books · features · shanti

What I look for in genres

Hi Virtually Readers! I’ve been thinking about genre in books a lot lately because I’m taking an English course that is essentially about genre. We’ve talked about romance, gothic, romantic comedies, and we’re about to start detective stories. I’m really appreciating some of the things this is making me think about–especially the conclusion that there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ genre. All stories use elements from different genres. For instance, the book ‘Trouble is a Friend of Mine’ is ostensibly a mystery story, but it also has elements of comedy and horror. I thought that I’d talk a little bit about what I look for in different genres, and some of my favourite books from each of those.

what i look for in genres.png

Fantasy

  • dense, compelling, not overdone renderings of worlds that will never be
  • not overwhelming in detail, just immersive in all the best ways
  • explorations of how values and assumptions and energy could work if many things were different but people were still the same
  • to be honest….aesthetics
  • favourite examples: The Old Kindom, Strange the Dreamer, The Winner’s Curse, Seraphina

Contemporary

  • relatableness! like, the things in this book could also happen to me in my own life
  • general ‘wokeness’ and examination of structures of privilege
  • characters who are awkward and willing to question the way they exist
  • quality conversations and family relationships
  • favourite examples: Foolish Hearts, The Astonishing Colour of After, Final Draft, Radio Silence

Romance

  • A complex understanding of all kinds of relationships
  • the satisfaction when people resolve conflict and come together
  • good decision making (possibly following bad decision making….)
  • fave examples: Act Like It, Team Human, Wildlife, Kissing in America

Historical

  • I want to learn more about a time and place I may never be able to go to
  • I want to be absorbed, rather than distracted, by ntelligently placed detail
  • I want to feel like I have a greater understanding of how my place in the world has been created by people who lived before me
  • Characters who make me question how and why I live the way I do
  • fave examples: The Book Thief, A Curse Dark as Gold, The Convent, Out of the Easy, Iron Cast.

Graphic novels

  • I don’t read many graphic novels, but I am aware that there are different genres within graphic novels. However, I’ve maybe read 10 in my whole life, and I’d like to read more, so I’m just lumping them together. Basically, I want two things from graphic novels: beauty, and the author/artist doing things with pictures that cannot be done with words alone
  • Fave examples: Blankets, Persepolis, Wires and Nerve, and I’m currenly reading In Real Life

Future fiction

  • I want future fiction to give me hope for a better future. I want it to make me want to fight for that future.
  • Climate change and capitalism, and the way that they have rendered the earth into fragments, should be addressed
  • low violence-high concepts in general
  • I like understanding how or why the world as it currently is could lead to that future. Without that, I find the story abstract and random.
  • fave examples: The Windup Girl, Cinder, When We Wake, Juno of Taris (Last two are NZYA #represent)

Coming of age

  • I still feel like I’m coming of age, because it’s a process, but I like to be able to aspects of my own relationship to my family and the world in these stories
  • Coming of age novels should make me think more about my relationships and how I can be a better daughter, sister, and friend
  • I like it when these sort of stories make me want to explore and ask more questions
  • fave examples: Anne of the Island, Days of Blood and Starlight, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, A Room with a View

Literary

  • I like the style and structure of these books to challenge my idea of how stories work
  • Reading literary fiction should make me feel smarter and more ~erudite~
  • I want to learn new words! I recently learned the word ‘lissome’ and that just delights me
  • fave examples: The Mothers, Life After Life, Love in the Time of Cholera

Popular Science

  • I like these books to be something I can learn from, but not necesserily things that I would learn in a class or on my own
  • I like to be able to see the implications of the book on my own life–for instance, if the book is about psychology, I like to be ablse to see my brain doing some of the things the book talks about
  • Good popular science books have cool covers #yesi’mshallow
  • Excellence clear prose and analogies can help make complicated concepts more palatable
  • favourite examples: First Bite, I Contain Multitudes, The End of Night

What’s your favourite genre? what draws you to it? tell me in the comments!

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5 thoughts on “What I look for in genres

  1. This post was so so interesting and thoughtful! It gives me aot to thin bout in terms of my own preferences when it comes to specific genres…i think that with fantasy as long as it’s still logically written (like i can actually understand what’s going on and the how and the why of it!) and writing that’s immersive but not overly done i’m good, but i absolutely hate hate hate certain tropes– like fallen angels loving mortals,ugh.
    speculative/sci fi/ futuristic fiction needs to feel like something that could take place, and it needs to have less info dumping and more character driven-ness for me to actually enjoy it.

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  2. You know, for a while, I’ve been seeing you give books low reviews on Goodreads. Especially Contemporary books and I’ve been wondering what you look for in a book in case I wanted to give you a recommendation!

    For me, I don’t really know what I look for in a genre except for Fantasy and YA Contemporary.

    Fantasy: Interesting Characters, Good dialogue, Not super deep descriptions, fast paced in the parts where action is

    YA Contemporary: Well written and good characters, good dialogue, not too long or short (around 300-400pages), little to no romance (if possible), visiting a new country?

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  3. My favorite genre is definitely fantasy. The things that draw me in are pretty simple– magic, swords, mythical beings. It’s all just so COOL.
    One thing I like to see in fantasies is less of a technical thing like you were mentioning… All the fantasies I can think of make me WANT that world, in a weird way. Even if not everything about it is peachy. It might sound weird… I think it’s a sign that the world the author created is deep and personal to the reader.
    Or maybe it’s just that we’ve been through so much with the characters IN that world that we feel as if we might as well just go ahead and live there. ๐Ÿ˜›

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  4. This is such a fantastic post, I love it! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have to say, I didn’t really think about this until just now, but I AM kind of drawn to aesthetics when it comes to Fantasy books? Really, worlds I can get immersed in and love! And yay for contemporaries being relatable in some way and with complex characters and conversations. I love contemporaries so much when they manage to do just that. I can’t wait to read The Astonishing Color ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. This a great post! It has got me thinking about what draws me to different books. With fantasy, I’m always drawn to worlds set on the sea, alchemy, and healers. They’re quite different to the usual warriors and royals trope that we have now. I love knowing about cultures so I’d expect a fantasy to teach me something of the world.

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