Sunday, January 17, 2016

New and Different Sub-Genres

I prefer reading literary fiction (especially magical realism), literary non-fiction (especially memoir) and poetry (especially narrative and dramatic), but lately, I’ve been trying to branch out and read different mainstream sub-genres. 

I always said I didn’t like mysteries until I read Gone Girl, so I tried reading mysteries. I tried five different authors (two bestsellers, one literary author and two midlist authors), but I couldn’t get through the first hundred pages of most of the books. Don’t even remember those authors’ names and don’t care. I got tired of the formulaic elements (e.g., repeating information that had already been stated; the divorced police officer; the male character who doesn’t mean to be a tyrant; the woman who can’t help her helplessness). I enjoyed the literary elements of Dragonfish by Vu Tran, but I didn't vibe with the formulaic mystery elements. I’ve decided that mystery is my least favorite genre, except for romance. Gone Girl captured me because it was more of a psychological drama than a mystery.

I tried reading horror.  I tried Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The pacing of Frankenstein bored the shit out of me. Dracula was beautifully written, but eventually, that bored me as well. I tried two books by Steven King, two by Octavia Butler and two by Tananarive Due. I couldn’t get through either of the King books. A friend tells me I have to find the right King books for my personality, so I’ll keep at it. I liked Kindred by Butler but could not get into Wild Seed.  I have, however, read a couple of Butler’s short stories and loved them both, so I’ll keep reader Butler one way or another. I loved The Good House by Tananarive Due but couldn’t get into the African Immortals series. Due has a new book of short stories out, Ghost Summer, so I will give that a try. I will stick with horror because I like those magical realism elements and the psychological themes.

I know I don’t like reading sci-fi although I enjoy some sci-fi movies. I thought I might be able to get into fantasy since it’s a mainstream and less nuanced version of magical realism and sure enough I read three books that I really enjoyed: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. Like Kindred and The Good House, these books capture my attention with character and plot development, but I rarely feel enamored with the lyricism of words. That’s what I mean when I state that fantasy is less literary than magical realism. I feel the same way about horror, young adult (YA) and mainstream fiction. The sentences in these sub-genres exist solely to drive the story, not to be lyrical or beautiful. On the rare occasion when a horror, YA or mainstream fiction writer does write lyrically, they over-use the lyrical quality to the point of bastardization, e.g., the similes and metaphors in Shatter Me.

I’m reading Sleep in Me a memoir by Jon Pineda, and it’s so refreshing to read literary work after reading so many mainstream texts.  Here are some of his lyrically poignant sentences:
  • When referencing the defaced images that he and his friends saw in Penthouse and Hustler at the local gas station when he was a pre-teen: “We didn’t really think of [the images] as being violated, didn’t know the various forms violation could take.”
  • “Along the rear of Hill's house ran a creek where part of the land ended and formed a small promise of open water.”
As I mentioned, I read a YA book titled Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. I also read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’m surprised at how at how well these books hold my attention. Does that mean I’m trapped in an adolescent mindset or is it just that I’m a sucker for character and plot development? I feel like I know Juliette and Adam and Hazel Grace and Augustus. And early in the books, I’m drawn into the plot. My main issues with YA are that the books seem quite rushed and some of the details are far too vague. For example, what is the name of this tracking serum that Adam and the other soldiers take in Shatter Me? Mafi never tells us. What medicines and medical supplies did Hazel Grace have to take with her to Amsterdam? Green only mentions her oxygen tank. But even with these drawbacks, I’m now open to reading more YA texts.

Part of why I’m disenchanted with literary fiction these days is the dearth of plot development. Literary writers can describe a thumbtack and make it seem beautiful and lyrical, but their books too often lack in the plot department, which means I have a hard time sticking around long enough to find out who the character is. I tried reading Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and I could not do it! Mr. Fox had a kick-ass beginning, but it quickly petered out. Boy, Snow, Bird never got off the ground. For me to dig a book, I need something to happen—soon! Perhaps this is a generational thing. Perhaps that’s why older, established literary writers think young people don’t read. I’m grown and if I’m bored reading literary texts, a 17 year old is sure as hell gonna be bored too.

I find character and plot development to be weak in lots of mainstream fiction books as well. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for ages. (Spoiler Alert!) Talk about weak ass character development. Someone is raped and processes this by becoming a chronic gum chewer. Really? That’s all you got, Liane? Don’t even start me on plot: A teenager decides to auction her virginity online and her parents are upset. They're not outraged, but upset and quite peeved. And, of course, everything is resolved in the simplest way. I can’t even deal. I am more likely to believe a 17 year old who can kill people by touching them than that simplistic foolishness that’s written in Big Little Lies.

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