peypes was quoted as calling her ‘Mad’. She’s not on Project Gutenberg, but the book may be somewhere out there I haven’t seen yet. She was quoted in one of her writings as ‘wanting to be as clear as possible’ read her poetry and please tell me you didn’t understand a word! If it’s not in code it’s practically gibberish, but her fantastical lost world story sounds worth a go. She’s just gone onto my, ‘must get a biography’ list.
Never read Lord of the Rings!? Seriously Cari, take the time. It’s a great story, way better than the Hobbit (IMO).
As for Regency Romances does the Scarlet Pimpernel qualify? Have you read it? I love, love, love that one.
I think I would like to read more Gothic novels, just to say I have, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
For myself, I imagine it’s more that I like a well written book, regardless of genre. If it’s well written and can capture me, I’ll like it. I’ve read non-fiction stuff that fits into that category. I’m indiscriminate of genre as long as it is good.
I’m kind of into Dystopian fiction right now. Have you read the Hunger Games?
I’m telling my husband you called me a raptor by the way. He’d describe me more as an addict I think.
“I ogled my computer like a starving piranha” Ah, Cari on a research kick!
I love thinking of myself as a reading raptor! Thanks. 🙂
I would definitely call The Scarlet Pimpernel a Regency romance (even though it was written before the genre existed and takes place quite a few years (twenty +) before the Regency begins. It’s a classic historical romance. I love it. As for Lord of the Rings, I’m afraid I must pass on that. Hearing weird names on screen is fine, but for some reason reading them really irritates me for some unknown reason. Another problem is the number of named characters. More than fifteen and I get really confused and irritated. It literally makes my brain hurt. 🙁
I haven’t read the Hunger Games. I’ll have to look it up. As for Gothics, there’s the free ones you can download off the Project Gutenberg when you’re in the mood! Free is good! I have a whole library of books I’d like to read, but one has to be in the mood. I think it is fascinating how we prefer our story rations in certain genres. Though some people, like yourself, do branch out more widely (which is really good) some of us do love our genres. Maybe the difference lies in the reasons we read in the first place. I shall have to think about that. Personally, I think human beings need stories. I think it’s a need like for oxygen.
You’ve sent me off on a golden goose chase this time! Think of all the weird things I’ll learn as I go down the list. 🙂
You are a reading raptor! (Wouldn’t that make a cute library badge?) If I could step into your brain I’d probably find a virtual reconstruction of the downtown Portland library with shelves full of read books! I love that library. I have a non regency romance novel (Absurdist black comedy genre) I’m going to set there. It’s in the queue. Thanks for making me think!!!! It feels good!!! 🙂