Summer reading has a fraught history. But if there was ever a time to delight in escapism, it’s now
Wisdom from Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post:
The shame of summer reading is almost as old as summer reading itself. It took humanity 200,000 years to produce movable type, widespread literacy and enough leisure time to enjoy a book. But as soon as people discovered the pleasures of a diverting novel, some starchy scold swooped in to make them feel bad.
Charles notes that the term beach reads was still toxic in highbrow circles at the end of the 20th century and that our personal beach-reading “remains fraught with anxiety about what those choices might suggest about ourselves.”
But I like his conclusion: “If there were ever a summer to stop apologizing, to stop pretending and to stop worrying about what we should read, it’s this summer.”
Literature Is Built on a Foundation of Horror
“Why all great writing, no matter the genre, is steeped in horror.”
I often say that I don’t like horror fiction; in particular, I don’t read fiction involving werewolves, zombies, or vampires.
But novelist Marc E. Fitch argues that all fiction is a form of horror:
Literary fiction, in its attempt to confront reality, is built on a foundation of insanity, meaninglessness, brutality and death. Authors of genre fiction are essentially writing in the basement of that haunted house. They are not the worse for it; they are engaged with the same horrors as writers included in the literary canon and sometimes transcend the genre, creating work that is both horrifying and deeply meaningful. There are no hard boundaries in classifying literature, or course, and people should read widely. But just because it isn’t labeled a horror novel, doesn’t mean it isn’t a novel of horrors.
Questioning the Very Form of the Book
Karla Kelsey discusses The Saddest Thing Is ThatI Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader, edited by Lucy Ives. “Madeline Gins uses the form to dislodge our notion of individual subjectivity, the narrator commonly known as ‘I.’”
Kelsey describes Gins as a writer who explored “the wherefores and why’s of experimental writing — of its capacity to say and do what other forms of writing or art-making cannot.”
Rufi Thorpe on the Narrative Role of the Bystander
“Writing Ordinary People Who Witness the Extraordinary”
Rufi Thorpe, author of the recently published novel The Knockout Queen, praises books that she calls “The Gospel of Joe Schmo”: “An ordinary person tells the story of their friend, someone extraordinary, who touched their life and changed them forever.”
Such novels, Thorpe writes, “are all told in first person from the point of view of an almost peripheral character.” Such novels include Heart of Darkness, The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, All the King’s Men, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Genre Labels: What Makes a Book More Thriller Than Sci-Fi?
Publishers and marketing directors love genre labels, writes S.L. Huang. Here she describes how some science fiction books end up getting classified as thrillers:
So although there are certainly scifi thrillers that straddle genres and hit it out of the park on both the futuristic elements and the fast-paced thrilling tension, here are some ways that, in my observation, a book that could easily be called science fiction instead gets sucked more into the tense and mainstream maw of the thriller category.
I found this article particularly fascinating because, although Huang doesn’t mention these titles specifically, I’ve enjoyed recent novels, including Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, that are thrillers with science-fiction elements.
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown