Monday, May 24, 2010

Reading Genre

Hello, blogspot! I have been AWOL for most of the month, but I have been a busy worker bee, and I have read BOOKS. And now I shall tell you about them!

But before I do, I want to talk about Genre, because I feel like this blogging attempt needs to come with a very heavy disclaimer, and that is that the experience of reading genre literature is still very knew to me. And inevitably when I talk about it, I will say things that make me sound like a freshman trying on new ideas and finding them extraordinary, when everyone else is politely rolling their eyes and waiting for the n00b to pass out of the 101 level.

Historically I grew up reading children's literature and literary fiction. I read a little mystery & a little detective noir, and a lot of Damon Runyon-esque Americana, but that was basically it. By the same token, I almost never watched tv and stuck mostly to movies.

I didn't honestly discover wider worlds of genre literature until Harry Potter fandom shoved me into an armchair and said "look, you need to understand what the rest of us are all talking about."

To put it in blunter terms: before I came to fandom, I had never heard of Neil Gaiman. I didn't know why Watchmen was extraordinary, and I didn't know what a Cthulhu was, let alone how to spell it without Googling. I had no idea that the casual off-the-cuff style of slang my friends and I had been using all through college had actually come directly from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I thought that I hated all fantasy, and that the only romance writer worth talking about was Georgette Heyer. And Sci-fi? Forget about it.

Needless to say, I have been on a decade-long quest to disabuse myself of my own ignorance.

But that often means that when I read genre, I feel like I'm coming into the tail end of conversations that have been taking place long before I got here. For instance: when I read Un Lun Dun, I knew in a visceral way that it was responding to general fantasy and YA tropes that I was attuned to; but I didn't understand exactly where that conversation began until I read Neverwhere a year later. And just as Mieville is responding to Gaiman, is responding to Ellison, is responding to Lovecraft, and on and on, these lines between things sometimes get lost for me.

I think, in general, I'm pretty good at picking up the threads. For instance, I feel like I have read enough about sci-fi/fantasy, if not enough sff, to figure out the ways in which N.K. Jemisin's magnificent Hundred Thousand Kingdoms may be responding to Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin, yes, but also Lovecraft and Heinlein.

But it's a really vague, wispy sort of knowledge, and I can always use more of it.

So this is a blanket request:
Please pardon the mess of my own ignorance. My genre education is under construction.



  1. My genre education is definitely on-going, too! My reading taste is terribly selective, and I rarely, if ever, connect different books I have read to each other. You've made some great points here that I will definitely have to re-read to check out (i.e. Un Lun Dun and Neverwhere). :)

  2. I definitely believe that everyone's genre education is on-going.

    For example, I've definitely grown up on fantasy literature (and literary and historical fiction), but rarely read scifi. So I can see the connections to, say, Jules Verne clearly, but fail when it comes to Heinlein or Lem.

    But that's what's fun about it, isn't it? When you get the chance to have a true epiphany, and consequently a whole domino chain of realizations spreads out all around you. :)