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Friday, June 15, 2007


Genres you don't read

The lovely Naomi asked an interesting question in the last-thread-but-one (Guilty Pleasures), to wit: are there particular genres that you don't read? I hummed and ha-ed and came up with a few loose examples, but it's an interesting overall idea. Some people don't read some genres on principle, which is iggerunt; some people don't read some genres because they've got limited reading time and tend to prefer other stuff, which is fair enough ... and what about you, my fine friends? Are there genres you don't read? If so, what is it that puts you off? I'd be most interested to hear your opinions.

I'm not much for westerns (Stephen King's gunslinger Roland in the Dark Tower series doesn't count), military fiction (or nonfiction) and most history type books. Wars, etc. I realize it may be a deficiency of mine to possess this boredom concerning history, but there it is.

I also tend to steer away from erotic (paranormal or not) though this isn't so much because of Christian sensibilities (considering how much sex shows up in spec-fic works anyways) but because that genre seems to fall into the same mental category I put things like soap operas, reality tv. drama and so on...is that a weird way to divide things?

Anyways, I've been trying to diversify beyond reading solely science fiction and fantasy, and have managed to enjoy a few good biographies lately, along with some solid mysteries and thriller types.
It sounds possibly like a male way to divide things, sex being the stuff of relationships and relationships being the stuff of soaps and reality TV? And relationship-based plotting tends to interest women more than men. Does that sounds right to you?
I don't read horror, but that is because I am a big chicken. I read some horror books years ago, and saw some horror movies, and they scared the pants off me. Stephen King is one terrifying writer. THE SHINING scared me soooo badly! SK gets you very emotionally involved with the characters--more so than many other writers--so when scary things happen to them, the reader is scared as well.

Other than that, everything else is fair game, although I tend to prefer genre books rather than mainstream lit. But I still read it all.
Any book that has any variation of the following tag-line on the cover:

One man's/woman's/dog's soul-searching journey to find the truth/redemption/true love...

If it's got a cliche on the cover, how many are in the book?
Anything that revolves around the military. I think that's because my dad was in the army and I got enough information about the military fed to me growing up.

I don't read much sci-fi (although I love Anne McCaffrey), mostly because I always assume I won't understand it - science goes over my head. Also I'm scared of robots.
I won't say that there's nothing I won't read. I wasn't the natural audience for The Devil Wears Prada, for example, but good writing is good writing and I seek it out.

Having said that, some genres have a big hurdle to overcome. I almost never read category romance. I rarely read Westerns.
I wouldn't say its the relationships or even the sex in stories that pushes me away. It's the drama. So often a lot of those books seem filled with senseless drama (over-generalizing, I know), and it grates on me for some reason. I hate the exploitive slant a lot of our entertainment has bent to, and a book that has tons of sex scenes just doesn't appeal to me. Sure, sex is part of relationships, but while I enjoy books that have solid relationships that drive the emotional stakes of a plot, I'm not so hot on those that seem to make sex the whole point of a relationship or plot. Does that make any more sense?
'If it's got a cliche on the cover, how many are in the book?'

... although, to be fair, very often authors don't write their own blurbs. If they're written by someone in the publishing house, they're probably worse written than the actual book, as the publisher is probably not a writer themselves.

Plus, copywriting fashions come and go. Have you noticed how many trailers have exactly the same spiel? 'One man ... one quest ... one tag line ... one idea ... now, this summer...' As a result, you can often get only the haziest impression of what may actually be a good film. There's a pressure to make individual works sound more like other, different but successful works, which they may not actually resemble, which can create misrepresentative blurbs. I think the same thing can easily happen with books, given a less-than-inspired jacket blurb writer.

What exactly do you mean by 'senseless drama', Josh?
I've been a sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic addict since I was 12, which is entirely the fault of the Christian-school teacher who read us "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" in class. There are some genres I tend to stay away from because I'm not that interested in the subject matter, but I'll allow that there CAN be good examples within that genre -- romance springs to mind. A lot of times the characters are interchangeable, the "problem" keeping people apart is silly, and the sex scenes are repetitive and uninteresting -- but there are always authors that can really write, who handle all the tropes of the genre and make them... well, good, for want of a better word. Spy dramas and Robert Ludlum-esque stuff I also tend to avoid (although I went through a "Bourne" phase when I was around 18 -- there wasn't much available in English at the time) because they tend to be so plot driven that I never really get to know the characters, and so I don't really care if they succeed or not -- but again, some writers can pull of that balance that appeals to me. 90 percent of any genre... et cetera.

The only genre I won't touch is horror. I scare way too easy and I really don't care if the craft is spectacular and wondrous. I'm still trying to decide, though, what separates horror from more violent sci-fi. I almost didn't watch "Buffy" when it premiered because I was afraid it was going to terrify me, but now in retrospect the only episode I couldn't -- still can't -- handle is "Hush." I recently saw "Ginger Snaps" and I wasn't afraid -- I cried. I've read a bit of Clive Barker... so what is it that takes an incident of the same magnitude in violence and makes it handle-able in one genre but too much for me in another?

I've gone off topic again.
Interesting question, though. I don't think 'Ginger Snaps' sets out to frighten you in the way that 'Hush' does. In the former, the monster is the heroine; it's a kind of reclaimed, several-generations-on horror idea where the monster is familiar enough that it starts to get some sympathy. 'Hush' is aiming at a very primal kind of horror, the head-under-the-blankets, flat-out scary Other. I haven't read much Barker, but from what I've heard he's more interested in the monster's perspective again ... Might that be it? The monster has to be Other and hostile rather than implicated and complex to scare you?
Now you see that's where ignorance plays a part. I automatically assumed that even if the author didn't write the blurb he/she must have ok'd it.

To me it seems impossible that any author would let a potential sale rest in the hands of someone who might not even have read the story. You know about the other side Kit - does blurb writing go in without the author's knowledge/approval?
The only genre I don't at least glance at is genre romance. This isn't because of an aversion to stories about relationships, but because I'm allergic to formula plots and characters. (And not wanting to be seen in the coffee shop reading a book with Fabio on the cover might have something to do with it, too.)

I'm largely indifferent to Westerns, though I read one from time to time. (Does Cormac McCarthy count?)

I've read chick-lit, and found it good fun, if often silly.

For the most part I seem to be horror-deaf. Most menaces intended to be horrific seem ridiculous to me in the cold light of day. When I read a horror novel I spend too much time doing a critique of the worldbuilding, and not enough time being scared. I'm not frightened by vampires and mummies, I'm scared of what real human beings do to other real human beings.

To answer an earlier question, I don't feel guilty about any of my reading. It's all research, even the bad stuff.

What genres don't I read? Whaddya got?

Memoir, because I've been burnt too often by fakes. Horror, because I've read so much bad stuff in slush. Category romance. Werewolves (with certain exceptions :D), vampires, zombies....

Abuse porn (that's "tearjerkers" according to ASDA).

Anything that's "heartwarming", "based on a true story" or has a "kickass heroine".

The list goes on and on....

"Senseless drama" is probably the petty stuff that keeps the lovers apart when people with any sense would have shacked up together on page 2! lol
"The monster has to be Other and hostile rather than implicated and complex to scare you?"

Well, actually you touched on this in an earlier post -- talking about how vampires aren't scary anymore, they've become all sexy and sympathetic in pop culture. (I have no huge problems with Anne Rice's writing for the most part, but I do think she started it.)

I remember reading a vampire novel from some scare-the-teens horror series when I was about fourteen, and it messed me up for about a year. Lights on in the bedroom, sleeping face-down with hands protecting my jugular, the whole bit. And in retrospect I can see that, of all the novels of that series (many of which were kind of crap -- cliched, overdone etc), that particular novel might even have had a fairly decent story at the heart of it. (A main character, the viewpoint character's love interest, got vamped and spent the last 2/3 of the book struggling not to bite anybody, and as a reward, at the end, when the vampires were all destroyed by the sunlight, she was also destroyed but got to keep her soul, or something. Since she died unblooded. It made sense at the time.) But there was nothing good about the vampires. They didn't have a point of view, they didn't have an understandable motivation, they just wanted to kill people. You never felt sorry for them, or that they were trapped, or just animalistic predators (a form, perhaps, of entrapment). They were downright gleeful and elitist. There was nothing about them that tempted you to join in.

But I think, in a lot of horror, ALL the characters are horrible, irredeemable. In the slasher genre in particular, you get a lot of unlikable people, and they all get killed off in progressively terrible ways. So the monster is awful, and the dead people are portrayed as awful so you don't feel so bad that they wind up drawn and quartered...and the point of it all is lost on me, but not in a comfortable "I'm bored" way, but in a nihilistic there-is-no-point-and-no-justice-to-life kind of way. (I have a friend, who can deal with nearly any horror, somewhat similarly describe why she absolutely cannot take zombie films -- there's no hope, no comeback from that one. It's just over, for everyone, from the opening credits. Even if the film tries to convince you it's not -- mathematically, it's just insurmountable.)

It's not that I have to have a happy ending all the time, with the guy getting the girl and the jaunt into the sunset. I liked Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidall right. I liked the short story "I Am Legend." Heck, I was pretty okay with 300 (there were issues, but fear was not one of them).

(I actually had a pretty funky experience with a book, marketed as horror, where I felt that the "horrible" aspects of the story were tacked on because the "monster," or creature, was extremely sympathetic, but the author kept trying to convince me that it wasn't. It would have worked better as sci-fi. And I wasn't scared.)

A lot of times, my imagination running away with me long after the movie of book is done with is by far the worst part of the experience. Also, I think I might just be less chicken now. I saw "Ginger Snaps" fairly recently, and I was still in my early twenties when "Hush" first aired. And I've found myself reading and watching a lot of stuff lately thinking "That would have scared the PANTS off me ten years ago." Maybe I'm finally growing up... (although my last "Hush" nightare was last week. Minor, but there it was.)

Maybe it's that I need some form of hope. For example, two of my favorite sci-fi authors are Octavia Butler and Sherri Tepper, but there is one Butler series that I can't read through, and a great deal of Tepper's writings are profoundly disturbing to me -- because they both tend to postulate that for any of the world's problems to be solved, human beings have to be altered on a fundamental, genetic level -- as we are, we will die, we will destroy. So, you'll have an alien race come down and change our DNA to the point where something as basic as human skin-to-skin contact becomes impossible, our physical systems and reproduction and appearance and such are all fundamentally, permanently changed, humans as humans essentially no longer exist -- but hey, no global warming! So I wind up often recommending Butler and Tepper, but am still unable to fully deal with them.
Re the blurb: I can't speak for every publisher, but I think the general policy is to at least let the author see the blurb before it goes on the cover. In my US version, they sent me a draft and I sent it back with amendations, and the UK publisher talked me into writing my own. (I get no say in the foreign editions, mostly because I only speak English.) But going by experience, some authors are more laid-back about things like blurbs and some are more particular, so it's possible an author might just give a publisher carte blanche.

Yes, it's interesting how unlikable slasher film victims can be, isn't it? American films in general seem to be fond of portraying unlikeable teens. I wondered for a while if American teeangers are just an aggressive lot - but then every American I meet is much more clean-spoken than the average Brit, with less swearing, less piss-taking and less low humour. It's a puzzle I'd be interested to hear someone explain.

I tend to prefer a bit of hope as well. And it can be pretty depressing if you don't like anybody.
Ack. Didn't see the question until this morning, Kit. But Buffy defined it pretty well. I guess it's something that might be broadened into "false tension" or those silly emotional crisis that keep the book running, while any normal person could've logicked it out in the first chapter, gotten over their angst and avoided the whole slew of ensuing drama. This issue can also be applied to other genres, I know..like..if the uber-magic spell could've killed the dark lord all along, why didn't the wizard just chant it right away, instead of sending some folks on a coming-of-age quest across several mountain ranges?
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