Saturday, July 13, 2013

talking about genre

The other day at work I was telling a co-worker that I didn't have anything to read, and asked her to recommend me something. "What do you like?" she asked. I answered "Literary fiction, like A.S. Byatt, crime, like murder mysteries, and fantasy, like Kate Griffin..." And from there we got to urban fantasy (but not paranormal romance), and all the genres, sub-genres and genre traits that appeal or repel. It is like a secret handshake, finding someone else who enjoys the same genre as you do. Saying you like reading fantasy can be like asking someone to condescend to you or adopt an air of puzzlement, but being able to talk about the fantasy genre brings an air of freedom. Here, you think, is someone who understands! But this is not always so. After all, there is that multitude of subgenres and other preferences to face. There are large gaps in my knowledge of genre that could encompass someone's entire favourite reading matter- talking about genre is not always easy, and I hadn't been reading as much of it in the past few years as I used to. I almost got a bit snobbish about it, though I always thought of myself as a fantasy reader.

This year, however, I've been getting back into reading fantasy in a big way. I was very excited to get my hands on the last volume of the Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliot and the new Kate Griffin book, as well as trying some new things. I'm looking forward to Sarah Rees Brennan's new book coming out in September (I think?). I used to read tons of epic fantasy, now I lean towards urban fantasy and things that strike me as unusual in some way. My relationship with the genre is always changing.

Fantasy is often derided as 'escapist', and its defenders point out that good fantasy writing is also about the real world, and just as edifying as good writing in other genres. I agree with this, but I also think there is a place for escapism in the world. Facing reality constantly just sounds wearing, and exercising your imagination just for the sake of it seems to me to be good for the soul. I know I need some time for dreaming in my life. In a way, I think that these are things all fiction has in common. Fiction has also been criticised for telling stories that aren't true, people still wonder why anyone would want to read about things that aren't real, and think it's a waste of time. But there is so much truth in fiction, and anyway, what could be more boring than spending all your time thinking only about things that are real? Helen at a gallimaufry recently linked to an article by Jeanette Winterson that had, I think, an excellent quote about fantasy, so I'll finish with that:

There’s been a fashion, thankfully going out of fashion, that if you are not writing Social Realism you are wasting time. I am sure that so many adults read Harry Potter because they wanted some magic back. The huge success of books like His Dark Materials, The Hobbit, and Coraline, or movies like Up, and Shrek, is down to our imaginative need for a world within a world. Part of us is wired to sit round the fire telling stories. And truth is often easier to bear when told at a slant.

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