Genre Bias

June 18, 2017

I have always been drawn to classic literature, especially those works that transcend time and maintain their relevancy.  When I homeschooled my daughter  I wanted her to learn the beauty of classic literature, to understand that writing and reading can be both entertaining and cathartic.

 

Upon returning to the public-school system my daughter had read pieces of literature in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades that her sophomore class was just beginning to pick the crust from, which gave her an upper hand. She was lucky enough to have phenomenal English teachers that continued to build her love of literature. She devoured works like Metamorphosis, Fredrick Douglas, The Great Gatsby, Things Fall Apart, The Things They Carried, and 1984, to name a few. She found substance and relevancy and they sparked an interest in her that made this English major mamma very proud. She drew parallels from pieces like 1984 to today's political and moral climates, which she used to excel in other classes like history and government. Books like Metamorphosis and Things Fall Apart revealed to her the human condition and the cost of choices. I happily dove into conversations with her that both impressed me and made me proud.

 

While my daughter grew her literary arsenal, I began to notice a trend in many friends, readers, and even some writers I knew presenting this perception that you choose a genre to love and that's what you stick to. Some went so far as to say that if you love YA fiction or science fiction, for example, then that's what you read, period. Statements like “I only read historical fiction” or “ I only read non-fiction” really stuck in my craw. At first, I thought I was reading too much into the comments and conversations, but alas, there was something to the patterns I saw. I'm a multi-genre reader. I love books and while some genres interest me more than others I still read across genres with my favorites being some of the great classics. This genre discrimination or bias I had thought existed in between the lines of those I followed on social media and those friends and family members that talked books with me, became very real during my daughter’s senior year in high school. I had noticed that she had stopped reading YA books. We had shared many stories from the City of Ember series to Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Power's series. We love debating characterization and story-line, but somewhere between my needing her to love classic literature and her having these amazing English teachers she had developed this disdain for anything written over the last couple of decades.  

 

My conversations with my daughter had turned into somewhat of a discovery mission for me. I love YA Fiction and Fiction in general because it, like the average person's television shows, takes me to different worlds full of characters I both love and hate. I need this kind of get away from the real world. Reading heavy literary works like 1984 or the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave have their place, as they teach us about where we have been, where we might be headed, and sometimes they show us the things we are destined to repeat. That said, I need some of the things I read to weigh less, to be fun and entertaining as opposed to substantial and thought provoking. For those lovers of non-fiction and classical literature I understand their pull, but I also know that watching CNN, FOX News, or any other real-time account of the world around us can wear on the soul if you don't turn the channel to a comedy, reality show, or thriller. The same can be said for books, too much of one genre can eventually overwhelm or become stale, I know because it has happened to me. 

 

I guess my point is that, as readers, it is common for us to find ourselves searching for meaning and relevancy in what we read. We want our time to matter, to make a difference, but at the end of the day it is important to feed those parts of our souls that crave Pennywise (It by Steven King) or Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins). We need to be scared or root for the underdog, just like we do with our television watching. We balance our news and real-world stories with television and movies that feature the zombie laden world of the Walking Dead, the mythical impossibilities of Teen Wolf, the supernatural charm of Supernatural, the out-of-this-world pull of the Martian, the heroism of “Hidden Figures”, or the loss and faith of “The Shack”. 

 

My surprise at readers sticking their noses up at different genres was followed by the need to know why this genre bias existed. My daughter's take is that all books within the YA genre are the same, boy/girl or girl/boy relationships blossom, powers that are a surprise, worlds created out of nowhere that have no foundation in reality... My take, which I guess is naïve, is that anything, even similar or overdone concepts, if done well, are worth the read and time for entertainment value alone. She has since found a few reads outside of classic literature that she enjoys like the YA series from Ellen Hopkins, so there is hope for her learning to embrace all genres equally.

 

My hope as both a writer and reader is that people will treat choosing books like they do when trying new foods, give it a taste before saying they don't like it and try it a few different ways. I don't like shrimp salad, but if I had never tried shrimp any other way I would have never discovered I love shrimp. If you pick-up Steven King and don't like his writing or storytelling try Dean Koontz, if you don't like Patricia Cornwell try James Patterson with a side of Michael Crichton, and so on. I’m not saying to abandon the genre you love, I am saying to cheat on it by reading outside your comfort zone. Try a new genre a few different ways, savor what entertains you and keep an open mind, otherwise you may miss out on finding new and amazing books to love. 

 

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